Posts with «cycling» label

Urtopia's tech-heavy ebike is only as good as its software

At the tail end of last year, a curious new entry into the ebike market emerged: Urtopia. The company’s mission seemed pretty clear, to make the most feature-rich, connected bike the world has ever seen. And with a built-in 4G SIM, WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, a fingerprint reader and mmWave sensors for collision detection, it was likely accomplished. Except, the model we tested was a prototype leaving us unable to evaluate some of the more interesting features. Until now.

The retail version of the bike is almost identical to the pre-production version we tested at the end of last year bar a few minor cosmetic details. The D-pad on the left handle has been slightly redesigned and the fingerprint reader on the right is also now a button. The only other visible change is the dot-matrix display, which is now flat and easier to read.

Perhaps one of the main features we couldn’t test wasn’t available at all – the app. With so much going on in the bike, it’s more important to have a companion tool on your phone to confirm settings and to extract more use out of some of the sensors (ride tracking, for example).

James Trew / Engadget

All I’ll say is, the bike might be the final hardware, but the software side of things started out a little... less complete. But in the space of a few weeks, the app has been redesigned and there have been a couple of firmware updates for the bike itself and the experience feels much less like a work in progress.

But first a little reminder. The Urtopia bike is a fixed-gear (Gates carbon belt), single hub-motor ebike with three levels of speed assistance (20MPH in the US, 15MPH in Europe). The 30lbs/15Kg city bike offers approximately 60 miles of assistance out of the 360Wh battery. That’s a fairly common spec for an ebike, but one look at the Urtopia will tell you this isn’t really a normal bike.

Last time around I was able to test Urtopia’s cred as a general road bike, and despite a slightly stiff ride (there’s no suspension) it performed well, with smooth pickup from the torque-based motor. The voice control for changing speed, locking the bike and more was also fun but perhaps not the smoothest experience (and even if it were, I’m not sure we’re collectively ready to be speaking to our bikes in public yet).

The first thing I wanted to try here was the 4G connectivity. Utopia isn’t unique in having a cellular connection (newer VanMoofs, for example, also offer connectivity), but the 4G here is behind a few interesting features. For once, you’ll (theoretically) get a log of your ride in the app every single time you go out. I say theoretically as it often didn’t work for me. Then sometimes it did. I couldn’t quite pin down what caused it to work sometimes and not others, but I suspect it’s to do with whether you leave the bike in standby while at home, or if you power it down (thus fully resetting the sensors).

After one of the firmware updates this feature became more reliable. Which is good, because it was frustrating to put in double-digit miles only to come home and find your ride wasn’t logged. Right now, there’s not a lot you can do with the data other than see where you went and how fast in a slick animation. It, of course, logs all your miles and… as I went to check the app for what other data it records there was an app update (duration, calories, average speed and even CO2 saved is the answer). Right now, you can only share the rides with the in-app “community” but the option to share to services like Strava would be a real positive.

James Trew / Engadget

In a similar way, the app can also tell you exactly where your bike is at any time, as long as the battery is connected and has enough power to ping the network. It will stop working once the battery totally dies, of course, but if someone steals your ride, you should have plenty of time to ping it and locate it before they realize it’s the world’s most connected bike and what a fool’s errand stealing it was. 

Another security feature is the fingerprint sensor. This was physically present on the prototype, but without the app, there was no way to set it up. It works surprisingly well and allows you to turn the bike on or to disable the alarm quickly. You can still ride the bike without assistance without unlocking the bike with your finger, but it’s effectively a cumbersome fixie at this point. Unless you turn the alarm on, then it’ll start sounding an alert at the slightest, and I mean slightest movement which can only be disabled with a registered digit.

One of the more intriguing additions to the Urtopia’s spec sheet are the mmWave sensors. These are designed to detect vehicles approaching from behind on either side. If something is detected, you’ll be alerted through a visual signal and vibrating handlebars. In practice, it’s a little hard to test without deliberately endangering yourself, but it does seem to work. Although, I am not sure whether, if faced with a truck coming up behind, you might be more distracted by the alerts than the traffic itself. That’s to say, this is clearly a valuable feature, but the outcome of it is hard to quantify at this time.

James Trew / Engadget

Something much easier to evaluate is the onboard navigation. Or rather, the ability to punch a destination into the app, and then have visual and audio turn instructions via the speaker and display on the handlebars. There are, of course, other ways to do this - either with a phone in a mount or maybe just in your pocket with audio instructions via headphones. But having it here right in the handlebars feels a lot more futuristic and means you don’t have to expose your phone to the elements/thieves.

The dot-matrix screen does have a bit of a retro vibe to it, and makes it feel a bit more like KITT (especially when it speaks to you). For the navigation, this works well enough as the arrows/directions are shown clearly enough that you can glance at them without being distracted.

Urtopia calls this screen and speaker combo the “smart bar” and it has other plans for it beyond serving up data and other visual feedback. One example is using the bike’s speaker as a Bluetooth speaker for music. This may have accidentally been my idea. I suggested it to them the first time we tested it, and now it’s part of the app. It’s kinda fun, though I have never felt quite so self conscious as I did riding through a busy park with phonecall-quality Drum & Bass playing from my bike. Podcasts might be a bit more its speed, but happy to see the feature here nonetheless.

James Trew / Engadget

There is… more. Another addition that was conceived after our initial testing is “game” mode. It’s not quite what you’re likely imagining. Or at least, what I was imagining. I assumed it might be some sort of virtual race where you have to “catch” up with a ghost rider like in a Mario Kart time trial. Or maybe some sort of way of making training/intervals fun? But no, it’s actually a game of Snake you can play on the display using the control buttons which, to be fair, are basically a D-pad. Obviously, not to be played while moving.

Perhaps the biggest chance since we last looked at the bike is the price. Now that the crowd-funding campaign is complete and the bikes are made and ready to ship, the $2,000 early-bird price has given way to the regular $2,799 retail price. That puts it in a similar category to something like the Cowboy C4 which has fewer high-tech features, but does have the important theft detection and locating capabilities.

All to say that, the Urtopia definitely has a lot of tech appeal, but it still feels like the software and features are settling into themselves. If they can continue to make that side of the experience as comfortable and as exciting as it is to ride, this will be a solid choice for those that want a capital-E e-bike.

VanMoof's new A5 and S5 e-bikes are harder to steal and smoother to ride

It was a breezy three-kilometer ride on VanMoof’s A5 e-bike around Battersea Park in London. Starting from VanMoof’s flagship London store, the company’s CEO, Ties Carlier, took the lead. He shot off on the more typically framed S5 ($3,498), while I got to grips with the boost and controls on the VanMoof’s new, shorter A5 (also $3,498). A few seconds later, I caught up. I hadn’t broken a sweat. My brief test ride around the neighborhood was almost too easy.

