Getting Around

Getting Around

It is alleged Mahatma Gandhi implored those who followed him to “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Its implication is obvious: set an example. There are times when I fear we are less accepting, more racist, more sexist, less pluralistic than we claim, or is good for our future as a species on this lump of rock with finite resources. But that’s maybe more than we can take on with a single vote or bite off in a single bike ride.

I made a conscious decision to start performing more of my errands by bike, partly because I can’t afford to replace my car with a hybrid, but also because I like bikes. Mini-Shred and I ride to school or day camp as often as possible. I tend to go to doctor’s appointments—both his and mine—by bike. I’ve taken The Deuce to daycare and other appointments via two-wheeled conveyance as well. The challenge we face, however, is that any time I’ve needed to pick up or drop off both kids, I must do it by car. Pulling a trailer behind a tandem just doesn’t work. The trailer is too far behind me for me to feel like I’ve got a close watch on what’s happening with him and traffic. There’s also the fact that practically speaking, Mini-Shred’s contribution on the tandem is often a zero-sum game. Unless he really decides to pedal with some purpose, he generates just enough wattage to offset the extra load he presents on the tandem, so accelerating with a heavy bike while pulling a trailer is really only for people who like being yelled at for being in intersections after the light has turned red.

Yuba is a bike company that does nothing but utility bikes and cargo bikes. They don’t have a single model that has been approved by the UCI. They offer nothing in carbon fiber. The most exotic material they use is aluminum, but that’s only if you think aluminum is more exotic than steel. I got to try their Spicy Curry cargo bike last year at PressCamp and must admit I was taken with it right away.

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There and back
Like most, if not all, of you, I was raised riding in cars. A bicycle was a toy, not a device for practical transportation. When in college and grad school I used a bike for transportation some, but not exclusively. When I moved to Los Angeles in the 1990s I had to cover such incredible distances in my commutes that bike commuting was as practical as walking to the moon. But now that I’m in Santa Rosa nearly all of my family’s needs can be met by bike, at least, in theory.

Here are the challenges I’ve noticed: While I can drop by the store to pick up some juice, a few things for dinner and more fruit, I still need a car to carry home toilet paper, paper towels and diapers, to name a few items I buy in bulk for obvious cost saving. Also, while I don’t mind spending a 20 minutes to ride to a doctor’s appointment, when I add a trailer, the extra time to drop by daycare and then the time to do all that in reverse after the appointment, taking two hours out of my day for a single appointment is not an efficient use of my time. Even with the tandem, if Mini-Shred is tired, we may not do more than 14 mph.

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When I encountered the Yuba Spicy Curry it needed no explanation, no sales pitch. The bike’s appeal was as obvious as good beer. There was the bench seat on which a child could ride, plus the tiny handlebar to grip. There was the toddler seat in back, for two-kid capacity. There was the porteur rack in front for errands and the elastic net stretched over the top to prevent items from bouncing out. And then there was the electric assist, made by Currie Tech.

Those bare-bones details don’t really get at the bike’s genius. They are compelling features, all, but there’s one tiny detail that isn’t immediately apparent, partly due to the running boards and drivetrain skirt that keeps your passenger’s feet safe—yet another handy couple of features. So hidden beneath those seats and behind that skirt is a 20-inch rear wheel. This is a bit of a surprise as the front wheel is 26-inches. The choice to go with the smaller rear wheel lower’s the bike’s center of gravity, allowing passengers to sit lower than they would if they were sitting above a 26-inch wheel.

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Save for a fully loaded touring bike, this is the heaviest bicycle I’ve ever encountered. It was heavy enough I never weighted it because it would have broken my scale, or at least, so I feared. With so much heft, keeping the center of gravity as low as possible is what makes this bike maneuverable, rather than the two-wheeled answer to an 18-wheeler.

Stopping this thing requires some serious braking. It uses discs front and rear. Fortunately, the UCI has no dominion here. No other system would be as effective, make as much sense.

And despite the weight, even with two kids, I can negotiate the tightest of circumstances and with any amount of load. It’s surprisingly nimble.

IMG_2347The rack with basket was super handy and the light featured a sensor to turn on when conditions dimmed.

Scotty, I need more power
A bike this heavy with a load of two kids and a couple of bags of groceries isn’t the sort of thing I could pedal at 16 mph—not unless I wanted to treat errands like a series of intervals. An electric assist is the crucial detail making this bike practical transportation, rather than a two-wheeled curiosity.

