Update 9/2/15: Trek no longer produces an electric cargo bike, but its new standard-wheelbase electric bikes are interesting, with a motor in the vicinity of the bottom bracket–a Shimano STePs mid-motor–and downtube-mounted battery. One advantage: a lower center of gravity. The Trek Conduit+ is a penny south of $3,000. Depending on location, you may still find a Trek Transport+ for sale. (Local Trek dealer Bushwhacker has one on sale at $1,900.) Looking back at my review below, the only thing I’d change is the description of the kickstand: Obviously, any kickstand will change a bicycle into a tripod, though the double-leg kickstand of the Transport creates an isosceles triangle of ground contact instead of the scalene triangle you get with a single-leg unit. (Isosceles triangles rule, of course, because isosceles is fun to say.) The real advantage of a double-leg kickstand is it holds the bicycle perpendicular to the ground, a useful position when you’re loading the rack.
The Trek Transport is a cargo bike with extended chainstays that push the rear wheel way back to make plenty of room for whatever you might like to carry. The 2011 Trek Transport+ is the same bike with an electric motor in the rear hub. The difference between the two is several hundred dollars and a huge smile factor.
Before I started off on a test ride, Matt Martin, a Vitesse Cycle mechanic in Normal, Illinois, slid a freshly charged battery into place just below the top of the rack and reviewed details of the machine with me.
According to the Trek Q&A, the Transport+ can support a 300-pound rider, 200 pounds of cargo in the rear rack system and up to 20 pounds in the front rack. It comes with one Bontrager Transport bag and space for two of them. (A single Transport bag can hold two full traditional-size grocery bags.)
I wouldn’t recommend maxing out the weight on this or any bicycle for any reason other than to win a bar bet; besides putting a lot of stress on yourself–even when assisted by an electric motor–you’re adding dead weight to the rear wheel, increasing the risk of a flat tire, damaged rim and/or broken spokes.
I’d be more than happy to limit myself to a couple of bags of water softener salt. That’s still more weight than a standard bike should reasonably be expected to carry.
If you’re the kind of rider who doesn’t like spoke protectors, the Trek Transport+ is your kind of bike. No need for the onerous weight of a plastic disc when the hub itself keeps an overshifted chain from going into the spokes. Of course the hub and other electrical components probably add a good 20 pounds to the basic hauler.
A double-leg kickstand provides plenty of stability by turning the bicycle into a tripod. Because of the extra-long chainstays and the weight of the rear hub and battery, the kickstand raises the front wheel of the Transport+ off the ground.
A simple coil spring is attached to the fork and downtube to keep the front wheel from rotating when parked. While I didn’t test the bike with a load in the front basket, I assume that a big sack of groceries would probably overcome the spring’s resistance. Still, it’s a nice feature to have and didn’t affect the steering while riding at all.
There are a couple of ways to add electric power to a bicycle. The first is what I’d call a straight electric: you build a wheel with an electric motor for a hub, wire it up to a battery and a throttle, and go. It’s simple–and it’s a lot of fun to move from a dead stop to 20 miles an hour without pushing on a pedal, though that’s also the best way to drain your battery in a hurry. A better power-saving strategy with a straight electric is to pedal up to speed and then engage the motor.
The Trek Transport+ represents a more sophisticated way to electrify a bicycle: you get the power boost but only when you’re pedaling. By removing the temptation to power up from a dead stop, a pedelec gives the battery a chance at a longer life and makes sure you get your exercise, too. You have to put forth at least a little pedaling effort; a pedelec is not a new version of an old moped.
The Trek design strategy also gets rid of the throttle. Instead, you get a small screen with an on-off button on the side and two buttons at the base. The on-off button activates the system so you can see the screen. The other buttons allow you to select one of four levels of electric assist. (The screen also gives you a rough idea of the remaining battery capacity.) Select your level and pedal off. Unless you need to change the assist, you need pay no more attention to the electrical system.
Of course with no assist you have a bicycle that weighs 20 pounds more than it needs to. So you’ll want to use at least one level of assist to overcome the weight penalty of battery and motor. Yes, you’re using technology to eliminate the burden of technology. But there’s more to this setup than irony.
What you’ll probably do on your first test ride is exactly what I did: dial in assist level 4 and get rolling right away, which is exactly when the smile factor comes in. You’re aware you’re on a long-wheelbase bike, so the handling is slower than on a regular machine, but the mass of the machine evaporates. This long tub of a cargo hauler becomes one of the lightest bikes you’ve ever ridden; the effect is similar to pedaling away from a stop on a downhill.
This is where I need to state that I rode this bicycle for about half an hour without a load in one of the flattest towns in central Illinois. Add some weight to one or both racks or start climbing your version of Mount Local, and then tell me how much gee-whiz factor remains. (I suspect plenty.)
So, is this the bicycle to replace all other bicycles? Nope. If you don’t need the carrying capacity of a cargo bicycle, you don’t need the extra weight, bulk and expense of a Trek Transport+, though Trek has a couple of standard-wheelbase bicycles with basically the same electrical system that might be worth your consideration. (One thing to watch out for on those other pedelecs: If you get on your bicycle by swinging a leg over the rear wheel, be sure to kick high enough; the battery occupies the space normally taken up by a rack pack.)
But who ever buys a bicycle to replace another bicycle? If you’re interested in adding something a bit different to your fleet, the Trek Transport+ is about as different as they come. One bit of proof: I don’t usually start a ride at noon with temperatures in the 90s and humidity close behind. But with this electrified truck of a bicycle, I didn’t even think about the conditions until I came to a stop.
The ride itself was literally no sweat.
Note: Retail price of the Trek Transport+ is around $2,800 U.S., through the example I rode was, and may still be, on sale for a bit less. Is that a lot of money? Depends on how you look at it.
If you’re replacing the old Schwinn Varsity for a couple of weekend rides a year, yes, that’s a lot of money. If you’re a heavy user of bicycles for everyday transportation, it might be, especially if you can easily wheel around a loaded and non-motorized cargo bike. But if you’re interested in exploring hybrid technology and compare the human/electric Transport+ to a gas/electric Toyota Prius C, it’s a screaming deal: half the wheels for a seventh of the price.
Did I mention it may still be on sale?