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The Urbana and BionX: Peanut Butter and Chocolate

by Ted Johnson

The Current is an Urbana bike integrated with a BionX electric assist system. We’ve had a really, really, long term test of this bike — like more than a year.

At first it was, Oh God! It’s so cute! Can I ride it can I ride it?

And now it’s, Hey, I’m taking the Urbana to my proctologist appointment. Be back in an hour.

And by that, I mean it has become our go-to e-bike for short and medium rides — when we want a comfortable ride and want to get to where we are going and back quickly.

Urbana Current, Wandertec Tuba, and Jetsonorama Mural

The Urbana Current, a Wandertec Tuba Trailer prototype carrying my Dahon folding bike, parked in front of Flagstaff street art by Jetsonorama. Confused? Click the image for more information.

Greg Hum reviewed the Urbana (the standard, non-e-bike version) here on Commute by Bike last year. Heck, Richard Masoner even reviewed the Urbana here back in 2010 — several times. (This was before he conquered the bike blog world with Cyclelicio.us).

Urbana Current in the snow with Bar Mitts

Josh Lipton even put on some Bar Mitts and rode the Current in the snow.

Their consensus is that the Urbana is Bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun!

You can read those reviews if you like, but it’s pretty much a lovefest. Each of those “fun” links above will take you to a review or mention of the Urbana on this blog — and they all contain the word fun.

The bike is fun. The tires are fat. The rack is strong.

I get it.

But what do you get when you combine that with pedelec system?

The ridiculously smooth ride plus the comfortable riding position plus the electric assist make the bike pretty much irresistible if you have one around.

Urbana Current

I’m not going to write much detail about BionX here, because I already covered that in my recent review of BionX. I will say that my fondness for BionX was influenced more by the Current than it was by the Ohm XS 750, a more “serious” e-bike using the same pedelec system.

There’s a take-it-for-granted factor to the Current. It’s comfortable and reliable. Because of the electric assist it demands less effort of you than a bike. You just end up doing things with it. I dare say, it’s kind of like a car.

And we, in particular, did a lot when pulling a bike cargo trailer of some kind or other with the Current. The bike we tested has a 350 watt BionX motor. Talk about your car replacement. I recently used the Current to pull 180 pounds (sandbags actually) loaded in a cargo trailer prototype.

Trek Soho Commuter Mug on the Urbana

No braze-on lugs. A Twofish Quick Cage holds my commuter mug to the frame.

Imagine hauling as much weight as you might load into the trunk of your car on an ambitious day, and then climbing the most dreaded hill on your commute. When I did that, yes, I had to drop into a low gear. (The current has an 8-speed derailleur.) And I used the BionX’ maximum level of pedal assist. But I didn’t have to stand on my pedals. It was like riding a beach cruiser through sand — in a good way.

But I do have some gripes.

Let’s start with the absence of bottle cage bosses on the frame (a.k.a. braze-on lugs, little threaded holes). This may sound petty, but bear with me.

I easily got around this problem with a Twofish Quick Cage, which attaches to a frame tube with Velcro and a grippy rubber mount. But make a mental note about the bottle cage bosses, okay?

Urbana RNR rack with Bionx Rack-Mounted Battery and Rack-Top Bag

A rack-top bag tied on with a bungee tourniquet.

Urbana has developed one the strongest, cleverest bike racks called the RNR. It can hold up to 150 pounds. And it kind of goes to waste on this Current, holding the BionX rack-mounted battery — which only weighs about eight pounds, but it takes up the entire rack platform.

They’ve retrofitted the rack so that the battery stands on four short stilts allowing you to access the rails of the rack for panniers.

Sure, I can lash stuff on top of the battery casing too. But try to use a rack-top bag or basket in the ordinary way? Forget it.

So rather than retrofitting the rack, why not retrofit the frame with a couple of bottle cage bosses? Weld weld, drill drill, thread thread, done.