I had briefly ridden VanMoof’s e-bikes before, but its latest generation of e-bikes usher in changes across the board. The company has tried to make most of the parts on its newest e-bikes itself. The most significant change might be the removal of the tube-based display of the S3 and X3 bikes, swapping it for a duo of Halo Rings near the buttons on each side. (One rings the digital cute bell, while the other controls boost.) In addition to indicating battery life, it also shows how much the bike’s motor is working, along with the bike’s lock status.

Anti-theft technology (and a team of bike hunters)

E-bike security is a significant selling point for VanMoof’s bikes. Carlier explains that deterring theft is one of the biggest challenges to making “the perfect city bike," which has been the company’s aim long before it even started designing its first electric bike.

“A good bike – a good ride – requires more money,” he said. “With an e-bike, that’s even more true.” He added that whatever solution companies like VanMoof come up with, thieves will get smarter. The threat of it getting stolen has put me off from investing substantial money into bikes, and has deterred me from e-bikes entirely.

The anti-theft technology in the S5 and A5 (both priced at $3,498) includes an improved kick lock on the rear wheel. In addition, the bikes will automatically unlock if they detect the user’s phone nearby, and riders can otherwise unlock it with a numerical code that you can tap into the left handlebar – another instance where the new Halo Rings come into use.

Mat Smith/Engadget

If someone does manage to steal the S5/A5, tampering (or breaking) – which is integrated into the e-bike’s computer within the tube – the lock will first sound an alarm and, a short while later, immobilize the e-bike functions. For the thieves, then, it’s just a heavier push bike with a mildly distinctive frame and built-in lights that won’t work.

And if you’re willing to pay an extra $398 for three years of coverage (and that’s a fraction of the cost of replacing these $3,000-plus bikes), your VanMoof ride will come with support from a retinue of bike hunters – which still sounds cool. The e-bike transmits its location over 3G and the hunters are equipped with more fine-grain Bluetooth signal detectors to sniff out stolen bikes. If your bike goes missing, you can mark it as stolen on the VanMoof app, and if the hunters can’t find it within two weeks, the company will replace the bike for you.

It’s peace of mind, for sure, but it’s also yet another subscription. The S5 and A5 are even more expensive than their predecessors, which cost just less than $2,500. VanMoof’s latest rides each cost $3,498 – a $500 increase since they were first revealed. The company has also added support for Apple’s Find My network, but that’s more likely to help you locate your bike in a parking lot, not track down a thief.

Mat Smith/Engadget

VanMoof’s new stepover A5

The A5 model has a lowered step-in, meaning the bike is smaller and VanMoof believes it gives riders a feeling of being closer to the road. VanMoof’s premium-priced e-bikes don’t look like typical electric bikes – there’s no visible battery to begin with – but I like the unusually low-profile A5. When I use a bike, it’s multiple short trips, with several stops. This step-through model felt easier to ride. It was more of my thing.

The S5 and A5 come with 487 Wh and 463 Wh batteries, respectively. With the included charger, both take roughly six and a half hours to charge. VanMoof teased a fast charger too, but pricing is still TBC. On a full charge, the A5 can hit around 34 miles on full power, or 87 miles on economy power mode. Meanwhile, the S5 has a 37 mile-range on full power, which can be stretched to 93 miles on economy power mode. If VanMoof’s claims are accurate, both bikes should be able to handle plenty of short trips before needing to be plugged in overnight. The company also plans to offer a battery expansion pack that should double the bikes’ range.

A smoother ride

Mat Smith/Engadget

Both of the new bikes have upgraded gear shift tech as well. I tried a friend’s VanMoof S3 bike and could tell the newer rides had smoother gear transitioning. The motor has plenty of pep, but the A5 swaps around three gears incredibly gently. It’s hard to forget this was a premium e-bike.

While you can’t adjust gears yourself, it keeps the bike “interface” (can I call it that?) simple. That’s part of the plan. VanMoof’s Carlier says the company is targeting people who might not consider themselves bike people. The challenge is convincing them to invest in an e-bike. (At these prices, I’d call it an investment.) And if you’re waiting on the company’s even pricier high-speed e-bike, the VanMoof V, expect to wait a little longer. Due to supply issues, production has been delayed from fall 2022 to late 2023.

We plan to test out VanMoof’s latest bikes more extensively soon. Both the A5 and S5 are available to order directly from the company, with delivery dates currently estimated to be around January and February 2023.

Welcome to the age of the cargo bike

As the need for cleaner, more sustainable transport becomes ever more urgent, I’ve noticed a familiar pattern in conversations on the topic. Someone will point out that bikes are a lot more efficient and environmentally friendly, reduce congestion and are often faster than cars in cities. Others respond saying that bikes can’t possibly replace cars for a multitude of reasons: Riding on roads is dangerous, it requires a fit body, it makes you get all sweaty, it’s not ideal for trips into the office and bikes can’t protect you from the rain. The other objection is that a standard bike can only carry one person, making it useless for the times when you need to carry multiple people, or lots of stuff. Bikes can’t be used to ferry kids on the school run or haul a week’s worth of groceries, and so it’s pointless to look at them.

Except, of course, bikes have always been able to do those things, sometimes more efficiently than a car, SUV or truck. Cargo bikes offer the capacity to carry multiple people at once and / or haul sizable loads of stuff with very little trouble. It’s this form of cycling that may provide the easiest win for both individuals and cities to help solve the climate crisis. The argument that you need to be physically fit to ride – if that’s even true – doesn’t really apply any more given the benefit of electrification. It means that modern cargo bikes can rid dense city streets of delivery vans cluttering up our roads, and SUVs doing little more than the school run. And this isn’t a dispatch from some far-flung utopia, but something that might become massively popular as a looming fuel crisis causes the price of fuel to skyrocket.

The Bakfiets

RUBEN RAMOS via Getty Images

It’s worth saying that cargo bikes are nothing new – in the days before the car was king, cargo bikes were used by many. In Europe, before the second world war, cargo bikes were a common sight on the streets, used by grocers, tradespeople and families to carry goods and people. In the post-war era, and the age of car-centric reconstruction that followed, cargo bikes were left a curiosity in many countries, save, of course, their use to sell ice cream or other food at funfairs, festivals and markets.

There are roughly four types of cargo bike in common use today, although none of these terms are official and there’s plenty of blurring on the edges. Cargo Bikes, for instance, are stretch limousine versions of regular two-wheeled bikes, with a small cargo section behind the front wheel and in front of the rider. Then there are Box Trikes, with two wheels up front and a much larger box between them, while the rider steers from behind. Now, both of these can be described as Bakfiets, from the Dutch “box bike,” but there’s a world between the two and three-wheeled versions.

