Paul Iseard, aged 62, owner of The Famous Sheffield Shop. I am reasonably fit and on my road bike can just manage Winnat’s Pass on a good day.
The Role Played by the Cargo Bike
I had the Urban Arrow “Porter” cargo bike for the busiest period of our trading year – the run up to Christmas. We have a cluster of local suppliers of goods and services within 3 miles or so of the shop’s Ecclesall Road location. We deploy a small diesel van three times a week to collect stock, collect/deliver engraving and laser marking jobs, and transport customer goods requiring restoration/repair (e.g. re-silvering old cutlery).
Owing to the high volume of urgent business at Christmas I used the cargo bike nearly every day. This much reduced the mileage covered by the van, and also improved the speed of our service to customers.
My Experience of Using the Cargo Bike
The variable gear is controlled on the right hand twist grip and the power by a simple +/- switch mounted on the left. After a mile or two I found it quite easy to use these in combination to achieve optimum pedal power and cadence.
The disc brakes operation on conventional levers.
The “dashboard”, mounted centrally, has an array of useful data. It includes a visual battery charge indicator, visual reminder of which power band you are using (from nil assistance through four levels of power, the maximum being “turbo” and the minimum “eco”). There is a digital tachometer showing actual speed, average speed, travel time etc. Very useful is the data feed showing how far you can expect to travel on each power setting. For example, when the battery has 60% power it will indicate a range of say 10km on the turbo setting, 18km on the eco setting and of course, infinite without power assistance!
2. ON THE ROAD
The cargo bike is a lot wider and longer than a road bike and when a beginner it is best to start off in a straight line! It has a big turning circle, so rather like a car it might be necessary to wheel back and forth to turn round in restricted areas.
Sheffield’s main roads are very busy throughout December and often throughout the day. I found it easy to find alternative back street routes and bike paths to reach the city centre and surrounds. Avoid underpasses – they are tricky due to the length of the bike. I identified two easy crossing points to traverse the inner ring road – one a buses/taxi/bike lane and the other a bike/pedestrian crossing.
When cycling on main roads I found it quite easy with power assistance to maintain a speed of around 12 to 15 mph. It’s important to stay in the middle of the lane as the bike is too wide for other vehicles to overtake safely when there is oncoming traffic.
I had no trouble from impatient drivers apart from the odd taxi in a bus lane over-eager to get past.
Most of the journeys to and from the shop were of no more than 5 miles. A typical example was shop – Broad Street (Ernest Wright Scissors) – near Spital Hill (Greensmith) – Charles Street (A. Wright and Son) – Portland Works (PML Plating and Michael May Pocket Knives) – shop. During periods of heavy traffic a journey like this would have taken longer in the van, with all the attendant frustration.
3. CARRYING LOADS
Most of my cargoes were goods weighing no more than 20 kilos which nestled at the base of the hold. By dimensions, the biggest item carried was a punch bowl undergoing restoration. The bike handled fine although it’s a good idea to make sure the goods are not sliding around on the flat bottom of the hold.
Unlike road bikes, the cargo bike is not an appealing target for thieves! When visiting supplier premises I used the built in lock which puts a bar across the back wheel, between the spokes. I also removed the dashboard and carried it in my pocket. (Although I did not test this, I think the power cannot be switched on unless the dashboard is on the bike – when removed it breaks the circuit). When parked on the pavement outside my shop the bike was secured by a heavy gauge lock and chain. This is easy to transport in the cargo hold.
The power pack is secured into the frame but can easily be unlocked and removed.
The cargo bike will fit through a standard door frame so at night I wheeled it into the shop.
5. RANGE AND POWER USE
The up to 5 mile schedules seldom used more than 40% of the power and so I only needed to recharge the battery every two or three days. I used the lowest setting – eco – to give me a bit of extra speed on the flat or up slight inclines. I did not need the top setting – turbo – at all on my urban rides. The second top setting – tour – was a help in getting up Spital Hill.
It’s very easy to combine the variable gearing with the power supplement to achieve the optimum cadence, varying both to suit the slopes.
6. LONGER DISTANCE ROAD TEST
I took the cargo bike, unladen, on a more challenging route to test it (and myself) to the limit. The route took in three major climbs, the first over Crosspool, the second from Malin Bridge to just over 1,000ft above the Loxley Valley, and the third from Hillsborough over Crookes.
Distance Covered: 26.67 km
Max Speed: 57.7 km/hr
Average Speed: 16.7 km/hr
Trip Time: 1 hour 35 mins in the saddle
Hills: 1960ft of climbs
Being familiar with these climbs on a road bike, I found that with the right amount of power, I could get up the steep hills with the same level of effort as on my road bike. However, I avoided the very steepest options e.g. up Hagg Hill, as if I failed it would be so much harder pushing the cargo bike up hill due to its extra weight! The turbo setting was essential to me on one or two of the steepest stretches.
By the end of the test ride the monitor indicated only 1 km of charge left in the battery. A younger and fitter cyclist could no doubt have squeezed considerably greater distance out of the cargo bike. It is unlikely however that anyone using the bike commercially would have to do so much climbing in one day, even in Sheffield.
The cargo bike was great fun and quite a talking point among customers, suppliers etc. After the first day I had great confidence in the cargo bike’s capabilities. It is strongly built, well designed and well equipped.
It supplemented the use of my van but could not replace it as I have some suppliers that would take too long to reach e.g. in Handsworth, Halfway and Darnall.
I did not need to use the cargo hold to full capacity. However, this was such a positive experience for me that I am planning to buy a smaller electric bike with a good strong gearing and a Bosch power pack will be good enough for me! My van currently does around 4,000 polluting miles per year on Sheffield roads. I think by using an electric bike I can reduce this to under 3,000 miles per year, and into the bargain be fitter, happier and more environmentally responsible.
I am convinced that electric bikes have a great future in Sheffield.
With grateful thanks to S-Cargo of Thirwell Road Heeley, for lending me the bike. This brilliant organisation is a not for profit business. They are dedicated to promoting cycling and supporting young people.