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.
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.
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.
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.
The 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.
I 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.
The 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.
Tektro 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.
The 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.
Final thought: Just think of the extra calories burned.