A more nebulous category is the Longtail, a regular bicycle with a longer, load-bearing frame behind the rider. Instead of a pannier rack, the frame can hold a small cargo box, or a bench seat that can hold an adult or two children. Bikes like Tern’s GSD or Yuba’s Spicy Curry are examples of the type of bike I’m talking about here. Finally there are Cargo Trikes and Cargo Quad Cycles, where the rider sits up front and there’s a hefty box mounted on the two rear wheels. EAV’s 2Cubed, for instance, is already being adopted by some major logistics companies. (Obviously three-wheeled Bakfiets can also be called Cargo Trikes but I’m trying to keep the definitions clear here.)

The Babboe

Daniel Cooper

The Netherlands already underwent its dramatic transition into a cycling-first society, and is the nominal home of the cargo bike. Its bikes are designed not just for one or two people, but families of up to five, and I felt compelled to try one before lecturing people on the future of transport. Raleigh, the British distributors of several Dutch bicycles, leant me a Babboe Curve-E, which is arguably the SUV of the cycling world.

The Curve-E is big, beefy and relatively expensive – in Europe it retails for €3,449 ($3,441). The Curve-E’s box has a volume of around 275 liters (72 gallons) and a load capacity of 100kg (220 pounds), with two benches running along the front and back sides. On each side are two three-point harnesses, and the bike is designed to carry up to four small children comfortably.

(In the US, you can buy a more powerful mid-drive version of the Curve-E I rode from Going Dutch Bicycles in New York for $6,250. It’s worth saying, of course, that the cost of importing a model like this is significant, and there are domestic alternatives available for less. For instance, Bunch Bikes – which previously featured on Shark Tank – will sell you a four-seater model for $3,999.)

I’ve been using the Curve-E as much as I can in place of the family car, trying to see which parts of our lives it can fit into. My wife wasn’t enthused about being a participant in this story, and so I used the bike for various adventures with my two kids. Of particular interest to me was if the Babboe would revolutionize the school run, enabling me to save time at the start and end of each day.

Cleaning up our roads

Leon Neal via Getty Images

If you read Engadget, then you already know how bad cars and trucks are for climate change, air quality and congestion. The rise of e-commerce, supercharged by COVID, has seen a massive surge in fossil fuel-powered delivery vehicles on city streets. And that’s not good for congestion, air quality or emissions. But cargo cycling has already been found to be something of a silver bullet for all of the problems caused by this surge in heavy goods vehicles on our streets.

Last year, Dr. Ersilia Verlingheri at the University of Westminster found that a cargo bike is 1.61 times faster than a van to make deliveries. Using GPS data strapped to both bike and truck couriers, she found that the bikes had a faster average speed and reduced carbon emissions by 90 percent compared to a diesel vehicle, and 33 percent compared to an electric van. The study focused on London, and found that there are more than 213,100 vans working in the city, occupying 2,557,200 square meters of road space. Dr. Verlingheri’s study found that more than half of all motorized freight could be completed by a bike instead of a van. And that the benefits of doing so are staggering – including tens of thousands of hours lost to traffic jams, and several hundred thousand tonnes of CO2 not being released into the atmosphere.

A smaller 2019 study that focused on Seattle, found that electric-assisted cargo bikes were more cost-effective than vans in densely populated areas, such as the hearts of major cities. And that benefits of bikes were magnified when you added in the extra effort needed to find parking, and the second-order costs of owning a truck. Not to mention, of course, the cost of buying the truck, keeping it fueled, maintained, as well as the necessary insurances and permits to ensure it’s road legal.

Zedify

Daniel Cooper

One company already well ahead of this argument is Zedify, a British courier business making “last mile” deliveries in major cities. It exclusively uses low-and-zero emission vehicles, with the bulk of its fleet made up with a number of cargo trikes. The managing director of the Norwich branch of the company, Richard Jennings, talked me through the benefits of a bike-first delivery fleet. The first being the cost, the second being the relative speed compared to deliveries made by a light truck.

Jennings explained that most major freight companies operate large depots at business parks far outside a population center. Each van is loaded full with parcels before being sent in to cover a planned route that will take the bulk of the day to complete. Zedify’s model, by contrast, uses a smaller hub in the center of a city, where parcels in bulk are dropped off and then loaded on a smaller fleet of cargo trikes. These trikes will then do multiple routes each day, with riders able to choose their own routing in order to avoid cyclist-unfriendly roads and dodge traffic jams.

On paper, that sounds less efficient, but in practice Jennings said that it was significantly better, and Zedify deliveries are often a lot faster than expected. It’s also significantly cheaper, since all of the major capital costs associated with maintaining a fleet of vans are eliminated. The local setup, at least, uses cargo trikes from specialist provider Iceni Cycles, based in Wiltshire. It sells its heavy-duty delivery trike for £11,705 (around $13,486), or leases them for periods of up to five years for £61.47 ($71) a week.

While many fleet companies have to spend enormous sums on regular maintenance, Jennings can employ a single bike mechanic to run the entire fleet. Zedify doesn’t charge a premium for its services either, meaning that any cost savings can be passed on to employees. Jennings said that he’s able to “take better care of [his] people.” Zedify also made (local) headlines for being able to maintain deliveries during one of the UK’s several recent fuel crises.

There are limits, of course – a standard Iceni trike has a maximum weight limit of around 550 pounds, but Jennings says that the safe operating weight is just under 400. After that point, and hauling goods around just gets a lot harder to deal with. That means bicycle couriers won’t be delivering heavy goods, like home appliances or beds, any time soon. But the bulk of smaller goods could easily be carried by bike, removing a big reason for why city streets are full of vans. If companies like Zedify can corner the market in shipping and grocery delivery, then we should see significant benefits fairly quickly.

Jennings also showed me his latest purchase, a Maderna Tractor, a four-wheeled monster capable of taking pallet-sized loads. It’s equipped with a Bafang mid-drive motor that gives it extraordinary power and speed for a bike – as I learned when I rode it. It’s the sort of bike that you could imagine riding for a day without ever feeling fatigued, and certainly one you could have a lot of fun tearing around town on.

Our first trips

My adventures with the Babboe Curve-E involved me taking the kids out and about around the city. They were (and still are) delirious with excitement whenever we go out on the bike. Part of this, I suspect, is because it offers them a substantially better view of the trip compared to sitting in the back seat of a car. They like waving to people as we pass them by, and shouting hello to cyclists when they, in turn, pass us. They sit side-by-side on the forward facing bench, preferring the view (and a little bit of a squeeze) to one facing the other.

At a standing start, the bike requires a decent amount of push, but I found I didn’t need the electric assist at all. As soon as you start moving, the bike’s weight and inertia seem to do a lot of the work for you, to the point where I was riding the brakes more than the pedals. It’s also pretty quick, quicker than I was comfortable riding (especially with my kids in the front box) and so I never felt the need to switch up the gears to go faster.

