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Butchers and Bicycles review

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This “built-to-tilt” machine transforms how you ride a tricycle. Adding an automatic transmission and electric motor creates a new paradigm of cargo bike. Simon Vincett reports.

B&B-ratingIn three key ways the Butchers and Bicycles Mk1-E with NuVinci HSync is a great leap forward in cargo bikes, providing the most viable car-alternative on the Australian market: it is fun, fully-accessorised and foolproof.

The tricycle format is very appealing in a cargo bike because it just makes sense to seek maximum stability in a bike that is going to get very heavy when loaded up. The trouble is, going around a corner at a reasonable riding speed on a standard trike creates a scary lean where the inside wheel lifts and the bike threatens to topple over.

Unlike any other trike I’ve ridden, this tilting machine is beautiful to ride. It’s as fun to ride as a two-wheeled bike, providing—and in fact encouraging—the full-body experience of steering through the hips and leaning into the turns. Check out the videos online of the bike in action at butchersandbicycles.com. These are not stunt riders—it’s actually no problem to carve corners after just a short test ride to get used to the handling. In fact, I found the bike very easy to get used to riding—more so than most cargo bikes, including two-wheel long bikes with the box up front. The tilt allows a much tighter turning circle than you would expect from a trike, or indeed from any bike of this length.

Butchers-&-Bicycles_Mk1-E,-Adding to the fun is the top-notch Bosch Performance Line electric motor. With this assisting you, this big bike still delivers that wonderful feeling of flying that we love so much from bike riding. There are four levels of assistance available from the motor, from approximately 1:3 (with the motor providing assistance that is one third of the power you put in) to 3:1 (with the motor putting in three times as much power as you put in). The sophisticated Bosch combination of sensors provides a subtle but strong assistance that helps without taking over.

Keeping you confident that you’re in control are Magura disc brakes on all three wheels. Being hydraulic they can be operated with one finger each, even though you’re pulling up a heavy bike with a lot of momentum. The front brake lever also has a built-in ‘handbrake’ switch to lock both front wheel brakes, which is very quick and handy when parking on a bit of a slope.

So riding fun is assured.

Next, like a car, the B&B Mk1-E is fully accessorised for modern life. From the comfort of the rider’s seat, there’s a lockable glovebox in the back of the cab with a cup holder in the lid and webbing to secure a phone or similar items. On the handlebars, the Intuvia display is your dashboard to control the electric system and lights and to monitor battery level, time, speed and ride statistics. The display is backlit for night riding and also provides a mini-USB output socket for device charging. To conveniently change the motor’s assistance level while riding, there’s a discreet thumb-operated panel sitting next to the left handlebar grip.

Mudguards are fitted as standard, though lights are not. Top quality Supernova E3 lights run by the bike’s battery are available as an optional extra. There’s a hefty two-legged stand—operated from the rider’s position—to keep the bike entirely stable when parked. This is helpful when loading the cab—essential to prevent the tilt when kids are clambering in. Another optional extra to choose is the flat fabric cover for the cab, or the ‘child pack’ of padded seat with two harnesses and a hood with windows. The cab also features ISOFIX brackets installed in the bench, allowing you to securely fasten your infant car seat inside the front box.

Life’s too short for tiresome transport

Very handy is a quick-release height adjustment for the handlebars, which in addition to the seat post quick release, makes for an easy transition in set-up for you or your partner to take turns using the bike. The only major thing lacking is a ‘chainguard’ and skirt guard to prevent your clothes going into the belt or the spokes. With these, you could ride in any clothes, making this a very useful, no-nonsense, utility vehicle.

Thirdly, like an automatic car, this vehicle is virtually foolproof, via the key ingredient of the marvelous NuVinci HSync automatic transmission. This is what ebikes have needed to make them as easy-to-use as a modern car. The rider can just sit and pedal, and the transmission changes gears according to how fast you’re going and how hard you’re pushing.

