Like canning tomatoes or wearing only second-hand clothing, riding a cargo bike has long been something I’d like to do, if only it wasn’t so hard. Cargo bikes are expensive, awkward, and heavy. When I went to Portland’s Splendid Cycles to pick up the Riese & Müller Load and ride it twelve miles home, I straddled it dubiously.
“Look at it this way,” said Splendid Cycles proprietor Joel Grover. “By the time you get home, you’re going to be a lot better at riding it than you are now!”
It’s true. After two weeks of riding the Load around my neighborhood to the grocery store and to drop my kids off at preschool, I’ve finally gotten used to it. In fact, I love it. But it wouldn’t be at all possible without electrical assistance. This bike is designed to cart around 440 pounds of weight. There is no way that my puny legs would be able to move this thing without a motor.
Points of Interest
In 1992, German mechanical engineers, fathers, and entrepreneurs Markus Riese and Heiko Müller realized that if you give a bike full suspension, those points of suspension can double as points of rotation for a folding bike. Less than a year later, Müller read about the Hesse Innovation Prize and built an aluminum prototype in ten days (and nights). The Birdy won the award, which was the push that Riese & Müller needed to get started.
The Load is their full-suspension cargo e-bike, with a double-battery Bosch electric assist motor. With a wheelbase of a little over six feet, it’s slightly more compact than you might expect from a cargo bike. As with the Yuba Boda Boda, it was too big to strap to a car's bike rack, so I planned to ride it twelve miles home.
When I got to Splendid Cycles, Grover had tricked out the Load Touring HS for my children. The cargo box is completely customizable. He installed two five-point harnesses in the box, protected by the interior low side walls that were attached to the trellis. He also threw in a Cordura child rain cover, which has clear plastic panels for your kids to see through.
Although the seat and the handlebars were set to a much taller person’s height, it only took a few minutes to adjust the saddle and the stem to fit me. Not only can you adjust the stem height to make the handlebars shorter, you can also loosen a clamp to adjust the stem angle to bring the handlebars closer to the seat.
I was able to stay on bike routes for the entire twelve-mile ride home, which is something that might not be a possibility in places that are less bike-friendly than Portland, Oregon. Still, the definition of viable cycling infrastructure can vary greatly, even here.
While the Load comes with fat Schwalbe commuter tires, it still feels a little unstable at speeds below ten miles per hour. It’s hard to maintain that speed on bike routes that are shared with pedestrians and joggers.
Unlike the Shimano STEPS e-assist system I've tried, the Bosch e-assisted system doesn’t automatically downshift when you stop. That meant that I had to do a lot of frantic down- and up-shifting to keep the bike going, as I slowed and restarted to avoid pedestrians or let people merge into traffic.
Portland’s bike routes, while plentiful, usually also involve at least a few narrow hairpin turns and spiral ramps. At one point, I tried to navigate around one hairpin turn and found myself at the dead end of a trail, filled with many of Portland’s currently unhoused residents. They looked on with great interest as I executed a tortured one-billion-point turn on the most bougie electric cargo bike in the world.
Eventually, I gave up on staying on protected bike routes and went for cruising on main thoroughfares. Being passed by eighteen-wheelers was terrifying, but it was a relief to not stop for crosswalks or swerve for dogs. The Load HS has a top speed of 28 mph, and I was able to get the bike up to 25 mph without too much effort.
When Push Comes to Shove
Once I got back to my neighborhood, things started looking up. My husband loved having a cargo box. It was easy for him to make quick runs to the hardware or grocery store and put bags in the box, without trying to pack everything into panniers.
My toddler loved riding in a cargo box, too. Especially with the child cover, it was far less exposed than riding in a bike seat. I appreciated being able to see and interact with her at a glance. The cargo box is also compatible with infant child seats, with an optional attachment.
The double-battery system has incredible longevity. Granted, my daily rides are all within a mile of my house, but as of two weeks’ worth of riding, I haven’t had to charge it. And the Tektro hydraulic disc brakes are effective at bringing its rolling mass to a halt. I was extremely nervous about taking a couple hundred pounds of gear, bike, and humans down a 30-degree slope. But the brakes stopped us halfway down with no problem.
It's a miracle how comfortable this bike is. I hopped on my commuter bike after a week riding the Load, and was shocked by how squirrelly the handlebars were and how jolting the ride was, after a week spent cruising smoothly on a fully-suspended bike with perfect geometry.
And fittingly, given Riese & Müller’s history of innovative thinking, there were many small details that made the bike easier to use. For example, being able to quickly adjust the saddle and stem heights meant that it was easy for my spouse and I to switch off who rode the bike.
One of the biggest hurdles to riding a big e-bike is how to lock it up when you’re running errands. Bike stands are crowded, if you can even bring yourself to smash your multi-thousand-dollar car replacement in with a bunch of beater fixies. The Load comes with not only an integrated wheel lock, but an optional folding Abus Bordo lock whose holder doubles as a water bottle holder! We took the Load to outdoor picnics and locked it up, free-standing, next to our blanket and knew it wasn't going anywhere.
And finally, it’s a great-looking bike. It's sporty, yet practical. I can’t count the number of times that I almost fell off when people shouted compliments as I rode past.
The Load comes with the option for a ton of useful accessories. It's amazingly comfortable to ride, and it looks sharp, too. But having ridden an e-bike with automatic downshifting and push assistance, I don't think I can ride a cargo bike without it.
Often, I met other parents—moms, mostly—at preschool drop-off. They admired the bike, and admitted, "I've always felt like I'm not strong enough for a cargo bike. Do you find that you're strong enough?"
It's not a sexist question. At five-foot two, I'm not an imposing physical specimen. Cargo bikes are heavy. In order for someone who is my size to find them a viable car substitute, I need all the help I can get. With the Bosch e-assist system, the answer is only, "Well, most of the time."
Still, if you're not terrified of pushing several hundred pounds up a steep hill, the Load has plenty to recommend it. It's much more versatile and enjoyable to ride than a regular bike with an extended rear rack. While I found the Yuba Boda Boda more intuitive to use, my spouse and toddler definitely preferred the Load. Maybe after a six-month weight-training program, I'll feel a little differently.
Correction appended: 7/10/2018, 3:30 pm PDT: A previous version of this story stated that the Load does not have push assistance. It does.
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