We first saw the Urban Cargo at Eurobike 2008 and we've wanted to try one out ever since. Now we have and it turns out to be a very comfortable and capable town machine with some nice touches. It's not all good news though: the expensive spec didn't really enthrall us and the cargo system needs a bit of work. As such it's hard to recommend the bike as tested here, the derailleur option looks a much better bet.
The Urban Cargo is built around a 7005 Aluminium frame that's certainly a burly beast. The dropouts are adjustable to tension the chain for singlespeed and hub-geared incarnations, and there's a gear hanger too. Bolted on to the frame is a thick-tubed rack that can serve either as a front or rear unit, and up front there's a rigid double crown fork that features an ingenious telescopic section to give you a much bigger range of bar height than you'd get from a normal spacer stack. Our test steed was fitted with a SRAM i-Motion 9spd hub and Avid Juicy 3 hydraulic discs, and the top-end spec also included lights, 'guards, a dynamo front hub and a Brooks saddle.
Swinging a leg over the Bionicon for the first time and you immediately notice that it's not quite as laid back as it appears: the 71/73 angles (steepened to 72/73 for 2010) are a touch more aggressive than most cruisers. The bar/stem arrangement quickens the steering a bit and the offset crown slows it down, the net result being that it's about right. I liked the telescopic forks which allow about four inches of vertical movement for the bars with the twist of an allen key. I set them high for a more upright position which is great when you're rolling along on the flat. The shape of the bars and stem mean knee room is a little restricted when you're climbing out of the saddle though, another reason I set the bars high.
Once you're up to speed (and at over 17kg this takes a little while) the Urban Cargo is a supremely comfortable and stable ride. The frame and fork are super-stiff but this is tempered by the low standover height which allows you to run a fairly long seatpost, and the bulbous Schwalbe Big Apple tyres soak up the bumps efficiently without making the bike feel vague. The brakes do a bang up job of stopping you too. Point the Bionicon uphill or push on for a longer ride and its weight starts to tell, but this is really a bike for short to middle distance cruising. And in some style: there aren't many bikes that draw comments from passers by but the Urban Cargo is certainly one. To be honest opinions were divided, but it certainly is different.
Sadly it's not all good news though. The rack is a clever bit of engineering but as an actual load carrying device it's far from perfect. The tubes are too thick to take a normal pannier; you can get bolt-on bag hooks but even then the bags tend to sit a bit low and forward, meaning big footed testers such as myself clip them with their heels. Also the platform isn't actually that big, and the cargo net supplied is a bit weedy: you'll need to get some proper industrial bungees if you want to strap anything heavy to it. The lights are odd too: you pay for a dynamo hub but it only powers the front lamp, not the rear.
My other main gripe was the hub gear: at nearly twice the price of a Nexus 8 I'd want the SRAM i-Motion to be noticeably better but in fact I prefer the cheaper Shimano unit. The range isn't that different but the Nexus is quieter and shifts more readily, especially under load. The hub adds significantly to the cost of the bike, as does some of the the other finishing kit on our test model, and at £1150 it's overpriced for the work it can do. The derailleur specced machine at £799 is much more in the ballpark if you want an urban workhorse, but even then it's up against machines such as the Kona Ute which are much more capable load carriers, if not as interesting to look at.
If you need your town bike to do some proper load lugging then the Bionicon isn't your best bet. If getting where you're going in comfort and style is more your thing – and where you're going isn't too far away – then it's certainly worth looking at, at least in its cheaper derailleur guise. The 2010 range extends the size options from two to four, and there are going to be refinements to the luggage system too, so it's worth waiting to see where Bionicon go with the extra work they're doing.
The Urban Cargo is a unique and comfortable urban mount that's certainly a head turner. It's stymied a bit by the slightly esoteric racks and the kit choices on this particular model which push the price up beyond what you'd really want to pay. If you want something different for your town riding it's worth looking at the derailleur model which is much cheaper than the i-Motion version we tested and would most likely score more highly as a result.
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Make and model: Bionicon Urban Cargo
Size tested: M
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
Frame: 7005 Al
Fork: Bionicon twin crown rigid
Bars: City flat with telescope stem
Brakes: Avid Juicy 3 Hydraulic
Transmission: SRAM i-Motion 9spd, Truvativ IsoFlow 38T chainset
Saddle: Brooks Flyer honey
Wheels: SRAM i-Motion dynamo F & 9spd R, Alex DP17 rims
Tyres: Schwalbe Big Apple 2.0
Tell us what the bike is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
Bionicon say that "The cargo title is well earned thanks to the strong, variable carrier system. This bike is more than just a means of getting from a to b; it is an urban cruise ship. The seating position and height-adjustable handlebars allow high comfort even for longer trips.Details such as multiple drink holding positions for the essential early morning Latté on the way to work and the stylish mud guards make this bike both an every day tool and eye catcher."
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Esoteric design that's well executed and finished
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
7005 Alu, rigid double crown fork with telescopic stem
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
71° head angle, 73° seat tube
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
On laid back rides around town it's extremely comfortable, though the comfort suffers a bit when you push a bit harder
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Everything was locked down well
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
The i-Motion hub is a bit clicky and didn't always shift well under load
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? neutral
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
The Urban Cargo handles very well, it's stable without being unresponsive
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
Big Apple tyres are super comfy, which is a good thing because the frame and especially the fork are super stiff
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
I'd go for derailleur gears over the i-Motion hub
hub gear isn't great
not a car-beater from the lights, but then it isn't designed to be
not one for the Champs Elysees, but as I said above, that's not what it's for
plenty of stability at all speeds
best at cruising pace
not bad on a go-slow either
easy to turn despite the weight
positive front end makes picking a line easy
weight and reluctance of hub to downshift mark it down
hub's an expensive option and doesn't add to the appeal
it should last though!
i'd go for derailleur gears
solidly built wheels, comfy tyres
should last for ages
not the primary concern here
Big Apples are like sofas
good kit but it ain't a cheap bike
bar and stem combo is clever, brakes are sturdy
will take some knocks
not a big issue but they're fine on weight
stiff fork is helped by the tyres
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? No, I'd go for the derailleur version if I was in the market
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Only in derailleur guise
Anything further to say about the bike in conclusion?
The drivetrain on our test version and niggles with the rack cost it at least a point
Age: 36 Height: 190cm Weight: 98kg
I usually ride: whatever I\'m testing... My best bike is: Trek 1.5 with Ultegra 6700
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mtb, Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling, track
Dave is a founding father of road.cc, having previously worked on Cycling Plus and What Mountain Bike magazines back in the day. He also writes about e-bikes for our sister publication ebiketips. He's won three mountain bike bog snorkelling World Championships, and races at the back of the third cats.