UPDATE: Since I wrote this review I had problems with my Babboe in May 2019. If you are considering buying a Babboe, especially a secondhand one, please do make sure you read the update, ‘A Cargo Crisis’. Also look up the safety warning issued by Babboe.
Almost a year ago, I was told that I had osteoarthrosis in my knees. Being diagnosed with something which is degenerative was a bit of a worry, especially as it could have a big impact on my cycling. I have long known that I need cycling in my life in order to be myself. I was going to have to protect my knees if I wanted to keep cycling for many years to come.
Our new chariot of choice was the Babboe City-E.
Our Babboe arrived in November 2017. After almost a year and almost 2500 miles, I think I have sufficiently tested it to offer an accurate review. Buying a cargo bike, especially one with e-assist, is a big investment and therefore a big decision. I hope that this helps with decision making.
A Note About This Review
The views expressed in this post are entirely my own and entirely based on my experience with this bike. I have provided a link to the Babboe website above for anyone who wants to look them up, but there are no affiliate links in this blog post. Nobody has asked me or paid me to write a review. My only aim in writing this is to help others who may be thinking of buying a cargo bike.
There is absolutely nothing in it for me if you read this post and race out to buy yourself a Babboe.
My focus in this review is very much how the bike works, rather than the technical specifications. I am pretty sure you can google for the technical spec if you are that way inclined.
My Conclusion on the Babboe City-E
Not everything I have to say about this bike is positive and I do not want to put anyone off buying one by being critical. But I do want to be honest. Hence the conclusion before the detail.
I have never for one minute thought that I made the wrong choice in buying this bike. It is not perfect. It does have it’s setbacks. But it is a great electric cargo bike. I use it at least five days out of every seven and I love it. I have no regrets about buying it. For me, this bike was the perfect balance between budget and functionality.
In conclusion, the Babboe City-E is a great electric cargo bike for those with a limited budget who are looking to carry two children.
Cargo bikes are expensive. Electric-assist (e-assist) cargo bikes are really expensive. The Babboe City-E costs £2499 (prices from the Babboe website). Bear in mind that you will probably want to add accessories too. At a minimum (especially if you live in Scotland) you will want to add a rain cover. This is an additional £125.99. I also added a seat cushion at £32.49.
Admittedly, this adds up to a lot of money. But it is much less than a car. It is also much less than some other cargo bikes. For example, a top of the range Urban Arrow Family cargo bike can set you back almost £5000.
The Babboe is very much a budget e-assist cargo bike. Having never used any of the pricier cargo bikes I cannot really compare. Suffice to say that, for us, the price was right.
First Impressions Count
This is a cargo bike which looks good.
Being a familiar sight on the school run, when I first got the Babboe, I got lots of comments about what a great looking bike it was. The saddle and handlebar grips have a nice leather look (it’s not leather). The paint job was smart. The curved edges on the box look classy.
Frankly, it made my old Bakfiets look a bit like a souped up wheelbarrow.
It felt good to be riding about on a great looking bike.
However, the Babboe City-E is just a little bit “fur coat and no knickers”. It may look more impressive than my old bakfiets, but the bakfiets is definitely the superior bike. I miss the hub gears, the dynamo front light and the sharper brakes. While I have no worries about the sturdiness of the Babboe, I suspect that the bakfiets will long outlive it. Fortunately, I did most of my clattering the bike off chicanes (don’t get me started on cargo bikes and chicanes) with the bakfiets and was used to riding such a big bike by the time I got the Babboe.
Like all cargo bikes, the Babboe is a big bike. This is mostly due to how long it is. It is actually no wider than a standard bike since the box is no wider than the handlebars. This is why I chose a 2-wheeler over a cargo trike – it fits through my garden gate and into the garage. With wheels on the side of the box, a trike was not going to fit.
I was used to riding a long bike after almost three years with a bakfiets. However, the Babboe made the bakfiets look small! The size of it does not really make much difference in handling it, but it does make a difference to the routes I can use. Sadly, cycling infrastructure in the UK does not always take ‘non standard’ bikes into account. There are routes near me which I cannot use with the Babboe as it will not fit through. These routes usually involve chicanes. This has not caused me too many problems as I can always find a way around, but it is worth considering if you are thinking about a cargo bike.
