- A three-wheeled electric assist box bike designed to transport up to four children, includes a locking bench seat cargo cubby, full fenders and chain guard, optional canvas cover to keep the kids dry
- Solid braking with two 160 mm mechanical disc brakes up front and a linear pull brake on the rear, important considering the 140 lb weight of the bike!
- Only available in one frame style, size and color but it's fairly versatile and unisex, marine grade wood can be washed and has a drain at the bottom, nice carry rack for trunk bag or panniers
- Wonky steering with wide-swinging handle bar, you have to walk your hands from one end to the other for best turning radius, no throttle mode to help you get started, have to switch gears while moving vs. internally geared hub which would work at standstill
The human powered Virtue Cycles Schoolbus was one of the first models created by founder William Mulyadi. It was designed to be stable for loading his kids, positioning them out front where he could keep an eye on them and have conversations during rides vs. behind in a trailer or rack mounted seat like the popular Yepp Maxi. He didn’t enjoy looking back frequently, straining his neck and compromising his steering position, and felt that their chats were interrupted… Unlike many of the other single-rider upright electric trikes I’ve reviewed, the Schoolbus wheel pattern follows a tadpole layout much like a recumbent trike. With two wheels up front and one in the back, the wooden cargo box (which can accommodate up to four small children) can be larger than that used for the Gondoliere+ but maneuverability and speed are sacrificed in the process. Basically, you haul more with the Schoolbus+ and it’s stable but handling takes more effort and speed is sacrificed… it’s also just a lot heavier than that model at over 140 lbs.
Steering and handling the Schoolbus Plus is very different than most of the other electric bicycles I’ve test ridden because the bar is connected at both ends and swings wide to each side vs. twisting in the middle. I found myself walking the bar out slowly and occasionally using one hand for sharp turns. It wasn’t as precarious as it may sound because again, you’ve got three wheels on the ground to stabilize you at all times. It does take some arm strength though, because the bar is turning the box, cargo and front wheels. The cockpit isn’t especially crowded or complicated with standard brake levers, a classy bell, thumb shifter on the right to navigate seven speeds and a basic LCD control console. Many of the components and parts used on the Schoolbus+ and Gondoliere+ felt cheap to me but the price point on both is incredibly low. Seven speeds isn’t a lot but with assist it’s enough to get around the neighborhood… unless you have medium or large hills. The shifter worked fine and Shimano Acera derailleur is two steps up from base, one complaint I have about the display is that it can be difficult to reach when mounted in the center (as shown in the video and images here). I had to take my hand off the left grip to arrow up and down into different assist modes. I also wasn’t able to figure out switching from kilometers to miles or back lighting. Lights are definitely something worth adding to this ebike for early morning and evening use. Virtue Cycles sells an optional shade canopy tent thing that covers the box but I didn’t get to look at it and am not sure how much it costs… ask about it if you contact the company. Apparently it’s made of canvas, has windows and a zipper for entering through the side. You can also roll it down in the front and tuck into the metal bar shown in the video.
Buying this bike isn’t as straight forward as many others I test at local shops. Because it’s large and heavy, shipping costs may add up and unless you live in the Southern California region or are willing to do some driving you may not get the chance to take a test ride. It only comes in one color (a unisex Atlantis Green) and one frame size but the low-step frame is very easy to mount and the seat drops low so I feel that this bike would fit a wider range of riders. I love the matching steel fenders and chain guard as well as the battery-surrounding cargo rack with pannier blockers! You could easily add a set of panniers like this for additional personal cargo space or groceries if the front box was dedicated to kids. Due to its size and unique wheel layout, the School Bus might be difficult to lock onto traditional racks (go for the end of the rack or lock to a tree, railing or post).
Despite its heavy footprint and large size, the motor and battery on the Schoolbus+ are minimal and efficient. This is a pedal assist only, Class 1 electric bike. Since it doesn’t have a throttle, you end up getting better range and not working the motor so hard which means the 250 watt geared hub and 36 volt pack (both below average for what I see on a lot of single person ebikes in the US) work surprisingly well. Again, this is not a fast electric bike, topping out at maybe 10 to 15 mph? But due to the unique steering and somewhat basic braking I wouldn’t want to go much faster. The motor activates based on pedal cadence not how hard you push, so once it begins spinning all you need to do is continue pedaling lightly to get assistance. The downside is that STARTING the bike can take some real strength and unlike bicycles with internally geared hubs, you cannot shift at standstill here so plan accordingly! Shift down before stopping at lights or stop signs. This is where the basic shifter becomes tiresome vs. triggers or for some a twist grip which might be more intuitive.
