More than a century after the box bike was first conceived, what improvements can still be made? Riese & Müller find innovations, discovers Simon Vincett.
The car manufacturer Audi may have nabbed the term already but “Vorsprung durch Technik” could equally apply to German bicycle brand Riese & Müller, because “Progress through engineering” aptly describes their guiding design principle. Just as they took the folding bike concept back to the drawing board with their iconic Birdy design, with the Load, R&M have reimagined the box bike, with two significant additions.
Firstly, like the Birdy and all their subsequent bikes, the Load gets suspension on the front and back. At first glance this may seem like overkill but R&M argue the benefit of suspension for consistent contact with the ground and thereby full control. This is possibly better appreciated by European riders, with the higher prevalence of cobblestones in their cities and towns, but it ensures all conditions are covered for Australian riders too. With a bike like this that you can really load up, it’s good not to have to worry about the bumps that you come across here and there – the suspension smooths them out and maintains traction, keeping you in control.
Secondly, the Load utilises that other modern convenience of the moment, the electric motor, for pedal assistance. It’s not the first cargo bike with a motor but it is one of a select few that have been designed from the outset to operate with assistance. Being integral rather than an add-on suggests the motor should be optimally melded into the bike’s performance.
Having been designed around these two innovations, how does the Load perform?
Well, I found the Load superb in many ways. Initially it was with slight trepidation that I left my regular commuting bike behind to ride off with the Load. This meant all my trips and regular tasks would be done on this bike. I needn’t have worried though because the Load had the versatility to go wherever I needed to go and, crucially, handle whatever I needed to do.
The first surprise was the handling, which was more stable than I expect from a box bike, which are generally quite ‘twitchy’. This feeling of instability can be quite off-putting for riders but the Load is very stable in comparison. I checked with R&M whether the Load had some form of steering dampening but it doesn’t. Instead, it seems the geometry is simply dialled in to the optimum.
In fact, the Load is an impressively nimble bike for the length of its wheelbase, with a good turning circle. I tested it on all my favourite local riding routes, including riding on the footpath with my son to school. It was capable of negotiating a wide range of sharp turns and tight spaces, though it was defeated by tight chicanes of bollards at a couple of my favourite cut-throughs. But any cargo bike is going to require a slight change of how you ride, just as you have to adapt how you drive when towing a trailer. For the most part I needed to make no adjustment to how I usually ride. Despite the long wheelbase, I was even able to get the bike in the lift at work to keep it in the in-office secure bike parking.
I was very quickly confident of the Load’s handling – I was soon holding brief track stands at intersections where the light was about to change. Loaded up and empty, the handling was uniformly excellent. In another revealing test, the Load continued to handle well without the motor providing any assistance, though the weight was suddenly very apparent.
That very helpful assistance – that I gratefully switched back on – comes from the Bosch Performance Cruise motor. This latest generation centre-drive unit from the market leader in ebike motors is the optimal blend of all the best aspects of a pedal assist system. Bosch’s winning offering is the subtle responsiveness of its network of sensors and its intelligent, ever-vigilant controller. The result for the rider is an assistance system that responds with more assistance when you push harder on the pedal, a system that senses when you’re changing gears and pauses so as not to overload the gearing mechanism, a system that comes in gradually so that assistance is a gentle boost rather than a push in the back. In these and in more ways, the Bosch leads the way in subtle sophistication in ebike pedal-assist systems.
The Performance Cruise motor provides more torque than the Active Cruise, up to a maximum of 275% in addition to the power you put in with your legs. Powerful torque is of course very welcome on a heavy bike with capacity to carry 100kg. You can even opt for torque of up to 300% assistance with the Performance CX motor if you want to, though the compromise is slightly slower acceleration and being locked in to derailleur gearing without the option of hub gears. Bosch spell out the pros and cons of their various models online.
The battery with the Load e-system is the generous 500 Powerpack, with 500 watt hours of power. So how far can you ride with this big battery? Well, further than with a 400 Powerpack but precisely how far is hard to guess at with much accuracy. Fortunately, Bosch also provide an online tool estimate range you could expect from your e-system, based on your inputs for the variables of weight, terrain and level of assistance required.
The Intuvia display provides a readout of speed, trip distance and real-time re-calculation of the range left in the battery. It has the switch for the built-in lights, is backlit for night riding, and has a mini-USB outlet for charging devices on the go. The display easily detaches, which can provide basic security in tandem with the in-built Abus wheel lock for a quick park such as to pop in to a café for a take-away.
Like all ebikes in Australia, the motor cuts out at 25km/h, which is the main drawback to commuting on an ebike for people who regularly ride at speeds above 25km/h. Above this speed you find yourself working really hard to push a heavy bike for very little extra speed gained. It’s just not worth it. Instead, I find it helpful when riding an ebike to adopt an ‘ebike state-of-mind’, where I focus on fine-tuning the effort I’m prepared to put in instead of striving for speed.
The Load comes in one size but is easily adjusted to accommodate rider heights from 150cm to 195cm, with variable seat height, handlebar height and handlebar reach. This makes it a versatile bike to share between different riders in a family or a workplace. In fact, the riding position can be varied from upright to very forward-leaning (or “aggressive”). For storage, the Load can be made impressively compact. The two halves can detach, the handlebar mast can fold right down and the seat post can drop down or come out.
