As promised, the lede in 6 words:
Like Bakfietsen? You’ll love Urban Arrows.
I have had a couple of recent conversations with cool bike people recently that brought up something that has been in the back of my mind for a while. My feeling is that the family biking market is still pretty nascent and as a result there are mostly two kinds of bikes out there.
On the one hand you have the macho bikes. The view of family biking by companies that make these bikes ranges from, at best, detached bemusement (e.g. Larry v. Harry, which developed some basic kid accessories like a child seat and rain cover, but has never seen any need to mention them on its website or anything), to disinterest (Kona—“oh, you can carry kids on a bike?”—and Brompton, which as a company seems unaware of the aftermarket Pere child seat), to outright hostility (e.g. Surly and its new kid-unfriendly Big Dummy deck, Trek and its no-kids-allowed Transport). But to their credit, these companies put a lot of effort into (relative) nimbleness. In the universe of cargo bikes, these bikes are lighter, have better parts, are fitted with gears that can handle hills, and are safer and easier to ride in challenging conditions, by which I mean any conditions other than a flat street on a sunny day. (Okay, I exaggerate. But still.) And these bikes can go fast. Relatively speaking.
On the other hand you have the land yachts. These bikes are definitely family-friendly. They offer awesome kid-carrying capacity (even for large families), provide multiple ways to haul stuff/other bicycles as well as kids, and often have user-friendly accessories like integrated lights, step-over frames, upright seat positions, rear wheel locks and internal hubs. On the other hand, they typically weigh a ton and have a limited gear range and weak stock brakes, making them a challenge to ride on anything but the mildest of hills. And they are slow, even in the let’s-face-it-cargo-bikes-are-tanks class. I include in this category Madsens, Bakfietsen, Yuba Mundos, and every tricycle and unassisted mamachari I have ever seen or ridden.
The cargo bike market reminds me a bit of the car market in the 1960s. You could buy a station wagon (so practical! so massive! so slow!) or you could buy a “sporty” car, and hope for the best as you stuck your kids in a homespun “car seat” or harnessed them to long straps above the rear seat that offered a non-trivial strangulation risk. My mom hauled us around in a 1965 Chevrolet Corvair for years in those harnesses, because my parents believed in buying older used cars and keeping them until they literally fell to pieces decades later.
There are exceptions, and I have ridden some. On the longtail side, Xtracycle’s EdgeRunner is both family-friendly and nimble. On the box bike side, Metrofiets customizes almost all the bikes they make, so they can be tailored to weird cargo and/or families large and small, plus they start out as more-than-decent hill climbers and can be turned into awesome ones.
And there is the Urban Arrow. Thanks to an integrated electric assist, Urban Arrow turns a bike that is completely land yacht in character into something with many of the capabilities of a macho bike.
The Urban Arrow is a hard bike to find, let alone to test-ride, and the only people we know who have one bought sight unseen. Fortunately for us, Motostrano in Redwood City imports them, and will allow test rides whenever it gets orders in, if you get on the wait list. Motostrano is an interesting shop. From the outside it’s all posters of scantily-clad women draped over motor scooters, which definitely gave me pause. On the inside it offers a huge selection of assisted and unassisted commuter bikes (plus other kinds of bikes that I don’t care about, FYI). And they had boxes and boxes of bike stickers that they handed over to my kids. Pasting those stickers all over their clothes and helmets completely obsessed both kids while we learned about the Urban Arrow, and made them happier than anything else they did all weekend. We were glad that we made the trip down, which was, frankly, a not-inconsiderable hassle.
What I like about the Urban Arrow
- First, the Urban Arrow is a box bike. Not everyone loves a front-loading box bike, but I do. It’s easier to talk to the kids, it’s simple to protect them from bad weather, and the kid seating is elegant. It’s also much easier to walk front loaders than longtails because the weight is near the leverage of your arms. There is a reason that people think of—in the words of one family friend—“those bikes that look like wheelbarrows” when they think of family biking.
