Keri Towsey-French with ShuttlebugRider Keri Towsey-French takes the Shuttlebug for a spin.
By Jeremy Towsey-French
The Joe Bike Shuttlebug builds on the past success of the Joe Bike. While the relatively affordable Boxbike is a virtual facsimile of the short-box Dutch-designed bakfietsen, Joe Bike’s latest foray into the cargo and utility market takes an even greater leap from utility, pushing the limits of what a utility bike can be. Enter the Shuttlebug.
Seeking to make geographic-specific improvements to the Dutch-style front cargo box bike (bakfietsen), Joe Bike's Portland-based team set out to build the ultimate front cargo box bike. This new version would feature subtle yet important changes to dramatically reduce the overall weight of the original hi-tensile steel bakfietsen, while enhancing performance by adding high-end components to complement the new frame's more nimble, hill-centric ride characteristics. To this end, Joe Bike has succeeded in spades.
Unlike the Chinese-built Boxbike frame, the Shuttlebug's frame is built in Portland using aircraft-grade 4130 chromoly steel from American and German sources. The frame is then powder-coated to the customer's preferred color. The Shuttlebug is an easy 20 pounds lighter than its Boxbike cousin. But the bike's trim waistline doesn't come from lighter frame material alone.
To maximize daily ease-of-use while adding a high degree of performance, Joe Bike specified an impressive array of components for the Shuttlebug. Most notably is the drivetrain, which utilizes the innovative Gates Carbon Drive System mated to a slick Shimano Alfine 8-speed hub (11-speed available soon). The Gates belt drive system is a marvel of engineering, maximizing efficiency, dropping weight and eliminating many of the headaches of chain-drive systems. The complete Gates system (46-tooth front cog, 24-tooth rear cog, plus the belt) weighs less than a typical bicycle chain. Installed on the Shuttlebug, the system provides a velvety smooth cadence and immediate response from the Truvativ Isoflow cranks. The Shimano Alfine shifts quietly, quickly and with a notable sense of precision. This drivetrain is well-suited to the hills of Portland, offering ample range for downhill bombing and steep hill charges alike. Additionally, without any grease in the drive, the Gates system is well-suited for an urban utility bicycle, helping keep your ride clean and debris-free.
Fortunately, the folks at Joe Bike also made sure the Shuttlebug can bring itself to a stop as quickly as it can accelerate, thanks to the smooth control and ample power provided by the bike's Avid BB7 203 disc brakes mated to Avid FR5 levers. Packing serious cargo demands confidence in getting that cargo to a safe stop, regardless of road conditions.
Like the Joe Bike utility bicycle, the Shuttlebug's reinforced frame can accommodate a variety of cargo and utility attachments (also available from Joe Bike), including the stock chromoly and fabric cargo/child carrier, or the more traditional wooden cargo box (which adds an extra 15-plus pounds to the bike). Whatever utility attachment you choose, swapping is a snap, thanks to two quick-release brackets integrated into the frame.
Components, comfort and frame material aside, the real test for the Shuttlebug is on the city streets, hauling groceries, kids and more. In this manner, the Shuttlebug's low weight and high performance drivetrain lead the pack in making everyday utility biking a true joy. The chromoly and fabric cargo box excels at transporting all types of cargo, including children between the ages of one and six (depending on child size). The passenger seating position is slightly lower in the Shuttlebug than the Boxbike, which is good for the rider, if not the passengers. Both rider and passengers benefit from the hand-crafted box's wheel-level vinyl window at the front of the box, as well as high-reflective piping sewn into the box side panels, adding an extra degree of night-time safety.
Like the Boxbike, the Shuttlebug features an accommodating riding position offering excellent visibility and comfort, although the Shuttlebug's shorter steering height is a bit more aggressive than the Boxbike, demanding more attention from the rider, yet improving hill-climbing posture. With its centralized, low center of gravity, the Shuttlebug inspires confidence at most any speed. Interestingly, in testing, the Boxbike’s stability improved as load weight increased, whereas the Shuttlebug's Soma Noah's Arc handlebars add a bit more responsiveness to the steering than the cruiser-style bars on the Boxbike. This has the effect of making the rider feel slightly more in control at low speeds when piloting the Boxbike, making it the winner of the one-handed, slow-crawl cruising stability award.
The Shuttlebug is well-equipped for daily use, featuring full front and rear fenders, hub-powered front and rear lights and a built-in AXA wheel lock. While our test bike didn't feature a rear rack, production models come stock with an Axiom Streamliner disc rack. Additionally, the Shuttlebug features the world's finest two-point kick-stand, held in place by rare earth magnets, making engagement simple and rattle-free. In testing, the kick-stand never came disengaged, even on the roughest roads and biggest curbs. The stock Schwalbe Marathon tires were also an all-weather dream that added to the bike's capabilities.
While the Shuttlebug is designed to tackle the most mundane cargo-hauling tasks, you never forget that you're riding a high-end, hand-built machine designed to be a reliable, comfortable, and capable utility bike. The Shuttlebug is built for urban riders who truly seek to displace an automobile entirely. It's high-end component group, remarkable ride and utility, and unmatched fun-to-ride factor place it at the top of the utility biking heap. Joe Bike's team has developed a bicycle that offers unprecedented performance and utility in a smooth, beautifully crafted machine that continues to impress on every ride, and surprise with hidden details (check out the hub light cable hides). In this price range, buyers expect the very best. In the Shuttlebug, Joe Bike delivers.