The other issue with the length of the bike was that, at 5 foot 5, I was struggling to lift the back of the bike (necessary on tight gaps like the school gates) by the pannier rack The back of the pannier rack was a long way away and made the bike feel unbalanced. So, I lifted it by the saddle. After breaking one seat post and one saddle, I have now got the hang of reaching. I would strongly advise against lifting cargo bikes by the saddle!
I absolutely love the e-assist.
Having e-assist has massively helped my knees – I have almost no pain since I got the electric bike and that is despite racing my road bike. The e-assist has also extended how long I am going to be able to transport my children by cargo bike. At four and a half years old and six and a half years old, they are getting to be a heavy cargo indeed. Ideally, I would like my eldest to ride his own bike to school. However, daily experience of the level of driving on our route puts me (and him) off this for now.
The Babboe is set up for the rider to vary the amount of assistance from 0 to 8 passengers. I have absolutely no idea why this is classified as ‘passengers’ since I dread to think of the arguments which would ensue with 8 children in the box! Still, you get the idea. Set at 0, you get no assistance and are basically hefting an extremely heavy bike on your own. Set at 8 you can ‘soft pedal’ (turn the pedals without applying any pressure whatsoever) and fire along the flat at 15.5mph.
How I use the different levels:
- Turns out I have a bit of a strange this about prime numbers. I don’t like 1 and I don’t use it. This is based on nothing whatsoever except my own personal eccentricity!
- This is my standard e-assist level of choice. On the flat it feels a bit like a gentle tailwind. For me, this setting gives me enough of a boost to keep my knees happy while still letting me feel that I am cycling. After all, one of the many reasons I love to cycle is that I love to be fit. I don’t like to be a sweaty mess, but I do want to feel like I have worked by the time I finish my travels for the day. It is also a low enough setting for the bike not to lurch (see below).
- Prime number. I don’t use it. What can I say. I’m odd.
- I use this level for short hills. It keeps the pressure off my knees.
- Strangely enough, despite it’s prime-ness, I don’t mind level 5. Also handy for inclines and head winds.
- I use 6 for pulling away at busy junctions where there is enough visibility to not have to stop. Handy when cars approach you at speed with limited visibility.
- Prime. Enough said.
- This is full power on the Babboe. Very handy for howling headwinds, torrential downpours, busy roads and bus lanes in the rush hour when the cycle paths are too icy. I also use 8 for outrunning unruly dogs, days after tough turbo sessions or races, and days when I am frankly being lazy.
A few notes on using the e-assist:
- 15.5mph is the point at which the motor cuts out and provides no more assistance unless your speed drops. This is a legal limit which keeps the bike classified as a bike, not a moped. Bikes do not need tax (not road tax….Vehicle Excise Duty – I know, I know), license plates, insurance, etc. Mopeds are required to have all these added complcations.
- With the Babboe, the e-assist doesn’t kick in as soon as you start pedalling. It takes a couple of revolutions of the pedals for it to start. This leads me to the slightly strange practise of occasionally pedalling while braking. In particular, there is a sharp corner with a steep hill straight after, as I ride into my estate. If I stop pedalling to slow down around the corner then I loose all momentum and the e-assist doesn’t kick in soon enough for me to make it up the hill. So, I keep turning the pedals slowly to keep the e-assist working, while braking to keep the turn under control. This delay is also worth thinking about when you are pulling away from junctions, especially right turns. The lower the gear, the sooner the e-assist kicks in.
- As mentioned above, it takes a couple of revolutions for the e-assist to kick in. When the e-assist is set on the higher levels, this can lead to it suddenly kicking in quite fast and the bike lurching forwards. This is not all that much of a problem, as I have learned to adapt to it. In particular, there is a crossing in the bike route which I use several times a day which requires me to turn very sharp right to exit. If I have the e-assist on level 7 or 8 when I do this, the power kicks in sharply just as I am trying to turn and I therefore do not make the corner. Easy to adjust to by always setting the power to 2 before the crossing, but worth bearing in mind when first riding the bike.
- There are some hills which are just that bit too steep for the e-assist. I have only come across one and I live in fairly hilly Edinburgh, however this particular hill makes me curse every time I ride it. Just as the e-assist takes a couple of turns to start, if you go too slowly, it cuts out. If you have hills which you cannot take a run at (my nemesis is a narrow path after a tight corner) and which are steep and long, you might well find the power stopping and you pushing.