The Urban Arrow’s child-hauling and commuting setup is unbelievably swank. The box is made of styrofoam [update: it’s not styrofoam, it’s expanded polypropylene, which is evidently better–see comment below] and forms a sort of roll cage in the event that you drop the bike. The manufacturer cut out step-holes in the front to make it easy for kids to climb into the bike, and the thick styrofoam serves as an arm rest on both sides. The bench seat, which had plenty of butt-room for my 8-year-old and 5-year old, is padded (there is an optional second bench seat if you have more kids than I do). The center stand has the same rock-solid design as the best-in-class bakfiets. The bottom plate has multiple holes for drainage. It has integrated front and rear lights and the wires run through the frame so they can’t be dislodged. The chain is enclosed, so you could easily ride this bike without incident while wearing palazzo pants. For that matter you could ride it in a maxi-skirt, because it also has a step-through frame. The battery sits unobtrusively under the bench seat. It comes with fenders and an Abus rear wheel lock. It shifts seamlessly using a Nuvinci n360 internal hub. Although the Urban Arrow normally comes with roller brakes, Motostrano automatically upgrades them to disc brakes. The bike we rode did not have a rear rack, but they are available.
- This bike looks so classy. I felt like I should have dressed up to ride it. To me, a Bakfiets, with its wooden box, looks practical, but not exactly stylish, while our Bullitt looks fast and sleek. But the Urban Arrow looks… polished, to the extent you can say that about any cargo bike.
- Considering all the features packed into it, the Urban Arrow feels shockingly light. I expect big bikes to be heavy bikes, and realistically, it is in fact a heavy bike, tipping the scales at 99lbs/45kg. However people who ride Bakfietsen tell me their bikes as weigh about that much, and that’s without an electric assist. Both the aluminum frame and the styrofoam box are shaving a lot of heft from this bike, and with cargo bikes that’s all to the good, especially given that most people are going to throw at least twice the weight of the bike itself in the box, and then push it around.
The Bosch electric assist is a fully-integrated mid-drive. It is also fully enclosed, so there are fewer worries about loose wiring, and it’s designed to work with the bike’s gearing. Mid-drive assists are powerful, although not silent. As usual with this kind of assist, I noticed a slight clanking as the chain ran through the motor, but it wasn’t offensive. The Bosch is a pedal-assist in the legal sense; turn it on and the bike just sits there, but as soon as you turn the pedals, the assist is immediately there. It won’t start without you making a (mild) effort. The controller offers three speeds, and the feeling of the assist ranges from “slight tailwind” at the lowest setting to “strong tailwind” at the highest.
- Not everyone loves this, but it has a super-upright posture, for a great view of traffic. And it’s virtually impossible to slouch. My mom would always hassle me when I was growing up to “sit up straight!” My mom wants you to ride this bike.
- At $5400, this is a competitively-priced assisted box bike, although I certainly would not call it cheap. An unassisted Bakfiets is now running about $3750. An assisted EdgeRunner longtail, comparably accessorized for hauling kids, would run $4700 in San Francisco. That price difference is not trivial, but it’s not outrageous either.
What I don’t like about the Urban Arrow
- The Urban Arrow is a really big bike. Matt and I both rode it, and we realized quickly that it would not be a practical commuting bike for us in San Francisco. Matt was vehement that he would never even consider riding it on Market Street, which has a semi-random bike lane layout and many, many people competing for space in it. It would be more of a ride-in-the-park bike for us. And it is big in both dimensions—width and length. Size was a deal-killer for us when we test-rode a Metrofiets as well, and it’s a large part of the reason we’ve been hauling 2 kids (and sometimes squeezing in more) by Bullitt for almost two years—the Bullitt is narrow. If we lived in a smaller city, or a place with wider streets, or rode different kinds of routes, we’d have no problem with an Urban Arrow.
