MADSEN and our family go way back. This blog got started with a review of the then brand-spanking new MADSEN "precious cargo bike" back in 2008. Since then, we met the MADSEN guys, built it into a baby-hauling bike, brought home a Christmas tree on the Madsenbaum, took 4 kids on wild rides through Ballard, filled it with ice and frosty beverages for sunsets at the beach, transformed it into a Gelato Bike for our friends' wedding, and spent many a day just out on the bike exploring the city.
We ♥ our bucket bike.
We've been bugging Jared Madsen from time to time about the promised kid canopy/raincover (ETA now early 2011), and with ideas for improvements, and were delighted to hear this summer that the new model was almost ready for release. Jared offered to send us a review bicycle (we paid full price for our original), and we happily accepted. We were going to send the original back, but they liked the Gelato hack and told us to keep it around for events. Any Seattle folks that would like to borrow it are most welcome.
We've had a few months now with the MADSEN 2.0, and we LOVE it. It's got all the improvements we hoped for and more, with only a few downsides or quibbles. And we've spent the past two years collecting, demoing, and otherwise obsessing about family bicycles, so I can say that we've pretty much tried them all. For young families on a budget, with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, especially more than one, a MADSEN is the bike.
Yes, we love a bakfiets and have lust in our hearts for a Bullitt. They both have the very real advantage of kids/cargo in front, which makes riding a more social experience, and allows for easy supervision of kid cargo. But a bakfiets is honestly better suited to flatter towns than ours, and the lighter/sportier Bullitt does hills well but lacks in kid + cargo capacity, and costs well over $3,000 when you factor in kid-carrying accessories. Don't get me wrong - you really should demo a bakfiets-style bike if you can, and if you are not regularly climbing steeper hills or going long distances, and can front the cost, it might be your perfect family ride.
And the sharp-eyed reader may have noticed that we also have a new xtracycle in the stable. I'm gaga over our new longtail, and a review will follow. But the MADSEN comes ready to roll with seats and belts for 4 kids, whereas it can be expensive to add young-child carrying options to an xtracycle. And the MADSEN does naps well, which is crucial with the littles. On the xtracycle, I've resorted to sticking Luc in the freeloader bag hammock-style (don't tell my wife), adding a wacky noodle to the front seat for head support, and other hacks, but on the MADSEN it's trivial to convert to "nap mode" and ride. Trust me, they will fall asleep when you ride, at the most inopportune times.
So what's new with the 2011 MADSEN? Pretty much everything. Here's the rundown:
- Frame is now made in Taiwan rather than China. The welds are much improved. No "boogers."
- Bucket now from Idaho, and seems lighter. It also rides lower, as they revised the rear-end frame to be sturdier and allow the bucket to attach more securely. Lower center-of-gravity is a good thing. And we still love how easy it is to just throw kids & stuff in the bucket and go. The bucket is still easy to "hack," once you come to terms with drilling it. Viz our new rear light.
- Front end geometry much revised, with help from Aaron of Aaron's Bike Repair. HUGE improvement. I didn't mind the "flop" (floppy handling) of the previous MADSEN so much, but many did, as it made handling at slower speeds dicey. In fact, we did have 2 slow-motion tipovers on the original MADSEN. No one was hurt (the bucket is good that way), but it got a bit embarrassing when Drew started coaching us from the backseat and requesting that we not tip the bike. The 2011 bike handles like a dream at low speeds now, very stable, even more like "a normal bike." And I haven't ridden hands-free yet, but apparently it tracks well enough for that now.
- Dutch-style front wheel lock. Yes!!! You will use this all the time for running into stores. So convenient.
- New custom color-matched stem that bolts on tight. This is both better-looking and reduces flexiness in the handling. Between the new geometry, lower/sturdier rear end, and this stem, the bike is noticably less flexy with a big load. Stand and deliver.
- Spiffy handlebar, and brake levers that incorporate a simple button lock. This lets you lock the brakes to prevent the bike from rolling off the stand. Great idea, one that other bikes with centerstands would benefit from.
- Speaking of the stand, there are now two bolts that solve the loosening/twisting issues from our last bike. Solid. My favorite centerstand (the bakfiets' is rock-steady but futsy to stow, the xtracycle kickback flips up when moving the end of the bike around, etc ...).
- The chainguard is beefed-up (the old one tended to bend/break if kids climbed on it), and the chain management is improved with rolling idlers mid-chain. Ours is still a bit noisy, but I haven't bothered to tweak the rollers yet.
- The 38t front chainring is now easily user-swappable, and an extra 44t chainring is supplied, so you can choose lower gearing for hills and big cargo, or higher for speed. It is now easier to add a front derailleur for extra gearing, if you don't mind losing the chainguard. These options really expand the versatility of this bike, as the stock gearing on the previous model didn't meet everyone's needs, and upgrading was hard & expensive.
