Drew and I had the pleasure of meeting Jared and Jason from MADSEN Cargo Bikes on a blustery day at the Seattle International Bike Expo this weekend. No photos, sadly, as I was busy wrangling a 2 year old whilst trying to talk bikes. Jared Madsen, the designer and founder of the company, told me that our previous review had certainly led to some extended conversations with potential customers. And while I feel bad if some of the critiques from me and Aaron of ABR, who built up the bike, have caused them any grief, I had hoped that the overall quite positive review would bring them more customers than it cost them. I really want them to succeed. The market truly needs a lower cost family cargo bike.
Which is what the Madsen is. I think that the bike geek community, used to debating the finer points of a $2000-3000 Big Dummy build, is naturally going to have issues with the components and build quality on a $1299 mainland China-built cargo bike. My hope, with the feedback, was to encourage more durable choices within their need to keep costs down, and thus increase value. And I'm happy to report that Madsen is addressing most of the quibbles I had. Not that they needed me to point them out.
Jared had not just new durable centerstand feet for us (mine had gotten pretty shredded), but also 4 new seatbelts with plastic buckles that won't jam! They think that shortening our chain may reduce some of the drivetrain rub/rattle; even if not, I've gotten used to it, just like the squeak of my saddle (must lube/condition underneath, unless anyone has other squeaky Brooks suggestions). I fixed the centerstand slippage by removing some of the grease and cranking down on the bolts.
And their new shipping system for folks who lack a local dealer is excellent, as the bike arrives at your door fully assembled and tuned up by a Madsen mechanic. Soon, they'll be adding some customization options when it comes to components (which a local dealer could do, as well). And they're currently on tour around the West, looking to sign up more local bike shops.
Drew and I left with quite a warm fuzzy feeling about Madsen. In fact, Drew has been talking a lot about "the Madsen guys", in a bit of a swoony voice. And while I'd hoped to engage them in an online dialogue about the bike and build quality issues, it was actually nicer to discuss things in person. We talked about seatbelt pros and cons, hi-tensile steel versus cromoly (Jared prefers hi-ten for this bike, since weight is not such a concern, and cromoly could introduce some brittle areas to a frame that really needs durability), weld quality, and gearing and chainring options. I can't say much yet, but suffice it to say that they're working hard on all of these issues, and addressing them in a way that makes me happy. They're also planning to take care of their original customers, as they have with the updated kickstand feet, and handle any weld issues under warranty.
One accessory that I cannot wait to see is the raincover. The prototype they had with them turns out not to be what they're going with. But what they've got cooking is way better. They're coming out with a cabriolet-style soft-top that will stay mounted to the bucket, but pull up and over the bucket in case of rain or cold. No futzing with tent poles, no stuffing kids through a zippered window into the bucket. Brilliant.
As for our ongoing experiences riding the Madsen, we are still loving it. Drew often chooses to ride it over our other options (especially since meeting the "Madsen guys"). Myself, I generally prefer her in front of me on a bike, where it's easier to see her and interact. But I'm coping with having her in the back, and when there's more than one kid back there, it becomes a bike party on wheels, with me as the chaperone. We had a truly memorable outing to Zayda Buddy's the other night with 3 kids in the back, hooting and hollering their heads off all the way down the street. The bucket seating arrangement is so much fun for them, and on cold rides they can all cuddle under a big blanket.
It's a champion grocery getter as well, and I appreciate not having to strap/buckle/bungee anything - just throw up to 5-6 grocery bags in the bucket and ride! Under a big load, there is some twisty flex in the frame that is best handled by staying seated with two steady hands on the bars and a regular cadence. My impression is that this whippy feeling is comparable to a bolt-on xtracycle, but perhaps less than on a Big Dummy (I haven't ridden a BD under heavy load, though). And the Madsen actually does fit a range of riders; in our experience, from Kim's 5'1" to my 5'10" has worked well. The stem/handlebars it ships with, while not my preferred "North Road" upright setup, has actually turned out to be a nice compromise for various moods, loads, and riding styles.
So in case anyone was wondering from our first review, we do recommend the Madsen highly as a lower cost, ready-to-roll family bike. Of course, if you have the means, a $3,000 Dutch bakfiets (or Metrofiets, etc) is probably the ultimate family whip for people with younger kids in less hilly areas, and there's a solid argument to be made for getting/putting together an xtracycle instead (nice cogitating on Madsen vs xtracycle Radish here). Options are good. If anyone wants to demo a Madsen in Seattle, give us a holler. We've got some exciting plans afoot for some family biking rides this summer, which will be a good chance to see these bikes up close and take them for a spin. Stay tuned for details on Kidical Mass Seattle!