- On a related note, turning and parking the bike is a production. It is possible to make a big bike with a (relatively) tight turning radius. This is not that kind of big bike. It is probably impossible to make a front-loading box bike that is easy to park at a standard bike rack. We bought a front loader anyway, because the advantages outweighed the disadvantages from our perspective, but it can be frustrating. However if you live in a less theft-prone municipality that we do, you could just park it without using a rack by relying solely on the rear wheel lock.
- All front loading box bikes are tricky to learn to ride, because of the linkage steering. We don’t have many issues with that after riding ours for a couple of years, but on a new-to-us model, we’ll still always wobble off the start. It seems safe to assume that it would be worse for someone who had never ridden this kind of bike before. The Urban Arrow has one advantage in this class, however, and that is that the box blocks the view of the front wheel (watching the front wheel is bad, it will confuse you and make you dump the bike).
I found the handlebar layout very odd and somewhat frustrating. The brake levers required a big stretch to reach and pull. I have large hands and long fingers—my ability to span a ninth is part of what made me a competent pianist and organ player in my youth—and so this is nothing I have ever experienced before. These parts could be swapped for smaller ones, but given that this is a bike marketed to both women and men, and women typically have smaller hands, I found it bizarre. In addition, the controller for the assist is located in the middle of the handlebars, instead of near one hand, so to turn it on or change the level of assist, we had to take one hand off and reach over. That’s annoying and it also feels like a safety risk. Even if the controller were moved closer to one hand [see comment below; this can be done], its design is such that it would be difficult to operate by thumb.
The Urban Arrow has what those in the bike business would call Dutch geometry, which basically means that you’re riding the bike in roughly the same position that you would be in while sitting in an office chair. I am comfortable riding this kind of setup but it is not something that Matt likes, and we share all the bikes, and so we must compromise.
- Caveat: San Francisco-specific concern. Motostrano told us that the assist would not be able to handle San Francisco’s steepest hills, even unloaded, but could not specify what kinds of grades it could climb. We had hoped to figure it out by simply riding up some hills ourselves, but unfortunately for us, Redwood City is as flat as Kansas. Furthermore, the Dutch geometry makes it impossible to bear down and crank up a hill on your own power. That’s because your chest will whack the handlebars—which is what happened when I tried to go uphill while test riding a Bakfiets. Hauling up hills on your own power is supposed to be a non-issue, because the bike has an assist, except that we were told that the assist might not be sufficient where we ride. And then it would be an issue.
- Speaking of hills, I found the brakes slow to respond. I assumed that it was just that particular bike and suggested to Motostrano that they tighten the brakes, but they said that they’d noticed it on all of the bikes they had built. They believed that it would settle after the bike had been ridden for a while. I would love to hear confirmation of that from someone who’s actually experienced it.
- The Urban Arrow would be almost impossible to get up to higher speeds. For quite a while this is something that I didn’t care about at all. However as time passed and we became more confident on cargo bikes, the appeal of one that can rocket along (relatively speaking) on occasion grew. It is useful when, say, the kids lock themselves in the bathroom and we end up leaving 10 minutes later than planned. The assist is not designed for speed either, but rather for steady help in the background. A BionX, in contrast, will match your effort, so you can use it to start fast and build up speed quickly. (This is fun, although BionX systems have their downsides.) Some bikes are just always going to be on the slower end—that’s just how they’re made—and the Urban Arrow is one of them. If you’re not compulsive about getting places early, this may not rank as high on your list of concerns as it does on mine.
- Last but not least, this bike is ridiculously elusive . There are only a few shops in the country importing them, and there is a lot of unmet demand, so getting an Urban Arrow almost always involves a deposit and a wait list. We have only seen two riding around San Francisco (which is one more than anyone I know in any other city has seen—except, I presume, Portland), and at least one of those was shipped from New York. Motostrano said they were able to get all the bikes they had ordered so far in a time period between 1-3 months, which is a big improvement over the waits I heard about last year, but is still non-trivial. And if you want to do a test-ride first, count on doubling that wait because whatever bike you test-ride will be a bike that’s already been sold.
