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Dec232010

« Family Cycling on 3 Wheels »

Christiania Trike, Clown Car Style

Who doesn't have a fond memory of some long-lost tricycle? Me, it was laying down monster skidz on my Big Wheel and Green Machine. But most of us haven't rocked 3 wheels since we were wee.

Enter the cargo trike. Due to some historical quirks of bike evolution, the use of trikes for cargo has been more limited to the Danes and some other Northern European cities for some time now, with cargo bikes being preferred by the Dutch, and more recently, the US. Indeed, until recently, shops weren't able to import Danish trikes for sale, due to concerns about US liability lawyers run amok.

Skates by Mikael Colville-Andersen, on FlickrFellow sufferers of Obsessive Cyclist Disorder may be familiar with "Copenhagen Supermums" and the other 3-wheeling Godivas on Copenhagen Cycle Chic, or perhaps have acquired a bit of snootiness about nouveau cargeau trikes from the Bakfiets en Meer blog. But that's not the same as trying one. And if you have access to the Clever Cycles, you can try 2 fabled Danish cargo trikes: the Christiania and Nihola.

How we driveSo when Drew announced that her wish for her 4-year-old birthday was to "go to Portland with my cousins and stay in a hotel and ride bikes and swim in the pool," who was I to say no? This proud biking papa hooked up a hotwire deal on the Crowne Plaza, loaded up the cousins' minivan (remember "why we drive"?), and off we went. Of course, the drive down involved Biblical rains, fisticuffs atop the McD's Playland structure, a detour for dagnasty sheet cake at the Kelso WinCo, a total trip time of 6 hours ... and a bit of nostalgic for Amtrak.

We'd planned to borrow a Christiania trike overnight from Clever Cycles, but got in too late to pick it up. The hotel was everything the girls hoped it would be, and My Little Nomads joined us for party and pool. It was only later in our PDX adventure, when Drew kept asking "when are we going back to Portland?", that I realized that Portland = Hotel to our 4 year old. Which could have saved us the 6 hour van ride.

On Sunday, we woke to a dry day, but by the time Clever opened and we were set up on trikes, rain was upon us again. As were sleep-deprived parents, 5 sets of small bladders and cranky hungry bellies. Thus was our "epic" Portland bike day cut short. Unless "detour to the nearest restaurant and back again" counts as epic.

So take this totcycle family demo report for what it is: a brief, tantalizing trike trial, under duress. For more thorough & knowledgable reports, I recommend this family's committed relationship with a Christiania trike, One Year of Sorte Jernhest, or Life With a Trike.

IMG_0565

Nihola Trike

The Nihola is undoubtedly the sexier, more immediately appealing of the two. It's ... designier. And the handling is preferable at first blush, as the wheels turn independently of the box, and the center-of-gravity is very low, which makes the trike less tippy in corners. The cargo area is certainly smaller than the Christiania's, but is well-appointed with padded seat and seatbelts, and a chic/practical see-through nose cone. With some doing, it fits through a doorway, which other trikes won't.

As Henry takes some delight in pointing out, they can tip forward when loading, and require a hand on the saddle when loaded up, which can be tricky when squirrelly rascals are involved. The trike fit both Kim (5'1") and I (5'9") well. And we loved the rain cover, which has side zips and generous windows.

IMG_0561

Christiania Trike

The Christiania trike has a storied history, developed in a car-free arty-alternative-squatter community in Copenhagen in the 70s. It has since been refined (internal gear hubs, aluminum frame, etc), popularized, exported, and awarded the Danish Design Prize. They're finally available in the US through Boxcycles and their dealer network. As this photo shows, this trike was intended for family use from its inception.

The "shopping cart" handle turns the entire front of the bike, which takes some getting used to. With a lighter load or higher speeds, this trike can go "Dukes of Hazzard" up on two wheels (or over) quite easily if you're not careful. Like this taxi-trike driver (Todd is well on his way to pulling this off, I reckon).