More often than not, cars would give me a fairly generous berth – I think the uniqueness of the Babboe’s design on British roads meant there was some degree of curiosity. Especially on the main road close to my home, where cyclists are often given short shrift by motorists, it was a striking change. I suspect, too, the fact that the bike is wide enough, and my ride position high enough, that almost by default, I was taking a more aggressive pose on the road than I would ordinarily. That’s important, given the lack of segregated cycle infrastructure, although cargo bikes are often forced onto the roads by default, as most cycle lanes that do exist are designed for the two-wheeled variety.

The cargo boom

It’s clear that some of the factors that have boosted interest in cargo bikes relate to the energy crisis. COVID and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have caused prices to spike, and Europeans are looking for ways to cut their energy consumption across the board. Back in August, Cycling Industry News reported that while e-bike sales – which had spiked for much of 2020 – were starting to slow, eCargo Bikes were still growing. In fact, the uptake of cargo bikes has increased by 37 percent compared to the previous year, while manufacturer Urban Arrow said that it expected to see sales jump by 50 percent across 2022.

The school run

Maja Hitij via Getty Images

The kids enjoy the Babboe so much that they ask, whenever we go out, if we’re taking it or the car. I was, therefore, expecting this bike to totally revolutionize the school run each day and make everyone’s life a lot easier. It didn’t, but there’s one very good reason that I struggled in this instance, and I want to be clear that it is actually worth doing. You just need to really make sure that you know what bike you’re buying, and what your home terrain is like.

My home city is relatively flat, but it does have a handful of utterly murderous hills, and my kids’ school is at the top of one of the worst. According to local maps, the gentlest gradient to get up the hill is around 11 percent, which is a very significant slope. (The road on the other end has a maximum gradient of 22.4 percent, which I wouldn’t attempt to walk, let alone ride up.)

Now, I’ve tested my cycling output to be around 200W, and the motor on the Babboe can output 250W. But it turns out that it’s not enough, given the weight of the bike, to get up that 11 degree gradient without a lot of sweating. In fact, it’s so hard to get up there, especially with kids in the front, that no matter what gear I rode in, or what strategies I tried, with the electric assistance on full, I was still a hyperventilating puddle by the time I got to the top.

This, I should admit, is something that Babboe (if you check) does say in its marketing materials, as its bikes are designed for flat Dutch roads. If a buyer expects to cover a lot of hilly ground, then they should opt for the specialist Mountain version of its bike with a far more powerful mid-drive motor. At my child’s school, another parent bought the same model of Babboe that I had – but said that he would be trading it in for a Mountain version at the earliest opportunity.

Cost

Education Images via Getty Images

The elephant in the room is price. You can expect to pay upwards of $3,000 for a standard cargo cycle, and some of the fancier brands start at $5,000. The common response from cyclists is that people think nothing of dropping tens of thousands of dollars on a car, nor the hidden costs of fuel, tax, insurance, servicing and depreciation. On a total cost of ownership basis, the price difference between a car and a cargo bike is stark, and bikes win out nine times out of every 10 when picking the ideal form of transportation. But I can see, and share, the mental barriers to spending thousands on a bike for all of the obvious reasons.

For a start, the comfort level is far less than that of a car, you’re exposed to the elements and you’re limited by range. Then there’s the unspoken truth that in many countries in North America and Europe, bicycle theft is effectively legal. After all, with law enforcement resources stretched thin and the prevalence of bicycle crime, it’s difficult to enforce. Even in situations where people can show the location of their bike with built-in GPS, officers are reluctant to engage in recovery action.

Interesting (!) afternoon while filming, tracking my stolen bike which has an internal tracker & can’t be ridden without a code being ferried presumably in a van …from being swiped in London Bridge….To Stratford in half an hour and now finding a new resting place in East Ham… pic.twitter.com/4SBsatjvA8

— Faisal Islam (@faisalislam) August 3, 2022

I took plenty of extra precautions, and rarely let my Babboe out of my sight knowing that if I’d left it in the street, even with a chorus of locks, it was at risk. That dilemma is doubled for people who have spent upwards of $3,000 on an e-cargo bike as their primary mode of transportation. Sadly, a lack of infrastructure to keep these bikes safe and secure means that they’re a prime target for thieves, and so you can’t always trust that they’ll be where you left them.

The solution to this problem, surely, would be for a manufacturer to grasp this market for itself. Is it possible for someone to mass-produce a low-spec, but solid, cargo bike “for the people?” And, when I say that, I mean at the sort of prices where it’d be affordable for utility, rather than sport and leisure, cyclists.

Certainly, this isn’t likely to come in the form of a cargo trike. Ben Johnson is the founder of The Cargo Bike Company, a former engineer who got into cargo biking when his kids were born and he “couldn’t afford a European one.” He produces custom cargo bikes and trikes from his workshop in Derbyshire, UK, with a focus on commercial bikes as well as custom bikes adapted to assist people with mobility issues. He said that the rise in cargo cycling is tied to the falling cost and greater access of electric motors, which “enables people to shift loads around town.” He, however, has resisted the trend in his own bikes, saying that the reliability issues are too risky for a small business like his to take on.

Johnson added that there are several factors that mean that cargo bikes will remain a more costly purchase for many. That includes the fact that major manufacturers are “very happy to use unusual or high-end engineering” on its bikes, including drum brakes, geared hubs and stub axles. But as well as the equipment hung on the frame, a major difference between a regular bike and a cargo bike is the time taken to build the frame itself. For instance, Taiwanese maker Giant says that it can produce a bike frame in under two hours, whereas it takes Johnson a full day to weld a frame, and a further day to build the bike that sits on it – in between it’s sent off to a third-party for painting.

That’s not to say that there aren’t affordable cargo bikes available, but the segment that’s ripest for lower prices is the longtail. RadPower’s RadWagon 4 can take a 350lb payload on its long rear rack, or that space could be used to carry two passengers for just $2,000. Similarly, Richard Andrews, who works in local government on cycling strategy in the UK said that an even more disruptive bike is hiding in plain sight. He pointed to (French sports retailer) Decathlon’s R500 electric longtail as a bike that could be mass-produced by the sort of manufacturer who could afford the initial outlay. There are only two downsides to the R500 – it uses a rear hub motor, and it’s presently out of stock.

Farewell

It’s now time to send the Babboe back to the company for someone else to test it. I didn’t expect to feel as sad sending it back as I presently do, mostly because of how engaged it made my kids. It was fun to cycle – except up and down hills – and I think they enjoyed having a front-row seat on the journey, taking in the city around them. I think that, with a model better suited to the terrain, a cargo e-bike could remove the need for us to have a car for any trips into the city. The only thing I would need is a place to securely store it when I’m out and about, or the reassurance that it wouldn’t go missing.