So the Urban Arrow: not the right bike for us, but definitely a cool bike. It reminded both me and Matt of the Bakfiets, but upgraded. It was like a Bakfiets that had gone on a makeover show: Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.
I find that people tend to have a sense of what they want in a bike, even if they can’t always articulate it. There are macho bike people and land yacht people. If you are the former, this isn’t the right bike for you (and you know that already). If you are the latter—assuming that you don’t live on Twin Peaks—it’s probably the most perfect cargo bike ever made.
32 responses to “We tried it: Urban Arrow”
The fact that Trek and Surly are hostile to people carrying kids on their cargo bikes is more evidence of just how tone-deaf the sport-oriented mainstream bike companies are. They just don’t get it.
I’ve become pretty touchy on that subject, if that’s not obvious. Although I have to admit that Surly isn’t exactly hiding their attitude, given their name.
Surly doesn’t even want you putting a kickstand on their bikes, how dare you put a kid on one!
As annoying the mainstream bike industry is as a customer, it’s even more disgusting if you look behind the curtain. Bro culture is just the start, they’re openly elitist about who dare consider themselves cyclists. No respect for any bike except the top end, little respect for anyone who isn’t a racer or former racer.
Perhaps it is not a coincidence that I returned to riding a bike only after I had kids.
Part of the reason that the nicer, more powerful versions of mid-drive ebikes tend to be marketed toward offroaders rather than families with kids has to do with current ebike laws, both here and in Europe. In most European countries (which appear to comprise most of the market for these things) you’re not allowed to have more than 250W of electric power available to you or it becomes a moped instead of an ebike (and therefore subject to a lot more regulations, registration, taxes, and so on). That said, as far as I know this only applies to on-road use; banging a 3kW electric mountain bike up an offroad trail is completely legal and subject only to property owners’ restrictions. Thus, most ebikes that are built for speed and power (>1kW electrical system, capable of tackling SF hills at respectable speeds) market themselves as “off-road” vehicles to dodge regulation and taxation.
I’m an electrical engineering student, and I personally would have no qualms about building a mid-drive box bike with quality disc brakes and 3-6kW of power for use as a family/cargo bike. I’d wind up gearing it down to about 30-35mph tops, but (if built properly) should have enough torque to haul you, 150lbs of kids, and another 50-100lbs of crap up a 10-15% grade at 25mph or so. That’s especially feasible given that the size of the box leaves a ton of room for 30-40Ah of battery (which should translate into 30-50 miles of range on the flats). It’s a niche that nobody seems to want to operate in, and I’d love to do it, but first someone would wind up having to convince state and local governments to loosen or eliminate the power requirements for electric bikes.
This is very interesting. Thanks for sharing.
Is it so wrong to have a focus and honor it?
You were selling me on it…then I got to the part about the handlebars, the brakes, and the Dutch geometry, and I could no longer yearn for this bike.
Picayune corrections and a plug:
1. The box is not styrofoam (expanded polystyrene, EPS) but expanded polypropylene, EPP). EPP is resilient and tough, not like styrofoam at all: http://www.epp.com/expanded-polypropylene-properties/ . See also Dena’s 1-year review in which she praises the toughness of the box: http://www.bikemamadelphia.com/2014/05/urban-arrow-one-year-later.html . I’m quick to point this out only because so many people look askance at the box, which does LOOK like styrofoam, and say “is that … just styrOFOAM?!”
2. Brake reach: the hydraulic disk brake levers installed on our 2014 UAs have adjustable reach. Could easily be dialed in. Similarly the Bosch assist display could easily be positioned to one side if a concern. Bikes with Dutch city ergonomics aren’t prone to lose control with one hand on the bars anyway.
3. Hills. Yes, I’m sure they were right that it couldn’t handle SF’s steepest even unloaded. But that’s probably only the 5 or so very steepest blocks. We took UA out to the steepest pitch on Portland’s east side, only about 30 feet on the Alameda ridge that approaches 30%. Passenger had to get out to get up it, but unloaded it was possible to grunt up it that short distance. So yeah it doesn’t climb trees, but short of that it’s competent given its impressive efficiency, assisted range (up to 110km estimated).