But the box itself is spacious, with a locking storage space under the bench seat, which is easily removable. Clown trike spacious. If you need more capacity, daycare sized trikes exist. And I was envious again of its well-thought out raincover (must build one for MADSEN soon).

It would take some creativity to get the seat post low enough for my wife, so if you're 5'1" or below, make sure you demo. The front disc brakes have been an area of complaint, but upgrades seem to work well. You can even weld on more traditionally swept back handlebars if you are so inclined. For the brief casual ride we did, brakes and bars worked well enough. The overall look and feel is more utilitarian than the Nihola, but in a pleasingly sturdy workmans-chic way.

Christiania trike, clown car style, Pt 1IMG_0568

Overall

My wife loved the trikes. At the risk of sounding sexist, I suspect there will be a moms over dads bias towards the trike. My wife, at least, has been at a height and upper-body strength disadvantage when it comes to muscling a loaded 2-wheeler around the sidewalk. And from a less-confident-cyclist perspective, the low-speed stability of the loaded trike is a real advantage (she's also less likely to go bombing around corners, but would still be at risk for tipping a trike).

Not that dads don't love some trikes too. Patrick Barber loves his, and Dr. Mekon seems to have traded in a 2-wheel bakfiets.nl for a 3-wheeled version. If I lived in a flatter city, I'd be tempted as well, for these reasons:

  • Kim loved it. Seriously. That's the only way I can justify new bikes anymore.
  • Trikes can handle heavier loads than a 2-wheeler.
  • I loved the jaunty, casual feel of stops and low-speed riding with no need to put a foot down or dismount.
  • Spacious cargo boxes with well-designed raincovers, and the usual Euro-practical trimmings (internal gearhubs, chaincovers, fenders, quite upright seating).

On the other hand ...

  • While it's nice not to worry about tipping going uphill, the trikes do feel somewhat heavier/sloggier/slower.
  • Handling is different (in a good/bad way), with a learning curve, and some risk of tipping at speed in turns (versus 2-wheel cargo bikes, where you tend to dump the bike during low-speed manoevers).
  • Lights. None spec'd, and dynohub would be hard, but battery lights would be an add-on.
  • Bulk. These are wider than most bikes. Storage could be an issue. Then again, these are designed to be outdoor bikes, with stainless steel hardware, marine plywood, etc.
  • Cost. The Christiania is $2,690, and the Nihola is $3,399. Of course, that's what imported euro-utility rides tend to cost, and as a car replacement they're still a good value.

If I had to choose ... well, I wouldn't, on such a short trial. Anyone in the market for a family cargo ride at this price range would ideally get an extended demo ride on these and on a bakfiets, MADSEN, xtracycle, and Bullitt. Take a trip to Portlandia!

Other Family Trikes (updated)

Other trikes I've noticed include:

  • Winther Kangaroo - $4000. See Joel's comments below about tilting badonkadonk and hydraulic brakes. Dottie loved it on her test ride. I haven't ridden one yet but was impressed by the kid cargo features, like reclinable and reversable seats. 
  • Zigo Leader - $1599. Designed in the USofA, this is the threeway lovechild of a bike trailer, tadpole trike, and a Transformer. Converts from trike to bike to stroller, which is a clever solution to problems that might not afflict that many of you, adding versatility at the expense of cargo room and simplicity. I briefly tried one at the Bike Expo, would try again.
  • Onya Cycles - $3000+. Currently in beta, this "Front-End Loader" trike adds lust-worthy tilting front wheels, with optional electric assist. Hot dang. The cargo area looks smaller than others here, however, and not yet as refined as European family bikes.
  • Sorte Jernherst - $4299. Hard to find this rear-wheel-steering cargo trike in the US, but MamaVee has one. Like many of us, she notes that 80lbs of trike plus 80lbs of kids is a lot to push up hills unassisted.
  • Bakfiets.nl Trike - €1919. Maybe importable through a Workcycles dealer? Stay tuned to the Mekons for more on this trike.

But what do I know? I'm a bike guy. All you trike aficionados out there, please post or link to your three-wheelin' experiences below.

