BY BILL STRICKLAND (www.bicycling.com)
This highly-functional e-cargo bike is also wonderfully designed.
The Benno Boost E is the first e-cargo bike I can recommend without reservation. It’s not that there haven’t been high-quality, high-functioning e-cargos before—the $5,500 Xtracycle EdgeRunner 10E is a stellar example. Like the Boost, it relies on what our test team considers the industry-leading Bosch Performance Line power system, handles capably while both loaded and unburdened, pedals along with surprising sprightliness when unpowered, comes stock with a simple-to-use and sturdy kickstand, is built for durabilty both in terms of long-time use and resistance to inclement weather, and can be accessorized to fit your needs and lifestyle. (In fact, the Edgerunner outstrips the new-to-market Boost with a wider assortment of racks, pads, seats, fenders, and even a sidecar.)
But as exemplary as the Edgerunner and some other e-cargo bikes are, there remained one characteristic endemic to the category that kept it from gaining widespread, mainstream appeal (and that, frankly, to be honest about one of my most base impulses, kept me from truly desiring one): They were sexy like a Prius is sexy. That is to say: not at all, outside of the circle of people whose pheremones light up with the knowledge that they’re performing forthright deeds.
Benno founder and designer Benno Baenziger (who previously turned Electra into a design sensation) takes his cues from America’s muscle-car era, from surf-city So Cal culture, from Ed Roth, and, I think, from his Berlin, Germany, upbringing. There’s some of the clean, spare lines and simple, bold colors of Bauhaus to his bikes, but also an exuberant reaction to it, a freedom. Yeah, that’s a mouthful of yakking about the aesthetic of an electric cargo bike—but, for instance, the angle of the upright tubes of the rear rack mimics the angle of the seat tube, and the rearmost inner curve of the rack matches the shape of the rear dropout. The girth of the tubes and tires means the otherwise ugly exposed battery and oversize bottom bracket shell feel cohesive. There’s serious industrial design going on here, and even those who don’t appreciate it at the level of art dork are wowed by the bike. (Complete your look with the stylish and sturdy Parker Dusseau x Bicycling Work Shirt.)
The basics have been taken care of, too: 6016 aluminum frame with steel fork; Shimano Deore 10-speed drivetrain and hydraulic disc brakes; Bosch Performance Line power system; fat 24×2.6-in tires; stock front and rear lights, fenders, and front and rear rack. Officially, the Bosch-powered assist gives you 75 miles in its least-powerful mode and 25 miles in turbo. In practice, this varies with payload, weight, length of your trips, even wind resistance. Over about four months of testing, I rode it for more than a week at a time to work (one mile, but uphill one way) and all over town without recharging. It fully recharges in four hours. And you have plenty of warning thanks to the range display—you can toggle power modes to eke out miles. When power dies, pedaling isn’t bad. As part of testing, I deliberately ran the battery dry three times: Once with payload of about 20 pounds, once facing the uphill commute home laden with only a backpack, and once at my farthest regular point of town riding, about five miles away. I wasn’t setting any KOMs, but I never cursed the bike as I have with some others.
One caveat: This is what’s known as a midtail cargo bike, with a wheelbase of 49 inches. There’s a clever handle built into the saddle, and it’s amazingly balanced when you lift it or pivot it on the kickstand, but make no mistake that with the length and the weight this is a lot of bike to maneuver. Unless you have ample, ground-floor parking space at home and at work, or are willing to leave it outside or get creative ramping stairs, this is not your bike.
That said, besides being a blast to ride and unapologetically useful, this bike is a star. When you’re on it or even just with it, you’ll be one, too.
AT A GLANCE
• more muscle car than Prius
• Shimano Deore 10-speed drivetrain & hydraulic brakes
• 24 x 2.6-in tires
• up to 75-mile range