Joe Bike Box Bike Review

KP in box bike

KP in box bike

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.

Joe Bike

Joe Bike

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.

12 comments to Joe Bike Box Bike Review

  • When you bought it, had you considered getting a Christiana bike?

  • @Froggie – we briefly considered Christiania, but they never made the short list. We ruled out 3-wheelers pretty quickly, and actually I’m not sure we knew they made a 2-wheeler.

  • Henry

    Great review!, we recently purchased a cargo bicycle over the internet since we could not find a dealer or bicycle store offering cargo bicycles in our neighborhood (Brielle NJ) ,our little one turns 7 months next month and day care is a mere 2 miles from home, what better way to ride my boy to school and back as the alternative would be our shared car!, interestingly enough we found our selves with a similar budge vs wants situation and narrowed our search down to a joe bike and a double dutch bike, what made us decide to go with the doubledutchbike was the simple fact that they offered a so called long john (model name Taylor) meaning the length of their cargo box is a about a foot and a half longer then the average cargo box which means that we had more room fitting both the car seat and a bag into the front, we never got into the specifics of the Joe bike but reading your article shows me theta both bicycles are similar equipped and with in the same price range, having said that I must say that I’m rather surprised by the “home made look” comment as we love the design esthetics of our doubledutchbike but that would be a personal opinion for sure, in the end I guess my wife just loved the way the bicycle looks :-) as for handling and performance I can say nothing bad and would recommend this bike to anyone whom does not want to go the extra mile spending an additional $1500.

  • NYMom

    Thank you for this very comprehensive review, Reuben!

  • Joe

    Thanks Reuben, I’ve been waiting for this post. Since we will likely be looking at some sort of child carrier purchase next spring, this will be helpful. One question – why did you guys rule out the 3-wheelers? I’ve never ridden one, so I’m curious what you think of them.

  • @Joe – if you ever want to come give the old Joe-Bike a test ride, you’re more than welcome to come over. Calhoun Cycle carries the Bullitt if you want to take one of those out, too.

    We don’t have a great reason for ruling out 3-wheelers, other than we already knew we were venturing out into goofy-bike territory as it is, and 3 wheelers just seemed a little over the top into clownville, or at least that’s what we thought people would think. I’d love to give a 3-wheeler a shot sometime! I have a nasty mental image of a 3-wheeler overturning on a fast-descent that I can’t get out of my head.

  • Did you switch out your bars yourself or did it come with the straight bars? What are you using to strap in the baby seat?

    I hear the three-wheelers are definitely a different feel, and not necessarily more stable (and almost always heavier) but surely not all that much goofier than a box bike (but that’s half the fun right?)

  • @Dorea – it came with the flat bars. I don’t think that’s standard, but I’m also not certain that the folks at Joe Bike know what is standard. I don’t think I was charged for an upgrade. When I ordered the bike, I had a phone conversation with Joe himself, and he didn’t sound 100% certain about what was included in the base model and what wasn’t. Joe builds these after the order is placed (I think), so I imagine he’d install any set of bars you asked for. I’m glad we got the flat bars – I think it helps on handling a lot.

    We use a 1″ wide nylon strap. The box comes with a couple weep holes drilled through the bottom, and we simply threaded the nylon strap through the holes, under the box, and up through the seat-belt notches in the baby carrier. It works really well. We also put about 1″ of foam padding in the bottom of the box under the carrier.

  • @Dorea, re: “I hear the three-wheelers are definitely a different feel, and not necessarily more stable (and almost always heavier) but surely not all that much goofier than a box bike (but that’s half the fun right?)”

    Three-wheelers are not necessarily heavier. According to Clever Cycles, the Nihola cargo trike only weights 32 kg (71 lbs), about the same weight as my bike plus trailer combo, and less than most 2-wheel cargo bikes. I test-rode this trike up the big hill east of the shop, and it was fine.

    However, I agree that trikes are not more stable. They are very easy to use at low speed and in stop-and-go urban areas, because you can just sit on the seat at a stop light with no fear of tipping over. But once you get going faster than 10 mph, curves feel very unstable, because the trike can’t lean into turns.

    I would suggest 3-wheel cargo bikes to people who want to carry heavy loads (3+ kids and groceries, eg) up hills, or in areas with lots of stop lights and signs, but no high-speed turns. For many people who are used to riding a bike and like to go faster, a 2-wheel cargo bike will feel more natural.

  • If you are not sure if a 3-wheel or 2-wheel cargo bike is best for you, I would recommend test-riding each one, for at least a 2 mile trip in the sort of terrain and traffic that you would usually experience. Try them both with and without cargo (e.g. your kids) in the box. And if you haven’t had a bike trailer, also give that a try – for some families a trailer is the best option.

  • Steve

    Thank you for the review. I am looking for a cargo bike and trying to figure out the best one for me. I test drove a Bullit. I was impressed with the concept of the bike but the Bullit felt too light and hard to control. I almost think a steel cargo bike which weighs considerably more would be more stable. Looking at all the models I am leaning towards a Cetma. Yes, the price is up there with the $3000 models, but the frame design looks the best of any, it is bipartable, and USA made, a rarety in bicycles these days.

    Actually, my real question is what age did you feel comfortable riding your kid around? At first I figured on at least one year old, but now I see that you can attach a carseat to the bike. With typical road bumps and city/ paved trail bike riding, what is a good age to start? I am concerned about the jarring effects of riding on a developing child, even in a car seat. Do you have any suggestions?

    • @Steve – The Cetma looks like a cool bike. I don’t think we knew about that option when we bought ours. One thing that looks pretty cool is the way the frame separates in half. That could be really useful if you think there’s a chance you’d want to load the cargo bike onto a car for some reason. Ours is large and bulky enough that we can’t take it anywhere unless we’re riding it.

      About age…. we started biking with our daughter when she was about 1 month old, but then only in very controlled environments. Near our home, there is a very wide paved trail with pretty smooth pavement, so we rode there more than anything, barely creeping along local streets between home and the trail. I was also very concerned about the jarring that would occur when I hit a bump, and even the smallest of bumps would make me cringe a bit. But, she never once showed any discomfort or even seemed to notice any of the bumps. By about 10 or 11 months, she was sitting up in the box by herself without a car seat and for the most part I didn’t worry about bumps at all.

      One thing that helped quell my fears a bit was watching how much she was jostled around in her car seat in the back of the car. When I really payed attention, she was getting jostled around in the car when we hit potholes, too, and if I didn’t worry about that, I wasn’t going to worry about the bike either.

      Good luck.

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