I should, at least, have some hope there – here in the UK, the previous administration published Gear Change: A Bold Vision for Cycling and Walking. The paper committed to improving road design to ensure segregated cycleways – with a physical barrier between cars and bikes – would be built as standard. It also, more crucially, pledged to back the construction of high-quality, theft-deterrent bicycle parking in towns and cities, as well as bike hangers for residential areas. This should benefit folks who might want to switch to cargo cycling but don’t have the space to store a bike in their own home.

Fundamentally, I’m a convert, even if I still don’t consider myself a cyclist by any means. Riding a cargo bike feels natural, fun and easy, and is something I want to do on a regular basis, especially since I’d like to think my kids will still appreciate the help getting to and from places for the next five years or more. I think I learned two things over the last couple of months: Cargo cycling really is for everyone, and don’t buy a bike with a hub motor if you live anywhere close to a huge hill.

The best bike accessories you can buy

Like a lot of people, I only recently began cycling. After more than a decade of not riding a bike, I bought my first one as an adult at the start of the pandemic and immediately fell in love with what it had to offer. Cycling was my escape from a world that didn’t make sense anymore. It has since become the primary way I stay fit, unwind after a long day and get to where I need to go.

Along the way, I’ve tried many different cycling gadgets. The entries in the list below represent some of my favorites. Outside of essentials like a helmet, multitool and spare inner tubes, you don’t need most of the items listed below to enjoy whatever time you spend on your bike or e-bike, but some will keep you safer or make it easier to achieve your fitness goals – if that’s what you want to get out of the hobby.

Knog Rear Plus Light

Knog

Cycling frequently involves sharing the road with cars, and one of the best ways to stay safe is by making yourself as visible as possible to drivers. One way to do that is with a seat post-mounted LED light. You have a lot of options when it comes to cycling lights, but one of the best in my experience is the affordable Rear Plus from Knog.

You’ll notice the Rear Plus is one of two products from Knog on this list. The reason for that is that the company makes cycling accessories that stand out for their usability and clever design. With the Rear Plus, for instance, you plug it into your computer like a USB thumb drive whenever you need to charge it, meaning you don’t need to deal with a micro-USB cable like with many other bicycle lights. What’s more, Knog claims you can get up to 40 hours of battery life from the device depending on the lighting mode you use. And since it’s so easy to charge, you’re much less likely to find yourself in a situation where you don’t have a light when the sun is about to set.

If you’re willing to spend more, an even safer option is to buy a rearview radar like the $200 Garmin Varia RTL515. In addition to being a light, it pairs with your smartphone or bike computer, with models from both Garmin and Wahoo supported, to provide visual, audible and haptic alerts when cars are approaching you. It can detect a vehicle up to 150 meters away and will more urgently warn you if one is approaching quickly. It’s not a replacement for checking your blind spots, but it will take away much of the stress involved with road cycling.

Buy Knog Rear Plus Light at Amazon - $18Buy Garmin Varia RTL515 at Amazon - $200

Knog Oi Bike Bell

Igor Bonifacic / Engadget

After an LED light, you’ll want to make sure you have a bell installed on your bicycle. I know what you’re thinking: can’t you just warn people when you’re about to ride past them. The answer is yes, but they probably won’t hear you or react quickly, especially if they’re talking to someone at the time. You’ll be surprised how much more effective a bell is at communicating with pedestrians than your voice. I find one is also invaluable when you’re faced with a driver waiting to make a turn.

For an “aero” option that won’t look out of place on a carbon road bike, consider the Knog Oi Luxe. It’s easy to install and features a slick design that won’t clutter your cockpit. For something with more classic styling, look to the Spurcycle Original Bell. Both produce distinct sounds that cut through traffic and other noises.

Buy Knog Oi Bike Bell at Amazon starting at $17

Ornot Handlebar Bag Mini

Ornot

There’s a good chance you’ll want to carry your phone and other belongings with you when you set out on your cycling adventures, and that’s where a handlebar bag can come in handy. The amount of choice here is endless, with nearly every major cycling brand offering at least a few different models.

Another option is to support a local company in your area. On that front, there have never been more independent bagmakers than there at this moment. In the US alone, you have companies like Swift Industries, PS Bagworks and Roadrunner Bags making thoughtful and durable cycling bags of all shapes and sizes. Seriously, a quick Google search and you’re bound to find someone sewing cycling bags in your local area. And if all you want is a foolproof recommendation, consider the Handlebar Bag Mini from Ornot. It’s the perfect size for carrying a phone, sunglasses and a few snacks, and like all of the company’s products, the quality of materials and craftsmanship is second to none.

Buy Handlebar Bag Mini at Ornot - $44

Kryptonite Kryptolok

Kryptonite

At some point, you’ll need to leave your bike in a place where you can’t keep a constant eye on it. Since 2020, I’ve used a Kryptonite Kryptolok to lock my bike up, and so far it has yet to be stolen (knock on wood). A lot of people swear by Kryptonite locks and I like the one I bought for its no-fuss key mechanism. It also comes with a holder you can mount to one of your bike’s bottle cage mounts.

Buy Kryptonite Kryptolok at Amazon - $64

Strava Subscription

Igor Bonifacic / Engadget

Even if you only consider yourself a casual cyclist, you should use an app like Strava to record your rides. Like with any activity, it can be easy to get discouraged with cycling, particularly if you finish a ride where you feel like things didn’t go your way. But here’s the thing, you’re getting better whether you realize it or not.

When I first started cycling in the summer of 2020, I was averaging a speed of about 15km per hour. I can now do about 23km per hour. I know that because I have a record of nearly every ride I’ve gone on since I bought my first bike at the start of the pandemic. And it’s all thanks to Strava.

The best part of the app is that you don’t need to pay for its annual $60 premium subscription to get access to some of its best features. Recording your rides is free, and the company recently made its Beacon feature, which can automatically notify your loved ones of your location, available to all smartphone users. In my view, it’s worthwhile upgrading to Strava’s premium tier if you think you’ll get value out of its route-building tool. It uses the company’s data to generate routes in your nearby vicinity, and I find it’s a good way to add some variety to your rides.

Subscribe to Strava - $60/year

Wahoo Elemnt Bolt V2

Wahoo

In your phone, you already own one of the most useful cycling accessories you can buy. Not only can it point you in the right direction when you get lost but you can also use it with apps like Strava to track your rides. In those instances, it can be useful to have easy access to your phone when you’re on the saddle. That’s where a handlebar phone mount can be invaluable.

One of the most secure options I’ve tried is made by Quad Lock. The company’s system involves a case made specifically for your make of phone and a dual-stage locking mechanism that ensures both case and device stay firmly affixed to your bike. They also offer both stem and out front mounts, with the option to orient your phone horizontally – making it a great fit for Zwift.

Another option is to buy a dedicated bike computer such as the Wahoo Elemnt Bolt. The Bolt offers turn-by-turn navigation and an interface that’s purpose-built for cycling. That means the inclusion of tactile buttons that make it possible to interact with the device by feel alone, even when you’re wearing cycling gloves. Plus, a $300 bike computer is a lot more affordable to replace than a high-end smartphone if you end up in a crash. Just make sure you go for the V2 version. Wahoo recently updated the Bolt to add USB-C charging and a color screen.

