I’ve owned the Joe Bike Box Bike for about four months now, and I took it out for what will probably be the last ride of the season last night. It’s probably about time to write a formal review. I decided to purchase the Joe Bike Box Bike because it was the cheapest Box Bike I could find, but it still appeared to be a mechanically solid machine. The Joe Box costs about $1700, which is substantially less than the $2800-3200 for a Bullitt Bike or Bakfiets. The other option we considered was Double Dutch bikes, which are generally priced at about $2000.
First Reactions – We bought the bike over the internet sight-unseen, so it was a little bit of a surprise when we saw it for the first time. The bike has a definite homemade look to it. If you fancy yourself a designer, or if sophisticated design is important to you, you’ll be disappointed with the Joe Bike. The Joe Bike places more emphasis on being mechanically sound than on design.
I was initially surprised at the size of the box – it was smaller than I was expecting – the box is just barely big enough to fit a standard car seat. Keep this in mind when comparing with other box bikes out there. Many box bikes are larger (which also makes them harder to steer/balance). Joe Bike offers only one size of box. Some other companies offer both short- and long-box options. The Joe Bike is comparable to the short-box options out there.
The bike handles extremely well. When I test rode the Bullitt, it was wobbly and hard to get used to, which I think is a result of the overall length of the bike. The Joe Bike felt completely natural, and not much different than a standard bicycle, probably a result of being shorter than than the Bullitt.
Brakes – The bike features a Shimano IM-80 roller brake on the rear wheel, and v-brakes on the front wheel. Generally, I would describe the braking power of the Joe Bike as acceptable, but not impressive. I’ve never felt like I didn’t have enough braking power, including on downhills, but the braking power is substantially less impressive than the disc brakes I experienced on the Bullitt Bike. The v-brakes on this bike are generic and low-quality, and contribute very little to the overall braking power of the bike (also, they have a pretty nasty shimmy when applied with a lot of pressure). If the bike has a weak point, it’s the brakes. Still, the brakes are sufficient for everything I’ve done so far.
Frame – The frame feels solid and the paint looks nice. There is noticeable flex in the frame, but I haven’t experienced any problems or found it to be too distracting. The linking mechanism connecting the handlebars with the front wheel is solid and reliable. The rear rack is solid and will handle significant loads. Unfortunately, due to the oversized seat tube, the seat has continually slipped down over time, and no amount of tightening-it-down seems to be able to counteract this. The step-through frame geometry (compared to the Bullitt with a top-tube) is both good and bad. It’s easier to get on and off the bike, but a top tube would definitely make it easier to hold the bike up while stopped.
Gears – The Shimano Redband 8-speed internal gear hub is solid and performs exactly how you would expect it to. The front chainring is geared low enough that overall the bike is geared extremely low (and appropriate). I haven’t experienced any problems with the gearing or drive train.
Box – The box itself is nicely constructed out of plywood, but definitely has a homemade look to it. It looks like it could have used an extra coat of polyurethane for extra weather protection, but it looks nice and functions well.
The final word – I’ve had a ton of fun riding around on the Joe Bike. It handles well, and it’s done exactly what I was hoping it would do. My daughter loves it (a.k.a. she falls asleep instantly in it), and I’m looking forward to many wonderful hours of fun on it. If you’re looking for a great bike for recreational purposes, then this is your bike. If you’re looking for a bike to use for business purposes, if you’re contemplating going totally car-free and using this as your primary transportation, or if you plan on having to carry items (e.g. groceries) in addition to a kid in the box, you may want to consider spending the extra $1,500 for a more advanced model.