Here’s the part that surprised me: When you’re riding down the road, perhaps in a bike lane, unmolested by traffic, only you care about whether you’re going 16 mph or 19 mph. But when you’re in an intersection, your ability to accelerate quickly and get out of the way of traffic can have a pretty significant impact on how drivers view your presence. When I accelerated quickly through an intersection, drivers didn’t seem to mind my presence so much.

The Currie Tech system is controlled via a computer that gives you four levels of assist, as well as off. For reasons of battery preservation and range, not to mention control, I found using levels 2 and 3 to be the sweet spot for good acceleration and assistance. Level 4 was, from a dead stop, a bit lurchy in acceleration.

IMG_2345I was amazed by how the handlebars allowed Mini-Shred to feel involved in riding, even if he wasn’t pedaling.

The system will calculate remaining range based on battery charge, but in my experience it could change rapidly based on your usage and really couldn’t be considered more than vaguely predictive once the battery charge was below about 25 percent. I estimate that I got about three hours of riding out of each charge.

The way the assist steps in can take a bit of acclimation. If you mash the pedals like you’re leaping away from a stop light, the assist will balk. But get on the gas more gently, as if you’re just out for a leisurely spin, and the Currie system responds quickly and smoothly. The drivetrain features an 8-speed cassette and I noticed that starting in a lower gear was also handy for getting a great push from the electric system.

The Spicy Curry is a Class 1 bike, meaning it has no throttle—you must pedal if you want to go—and its help is limited to a maximum of 20 mph. It’s a system that satisfies like peanut butter and jelly.

IMG_2340The plus and minus buttons control the level of assist while the lower right button cycles through the screens.

A force for change
Never in my life has a bike gotten more comments from passersby than the Spicy Curry. From people at stoplights to shoppers coming out of the grocery store, people were curious and delighted.

Security and parking for the bike were non-issues. A large motorcycle-style kickstand makes it easy to park, while a simple pass-through lock for the rear wheel means that to steal the bike, two people are going to have to lift the whole thing into a truck.

IMG_2348Tektro hydraulic discs make sure the Spicy Curry stops, even when fully loaded.

My boys loved commuting to and from day care and school by the Spicy Curry. Any time we needed to go someplace they asked, “Can we take the green bike?” And while they did fight a bit (“Don’t make me pull this bike over!”), they fought less than if we were in my car. Feeling the wind and seeing the world meant more to them than they could articulate.

The day I returned the bike I thought they were going to cry. Mini-Shred was visibly dejected. They still ask about going for rides on the green bike.

IMG_2350The Yepp seat was surprisingly easy to set up and load The Deuce into.

As it turns out, what Gandhi actually was a a bit more complicated than that easy quote at the top of the review. What he said was, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him…. We need not wait to see what others do.”

It’s a powerful statement about personal responsibility and seeing change as the embodiment of how we live. If I want my sons to embrace cycling as more than recreation, this is a powerful way to do it.

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Final thought: Just think of the extra calories burned.

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16 comments

  1. Jim

    “The day I returned the bike I thought they were going to cry. Mini-Shred was visibly dejected. They still ask about going for rides on the green bike.”

    Now that’s an endorsement. The future is bright for bikes like this.

    Is the lock built in to the bike?


    1. Author
      Padraig

      So the lock is pretty interesting. There are two sets of brazeons, basically plates with a half-inch (roughly) hole in them welded to the seat stays. One set is forward of the rear wheel, while the other set is lower down, basically between the dropouts and where the rim passes. The lock is a long post with a lock on one end. You pass the post through the plate and the spokes and then the plate on the other side and then you simply slip the lock on. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. It takes seconds to lock or unlock the bike. You can see the lock in the third shot that includes the crank.

  2. Champs

    Assist is nice, but it is not absolutely necessary, and the device itself erases much of the benefit.

    I rode a Yuba Mundo, and it was a blast. It is not very nimble, but the reward is stability at any speed. Low gearing made it possible, if not easy, to chauffeur an adult to the top of a popular local climb and fly back down. There is no denying its heft, but without a motor or batteries, it is at worst double the heft of my usual around-town bike, once you factor in the need for locks, etc. With some practice, I could even bunny hop the thing, and that may have had more to do with wheelbase than weight. Either way the negatives are low and the positives are high for all but long trips.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      I can see that with a Mundo or other similar bike the advantage may not be as obvious, or may not even be there at all. With the Spicy Curry it was so obvious as to be self-evident, at least to me. I want one in the worst way.

  3. Michael

    THIS must be the tragedy of being a reviewer of gear, when you really really REALLY don’t want to return something to the company. Can you make a deal to have something like those decal-ed cars – you’d ride with a banner saying something like “Ask me about my Yuba!” The bike seems like the perfect solution for a two-kid problem. Having only one, I was able to work with the tag-along (drag-a-bike?) and racks for stuff, but still am thinking of a cargo bike someday for larger shopping loads. But I can really imagine you wanting to keep this one!


