Last weekend I had myself a multimodal trip to the bicycle Holy Land (European cities not included). Oregon Manifest was hosting a Family Cycling day, with an outdoor demo fair and a family cycling workshop in the evening. I'm game for any excuse to head down to the bikiest city in the US, and this seemed like a fine one.
Driving to Portland takes around 3 hours, depending on traffic, and solo driving 6 hours there and back to a family bike day seemed to be missing the point. Besides, once you leave the car at home, it becomes an adventure. And adventure was had. I borrowed a folding bike from Dutch Bike Seattle: a nifty Bike Friday Tikit with Hyper Fold (she can't fold any faster, cap'n!).
Yeah, I wanted to be that guy. Actually, it was a Greyhound thing. I prefer to take Amtrak down and back - they have reserved bike racks on board (not enough, though - they fill up). But the workshop went past the last train, so I planned to return by bus, which won't take a bike unless it's baggaged up.
I awoke well before the crack to find that our only garage door opener was dead. And my bikes? In the garage. Hell no was I driving, not even to the train station. So I broke a garage window pane and smacked the inside opener with broom. Badass. Except for the part where I whip out of the garage on a folding bike.
But I had a lovely pre-dawn ride on the Tikit down the Elliott Bay railroad and waterfront park trail to the train station. It's a zippy ride, and while the fold isn't nearly as compact as a Brompton, the Tikit makes 16 inch wheels feel more like a "normal bike". The Brompton is more of a "circus bike". And I do mean that as a compliment, from the "how did it get that small?" miraculous fold (slower, but a better choice for city buses & subways), to the initial ride feel, which calls for a fez rather than a helmet.
Got to the station with time to spare, folded the bike into a reasonably tidy package, and engulfed it with a lycra and nylon carrying sleeve bolted to the bike. It stowed easily aboard the train car, and off we went. I do love the train to Portland ... a nice mix of coastal and industrial scenery, and did I mention I had no kids with me? Much reading got done. Bliss.
The Portland station was about 3 blocks from Oregon Manifest in the Pearl District. Good thing I brought the bike. The family cycling expo was drizzly all day, but that didn't keep me from demoing every bike I could. Here's what I remember:
Joe Bike with Prototype Soft Box and Canopy
The Joe Bike is an extensively reworked Chinese bakfiets knockoff. They use local builders to create bolt-on extensions to a short bakfiets frame with front platform. This is the latest:
The front "bak" is a waterproof fabric (vinyl?) on metal frame construction, with a mesh bench seat for two, and rain canopy that flips forward for loading. You may have noticed the EcoSpeed electric mid-drive assist. I sure did. I wanted a ride, and they were happy to oblige. The front canopy kept my leg and hands warm and dry, but extends a bit too far back on this beta version (which had been completed just hours prior). The short bakfiets does feature nimbler handling when compared to the Bakfiets.nl long, but doesn't leave a lot of room for groceries when you've got kids on board. Tradeoffs. As for me, if I'm going to push a bakfiets with 2 kids around town, I think I'd want the extra room.
As for the fabric-on-metal-frame design (also seen in the Gazelle Cabby and rumored Wike trailer-as-Long-John bike), I'm sure it's lighter than the marine plywood of a Dutch bakfiets.nl, but may not be as versatile for various non-kid cargo (with sharp edges, etc) or as durable.
But the electric assist system worked really well on this bike. Like the StokeMonkey system, it gives you superhuman power across the gear range, so it's great at accelerating from a stop across traffic, up hills with cargo (didn't get to try that though), and allows you to reach impressive speeds at the high end. Nice review of Joe Bike plus EcoSpeed plus different (and to me, sketchier) kid carrier here. Cost? Probably about $5,000 with the box, cover, and electric assist. Yikes. But it's car-capable, and much more fun.
Workcycles FR8 with Front Seat
I love Henry's new workbikes ... the step-through design and seat-tube angle allow this one to work for a range of rider heights, and it has a modular frame-mount for various front racks and a front seat. I've ridden this bike at Clever Cycles with wife and child aboard the "massive front rack" (fun!). This time it was the "regular" front rack (still way burlier than most others), and the kid's saddle, with fold-out footpegs.
An issue with many front child seats is parental knee clearance, and there aren't many out there that can handle preschool age kids up front. While I didn't feel comfortable borrowing a child for my test ride, it did seem that knee clearance would be excellent for me (5'9"). Plus, I just love the ride on this bike. The big Fat Frank tires soak up road bumps, and the upright Dutch riding position is ideal for flatter environs like the Pearl.