Buy Element Bolt V2 at Amazon - $300

Garmin Rally Pedals

Garmin

If you already own some variation of everything else on this list, then you’re probably at the point where you’re considering a power meter so you have a more consistent way of measuring your fitness gains.

To be clear, the majority of people, even those for whom cycling is their primary form of exercise, don’t need a power meter. But if you’re absolutely set on buying one, Garmin makes one of the best options. The company’s Rally pedals offer several advantages over other models. They’re much easier to install than power meters that replace either your bottom bracket or crankarms. All you need is a pedal wrench. Additionally, with Garmin offering the Rally pedals in Shimano SPD, SPD-SL and Look Keo versions, there’s a good chance you won’t have to replace your existing clipless cleats to use them. Garmin also offers a conversion kit that allows you to use the spindle mechanism across multiple bikes. With a price tag that starts at $649, they are expensive, but also one of the most versatile options on the market.

Buy Rally pedals at Garmin starting at $649

What we bought: Peloton’s Lanebreak offered just the kick I needed to get back in the saddle

Four years ago, I decided to purchase a Peloton bike. I was spending way too much on membership dues at a luxury gym I hardly attended, and I was intrigued by the idea of an exercise bike with live and on-demand classes. Even though the bike is expensive, I bought it on an installment plan; the monthly payments worked out to be around $100 less than that underused gym membership. Add in the fact that both my husband and I could use it for the price of a single subscription, and I was sold.

While I still do like the bike, I’ll admit that I haven't been using it as much in recent months. I just haven’t been very motivated, and when I do get the energy to go for a ride, I sometimes feel discouraged by my poor performance. Of course, I know that the beauty of the Peloton is that you can ride at your own pace, but it can feel demoralizing to rank at the bottom of the leaderboard all the time.

Recently, however, Peloton added a new “gamified” experience to the Bike and Bike+ called Lanebreak. Instead of following instructors in a class, you’ll be cycling along different tracks and at different difficulties in order to get a high score. Seeing as I’m a fan of fitness games – I really like Nintendo’s Ring Fit Adventure as well as Just Dance, for example – I was excited to try it out.

Engadget

Lanebreak is found in the “More Rides” section in the Peloton menu, which is also where the Scenic Rides and Just Ride options are. In the game, there are six different tracks, and you navigate from one to the other with the bike’s resistance knob (you’ll know which one you’re in by the rotating wheel avatar). The farthest left is with the least resistance, while the furthest right is with the most resistance. As you might expect, the farther right you go, the more points you can score.

In order to gain points, you have to complete a few different tasks, which are either one after another on the same track or dispersed on to separate tracks. One is to simply cycle in the lane with blue bars, each of which represents “Beats.” These score points every time you go over them. Another is to cycle really fast in an orange “Breakers" section until the meter is “charged” – the more it’s charged, the more points you’ll get. Last but not least, there are “Streams,” where you’re tasked with holding your target cadence within a specified range.

At the end of a Lanebreak workout, your total score is based on all the Beats, Breakers and Streams that you’ve completed and collected throughout the game. You’ll also see a high score on the Lanebreak leaderboard for that particular game.

The length of a Lanebreak workout runs the gamut from five minutes to 30, and there are four different levels: beginner, intermediate, advanced and expert. There’s also a wide variety of music playlists to pick from, such as “Rock Riot'' and David Bowie remixes.

Engadget

I have to say, I had a lot of fun. The look and feel really reminds me of Guitar Hero, a game which I have fond memories of. I enjoy navigating to the different tracks and then cycling as hard as I can to score the maximum points. I tend to score fairly well in the beginner and intermediate levels, but I dare not venture into advanced or expert modes just yet. I was a little concerned that a 20 or 30 minute game might feel repetitive, but I actually really liked it – the song mixes help keep things interesting.

There are a few downsides, though. For one thing, the resistance knob can be a little fiddly, which is not great when I’m trying to make quick lane changes. Plus, there’s no real break for you to take a sip of water; you kind of just have to miss out on a few points when you’re hydrating. Of course, as there’s no instructor, you’ll also miss out on motivation shoutouts and stretching exercises. But I find that the gameplay aspect of Lanebreak is fun enough to make up for that.

Perhaps the best part of Lanebreak is that it got me back cycling after several months of not doing so. It really made me fall in love with cycling all over again. After a five-minute Lanebreak session yesterday, for example, I navigated over to the on-demand library and took a 20-minute beginner class. I felt great afterwards, and didn’t care at all about where I was on the leaderboard.

Raleigh's expanded Motus e-bike line offers more power and range

How does a veteran bicycle maker like Raleigh survive an increasingly crowded e-bike market? By promising more oomph, apparently. The company has revamped its strong-selling Motus hybrid e-bike line with more power and range. The base Motus now starts with a 400WH Bosch Active Line motor (up from 300WH) and, accordingly, a bump from 60 miles to 80 miles of range. You shouldn't have as much trouble blasting up a hill or completing a lengthy commute. You can also expect four levels of electric assistance, a seven-speed gear system and hydraulic disc brakes.

More demanding riders have more options, of course. The Motus Tour and Motus Grand Tour both have the choice of either a derailleur or hub gearing, and they pack integrated front and rear lights as well as a wheel lock. The Tour and Grand Tour both pack sleeker, easily removable Bosch PowerTube batteries, while the top-end Grand Tour includes both a larger 500WH battery and a brawnier Active Line Plus motor. Raleigh claims up to 100 miles of range.

All the bikes are available in the UK and Ireland with either a crossbar frame or an easier-to-mount low step design. Expect higher prices in return for the added performance, however. The 'entry' Motus starts at £2,199 (about $2,987), while the Motus Tour begins at £2,499 for a derailleur version and the Grand Tour costs £2,699. The hub versions of the Tour and Grand Tour add another £100 to the price. They're slightly pricier than the models they replace (the previous Motus started at £1,900), but the additional outlay could easily be worthwhile if your bike is your chief mode of transportation.

Peloton owners can now play a video game while they work out

Peloton today launched Lanebreak, a new series of workouts that mimic a racing game for its connected stationary bike. Riders get behind a virtual wheel, race down a multi-lane highway and gain points for higher levels of output and resistance. The fitness company briefly beta tested Lanebreak last July, and is now launching the new mode as a software update to all Peloton bikes in the US, UK, Canada, Germany and Australia.

Unlike the majority of other Peloton workouts, there’s no instructor on Lanebreak offering encouragement throughout the ride. Instead, riders can choose from a selection of different pop-centric playlists to listen to in the background, featuring the likes of David Guetta, David Bowie, Bruno Mars and Ed Sheeran.

