When it comes to a bike that will carry the most precious cargo of all, I appreciate power and rideability. The Original, a cargo electric bike from Bunch, has neither of those things. I don’t particularly like it. It’s awkward and graceless, and not comfortable for the biker. When I slowly pedaled by her front yard, my neighbor asked if I was starting a hot dog truck.
But when it comes to family bikes, I realize I’m not the only one using them. My husband appreciates the Bunch’s large capacity, powerful throttle, and tricycle configuration, which meant he never had to worry the bike would tip off balance. He persists in liking the bike, even when I patiently explained that despite his enjoyment, I found it hard to ride.
The cargo box is much roomier and much less exposed than other electric bakfiets (Dutch for cargo bike) I’ve used. I can fit up to four (smallish) kids in it, between the ages of 3 and 6 years old. My kids love it, even when I explained to them that the box would be easier and safer to use if it had a side door. My family loves what they love, even when I’m the one who is definitely right.
I tested the original Bunch Bike, which first debuted in 2017. In addition to the 2020 edition seen here, the company now has several versions, including a sleek Dutch-made coupe, a preschool version, and a dog one I found incredibly tempting. The 2020 model of the Original has a beautiful birch plywood cargo box attached to the front of a bike with a steel step-through frame.
The word “bike” is a bit of a misnomer here, because the Original isn’t technically a bicycle. I know, the phrase “cargo bike” is used as a catchall, but this is technically a tricycle, with three wheels instead of two. In theory, the three-wheeled configuration is more stable and easier to drive. Two-wheeled bakfiets do require a bit of practice, since they are tippier when you’re going below 10 miles per hour.
In practice, however, I found the three-wheeled configuration to be unnervingly difficult. Like most streets, my road is cambered—that is, it has a parabolic curved surface—to help rainwater drain off. If you’re riding a huge, heavy tricycle on a curved surface, you inevitably start to drift in the direction of the camber.
Even with Bunch’s new “anti-tip” technology, it took me about three blocks to adjust and stop running into the curb. This also meant that when my family was on board, I had to develop a type of Mad Max: Fury Road riding style, leaning heavily towards the center of the street to counteract the drift, especially through corners. And without shocks on such a big, awkward bike, every bump and pothole was bone-rattling.
It’s so heavy that the 48-volt Samsung battery (generally a reliable brand) only lasted two days on our hills. There’s no option to attach a double battery, unlike on some similarly large bikes such as the R&M Load.
Finally, this is a minor complaint, but if you’re going to get this bike, and you have small children, you should opt for the cargo box with a front door. After watching my 6-year-old climb in and out, my 3-year-old wouldn’t let me help him. Eventually, I put his helmet on him before we approached the bike, as every time he clambered over the top, he’d tumble over onto his head.
An optional (and expensive) front door attachment solves this problem but also means that you have to take out a set of seats and halve the passenger capacity.
Speed Is Overrated
Every other time I’ve reviewed an electric cargo bike, I hop on board and bike it across freeways and streets, going up to 20 miles per hour across town for testing. As I grumbled and pedaled around our neighborhood, I thought often about how long that would’ve taken me on the Original.
Still, there’s no denying the fact that my husband and children love this bike. The box’s walls are high, and I can’t ride it very fast. I recall my kids screaming as I swerved around potholes when riding the Urban Arrow, but on the Original, they happily piled the box up with blankets and snuggled in. My daughter even took a nap, something she’s never been relaxed enough to do.
The shifting is awkward, but my husband loves how powerful the throttle is. Eventually, he just stopped pedaling completely, which probably contributed to the rapidly depleted battery. The dual-wheel front configuration makes it much more stable to turn in tight corners and while going up steep hills. The heavy-duty hydraulic brakes stopped us on the steepest hills. And if you’re only biking in parks or along riverside promenades, you don’t have to deal with cambered roads at all.
The Original from Bunch isn’t my first choice for a family cargo bike, especially if you’re a bike rider who values rideability and the ability to cover ground efficiently. But many of us aren’t like that. If you’re staying within a mile or two of your house and want a safe ride that your children, and maybe your dog, will absolutely love, it’s a pretty good pick.
Just not for me, as I keep saying to the 3-year-old. Along with potty training, he’ll get it someday.