JuicedBikes U500 Electric Cargo Bike Long-Term Review
You may remember my post detailing our experience with the RadWagon electric cargo bikes. If not, definitely go check it out. As my most-read post with over 2,000 views, I hope it reaches many more people, so that they can avoid the headaches that we had to incur. For now, though, on to happier things…
We have owned our two JuicedBikes ODK U500 electric cargo bikes for over a year now. We started biking in the middle of Seattle’s rainy season, and we made it through a full second one. Here’s what we love about the U500, what we’ve learned, and how you can get the most out of yours.
Reliability is absolutely one of the most important aspects when considering an electric bike. I consider reliability in all my purchases, but electronics are especially prone to a poor lifetime expectancy.
We’ve dragged this bike through mud, rain, snow, and blistering sun. The electrical has not ceased to perform at any point. The batteries still seem to be operating at their original capacity, charge time remains the same (~2.5 hours from drained to full), and the power is getting to the motor. At times, the connections — for the throttle and throttle cutoff — do rattle loose sometimes, so your throttle may not kick in as quickly or at all. It’s an easy fix, though, as you can simply reach across the handlebars and jiggle the connection site, and it goes just fine. When you stop again, you can make sure the connections are tight. I have made it a habit to clean these inside and out every time I change the brake pads, so roughly three times a year, it seems.
The U in U500 represents utility. It’s literally in the name. (Okay, I probably made that up, but most likely not.) This bike was purpose-built to replace your car. And it does just that. We take our six year-old to and from school every day. We’ve made 25 mile-long rides up and down hills to the coast. And we’ve even done serious CostCo runs with them.
One of the most important features that we looked for in a bike was the ability to fit it into a standard elevator. This bike fits perfectly in even small vintage building elevators.
Pros / Cons
This is where it gets good. You need to know just what you’re getting yourself into when you purchase a bike like this. If you intend on riding daily — and you should — and don’t intend to do your own maintenance, plan on paying some hefty bills, and often. That said, it might be worth it to have someone else do the knuckle-busting for you.
- Quick ‘n Nimble — The 20" tires make this bike a dream to maneuver in and out of traffic, on trails, in hallways and elevators, at the bike racks, etc.
- Electric — It might seem obvious, but not all electric bikes feel much better than non-electric. This bike gets up and goes without any required effort from you. The batteries lasts a long time, and hasn’t lost its capacity in the year+ we’ve had them. The 500w motor tugs you up those 16%+ grade hills at a respectable pace.
- Safety — Juiced cuts no corners on this bike, honestly. The Tektro HD-710 hydraulic disc brake system is almost entirely maintenance-free. Of course, you need to replace pads — about 3x a year for us — but that’s just about it. The stopping power on them is insane, even with a kid on the back and a full load.
The 20" wheels lower your center-of-gravity, providing noticeably superior stability when under load. The low rear rack is also a huge detail, adding to that lower center-of-gravity. Riding with my daughter on the back has almost zero impact on the way I ride and handle the bicycle. With the RadWagon, it was very noticeable, and even dangerous.
- Truly a Car Replacement — There have only been a few times that we’ve genuinely needed a vehicle instead of our bikes. Those times were a 1,000-mile road trip, camping, and other out-of-the-ordinary events.
- Versatile frame — The rear deck, the sides, the bottle cage mount, the front rack frame mount, etc. all work super well with aftermarket products. Our panniers work great on the sides, our child seats work perfectly, and we’re still finding new way to arrange thing on these bikes. It may seem like a given, but you’d be surprised how many bikes can’t be fitted with some accessories.
- Most Affordable — It’s true. The ODK U500 is the most affordable cargo electric bike out there (now priced at $1,999), especially when considering all of its features and equipment. It may even be the most affordable cargo bike out there.
- Internal Gear Hub — IGH’s are virtually maintenance-free. I’ve yet to do anything with it. They’re also super easy to shift, even under load. Just a twist of the shifter, and it’s there. The gears can even be changed without pedaling, or at a stop.
- Plenty of Power — The 500w motor provides plenty of power to get around, even under load. I’ve done a CostCo run with the panniers and front rack fully loaded, and with the kiddo on the back.
- Weight — This bike is heavy. At ~80 lbs., you’re going to have to get comfortable doing some creative maneuvering. Also, don’t count on taking this thing on the bus or train. That said, you won’t find another electric cargo bike that is as light that will do as much.
- Front-Wheel Drive — I really wish this was a mid-drive bicycle. Unfortunately, it utilizes a front-hub motor. This is only ever an issue when going uphill, riding in the rain, or both. It is rather easy, however, to combat this. I am 5'7" and weigh in at only 140 lbs. with all my rain gear on — all I have to do is stand up and lean over the handle bars.
- Throttle Only — Unfortunately, the electric assist can only be engaged via a throttle. There is a cruise button that will limit the motor to the current motor speed, but there is no pedal assist. This is something I really wish it had.
- Only Three Speeds — The Internal Gear Hub is only three speeds, meaning you won’t be doing much without the electric assist, unless you feel like getting a great workout. It was hard for me to put this one on the Cons list, however, because I don’t feel that it needs more, but I know I would want more if given the option. Really a hairsplitter of a con here.
What You Need To Know and Have
There are some things that go along with owning these bikes, and owning a cargo bike, electric bike, or a bike in general, that you need to know about.
These bikes have a few bits of equipment on them that were new to me. As such, I had to have patience, perseverance, and grit to get myself through the moments that were new, frustrating, and exhausting. Below, I’ve listed some items that I needed to get in order to make using these bikes on a daily basis a more enjoyable experience. Granted, most of this is because I insist on doing as much of the maintenance myself as possible.