4. Elusivity (here comes the plug): We have 4 in stock right now here at Clever Cycles in Portland (all with rear racks and the larger 400Wh battery, hydraulic disks). We’ve designated one a tester: half hour is free, but you can take it out 24 hours for a fee we’ll refund if purchased. Yes it took us 3 years of begging to get them, but the bike has improved meanwhile.
As usual I have updated my post to reflect some of this. Perhaps I should hire you as a content editor.
In re: hills, I would be interested in your take on the Bosch motor versus the first-generation Daum motor, because Dena mentioned that she broke the pawl on the original motor from extensive hill-climbing, and it’s breaking again on the replacement. So it appears to have had some long-term reliability issues. I would not be surprised to hear that that is part of the reason that UA is using a Bosch now, but both of us are interested to know whether it is possible to assess the risk of the Bosch having the same issue.
In re: availability. You are of course correct about how many bikes you have in stock, but Clever Cycles pretty much defines the family bike supply chain. So I think it’s kind of cheating.
The change from Daum to Bosch is one of a few consolations that we couldn’t import the first Urban Arrows. We have uncovered no troubling reliability reports with this version of Bosch’s assist system. We are a little disappointed that Bosch USA seems less keen than their European counterparts to support this family-transport-oriented iteration of their product, however. (They are instead getting behind a system targeted at the same old macho recreation market, offroad mainly.) Regardless, we service what we sell, sourcing parts from Europe like the bikes themselves if necessary.
a) Surly’s image was carefully cultivated to be antithetical to sport riding, though now they offer some sporty bikes b/c everyone likes a fast bike. The characterization of Surly as a road race marque is preposterous.
b) Motostrano started as an Italianate motorcycle shop. Sales of which, no doubt, have flat lined. Downsizing the motor, as it were.
S’all I got.
I find Motostrano’s marketing approach totally contradictory too. It’s kind of a shame, because it has definitely made me not want to collaborate with them. Even though they have an amazing selection of assisted bikes. Like Ladyfleur, I am just so over bro culture.
Also, if you’re looking for hills in Redwood City, you have to go about 3 miles west. But it’s worth it. Alameda de las Pulgas has some great rollers. Hence the road’s controversial popularity on Strava.
Love the review but missing the lovely “Babboe” Cargo Bikes in here! 😉 I’m from Babboe and i’m a frequent visitor of your website (keep up the great work). I noticed that you have written a small note in one of your Cargo Bike articles about Babboe. In here you say we are a cheap Knockoff of the bakfiets. I would like to convince you otherwise. In the Netherlands the “Fietsersbond” tested our and other 2-wheel Cargo Bikes and we landed on the second place. We sell cargobikes for an affordable price, to make cargobikes available for all young families and that is being appreciated. We have a broad range of different variants, 2-wheel and 3-wheel, regular and electric. Next to that your referring to a photo made by Henry. Yep, it’s a real Babboe, but a very old one (2008). We changed and improved the wood and that is no issue for a long time already. We are market leader in the Netherlands, Belgium, and expanding in the rest of Europe. And yes, we are selling in the US as well. Soon we will launch a new website (Sept 2014) for the US to expand our business. Hopefully you can find some free time to do such an deep review for our Cargo Bikes like you’ve spend for the Cargo Bike above. Thanks for your time and again keep up the great work!
Bret van den Eshof, Babboe
If you could email me a picture of the new Babboe that I could use (something taken out in the world rather than a stock advertising photo–I don’t post those) I would be happy to update the photo, and add some of your comments. At the time that I wrote that review I only knew what I had been told by others, having never seen a Babboe. I’m glad to hear that the bike is getting such good press.
I typically review whatever family bikes I can find in the San Francisco Bay Area–my kids have only so much patience–so if there’s a shop here that carries them please let me know. Alternatively, if you know of someone who has written about their own Babboe, I could link to that, as I did to the Christiania review.