I don't mind the weight on my Dutch bike except on moderate hills and up. And a big, overbuilt steel bike is slower, no doubt. But this style of bike handles kid and other cargo so well. I feel more confident with front-riding kids on Dutch bikes, because the child and any groceries are frame-mounted on a burly frame that can handle it, rather than stem/handlebar-mounted (affects handling on most frame designs) on a twitchy lighter bike.
As for a kid seat with - GASP! - no 5-point safety harness ... I'd be comfortable with it for 3 and up, when they're less narcoleptic. It's not at all clear that being strapped to a 50-lb bike is advantageous in a crash.
Have I mentioned this bike comes in a fabulous orange? Sigh ... someday. In the meantime, visualize this (imagine helmets if you must):
Larry vs Harry BULLITT Cargo Bike
Speaking of twitchy, lighter bikes, the Bike Gallery had one of these out in the stark white Milk Plus style. These are marketed as stylish, racy, and light long-john bikes. That they are, but phoooey, the steering is sensitive. I had to put a foot down a few times just getting out of the parking lot. Not sure if this is just "sporty" steering geometry, user error, improves with a load, or needs tweaking. I wouldn't be wild about carting kids on this bike. Unless, of course, it had this genius owner upgrade:
Yuba Mundo with Two Kid Seats
The 2.0 version of the Yuba Mundo comes in a tasty carrot orange, and can mount two kid seats on the back. If they look much like xtracycle's new seats, it's because they are two peas of the same pod, with slight differences. I have to say - this bike rides like buttah. It's a smooth, plush, rock-solid ride. And people move appliances with this bike - one of the burliest production long-tails available. A Mundo with stokemonkey and kid seats would be a formidable car replacement ... but it desperately needs a wider centerstand. And while some big side bags are now available, they don't appear compatible with those seats. Still. I am tempted.
Here's how we'll be rolling, circa 2011. This family tandem bike has child up front for great views and conversation, which is my preference. Some parents want kid in back, as they don't feel comfortable nosing out into intersections this way. For them, Bike Friday has a nice child-in-back tandem.
What's cool here is the modular front, which can take a toddler kid seat, a cargo basket, or an easily adjustable kid's tandem cockpit. The solo ride I took was nice, with confident steering, and a non-stock SRAM i9 internal gear hub in back with front derailleur. Nice hub, SRAM! Still not as smooth as Shimano IGH's when shifting while pedaling, but closer than before.
Kalkhoff Electric City Bike
I couldn't resist a spin on this new import from Europe, where ebikes are more evolved and accepted. It's not a family bike, and were I to go electric, it would involve a cargo bike with assist, but ... this pedalec was really well-done. I don't love modern Euro-bike styling, but this does come with all the practical accoutrements - Alfine internal gear hub, rear wheel lock, fenders, and lights. As for the electric assist - pedalecs sense the torque you apply to the pedals and provide 3 levels of assist. No twist or thumb throttle needed - you just get to have bionic legs, which is a giddy feeling. For only $2,000-3,000, which is a considerable discount from 6 Million Dollars (and Steve Austin got his legs in '70s dollars).
Surly Big Dummy with Stokemonkey
Martina from Clever Cycles was very generous with rides that day. I just had to try her stoked xtracycle, as I wanted to demo another electric mid-drive cargobike. The cockpit felt a little cramped, not surprisingly (Martina is not of tall stature), but the ride was smooth and stable. The Stokemonkey assist felt like a little bit of nitro, as I could kick it in and get a boost in any gear, from starting off the line in low gear, to whipping down city streets in high gear. In addition to a more versatile assist, this lets the motor operate at peak efficiency more often, and extends the battery range. Like a true tandem stoker, you do have to remember that it makes the pedals go 'round when activated, but that didn't take long.
Which option will depend on which family bike we end up with when Luc is a toddler. But bakfietsen ("box bikes"), xtracycles, Mundo's, and MADSEN's are now all compatible with electric assist of one form or another, so we have options.
The future of cargo and family cycling will involve a lot more electric assist, I believe. It lowers the threshold to choose the bike over the car, extends the distances and routes available, and makes hauling multiple kids and groceries over hill and dale feasible. And fun!
Would you add electric assist to your family bike setup? A quality add-on system can cost from $1,000 to over $2,000 depending on hub motor vs mid-drive, and battery quality.
With that question, I'll wrap up this part of the day, and save the Family Bicycle Solutions Workshop for Part 2. A big thanks to the organizers, and to Clever Cycles, Joe Bike, Bike Gallery, RAD-Innovations, and Kalkhoff USA for tolerating my ride requests, loitering, and drool. And to Dutch Bike Seattle for the Tikit loaner!