I had a lot of fun meeting the founder of Virtue Cycles, hearing about the evolution of his bicycles and the history and inspiration behind the Schoolbus. Even with the extra shifting and weight this bike works fine unpowered but I can see why a motor was added as an option. To have the battery, motor and control system all added to the standard Schoolbus and only have it cost $600 more is really impressive to me. Yes, the steering is a bit wonky on the Schoolbus (just like a real school bus) and it seems like William invented and preferrs the Gondoliere as a direct result of wanting more speed and improved handling, but for those who desire stability and need the extra space… this could be a fun, utilitarian way to get around town :)
- Because the Virtue Schoolbus models use three wheels, they are much more stable when loading and the cargo box at the front is larger for carrying more cargo or kids
- The wood used for the cargo box is marine grade so you can get it wet without being concerned about delamination or wear, William said he sprays his out when it gets messy, there’s a hole for drainage underneath the plastic carpet square
- The wooden seat closest to the steering section of the bike opens up for more storage and has a latch which can be locked for security, this is a great place to put the charger
- Even though the motor and battery are a little bit smaller in terms of power and capacity, the smaller 24″ wheel offers some mechanical leverage so it works pretty well
- The three 24″ wheels strike a balance between comofort, efficiency and stability… they lower the frame slightly vs. 26″ wheels but offer more cushion and traction than 20″ and since they are all the same size it’s easier to make repairs or replacements
- Because this is a heavier bike and the steering tends to tip to one side or the other there is a built in brake lever locking pin (on the right lever) which is great but I struggled to get it to lock in during my ride test… maybe the brake needed to be loosened a bit for more slack
- The front box and wheels have been designed to fit through a doorway so you can easily wheel the bike inside for safe storage, the total width is ~30 inches (apparently the European version is a bit wider than the US)
- I love the beautiful color of the frame, matching saddle and grip tape, the silver accents on the pedals, bell, chain guard and rear rack tie together nicely… it’s a unique and beautiful looking electric bike
- Surprisingly affordable at $2,000 MSRP compared to many of the other more custom electric bikes I’ve covered, you can get the Schoolbus without electric for just $1,400
- Plenty of storage space inside the wooden cargo bin (which has seatbelts for four small children) and the traditional rear rack which could support a trunk bag or panniers like this grocery-bag style one – they shouldn’t rub on the wheel thanks to side blocker bars
- Solid seven speed drivetrain with Shimano Acera component group (two steps up from their most basic hardware), the extra gears are great for climbing and there’s even an extra-large sprocket to help with heavy loads
- Comfort saddle with rubber bumpers and 1.95″ wide (24″ diameter) tires provide decent comfort, consider a 25.4 mm Thudbuster if you want even more cushion as a rider
- Whether you’re transporting kids or pets in the cargo bin you can see them the whole time without having to turn around and worry about a seat or trailer, it offers peace of mind and lets you communicate more easily as well
- Because the Schoolbus+ uses a “lawn mower” style bar vs. a t-bar that I see on most bicycles, the steering feels a little funky and the bar swings way out (you almost have to walk your hands to each side as you turn or just use one hand), it can feel heavy and different, it may turn automatically if you take both hands off the bar so be careful but overall it works alright with some practice
- The LCD display panel is mounted front and center on the handle bar but the integrated button pad isn’t easy to reach from the left, you almost have to take one hand off to interact with it, I’d consider repositioning it near the left brake lever
- Seven speeds is decent but you can’t shift at standstill (as you can with many internally geared hubs) so you have to plan ahead when stopping… the extra weight of the bike makes starting from rest difficult and because there’s no throttle and the motor activates based on cadence (crank arm movement) it’s up to you to get the bike going before you get any help, in my experience it takes about one full crank rotation with consistent movement
- The electric drive system is bolt-on and the wires aren’t run through the frame, it’s not as nice looking as a fully purpose built ebike but again, the price is low and this is a unique build
- Currently only available in one color and frame size, the step-thru tubing makes it easy to mount and stabilize for smaller people and the swept-back bars also improve fit so it works out alright
- Changing a flat tire on this bike could be difficult… there are no quick release systems and the bike itself is heavy, you might have to set it on some bricks or prop it up somehow, maybe tip it to one side? Be careful!
- Considering there’s no throttle here I would like the option to have an internally geared hub or continuously variable transmission vs. a standard cassette and derailleur, this would enable shifting at standstill and easier starts, it would be worth paying a little extra for
- Activating the electric systems is a two step process (a switch on the battery and a button on the display) which takes a bit of extra effort and time and could create confusion if you haven’t ridden for a while
- Official Site: http://www.virtuecycles.com/collections/bikes/products/2015-virtue-schoolbus-1
- More Pictures: https://goo.gl/photos/bUrkP7VUr4ncUd95A