    1. Author
      Padraig

      The day I start complaining about all the cool stuff I’ve gotten to ride and then had to return is the day the entire city of Santa Rosa lines up to slap sense into me. There are worse things. That said, I’m looking at selling every bit of bike gear I can bear to part with so that I can afford one.

  4. Larry Pizzi

    Hey Patrick, thanks for the brilliant review. One correction, a pedal assist eBike like the Spicy Curry, is a Class 1, eBike under the California model legislation which is now spreading state by state. Oh, and send me an email or ring me up so we can keep a Spicy Curriy in your life.

  5. Matt Surch

    Great to see this post, Patrick. We’ve come a long way since the introduction of the Xtra-Cycle. When my family grew from one child to two, we experienced some of the challenges you write about as a car-free family. We have a car sharing program here in Ottawa, Ontario, that gave us access to cars close-by when needed for the bulky stuff in parts of town not suited to riding. We got a used car from friends a few years ago, and used it for two years, until it broke down on the way back from a bike race. I scrapped it, and we went back to being car-free, and bike-full. It was such a relief. The car was a real burden, financially and otherwise. Our youngest was big enough to get into our trailer, then onto the Kona Ute long-bike we’d not been using. We haven”t looked back; in fact, I almost weekly thing to myself: I’m so glad we don’t have a car. Yes, we live downtown and pay a huge mortgage and property taxes for the privilege, but our quality of life really is better when we use bikes more. My wife looks at it from a bonding perspective: http://www.hippieindisguise.com/cycling-lifestyle-bikes-bonding-brooklyn-bicycle-company/

  6. Andrew

    Any problems with clipping the foot-boards on posts, curbs and the like as you negotiated tighter spaces?
    I’ve found with trailers and tag-alongs that a rider has to be well aware of leaving extra distance on the inside of turns to keep the combo clear of obstacles – and not everyone is able to automatically do that.
    I think it’s one of the less-obvious advantages of box-bikes (cargo platform/box in front) is that the rider can always see the extra bike length and the clearances, while still only having to allow the same inherent clearance to their hips/shoulders as they would on an ordinary single bike.
    This Yuba sure looks like fun for all on board and I imagine the slight extension of the wheelbase means it would handle pretty close to the same as a single, making it quite easy to adapt to.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      I managed to bump the aluminum frame that extends beyond the running boards a couple of times as I was trying to park in especially tight spaces, but I never caught them on curbs or anything while riding. It was remarkable.

      I got a chance to ride a traditional bakfiets a couple of years ago. The linkage steering and the weight of the box combined with being so far behind the steering axis all added up to a less than confidence-inspiring riding experience. I went from desperately wanting one to having zero interest in one, all in one ride. The Yuba handles so much better I can’t figure why anyone would do a bakfiets for moving multiple kids. Also, the braking on the bafiets was a testament to the fact that it came from one of the flattest places on earth. Put another way, stopping one is an approximate endeavor.

  7. Bart

    I love the idea of this bike. My big problem is the $. The base bike is $4,200. I figure you have another $1000 of accessories on the bike as it’s set up for this review.

    My window of need for this type of setup is about 3 years max. I have a 3 and 5 year old now. Based on my experience with my kids and bikes/trailers, it seems that this set up for hauling two kids would make sense during the window when they are 2 and 4, 3 and 5, and 4 and 6. After that the 6 year old is too big and before that the 2 year old is too small. I just can’t justify $5000 for 3 years of part time kid hauling.

    Could there be a way to set up some sort of leasing option? I’d love to pay a lease fee + wear and tear for three years. I suppose I can always sell the bike after I’m done with it, but that is a lot of extra hassle for me, and I don’t have confidence that I’d be able to get much of my $ back. I’d rather know what my cost will be going in.

    I’d love to find a way to have this type of setup, but the cost is prohibitive in my situation.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      The full package of accessories shown is less than $1k, though there are plenty of other accessories that could be added. Our oldest just turned seven and is totally into riding this thing. I figure we have at least two years, and maybe more, before he’ll be too cool to ride it. There are other accessories that can continue to make it really practical even after the kids outgrow it.

      I certainly hear you where the cost is, but consider that if you take care of this it will have terrific resale value. There are so few of these out there that I’m sure people would leap at the chance to get one for $500 to $1000 less than what retail is. So while a lease isn’t an option, resale value will make the overall cost feel like a lease.

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