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Reader Comments (24)

Julian great review! I have an additional trike to throw into the mix-the Winther Kangaroo. I received one of these back in November to check out along with the 2 wheeled Winther Wallaroo and I have been impressed. The cabin of the Kangaroo might be the nicest I have ever seen. Very roomy and water tight, with good kids seat adjust-ability. The most impressive feature on the Kangaroo is the lean of the rear seat when you are turning. This makes for a very stable trike that is nearly impossible to tip over. Another feature I like are the hydraulic disc brakes on the front 2 wheels. These brakes are very powerful and perfectly modulated-no pulling to the left or to the right like finicky cable brakes.
A few years back Mikael at Copenhagenize.com included a review of 1 bike and 4 trikes reviewed in the Danish newspaper 24 Timer.

http://www.copenhagenize.com/2007/12/test-of-five-cargo-bikes.html

Both the Nihola and the Christiana were reviewed in addition to the Bakfiets and Winther Kangaroo, also available in Portland. The only bike in the review that I have never seen in North America is the Sorte Jernhest. The Kangaroo might be the most modern of the 5 reviewed bikes/trikes and the only made out of lightweight aluminum....it also won a review with 5 out 5 bells. So many great options right here in Portland!

http://www.splendidcycles.com/products/winther-denmark

December 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJoel Grover

Nicely done. As always. I hope to try one out in the summer. As an alternative, I am going to take welding lessons and have the creation of a Trikenstein as my end product. This way, I can have a trike for the fun (and hey, I still have room in my garage for cargo bikes), but at a price I can afford since the desire is whimsy.

December 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTravis A. Wittwer

Joel - Where is my mind? I meant to mention other trikes I've drooled over, and the Winther and Onya trikes top the list! Post amended, thanks for the reminder. Next time we're down we'll give the Winthers a workout.

Thanks Travis! Trikenstein sounds like a fine project. Christiania-style seem pretty doable?

December 23, 2010 | Registered CommenterJulian / Totcycle

No need to go to Portlandia if you are in Southern California the Flying Pigeon LA bike shop carries both of these tries too.

All self promotion aside, this is an excellent overview of the benefits and tradeoffs with these trikes. I like to say that cyclists prefer two wheel cargo bikes, everyone else generally prefers trikes. They have a lower level of difficulty for most casual cyclists.

December 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFlying Pigeon LA

Sorry - I know I hae to write up my Christiania vs Bakfiets,nl cargotrike head to head. The short version is that on the trikes front, I've test-ridden a Winther Kangaroo, Zigo Leaderm Taga and a Christiania Light. All except the Zigo felt squirrely at even modest speed, so I wrote them off. I was then offered a week long loan of a Christiania Extended by my dealer. Pros were a great hood and lots of space. Downer was that the steering was underdamped, and that the frame and seat post are relatively small diameter, so there is a lot of lateral flex. This was particualrly disturbing on cambered paths and roads - not as bad as a Taga, but enough for my wife to write off the idea of a trike (hence she got a Madsen). I was subsequently offfered a 10-day loan of a bakfiets.nl standard width cargotrike. The difference was immediately obviosu - the stiffer damper and massive diameter tubing make it feel all one piece, as opposed to a box with two wheels attacked to a tube and a back wheel. On cambered paths, the effect of me being perched up high (I am 6'3) using my bodyweight to prise the two apart had no effect (actually, my height could mean the camber / flex effect is more of an issue for me than most, albeit my BMI is 19 from doing lots of riding, so if you are chunkier it could be worse). Also, the stiffer damping meant it felt much more stable at speed - you can ride it no handed - it just stays in a straight line. Don't try that on a christiania or a winther! Overall, we loved. As a result, we sold our bakfiets.nl cargobike (several enquiries within hours of posting, could have sold it several times over), traded in our moederfiets, and are planning on selling the Madsen. Our NN8D spec cargotrike arrived a couple of weeks back.