There are Babboes at Street Bike Named Desire in Palo Alto. It’s half a mile from the downtown Caltrain station
Your reviews are awesome! I was just singing your praises to some families while at camp Mather last week, and I arrive home to this great post. I have been curious about the urban arrow and the Italian motorcycle shop….. This review (and your others) are precious. I love biking with kudos but learning about family bikes is just daunting, thank heavens I found your site :-).
I’m so glad it was helpful!
Thanks for another great review! Your cons confirmed the reasons we decided to go with the bullitt with bionix in our hilly spot in the world instead of the comfy UA. After a few months, it now feels odd to get back on my old bike. The kids and I love getting on the bullitt and go-go-going. I make it up our steep grades without a problem; I even found myself standing up and pedaling it the other day without it feeling squirrelly. Thanks so much again for all your time and effort to provide solid information and inspiration!
I think this blog is great and have been absorbing huge amounts of it while I learn about cargo bikes.
Regarding this review, I don’t understand your complaints about the Urban Arrow being “big in both dimensions—width and length. Size was a deal-killer for us.”
You own a Bullitt and the specs I’ve been able to find say they are the same length: 8ft.
As for width, you loved the Edgerunner, calling it the best long-tail ever, with its typically configured hooptie rack is almost as wide as the Urban Arrow (57.2 vs. 63cm) according to the hooptie dimensions I found at
That’s about 1 inch of difference on each side, but you didn’t mention anything about it being too wide for you in your drooling review from just 2 months ago. I would think the advantage of seeing the width in front of you on the Urban Arrow vs. behind you is more important than 1in. of difference on each side. Note also that the Workcycles (Kr8) Bakfiets is exactly the same width as the Urban Arrow at 63cm.
In other words, the Urban Arrow doesn’t seem to be unusually big for its category. The Gazelle Cabby seems to be the outlier in the big direction (length & width) with the Bullitt the unusually narrow option (and maybe the Workcycles Short the unusually short option, but I haven’t found a spec for that yet).
I was unsure whether to approve this, since the characterization of an earlier review as “drooling” seems a little hostile, as does your comment in general. Nonetheless, I’ll address it.
After multiple test rides, I take all listed specs of cargo bikes–particularly weight, but length and width as well–as potentially suspect until I’ve observed them. Our neighbor’s Urban Arrow is longer than our Bullitt–we have positioned them side by side. I did not measure the exact difference. Length matters less than width to us, but my concern with length and front loaders is primarily the same concern I had with strollers, namely, how far in front of me I have to push the kids so that I can see. The longer the box–and the UA box is quite generous, which my kids appreciated–the more of it is in front of you rather than behind and the further I have to shove the kids in the box out into oncoming traffic to see where I’m going.
As far as width, a key difference between the EdgeRunner and the Urban Arrow, aside from the listed 6cm (which may or may not be accurate) is that the fully U-tubed EdgeRunner is narrower than its handlebars. As a result, it is easy to see exactly how much space the bike needs when threading through traffic. Although you can see all of the width of any front-loader as you travel, it can be difficult to judge whether there is enough space because the further away the object you’re observing, the more difficult it is to make an assessment of actual width. I have found that the handlebars are a more helpful gauge than a box 3+ feet away.
I have not ridden a Cabby, although I find its folding box intriguing, nor have I ridden the new KR8. The Bakfiets short (which I have not ridden but have seen around our neighborhood) is indeed shorter than any other front loader I’ve seen, especially in the “how far do I have to push my kids out into the road” dimension.
Oh my! Not sure where you got a hostility tone from. No hostility intended at all I assure you! I completely approve of your drooling Edgerunner review. 🙂 It matches my impressions (from internet and seeing but not yet riding in person) and barring hating it on a test ride, I expect I’ll buy one soon. In fact, it’s quite a relief to have a reasonably clear choice in at least 1 category.