- The bucket now comes stock with 2 benches and 4 seatbelts. 4 kids, people! My car can't do that.
- The long-awaited front rack is now available, as well. This bolts securely to the frame (via braze-on's with classier hex bolts), which lets you carry a lot up front without affecting the handling. Believe it or not, families that use the MADSEN for transportation, kids, and groceries will want this rack. Multiple kids plus groceries fills up that bucket pretty quick. The rack has mounts for lights, and a coffee-cup holder! We recommend an OXO travel mug.
- Crane-style brass bell up front - loud, and with an impressive sustain.
- Cushy double-sprung seat has a lot of demo appeal, and will remain popular with more casual riders. The previous saddle was a disposable hiney-hater.
- New tires and goo-filled tubes. So far I haven't bothered to move our Schwalbe Big Apples over, which is saying something. But I will eventually for Kevlar-belted flat protection, extra cush, and reflection strips.
- Nicer stock pedals. The previous ones were junk. These are keepers - good-looking, with rubber for grip.
- Overall, MADSEN have gone from generic and cheap spec on most parts (to keep prices down, but with durability concerns), to still genericky but improved in function and/or quality, with some custom-designed for the MADSEN. The moves in manufacturing and the improved spec have resulted in an entirely justified price increase, to $1485.
What's not to love? Well, I do have a few quibbles or things I'm not yet sure about:
- The ride position is now more decidedly and less-adjustably upright, but in more of a US "hybrid"-style position than true Dutch/English Roadster (with their relaxed seat-tube angles; I measured 74 degrees for the new MADSEN). This may be a benefit for casual riding, but for aggressive hill-climbing or speedsters, the previous riding position and adjustable stem was better. Despite being a bit of a snob about such things, I don't mind the riding position that much yet, but those that do will need to do some stem/bar swapping. And I may eventually want to either take this bike more sporty, or with more "Dutchness" via a layback seatpost and rear-swept bars. Either of those options would yield a better torso angle and more efficient pedaling.
- The seat is cushy indeed, and good-looking to boot. But on longer rides cushy just means that the seat pushes up into your nooks and crannies, and starts to cause heat/sweat/friction issues. A stiffer sprung seat that supports your ischial tuberosities (sit bones) but lets the rest of "your situation" breathe is better. We moved our Brooks B67 over. But this is a quibble. Many will like this seat, and it's way better than the previous stock seat.
- The color-matched full-coverage fenders are still a big plus, but I miss the rear-fender reflector, and the rear fender extends too far in the rear, which makes it bang on curbs.
- Chain management is better, but still somewhat noisy. I've gotten used to it, and adjusting the idlers may help.
- MADSEN ships the bikes fully assembled and ready to roll out of the box, by drop-freight to your house. This worked well overall, but our stand was bent in transit. They sent out a new one promptly.
- Our front fork has a bit of an issue, which we only discovered when trying to upgrade to a front electric hub. The fork we got seems to have dropouts that are narrower than they should be, and the left dropout is a few mm behind the right. MADSEN is also replacing this under warranty.
- The seat belts are the same as the previously upgraded ones. They're still too "slippery." We have to loop them back through the buckle or tie them off to keep our wriggly toddler belted in.
- A rear disc brake would be still be nice to have. After 2 years, we did wear through our previous rear rim from braking. Granted, we do ride a lot, and could perhaps have done a better job keeping the brake pads free of grit. But it seems that 20" rims on load-carrying bikes would wear down faster in general.
- Our black bike looks great, with lots of color-matched parts, and more stainless bits, but the paint job is not as durable as our Dutch bike's galvanized and powdercoated frame was.
- Still no raincover. Others have made them, but we hope to see one soon from the MADSEN gang, as it is not optional in the winter months for serious transportational riding.
- It's still hard to find a MADSEN in bike shops, where post-sale support would be easier. This is not for lack of trying, I suspect, but more of a sad fact that most local bike shops are lacking in family and transportational bike vision.
And there you have it, folks. You'll be seeing a lot more of the black MADSEN 2.0 in future posts ... it is an incredibly capable bike for the price. Compared to your family car, it can handle almost as much (multiple kids and a week's worth of groceries), and it's so easy to just load and go, with free parking out front, every time.
Yes, this is a furnished-for-review bike, but one that I would certainly have schemed a way to buy. Especially with today's Black Friday deal! MADSEN has had some epic deals on scratch-and-dents in the past, and today does not disappoint. New 2010 MADSEN's are only $999 (plus $150 shipping), which is almost $500 off. That is one smoking deal. Put one under your Festivus pole this year.