Note - NN8D the bakfiets,nl cargotrike can be specced with a dynohub! Ours came with an Axa pilot, but we'll be fitting a Cyo in due course. It is slower (about 2kph on average), but can carry much more. Fortunately, the brakes are better than the bakfiets.nl cargo bike (shorter cable run, extra wheel, extra roller brake)

Kids calling! not time to proofread, so apologies for nonsense. I will get around to writing that lot up properly - the pics from the earlier tests are on flickr.

December 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDrMekon

No need to go to Portlandia if you are in Alberta - we have plenty of cargo bike options to test including bakfiets, longtails, and trikes!

One new line that will be available in NA starting in spring 2011 - Babboe. They have a traditionally styled bakfiets and a trike too - both should retail for under $2500.

Great review of those two famous trikes. I have ridden the Nihola but not the Christiania, thanks for the comparisons.

Happy Holidays!

December 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBikeBike

Thanks so much for the post.

As the guy behind bringing the Christianias to the States, I, myself, will definitely agree that there is a learning curve involved with riding the trikes.

I usually say at least a full day of riding one on your own (no children), or a few days of riding (more cautiously) with children. The key to keeping the trikes from tipping is to keep it slow and lean into the turns - ex. when turning right, you lean slightly to the right. Once you have that figured out, things progress quite fast.

Also of note, the Christiania Bike, like the Winther, has the rear leaning feature mentioned in an earlier comment- which they themselves developed in the 80s. Again, this feature helps with stability in turns.

All in all, I have fallen in love with riding trikes because of the more mellow riding style. Stopped at a red light - no problem just kick your feet up on the back of the box and have a quick chat with the kids - no balancing acts required. Plus, the added space in the box is a real bonus when you have two or more kids, plus groceries and a dog.

But, again, if you decide to go for a trike - definitely take some time to get accustomed to the riding style. If you can manage an extended test ride - as you suggested - I'm sure you'll find the learning curve to be quite quick.

Finally, the Christianias can be custom ordered with a smaller frame - this because they are also exported to Japan, and have a smaller frame for the Japanese. As well, dynamo lighting is another custom option.

Thanks again for the great post and if you ever need that extended test ride, please let us know!

Happy Holidays...

December 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterWill

Thanks for the tweet. Yep - finally written up the reviews of the Christiania Extended trike and Bakfiets.nl Cargotrike: - http://measured-response.com/bakfiets/?p=529

I really ought to have written up the Winther and the Zigo Leader properly. I have to say, whilst I am not really sold on the pramformer concept, and I don't really recall how well my boy fitted inside it, the Zigo was really good fun to ride. So much better than the Taga (not on your list) pramformer. I don't buy the idea that people really will transform them regularly, but just as a trike, it was really fun to ride. I've only seen a couple in the wild over hear, but they are regularly at the bike demo shows we get here. If they are available in the UK, I'd encourage people over there to have a go. Here's two links to my posts on the Taga, btw.

http://measured-response.com/bakfiets/?p=280
http://measured-response.com/bakfiets/?p=485

December 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDrMekon

D'oh should proofread my comments - no edit button! I mean USA, not UK, and hear = here.

December 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDrMekon

Hi Julian, and all,

As a very happy owner of a Christiania trike for a month now, I'd like to give my increasingly biased opinion. My main purpose in purchasing the Christiania was to facilitate more year round chauffeur cycling of my kids, and to this end it has worked wonderfully, providing both enclosed comfort for the kids, and most importantly, stability on ice and snow. I experienced the learning curve and found that success mostly involved me freeing myself from some of my ingrained two-wheeling skills. Perhaps this is why LA Pigeon commented that they think a novice will enjoy it more than an experienced cyclist. I'd classify myself as a very experienced cyclist, however, and while I find the trike's handling different, it's a fun kind of different.

Which brings me to what I think is another really big part of learning to successfully use a tadpole style trike, - letting go of preconceived notions and embracing the different modality of the design. The same thing happens when making the switch from automobile to bike. The bike is (technically) a slower vehicle, but if we adapt ourselves to it's timing and best usage, we find the bike works as a very effective form of transportation.