I’m just genuinely trying to understand an obscure niche market. I’m not sure whether I want a long-tail or front-loader yet, and the irony is that the choice (for my family’s needs) in the long-tail category is clear enough that I would probably order one sight-unseen if I had to, but it’s actually easy to find them to test-ride. In contrast, the front-loader choice seems less clear to me but it’s actually much harder to find them in person from SF, especially to find them in the same store to compare more directly. So I wish there was a drooling “best front-loader ever, no contest” too.
[If only Vie was operational already—it’s model would be perfect for my uncertainty. Alas, I had a conflict and couldn’t make it to the event today at Koret playground. Will you do a post saying how that went?]
Anyway, I’m so glad you responded. It’s interesting that you compared the Bullitt and Urban Arrow side-by-side and see something different than the specs. That’s great info to have. But disappointing that specs can’t be trusted (especially since it’s so hard for most people to get the chance to do in-person side-by-sides).
Okay, sorry for the misunderstanding there! I completely agree with you that it feels strange to have a category-killer like the EdgeRunner on the longtail side (in my opinion) and no clear choice for the front-loaders (which I think would get pretty broad agreement). I agree with you that VieBikes would be a great option, but you can only try what’s available.
Our decision to get a front-loader largely revolved around the desire for weather protection, since we wanted it to be a year-round car-replacement bike, and front loaders come with covers. I have no regrets, although there are very good reasons to think about a longtail as kids get older–it’s easier to carry bigger kids on a longtail, and you can tow their bikes as well.
Wrt test rides, if you are ever up in SF we are always game to have people try the Bullitt (feel free to email me). Blue Heron in Berkeley also carries Bullitts, but no other front loaders. In fact I’ve never seen more than one type of front-loader at any shop outside of Portland. In San Francisco proper this is actually not as big a deal because most people can rule out the entire Workcycles line just on the grounds of their brakes, but having a shop here that carried, say, Bullitt, Metrofiets, Cetma, and Urban Arrow would be fabulous. I suspect a big part of the problem is that aside from Bullitt and Workcycles, which are to some extent mass-produced, front-loaders in the US are still boutique, one-off, or custom bikes.
Oh and I realize that another reason for the differences between our observation and current specs might be that we are riding a 2012 Bullitt and our neighbor is riding a 2013 UA, and I’m guessing whatever you find online refers to 2014 bikes. That said, I’ve always found specifications on cargo bikes a little slippery overall–again, I think this is the boutique bike problem.
I just noticed this article, but wanted to belatedly chime in. We’re one of the (presumably) two owners of the UA in SF, since Jan of 2014. (we’d really like to meet the other owner) In short, we love the bike but there are some hills on our daily commute that we’ve had a lot of difficulty climbing. For moderate hills (and on the flats) it’s fantastic. We haul our 2 kids (3.5y and 15m) everywhere in it.
I can’t imagine any other way to go than the mid-drive motor. There’s no throttle to mess with, you just get slightly super-human amplification as you pedal. You can feel the motor helping you turn the cranks and it’s absolutely seamless and requires almost no thought. This is our second dutch style cargo bike and I find the turning to be very natural.
We bought from motostrano; Joe and his guys have been very helpful and attentive post-sale, to the limits of what he can do based on UA’s lack of US support. Support has been via dropoff at their SF location. We’ve replaced the front drum brake with a disc brake (which is essential, the original drum brakes are absolutely unsafe on hills). There’s also a very dangerous speed-wobble If you’re going much above 15mph and hit any sort of bump, you can set up this terrible oscillation that feels like the bike will shake apart or you’ll lose control. Obviously we just don’t let it go that fast and there is apparently a dampener band that Joe noticed we’re missing, but it is seriously bad and not something we’ve felt in our other dutch style front cargo bike (Joe Bike’s carrier pigeon).
