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.
Fellow 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.
So 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.
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.
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.
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.