In other words, comparing a trike to a bike is useful only to a point. No, I don't ride it as fast as I do with my Yuba Mundo or other non-cargo bikes, and cornering is different, but that's just it, it is a totally different animal. In some ways I liken it to a pedal-powered stroller, in that with it's step through frame (and the three wheel stability) I can just easily step off and walk it around, say at funky intersections or tight situations. It can be maneuvered 180 degrees surprisingly easily by just lifting the rear wheel. And it doesn't need that start up distance to gain stability like a two-wheeler does. As far as climbing, I'll have to say it's really not that bad. I've been planning on upping the teeth of the rear cog from 20 to 22, but I'm not really in a rush to do it. I've found on my four steep daily climbs that if I sit up straighter there is a real boost in power, and the climbing is pretty relaxed.

I do feel there could be some modifications or options that would help the Christiania in the US market. Designing it to take the larger 2.35 Big Apples would help counter the poorly maintained roads and trails we so often have to deal with here. And if possible, an on the fly adjustable damper might allow for optimized handling throughout different situations.

Finally, one thing that I think would be helpful in reviews of trikes (and all cargo bikes for that matter) would be to make the child carrying capacity, including realistic age/size ranges, a more featured element. I researched the lot of them, and while some have very nifty features, they're made to only carry two kids, and/or smaller/younger children (just like a trailer). Others, like the Christiania (or Xtracycle, or Mundo), will continue to successfully replace a car even as your kids grow. I think that's a really important distinction to keep in mind if we want to encourage more people to leave the minivan parked and instead give family cycling a try.

Happy Holidays,

Max

December 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMax

Thanks for the fun review, Julian.

I think you make a good point about the appeal of trikes to folks who don't feel comfortable balancing cargo on a bakfiets or longtail bike. My mom used a trike to haul three young kids around town when my sisters and I were little. She didn't have any special experience with or deep interest in cycling. She just needed a practical, economical way to get her children around the little town where we lived.

Reading your post reminds me of how much fun it was for my ten-year-old self to pile a bunch of friends into the back of Mom's preposterous trike and ride up and down the street. I wish my folks still had it so that I could take my own kids out for a spin in it! You've reminded me that I can always do the next best thing -- take them out for a test ride at a shop that stocks trikes.

December 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEmily

Thanks for posting your thoughts. Family bike shops need not be shy about shameless self-promotion up here on the Totcycle. I'm an automatic fan of any shop that goes beyond the obligatory dusty plastic rear seat and trailer.

The good Dr Mekon's site now features a lot more info on the bakfiets.nl trike vs other trikes, and well as video of 6'3" poppa and two sons inside the canopy. Check it out.

As for the Winther, I read that you can increase the damping - wonder if that might help the squirrely-at-speed that the Mekons felt. And I'll give the Zigo another try - the Seattle REI is stocking them, I believe. Just the thing for their dirt "test track."

The big versatile romper-room box seems to be a key ingredient of the success of family trikes, as does the relaxed, casual stop/go/hang out feel. I like Max's point about modality shift ... sounds like those already in love with bikes would need some time to adjust to a trike, and would likely even appreciate the variety in riding style. I will confess to having a pretty blue Christiania on the brain. Just a bit. Shh.

December 27, 2010 | Registered CommenterJulian / Totcycle

"I just noticed Joel say: The most impressive feature on the Kangaroo is the lean of the rear seat when you are turning. This makes for a very stable trike that is nearly impossible to tip over"

Re. the lean steering, I think they all do it. Certainly my Bakfiets.nl does it. It's just a function of the headtube angle. It's titled forward, instead of back like a bike. As such, when you turn the box, the tail of the tadpole is twisted over. However, I think this barely has any effect on whether a bike is tippy or not. Indeed, the only flip I've ever read about was by Stonehead, an ex-winther owner in the UK managed to put his on its side coming down a hill too fast. It seems to me that getting the weight of the passengers and riders low is likely to have much more of an effect. I suspect the Bakfiets.nl Cargotrike has a slight advantage of over the Christiania in this regard due to the low floor of the box becuase of the 20" wheels, and the slightly crank-forward riding position. I've added a Brompton seatpin extenstion to increase this effect. However, I also suspect that being 6'3 means I experience more tippiness than most anyway. My wife is closer to 5', and has never had a problem. The steering damper issue is much more salient when riding, Maybe Christiania could be specced with a stiffer damper? I must admit, in blue they are utterly gorgeous, and I think the front door option is very cool.