Changing flats is one of the banes for these bikes. Because Juiced used 20x1.75 rims, it’s hard to find tires that work with this application for a heavy bike. They went with this moped tire for their new bikes, and a Kenda e-bike tire for bikes being purchased around the time that we purchased them. The Kenda tires were much easier to remove and repair flats on. The moped tires are heavier, firmer, but provide a bit more of a plush ride, could be a good candidate for converting to tubeless, and are supposed to be more puncture-resistant. I highly suggest getting the following in order to make your flat repairs and puncture-resistance much more successful:
- The moped tire, if yours doesn’t have them. I am also considering other tires, such as the Schwalbe Marathon, Schwalbe Big Ben, CST Vault, etc. However, our tires still barely show any wear after nine months of use.
- Park Tool tire levers. These are the only ones that work with the moped tires. I’ve broken four heavy duty plastic levers, I’ve tried cheaper car tire irons that ended up having too dramatic of a hook on the end, etc.
- Mr. Tuffy tire liner, the green ones. They’re color-coded by size. This liner is installed between your tube and your tire, adding an extra barrier to foreign intruders.
- Velox rim tape in 22mm size. I experienced a couple of pinch flats which happens when the tube is pinched in the rim’s spoke holes.
- Standard-sized tubes. Thicker ones, such as those with sealant in them, make fitting with the moped tires extremely difficult. We tried them before, but ended up with a flat only a couple of weeks after installing, and then had a hell of a time getting the tire off and back on, due to the thickness of the tubes.
- Repair stand. This was a huge upgrade. It made repairs quicker, easier, and safer. Not only that, but before getting a stand, we would experience spongey brakes lever feel, due to the hydraulic system getting air in the lines from the bike being flipped upside-down. Big no-no.
Since establishing this setup in December, we have not had a single flat. That’s six months — half a year — with no flats. Daily ridden. And ridden hard. Under load, fast, in the city, through construction zones, etc.
Here are a few items that we use that have made cycling much more enjoyable, kid-friendly, and safer:
- Bike Friday Whoopee-Deux. This is installed on my bike. The kiddo loves it, and has even fallen asleep in it. It’s safe, sturdy, and adds an extra grab-bar for you to maneuver your bike around. It also provides a nifty spot to install extra lights, bottle holders, a bell for the kid to ring, and much, much more!
- Xtracycle Magic Carpet. If you get the Whoopee-Deux, I suggest getting the Magic Carpet instead of the BF Whoopee Cushion. It’s thicker, and thus more comfortable, and is long enough to be folded up to provide cushioning for their spine.
- Polisport Junior seat. Here’s an option for those that want a more typical seat, and one that can be removed with ease and quickly. It’s also quite light and sturdy. That said, the kiddo doesn’t like it as much, but it never really bothers her. If she’s tired, she always prefers the BF + Xtracycle setup on my bike. Having this seat, though, is great due to its ease of removal. If we need to carry a large load on my wife’s bike, we just remove the Polisport seat. No tools required.
- Showers Pass Transit Pant. An absolute must for those considering biking daily, whom live in areas where it rains. I’ve tried other brands, but they always wear out where contact is made with the seat. That’s your butt. And your inner thighs sometimes. And guess what — they make a women’s model as well.
- Showers Pass Club Shoe Covers. Again, a must-have item. I do have a pair of athletic waterproof Goretex hiking shoes, but water can come up over a mid-top shoe like that. The pants provide great coverage, but these shoe covers provide a guarantee of dryness.
- Rain shell. Of course you need a rain jacket. I have a Patagonia Torrentshell, but I have found myself wondering if the Showers Pass Transit Jacket would make more sense. Ultimately, I went with Patagonia for their lifetime warranty, affordable and timely repair service, their commitment to sustainability and environmentalism, and its aesthetics.
- Blitzu Gator 390 light set. I’ve had a lot of lights. A lot. We have gone through five other sets of lights. FIVE. Four were stolen. One was too bright. Don’t ever leave anything on your bike. Sometimes, though, you forget. And that’s when crappy people come out.
- VeloChampion multi-tool. Great tool. Great price. Just as good as a Crank Brothers tool, at half the price.
- Floor pump. You definitely want one of these. I already had a JoeBlow Sprint, so that’s what I use. However, I recommend something like the Bontrager Turbo or the Lezyne Classic. These pumps perform great and for a long time. The JoeBlow is great too, but I had to replace the head in order for it to fit within the spokes of the wheel that Juiced puts on the bike. Look at the three aforementioned pumps. Notice how large the one on the JoeBlow is. Now look at the others. You can see how much slimmer those are. If you get a Topeak pump, or if you already have a pump but with a large head, simply replace the head with this rebuild kit by Park Tool. Fits fine now.
- Center kickstand. The included side kickstand can be a bit tricky when loading the bike up fairly well. I’ve tried the center stand that Juiced recommends, made by Ursus. However, I can’t really recommend it myself. It’s pretty difficult to deploy, as it requires you to lift your bike a fair bit. This can be pretty unsafe if you’ve got a heavy load. I’ve come close to injuring myself using it. To combat this, I load the right side of the bike first (opposite the kickstand), then the left. With my body pressed against the seat if need-be, I can maintain stability of the bike while loading it up with relative ease. If you find a center kickstand that works for you, please let me know.
I think that about covers it. Leave a comment if you’d like. Recommend, share, do whatever you do.