- The battery unlocks and pulls out from its place under the pannier rack for charging. I bring it in the house to do this. I have never had problems with the battery running out, although I do charge it most nights. On a typical day I cycle 10 to 25 miles and the battery is more than adequate for this. If my mileage is low one day, I don’t bother to charge it. In doing this, I bear in mind that the charge seems to drop far more rapidly from 30% to 0% than it does from 100% to 30%.
- It does take a while to get used to the combination of differing e-assist levels and gears. It mostly comes down to how hard you like to work when you are cycling.
The Babboe box (where the children / shopping fits) is much bigger than the one on my bakfiets. It is not really wider, but it is longer. This gives the children much more leg room and provides plenty of space for school and nursery bags, swimming kit, my handbag and an assortment of ‘essential’ snacks and toys.
My one slight complaint about the box is that it has some big holes between the floor and the sides. I am assuming that these are meant for allowing any rain to get out as well as providing a foot hole for climbing into the box. Unfortunately, they are also big enough for toys and other items to fall out. On the bakfiets, I got the children to stuff any rubbish under the seat so it couldn’t blow out, then we would bin it when we got home. If you do this on the Babboe, you ride along strewing rubbish! This was easily solved with a large shopping bag zip tied to the front of the box but it did cause me a few undignified moments of sprinting back down the road after an iced gem packet.
I have something of a love/hate relationship with the Babboe rain cover.
I love the fact that it is higher than the one on my bakfiets and it does not slope in at the top. This has put a stop to the “he / she’s pushing me” style arguments which were becoming the bane of my life.
I love the fact that it is indeed waterproof. With two children breathing in it, it also gets really warm and cosy (and steamed up) on cold days.
I love the fact that there are zips to open each side and the back of the cover. Again, this prevents bickering when one child wants their ‘window’ open and the other one wants theirs shut. It also means that I can open just the back on windy days so the children are out of the wind but I can have a conversation with them.
I hate the zips. They are very tight and prone to breaking. The zip on the side I use most has been repaired twice and is getting beyond repair. At £125.99 a rain cover, I am not mad keen to have to keep replacing it.
It is pretty easy to take the whole cover off for sunny days. It is considerably less easy to put the thing back on (do not attempt this when running late on the school run). With a frame which separates into five pieces and a bulky cover, it also takes a considerable space to store on the bike (I rarely trust the Scottish weather enough to leave the cover behind). This has meant that I generally just keep the cover on all the time. Not a huge problem, but it does obscure the view for the children.
I love the stand on the Babboe.
To start, I simply push the bike forward and the stand springs up. To park, I put one foot on the stand and pull the bike back. I never did get the hang of using my foot to get the bakfiets stand clipped up, so starting and stopping always involved leaning down and shifting it by hand. I will even forgive the Babboe stand the squeak for ease of use. I should probably oil that.
I have never broken so many spokes in a year!
My record was checking the rear wheel and realising that eight spokes were broken. I probably should have checked it more often.
Apparently this can be an issue with e-assist cargo bikes due to the motor being in the rear wheel and the fact that this limits how many spokes can cross each other at the hub.
I think this problem has now been solved after my local friendly bike shop (and cargo bike owner – thanks Harts Cyclery) rebuilt the wheel with stronger spokes. No broken spokes since then. Fingers crossed.
The Babboe has a disc brake at the back and a hub brake at the front. I’ve never had any problems with them and the bike has always stopped when I have wanted it to. Not really much more to say.
After a couple of tweaks and re-tunes, the gears on the Babboe work well. That said, I do miss the hub gears which the bakfiets had. The great benefit of the hub gears was that you could change the gear while stationary and pull away in a new gear with no problems. This was great when I had to stop unexpectedly in a high gear. On the Babboe, if I stop in a high gear, it’s a tough, grinding start to get moving again.
The bike came with lights fixed on the front and rear. These are both battery powered. This is a bit of a pain as my youngest (otherwise known as the queen of havoc) has a habit of switching them on in broad daylight when I’m not looking. By the time I notice, the batteries are usually dead. The seals on the rear light also aren’t great and the battery points have corroded so this doesn’t work at all now. Not really a problem as is use additional, brighter, USB rechargeable lights in the winter anyway. However, I miss the dynamo light on the bakfiets.
The Last Word
The last word goes to me eldest:
“I love it. But I wish the cover was red.”
You can’t please everyone.