Not only would it make a natural spot for my commuter coffee mug, the Bionx kits with downtube-mounted batteries use bottle cage bosses as mounting points. And this would allow cyclists to fully exploit their amazing RNR rack.

And then there’s the saddle interference caused by the battery, which limits the lowest height adjustment for the saddle. This means the minimum rider height requirement for this Current is three or so inches taller than for other Urbana bikes.

Saddle Intereference from the BionX Battery

It turns out that Urbana came to these same conclusions. The Current is now available with the downtube-mounted battery.

Urbana Current with BionX PL250 Downtube Mounted Battery

Hallelujah! Wait. Where do I mount my coffee mug now?

I found this out after writing that whole rant above. It was a good rant, so I’m leaving it. It’s useful information for someone considering the rack-mounted battery option.

I suppose that some potential customers for the Current don’t want that downtube-mounted battery because it interferes with the bike’s stepthroughishness and the distinctive line of the Urbana frame.

BionX Rear Rack with Docking Station

BionX Rear Rack with Docking Station

Then why not just use the BionX rear rack with docking station? The battery slides in the middle, and there’s still a usable deck. Yes, it does lack the RNR rack’s clever grocery bag feature, but that’s why God made grocery panniers.

Okay. I’m done carping about that.

I’ll carp about this: Why no headlight? Josh found an innovative way of mounting a Cygolite bike headlight to the steerer tube. But in addition to a built-in tail light, the BionX system has a power port that could provide power to an integrated headlight — like maybe a Busch & Müller dynamo light.

 

Busch & Müller Lumotec Classic

Hint: the Lumotec Classic

So no more carping at all now.

The Urbana Current really does hit the major criteria of the J.O.Y.B.A.G.™ ideal: It’s a bike that we want to use; we jump on it without considering the car first.

It’s like “two great tastes that go great together.” Peanut butter and chocolate. Beans and rice. Vodka and tomato juice. Relative to, say, the Ohm electric bikes, the Urbana is combined somewhat uncreatively with a BionX system. But it was kind of hard to get it wrong with such a great bike and a premium pedelec system. It also provides the customer with a great deal of flexibility when ordering the bike. Not just the rack-mount or downtube-mount, fenders or no fenders, rack or no rack, one-speed, three-speed, or eight-speed — but also the specific BionX system. Someone in a flat town and no intentions of hauling a trailer might want the 250 watt BionX system. You saw the photo of that trailer I was pulling. We’re more hard core.

Around here we love this bike. This combination could be the car replacement e-bike many people have been waiting for.


The Urbana Current ranges in price from $1999 to $3200 US, depending the options.
To purchase one, call Urbana directly at 1-866-424-4600

 
Burley nomad 229

4 Responses to “The Urbana and BionX: Peanut Butter and Chocolate”

  1. BluesCat says:

    The A2B Metro E-bike doesn’t have any bottle cage bosses either. I solved that problem with a Sunlite Handlebar Mounted Cage.

  2. Karen says:

    I never understand the sense in not including bottle cage bosses and even less so now that I live in Phx. Very informative article, Ted! I’ve noticed a lot of e-bikes down here – must help beat the heat.

    • Ted Johnson says:

      Urbana is based in Dorval, Quebec. When I asked about the bottle cage bosses, I was told that they do offer bottle cage bosses as an option on some models, but they don’t make them standard equipment. They consider bottle cages contrary to their view of the Urbana bike as an “around town” bike (or maybe she said “neighborhood” bike) — water bottles are for sports bikes, in their perception.

      Up at that latitude (about the same as Portland), they might not understand the hydration needs of riding “around town” when the town is in the desert. She also had never heard of a commuter mug designed to for a bottle cage.

      So we’re all livin’ and learnin’.

  3. Brad Hawkins says:

    I’m glad yours is still going strong. We just fried our battery on our Bionx Big Dummy yesterday. That’s after the rear motor went out and the throttle button went down. Thank goodness for warranties.

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