For Peloton riders who are bored with the usual slate of instructor-led classes, Lanebreak adds a change of pace. It’s also the first new program that the fitness company has added to their fitness library in a while, following a major expansion in 2020 that included barre, yoga, pilates and strength training classes.

The fitness company, once a darling of the pandemic, has now run into financial woes due to a decline in demand. Earlier this month, Peloton replaced its CEO and laid-off roughly 20 percent of its workforce in an effort to streamline its expenses. But despite its struggles on Wall Street, Peloton's incredibly loyal customer base has a 96% one-year retention rate. The bikes are a large upfront investment, and few Peloton riders want the added hassle of reselling and moving their $1,495 bike. While it’s unlikely that Lanebreak will recruit new Peloton riders, it’ll add some variety to a fitness library that, for some seasoned riders, has become stale.

Zwift is holding a cycling esports event in a virtual NYC

Zwift is bringing together some of its more dedicated cyclists for another competitive riding event. On February 26th, the workout platform will host the second UCI Cycling Esports World Championships on a course set on a virtual version of Central Park in New York City.

Riders will complete two laps of the 22.5 km Knickerbocker route. The course features some glass roadways that are suspended above the park to add more elevation. Pay close attention and you'll see flying taxis zipping around too.

The competitors will all use the Wahoo Kickr V5 Smart Trainers. Zwift says these intelligently respond to climb gradients as well as simulated drift from other riders.

Since this is a virtual event, Zwift is able to shake things up a bit from traditional road races. Riders will have seven chances to pick up Mario Kart-style PowerUps during the race. They can deploy these at strategic times to temporarily increase the draft effect, boost aerodynamic efficiency or reduce the bike's weight.

Around 180 riders will compete across the men's and women's races. The winners will each receive a physical and digital championship jersey they can wear for sanctioned esports races and activities and while their avatar is active on Zwift. The event will be broadcast on Eurosport in Europe and on GCN+ and Zwift's YouTube channel around the world.

Zwift notes that all users had the chance to secure a spot in the UCI Cycling Esports World Championships through continental qualifier races. It says that while it's early days for cycling esports, some specialist riders have already emerged. As the metaverse continues to take shape, perhaps we'll start seeing more physical esports events in other disciplines.

Muoverti says its tilting stationary bike feels like real cycling

While nothing can truly match the real thing, a number of stationary bike companies have tried to replicate the outdoor riding experience. A startup called Muoverti is the latest to take a swing with its TiltBikes.

As the name suggests, the machine can swing from side to side while you're standing and you can lean to turn a virtual corner. "You can balance and steer, accelerate and brake and fully engage legs, core and upper body," a narrator notes in an announcement video.

The on-pedal feel is said to mirror the physical forces of a real bike, such as gravity, incline and inertia. The electromagnetic resistance is controlled by an algorithm that updates a thousand times per second. This, according to the company, enables simulations of factors including drafting, angular wind speed and rolling resistance in real time.

TiltBikes are compatible with training apps including Zwift, RGT and Trainer Road. What's more, there are built-in gaming controls, so you can connect the bike to an Xbox and perhaps squeeze in some Riders Republic as you're getting a workout. The bike can pair with a smartphone, tablet or PC via Bluetooth too.

Muoverti

The frame is swappable, you can switch it out if you have different handlebar or pedal preferences to someone you share a TiltBike with, or go from a time trial setup to a mountain bike one. You'll also be able to monitor your workouts through a companion app that tracks more than 20 stats in real time.

These aren't exactly the first tilting stationary bikes on the market. Bowflex's Velocore, for instance, can stay locked in place or switch to leaning mode. Alternatively, you can put a bike on rocker plates for that side-to-side motion.

It appears Muoverti's goal is to bring together elements from other bikes and to elevate the experience. As it stands, some features that serious cyclists will be looking for don't seem to be available, such as vertical climb simulation, so it might be a better fit for more casual riders. Still, with its stylish frames, TiltBikes look a bit more like actual bikes than rival models.

Muoverti hasn't announced pricing for TiltBikes as yet, though given that some configurations don't include a display, they could prove less expensive than some other models. The company plans to ship the stationary bikes in 2022, giving you some time to find a decent wind machine to get the full outdoor riding effect.

Muoverti

The Carol smart exercise bike is a $2,400 paradox

If you had the opportunity, would you pay more in order to use an exercise bike less frequently? That is, give or take, the sales pitch for Carol’s at-home spin bike. It’s the anti-Peloton, designed to be used for just 8 minutes and 40 seconds per workout. At the end of its standard program, it even tells you that you can go to the gym if you want to, rather than because you need to. But stealing back all of those hours from the capricious gods of exercise comes at a price: $2,395, plus $12 per month after the first three months. It’s up to you to decide if that eye-watering fee is worth swerving all of those cardio sessions.

Science

Daniel Cooper

Carol leverages the principles of Reduced Exertion, High Intensity Interval Training (REHIIT), a variation on the Tabata method of HIIT. Put simply, you’re asked to exercise at a very high intensity for a very short period of time, rather than a long period of time in a steady state. In this example, Carol says that its standard sub-nine-minute workout gives you the equivalent workout to a 45-minute jog. This involves you going all-out for 20 seconds, but then having the better part of three minutes to recover.

That 20-second frenzy is designed to deplete your body’s stores of glycogen and pushes the heart rate through the roof. The long recovery time is designed to reset your body, enabling you to grind out far more from your muscles than you would in a standard Tabata workout. And studies have shown that, at least in male participants, a six-week REHIIT program can improve their insulin resistance and oxygen consumption.

“One of the things I like about REHIIT is the long length of the recovery periods,” says Stuart Moore, trainer and owner of Wheel Fitness, a specialist cycling practice. “This enables people without a lot of experience to recover properly between bouts of hard work and then go again with another round.” He added that “all interval training can be useful,” but stressed that would-be adopters “should get the important checks with your doctor” before trying this sort of thing. “I’d prefer complete beginners to interval training try something more mild than modified versions of HIIT,” he said, “this could help with developing a base before delving into the more intense exercise later.”

Andrea Speir, co-founder and lead trainer at Speir Pilates, added that the psychological benefits on neophyte exercisers were crucial. “Because it spikes the heart rate and improves VO2 Max, cardiac output and boosts the metabolism [...] without being too strenuous,” she said. “It’s not as daunting to commit to it three-to-five times a week, which is where you really see great results,” she added.

History

Daniel Cooper

It’s not often that a company founder announces that their product exists because of a BBC documentary, but Carol isn’t exactly a standard Silicon Valley story. Co-founder Ulrich Dempfle was a management consultant working with the UK’s National Health Service on behalf of firms like McKinsey and PWC. Part of his role was to look for ways to encourage people to exercise more, despite the fact they would often say they didn’t have enough time to become gym bunnies. It wasn’t until he watched 2012’s The Truth About Exercise that he became a convert to REHIIT.