But here’s the serious drawback. It uses the excellent bosch 2011 mid-drive motor but there’s no support for it in the US. Specifically, you can’t check the motor for controller reported error conditions, you can’t find out the cycle history or lifetime health of the battery, you can’t receive any firmware updates. You can’t even change it from km to miles on the display. I believe the newer shipped versions of this bike have the updated intuvia HMI/display which allows the newer bosch diagnostic units (that motostrano and anybody else selling a bike using the 2013 bosch engine) to interface with, diagnose and upgrade the motor controller.
For the first 3 months we owned the bike, it was the most awesome thing in the world. Giant costco runs, tackling any hill and my wife was able to pedal all the way up our street. After the 3 month tuneup, coincidentally or not, we started receiving power cutouts and flashing error conditions about the speed sensor on the same hill.
After we complained enough to Joe, UA and involved the kind folks at The New Wheel then UA offered to replace the entire back half of the bike as well as give us the upgraded HMI/display. Somehow they only thing they actually sent was a replacement sensor cable to see if that resolved it, but the issue remains. I’m sure we’ll get a satisfactory resolution of the issue, but please verify that if you sign up to purchase one of these that you’ll have some dealer able to use the Bosch Diagnostic Software on it.
So I’m in a weird position here. I don’t want to give up the bike; I loved it during that first several month period and wish we could return to the original performance. Joe and company have been very helpful and the folks at The New Wheel were able to put us in touch with an ex-bosch engineer. Once our issue is resolved I will whole-heartedly recommend this bike to anyone. And I’m optimistic that we’ll get a positive resolution on the issue.
Wow, thank you so much for this information, and for writing! Evidently there are THREE UA owners in SF, because I heard from The New Wheel that they are also servicing a black one purchased from another shop (not Motostrano).
Everything you’ve mentioned is really useful to know, and thanks so much for taking the time. Hope to see you around sometime!
Actually, we’re the ones with the black bike the New Wheel helped service. So still just 2 UAs that I know of. The New Wheel put on our front disc brake and were very helpful in introducing us to an ex-bosch engineer who had tips. I mean, maybe there is a third one out there, but it seems like a coincidence. I don’t even know where you’d buy one in california if not motostrano.
For others like me wondering about what grade hills an Urban Arrow can handle, the comments below this video (https://youtu.be/BZIfg2XFmzE) say up to 12-14%. I presume that they had the 50Nm Bosch Classic+, so expect more from the latest model, which is spec’d at 70Nm.
I have loved your blog while researching family bikes so I’d like to offer this small contribution, if that’s okay. We have had our Urban Arrow for two weeks now and ridden 225km (140 mi) since then. My children are 6 and 10.5 with a combined weight of over 50kg (110 lb), and I’m an overweight Mum (95 kg = 210 lb) who’s not been exercising regularly (until now!). We have not yet found a hill that I couldn’t ride the kids up, although I did find a short section coming off of a valley bike track (very steep – must have been over 20%) that I couldn’t start on. My UA is a little different from the one in this review – it has a Bosch mid drive assist and the controller has buttons near my left thumb for increasing or decreasing assistance, changing modes (time/distance/range etc), and walk assist. We are in Adelaide, Australia, and I’m happy to be in contact with anyone who is interested to know any more. Thank you again for an excellent blog.
Thanks for the update. Based on more recent rides, I think the Bosch motor is a significant upgrade from the earlier assist on the bike I rode.
HI there, great review indeed. I read it the first time some time ago, and after a long period of research I bought a Urban Arrow Family 9 months ago. Well,I am so happy that my only regret is not to have bought it well before. I have written a review of the bike based on my experience https://albertomzanni.wordpress.com/2017/05/02/urban-arrow-family-cargo-bike-review/
all the best
Thanks for sharing!
Good piece. I recently got this version of the Urban Arrow and I am definitely struggling with the geometry. I live in DC and, while it’s not known for being hilly, I’m by the river to everywhere inside is up some fornnof incline. I think it will have to upgrade the motor, it’s not a Bosch. But the kids (4 y/o twins) love riding in it and I couldn’t imagine having them in a long tail.