UPDATE by Andrew: Wired linked to Dave’s review. Nice!
I got a chance to try out Kona’s upcoming integrated cargo bike, the Ute. I gotta say, this is one solid ride. The ute’s a longbike: a 29er (update: 700c x 47) with a giant rack built in capable of carrying 4 panniers, a couple of passengers, or just about anything else you can strap to it. Several longbike designs have been around for a while now, the Ute’s take is an integrated design – the extended cargo area’s built right into the frame. This makes the bike super solid. Add in smart design, great components and you’ve got yourself a one-stop cargo hauling go-anywhere machine.
The Ute’s integrated cargo area goes way beyond simply not having to bolt on a rack – being an integral part of the frame means it’s strong. This bike’s got no detectable lateral flex, even loaded with groceries and kids. No having to steer out of side to side way when hauling stuff home, and no trouble at all when standing on the pedals for a little extra power.
The long wheel base and gentle geometry contribute to a very stable ride with no harshness over bumps. Given this I was surprised at how nimble the ride was, slaloming the local playground went great. In fact the Ute handled everything I threw at it with aplomb: steep descents, hard climbs, up and down curbs, (shallow) stairs. Riding the Ute under load’s like driving a volvo station wagon.
Integrated design doesn’t stop with the rack and ride. Low, rounded top tube means you don’t have to tip the bike on it’s side to get your leg over, a huge bonus on a loaded bike. 29 inch wheels and wide Continental tires make for great rolling over any obstacles. Braking design is very intelligent – Hayse mechanical disc brake up front for power where you need it, v-brakes in the back for security. The wide gearing handled getting me back up the steep hills between my grocery store and my house easily. The bike comes equipped with wide, upright handlebars and very nice cork grips which were great for cruising and getting a bit of additional leverage when standing up. An integrated kickstand keeps the bike upright when you’re loading her up.
Carrying capacity is predictably huge. The well designed, large rear deck has cutouts to allow you to bungee odd sized loads down and the cargo area has space for 4 panniers. The bike came with Kona grocery bag style panniers, which were able to swallow just about everything I could put in there: jackets, hats, sweaters, extra helmets, several grocery bags, whatever. Being able to use standard panniers gives you lots of options as well – want water proof? Go for some oyster buckets! Passengers were no trouble at all. A stoker stem and some foot pegs let me haul my 6 year old all over our neighborhood.
My favorite part about the Ute was what it meant for my lifestyle. I was able to take the bike on many trips I wouldn’t have been able to make on a standard bike: Delivering Christmas dinner to some relatives a couple miles away; dropping my kid off at school; groceries and gift shopping were all easy as pie.
One thing to change? Make the bike easier to carry. The integrated rack moves the balance point back behind the seat post, making lifting and maneuvering the bike a bit awkward (especially up stairs to a gate). Adding a utility handle on the rack would help and add a hand-hold for passengers.
Update:: Production bikes will have rubber grips, and the included panniers have a rain proof integrated cover.