The documentary was fronted by Dr. Michael Mosely, who is chiefly responsible for making intermittent fasting mainstream in the UK. One of Mosely’s gimmicks has always been to look for more efficient ways to feel healthy, and this was a love letter to REHIIT. Dempfle and his team contacted the academics whose research was featured in order to get a look at their equipment. Dempfle explained that the bikes featured had their intensity controlled by one of the academics while a person exercised on them, and that the price was astronomical. It was here that the idea of building an affordable REHIIT bike was more or less born. In fact, Carol would wind up being featured in a Mosley’s 2018 follow-up documentary, The Truth About Getting Fit, albeit not named because of the BBC’s rules against product placement.

Bike

Daniel Cooper

At first glance, Carol could be mistaken for pretty much any at-home exercise bike. It has a very large, rear-slung flywheel and a beefy drive unit, which houses the system to electronically control the resistance, the secret sauce behind the REHIIT program. A pair of short handles with the customary heart rate-monitoring electrodes sit below the display housing, which holds a 10.1-inch screen. The seat height and distance is adjustable, as well as the height of the handlebars, and there are toe cages and clips on the pedals, for pro cyclists.

After you’ve registered, you can then log in to the bike, which is a process you’ll have to do every time you want to use it. After the first attempt, you can just tap on your initials on a list of stored users, but there’s no way to stay logged in by default. Given how beefy the bike is, and that it’s designed for both at-home and professional use, I feel as if this makes it well-suited to offices and gyms, more so than people’s homes. You could easily see this in the corner of a small business, with staff members getting their 10 minutes each day as they take a break from their work.

Display

Daniel Cooper

When it comes to screens, there are two schools of thought dominating the at-home fitness market. Peloton’s ubiquity means that consumers may soon expect all machines to have a glossy, massive HD display as the default. Companies like Wattbike, Concept2 and others, however, are happy pushing out machines that still leverage old-school LCD head units. (On a personal note, the Polar View offered by the Wattbike PMB is one of the best training tools I’ve ever encountered).

Carol splits this difference by offering a 10.1-inch color touchscreen that offers the same sort of data you’d find on an LCD set, but cleaner and more colorful. The UI flashes an angry red when you hit the high intensity phase, and the visualizations showing your power output are great. A software update, too, came through during my review that has made the UI a lot cleaner and smoother than it was before. And, even better, you can use the display to live stream classes from Peloton’s own app, although you’ll need to subscribe to them separately.

Boot the bike up for the first time and you’ll be greeted by a Lenovo splash screen because Carol’s display is quite literally a Lenovo tablet in a housing. On paper, this is genius: An Android tablet should last longer, is more affordable and should be easier to replace than a custom solution. Plus, you can (and Carol does) leverage Google’s pre-built accessibility features for adjusting screen fonts and voice overs that it would take time and money to copy for little-to-no upside.

Not to mention that, because it is an Android tablet, you can run third-party apps through the Play Store, albeit only ones that have been sanctioned by Carol’s makers. So far, that’s just Peloton, but there’s no technical reason that your favorite fitness, or entertainment, app couldn’t wind up on this screen as well. But, for all of those positives, slamming an Android tablet onto a bike and calling it quits still feels a bit lackluster for a bike costing two thousand four hundred dollars.

In use

Daniel Cooper

Once you’ve answered the medical questionnaire, you have to go through six taster sessions for the bike to gauge your overall fitness level. After that point, you’re free to sample the delights that the bike has to offer, including four different REHIIT workouts. I pretty much stuck to the standard program — the reason anyone would buy a Carol bike — but there are other options available. This includes an Energiser ride, which offers shorter, 10-second sprints, as well as 15-minute or 25 minute Fat Burn program, with 30 or 60 sprints, respectively. You also get the option for a Free Ride, with power controlled by yourself, or an Endurance ride with the resistance slowly ramping up beyond your ability to cope with it.

Once you’ve chosen a program, you’re asked to choose from a series of generic audio options but, again, I was advised by the company’s representatives to stick with the default. (This was probably for the best, because the other options are essentially musak.) In it, a calm voiceover talks about how neanderthal man never jogged, they either walked slowly, or ran like their lives depended on it. At the same time, the on-screen coaching tells you to breathe in for four seconds, hold for a beat, and then exhale over six seconds, which is hard to coordinate if you’re bad at multitasking. All the while you’re asked to cycle at a very low level, never exceeding an output of 20 watts or so.

There’s a countdown timer on screen (and a timeline), so it’s not as if you’re not told when the sprints are about to begin. But the narration treats it more like a surprise, talking about the vista when, suddenly, she tells you that there’s a tiger leaping out at you!, and you have to pedal for your life. The screen turns red three seconds before the sprint begins, letting you spool up as you prepare to go hell for leather to escape your predator. Because the resistance is calibrated to your fitness level, it continues to go up after your initial burst of energy to ensure that you’re nicely wiped out by the end of the sprint. Hell, I found that I was flagging at the 10-second mark, and could never get back to my first output peak no matter what I tried.

You may scoff at the idea that biking for just 20 seconds can wipe you out and make any positive impact on your fitness. You begin to feel your legs go as your body suddenly starts to wuss out, and the final quarter of the sprints have you running on fumes. As effective exercises go, the system makes good upon its promises, and you need that long recovery time to restore any sense of humanity you may have had. The screen will graph your output (and compare it to your output on the second sprint, when you hit it) and let you see how far you’ve dropped between runs. Although the on-screen display’s promise that you won’t sweat is mostly true, it’s not entirely fair for sweaty, sweaty boys like me.

Wrap-up

Daniel Cooper

In the period in which I was using Carol, I think my fitness did improve, as did my mood when I was trying to complete one of these more or less every single day. (The bike repeatedly advises you, as does its representatives, to only do a single sprint session in a 24 hour period and only three times a week to avoid injury.) You certainly start the day feeling more energized, and I can’t complain that this has eaten a big chunk of my day when it hasn’t.

But I’m finding myself hamstrung by the price, especially given the fact that it’s designed to do one job, one fitness program, to the exclusion of most others. Do I want to spend $2,399 plus an additional $12 a month on an appliance I’d use for 30 or 40 minutes a week? Yes, that’s less than you can spend on a Wattbike Atom or Peloton Bike+, but it’s still a lot. In that philistinic sense of knowing the cost of something but not its value, the numbers make my eyes water.

It’s a bike that does one thing, really, and it does it well, but I feel in my gut that I’d have an easier time singing this thing’s praises if its price was just below the $2,000 mark. It’s a weird psychological barrier for sure, and maybe you’re scoffing at my imaginary parsimony. But as much as this thing is designed for a mainstream audience, right now, it’s priced at the level where only enthusiasts can buy it.