Its carrying capacity is a mighty 100kg, which relieves any worry about overloading. The whole bike can in fact take up to 200kg total of rider and luggage combined. The box can be configured in a variety of ways with low sides, high sides and child seats and rain covers. The box panels fit together neatly, but with spaces between them. To prevent small things falling through the cracks you need to line the floor of the box. You can also opt for a Racktime pannier rack over the rear wheel for extra carrying capacity.
The box is somewhat smaller than some other box bikes types at 580 x 420mm floor space (as opposed to 710 x 420mm for the Bullitt, for instance) and the high sides are not completed by a high back. There’s a bar for rigidity – and the space left at the back could be argued to be useful to reach into the box – but I think the full utility is reduced without a high back on the box. You do get a high back on the box if you get the child seat.
The tarp box cover looks great and fits securely – I had many rides in the rain in the first week of testing – but it is fiddly to use. Every time I had to lift the tarp I had to unhook the elastic and then hook it back on the pegs to set the tarp taut again. You could customise a box yourself of course.
Braking is somewhat important in a vehicle of potentially 200kg mass and 25km/h cruising velocity, and here it’s capably provided by Tektro Dorado disc calipers on the front and back. These hydraulic units allow nice modulation to subtly control your speed and confidence when you pull on them that they will halt you in a hurry. Not that you want to lock up the front wheel when its way out in front of you – perhaps that’s why the disc on the front is smaller.
Gearing on the Load ‘Touring’ model I tested was provided by a Shimano Deore XT derailleur with Deore Rapid Fire shifters. These 10 speeds across the 11–36T cassette provided a good range for riding both laden and light but it seemed incongruous to be using a derailleur – I think of hub gears as a natural fit with a bike such as the Load. A hub gear allows you to change gears when stationary, such as stopped at the lights, and requires a bit less maintenance – it’s a bit more forgiving.
The choice of derailleur seems to be because the Bosch motor can be set for greater torque when working through a derailleur. The system can be set to recognise when a gear change is happening with a derailleur and pause to reduce the load on the mechanism. The system can’t recognise a gear change in a hub set-up, however, and the torque needs to be reduced to avoid over-stressing it.
R&M do offer the Load with the excellent NuVinci hub gear, however. Which, even with reduced torque, additional cost and greater weight, I would seriously consider instead of the derailleur-fitted model for its convenience and smooth performance.
As you’d expect from a European bike, the Load is tricked out with sensible accessories. Quality front and back lights are built in and controlled from the Bosch Intuvia display panel. This may seem a small thing but it’s this sort of modern convenience that makes a modern e-cargo bike a desireable alternative to a car. The Abus wheel lock is the best-looking one of its type that I’ve seen and is easy to use. It has less utility than it could though, because it doesn’t offer the option of additional leash to lock you bike to something as well as disabling the wheel from spinning.
There’s comfort through all weather with the comprehensive mudguards. I would have liked some form of chain guard to avoid the worry of my pants being chewed by the chain. Better still would be a belt for a cleaner system with a longer service life. Best of all is the clean, no-nonsense, fully-enclosed drive train as found on the Urban Arrow.
The good news is that you can spec your ideal version of the Load yourself by building it up on the R&M website. You then take the spec to a shop and order it through EuroCycles, the Australian distributor. The bike is manufactured in Taiwan, according to a long-standing relationship with Pacific Cycles, and assembled in Germany.
In considering e-cargo bikes, you should note that R&M now offer the Packster, which seems more like a Bullitt, in its sporty configuration. It has a narrower profile when pared back to its minimal basics and it has no rear suspension, which R&M promotes as beneficial stiffness that maximises power transfer. This adds to my feeling that the full suspension of the Load is a bit of an overkill and an unnecessary expense in money and weight.
Overall, however, this is a cargo bike I happily used for commuting, which is a big tick of approval for a cargo bike. But even if you don’t choose to do all your commuting on it, it’s good to know that it has a lot of versatility in where it can be ridden. In two weeks commuting I didn’t come across a situation that I couldn’t work around easily and I found I needed to do less adjustment to my preferred routes and riding practices with the Load than other cargo bikes I have tested.
For more and to buy visit Eurocycles.
We have more about the versatility and potential of cargo bikes in our article ‘Smiles per hour’.
Frame 6061 alloy finished in gloss white, matt black, cyan blue or lime
Fork Spinner Grind 20” suspension fork
Rear suspension X-Fusion Glyde spring element
Motor Bosch Performance Line 250w with PowerPack 500wh
Gearing Shimano Deore XT 10-speed derailleur 11–36T with Deore Rapid Fire shifters
Brakes Tektro Dorado hydraulic disc brakes
Wheels 20″ front, 26″ rear with Shimano Deore XT hubs, Alienation front rim, Ritchey Girder rear, with Sapim spokes
Tyres Schwalbe Big Ben
Extras Busch&Muller Lumotec IQ front light and Secula plus rear light, Abus wheel lock, SKS mudguards
Weight 33.2 kg
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