December 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDrMekon

...well not all have the lean. The Nihola with the articulating wheels certainly does not lean.

As for the fantastic musings of the Stonehead blogger (great blog btw) http://stonehead.wordpress.com/kangaroo-bike/ about trikes

...he admittedly was using the Kangaroo way outside of the design parameters of probably any trike. Pedaling 3 wheels heavily loaded over hill and dale in rural Scotland would be difficult on any 3 wheeler. An electric assisted front loading cargo bike with disc brakes and large rotors would be my choice for a hilly countryside kid hauling commute. The fact of the matter is two wheels handle higher speeds better than 3 wheels. In a city like Portland, we are flat enough for 3 wheelers in the east side neighborhoods. Any of the 4 discussed trikes would be appropriate if the riders understand the limitations.

December 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJoel Grover

totally late to say thanks for the link and I loved reading the review!

January 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMamavee

The DBC (Dutch Bicycle Company/City Bikes) in Somerville MA has a Sorte Jernhest trike in stock: http://www.dutchbikes.us/in-stock.php

January 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDoug

ooh. trike envy. There is a Christiana roving Chicago but I can't seem to ever catch them!
The Niholas are a favorite cool piece in the French Marie Claire house magazine -they have it in almost every other issue I find. In Chicago Jon Lind at J.C. Lind Bikes has a triple Lindy his signature trike which is fun to ride and has a dog door!

January 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJenn.

I live in Portland and have owned a Chritiania trike since 2005. I used to live on Amager - the island borough in Copenhagen that houses the freetown of Christiania. That place was my utopia and I always wanted to own the bike and live car-free. I've managed to live car free since 1998, but until I was able to beg, nag and otherwise harass good old Preben of Christiania smedie to let me import a trike I always felt like I really had to be kind of a hero to make car free life easy.

Skip a few years forward to my trike. Groceries? Sure. Moving my sister into her new apartment? Of course. Purchasing and moving cabinets, vanity and supplies for an entire bathroom remodel without using a car? Yes. Somewhere I have a picture of me, five months pregnant, with a bathroom vanity occupying the entire cargo compartment of my trike. Now that I have my daughter it is a fun and reliable way to get everywhere we need to go together. The steering soon becomes second nature and as long as I don't tear around corners, which I don't with a kid in the front, tipping has never been a problem. My biggest complaint is that people have done a good job of dinging up the fenders when parking too close to my bike, and due to the outdated floating disc brakes on my trike (which have been upgraded on the boxcyles), I've had to endure the vicissitudes of fussy brakes (squeaking and then trying to adjust) from time to time.

All in all I could not live without this trike and cherish it along with all of my memories of a more humane way of living in Copenhagen.

January 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTanya Barham

I have a triobike and I love it. I don't have a car anymore! :o) www.triobike.com

January 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHeather

Thanks, it’s very interesting. I wish you all the best.

December 7, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterfemme

The trike is a motorized, three-wheeled vehicle that is created by adding an extra wheel to a motorcycle. Learning to ride a trike is easy if you keep in mind that riding one is not the same as riding a motorcycle. For instance, turning a motorcycle is achieved by leaning in the direction in which you want to turn.

December 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGarage Equipment

This is really cool.I can take my two daughter together with their cousin to have some tour in the park and have an exercise after a long stroll in the village.

February 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGarage Equipment

It is fun to have the family around and with that kind of hobby, the kids will take it as a great memory when they grow up. The family bonding is such a great experience.

September 9, 2012 | Unregistered Commentercastors

I am selling my Nihola Family on Ebay now. Please refer anyone in North America who might want one. Thanks!

140962133736 (Item #)

April 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

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