In the run up to the second Edinburgh Festival of Cycling, I find myself having to move large numbers of festival programmes about the place. If I am just taking a few score of programmes to places where people might want to pick them up, that is easy to do with a courier bag or a set of panniers. However, today I was in the situation of needing to move several boxes (there are 150 programmes to a box and a box weighs 9.5 Kg) from Laid Back Bikes to EdFoC HQ, which is quite another matter. That is where the flying bathtub comes in.
Before going further, maybe I should explain that the “flying bathtub” is an affectionate nickname for the Urban Arrow family cargo bike (and one that I came up with this afternoon). Why, you might ask, “flying bathtub”? Well this particular Urban Arrow spent a couple of weeks sitting in the front window of the Cycle Service (where it was extracted from its cardboard box and built into a working machine), as a couple of frame bolts had gone missing in transit. While it was sitting in the shop, a number of customers asked about the “bathtub in the corner” and the name kind of stuck. The reason I call it the “flying bathtub” is because when you get used to the electric assist, it fair flies along (and this is a bike which weighs 45Kg unladen).
This wasn’t the first time I had ridden an Urban Arrow, I had had a wee test ride when the first one arrived in the UK last year…
… however today was the first time I had tried using it with a full load, in this case 66.5 Kg of programmes. So how did the bathtub and I get on? Well, starting off was a wee bit shaky, mainly because the front wheel is some distance ahead of the rider, which takes a little getting used to. There is also a slight play in the steering due to the nature of the ball joint at the end of the steering rod (see photo below), but within a few minutes I got the hang of it.
The other thing that takes a wee bit of getting used to is the transmission control which takes the place of gear leavers. Unlike most conventionally geared bikes, the Urban Arrow uses continuously variable NuVinci Hub gears. With this there are no set gears, instead there is a twist grip with an indicator window showing a cyclist on the flat. The straight line turns into a hill as you twist the grip. As it is continuously variable, there is no jump between gears as for conventional bikes, so at first you might not realise that you are changing gears, as it is so smooth. NuVinci are right when the say “It is unlike anything you have experienced before”.
When starting off with a heavy load, it is best to be in a low gear, with the indicator showing the wee cyclist climbing a hill. This makes it very easy to move away, even with the bike fully loaded. Once you are moving, you should then twist the grip to even out the hill on the indicator, until the wee cyclist is on the flat. At first I didn’t realise this and found that, once I had moved off, my legs where spinning round madly, with very little resistance and no increase in speed – as you might expect in a very low gear. I soon learned to twist the grip when I started to feel less resistance to my pedalling, and comfortably picked up speed. This, together with the Bosch electric motor providing assistance means that even with a heavy load you can actually fly along at a fair pace. It should be noted that the electric assistance cuts out at 15 mph (25 km/h) or if you stop pedalling, to comply with EU regulations. Although the route which I took was fairly flat with some slight uphill stretches on the way out (loaded), I found that I could get up to 20 mph (32 Km/h) and comfortably sustain a reasonable speed for keeping up with other traffic. Some drivers had a tendency to underestimate the speed at which I was travelling (but my experience is that also happens on an ordinary bike). This suggests that a VeloCityLight rear light would probably be a good idea.
The control for the electric assist (shown mounted to the left of the stem in the photo above) means that you can vary the level of assistance the motor gives you. This is done in three modes, Eco (the lowest level which makes the battery last longest), tour (which was the mode I was using) and sport. The display also shows the estimated range until the battery is exhausted and will need recharging. I don’t know how accurate this is, but I am told that you can expect to go about 25 miles (40 km) between charges.
Stopping wasn’t a problem either, as this Urban Arrow is equipped with Shimano hydraulic disc brakes (although the standard Continental configuration uses roller brakes), which provided plenty of stopping power even with a 66+ Kg load. The design of the Urban Arrow means that it can be stored out of doors with a cover over the cargo area (supplied as standard). There is built-in security in the form of a frame lock (something I am considering getting for my own bikes) and the electric assist can be disabled by simply removing the control unit. The only thing I found to be bit of a pain is the Dutch insistence on using Dunlop valves which makes pumping up the tyres very fiddly with a normal track pump. If I owned the bike, I would either change the inner tubes or fit adapter nipples (probably the latter).
Overall the bike was great fun to ride, as a car replacement it could be a useful addition for any family. It makes for very practical transport. In fact I enjoyed it so much, I will be taking it down to Round Six of The Pearl Izumi Tour Series (next Thursday) to see if Sir Chris would like to join me for a ride round the circuit. If he is lucky I might even let him ride in the bathtub at the front…
Errata: Since I wrote this post the bike has had some work done and the steering issue has resolved.