NuVinci-HarmonyYou can even choose your preferred pedalling speed (cadence). In fact, this is key to the setup of the bike. It’s done by the dealer when you buy the bike, but you can easily adjust it yourself via the Intuvia display. I set off in the recommended cadence but fine-tuned it after a few kilometres.

There is also a manual-shifting version, with a twist grip to change gears. Otherwise it’s the same NuVinci hub transmission as in the automatic version. While heavy—due to the oil bath it operates in—the NuVinci N360 is the perfect gear system for this sort of bike. Rather than being indexed, with a number of specific gears, the N360 is infinitely variable between the top and bottom of the range. This allows it to shift even under the high torque of pedalling hard, which is a boon with a heavy bike and which makes it a lot easier for the automatic system.

On some steeper hills I felt the weight of the bike, and while the gears were doing their job, I needed more help. So I ramped up the assistance of the motor to the max. In ordinary riding on the HSync transmission, you can control the level of assistance to give yourself more help or more exercise, or to get more distance out of the charge in the battery. But you could also leave the bike in the same level of assistance forever and not bother with changing anything for the majority of ordinary riding.

Also making life easy with this bike is the Gates Carbon Drive belt. These belts need no lubrication and last longer than a chain, cutting down on your maintenance. The Schwalbe tyres provide peace of mind with their superior puncture resistance, and the hydraulic disc brakes shouldn’t demand any attention. So, except for pumping the tyres every fortnight you could confidently ignore the maintenance of this bike and just take it for an annual service.

Like I said, it’s pretty much foolproof.

I had no problem finding a parking hoop or street sign to lock up to when I was out and about. You wouldn’t use less security than a D-lock with a bike this expensive though, and you wouldn’t leave it locked up outside overnight anywhere. At 220cm long and 98cm wide, I couldn’t fit this bike into the lift at work to access our in-office parking, so it had to stay downstairs.

The overall width is 98cm—which is greater than the 87cm of a Christiania box trike, for instance—because the wheels have to sit out wide of the cab to enable tilting. Having said that, I didn’t have to make many adjustments to my riding routes to accommodate the width of the bike. Anecdotal feedback suggests the width of these bikes can be a challenge in places with slim spaces for bikes, such as some of Sydney’s network for instance.

I have to say, the cab is not as big as I expected, because it has some of the chassis of the bike underneath the back half. It ends up being about a third smaller in volume compared to a Christiania box, for instance, while having the same outside dimensions. It’s a good format for a bench seat for two kids though. There’s also room for a lot of groceries and a dog or two.

B-&-B_MK1-E_Hood

Speaking of dogs, while this is an excellent machine to take them to the beach or the park, the door latch needs adapting to keep them in. Alarmingly, the latch pops open easily with a firm jolt. For instance, if your dog has its front legs on it and you hit a bump it can pop open. The manufacturers have been provided feedback on this fault but prior to them upgrading new models you’ll want to add a shot bolt if you’re transporting dogs or anything that will lean on the door.

On the whole, I found the finish of the cab itself a bit basic for a vehicle with a $10,000 price tag. There’s no smooth finish for the capping on the lip of the cab, for instance, and the glove box-style well is unlined inside. I would have thought these aspects should be highly finished for this sort of financial outlay, even if they’re mechanically sound.

While certainly expensive for a bicycle, the Butchers and Bicycles Mk1-E is cheap for an electric vehicle, when you consider that an electric car is $40K. But it’s not a car, you say? No it isn’t: you don’t have to register it or pay money for fuel, parking or toll roads. It also provides exercise and stress relief instead of adding to your sitting down time, as a car does. It does carry you and your kids/dog/groceries and it’s sure to get you a parking spot closer to your destination than a motor vehicle ever could.

Moreover, it’s a beautiful ride, and life’s too short for tiresome transport.

For more and for dealers, see eurocycles.com.au.

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