Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Trying out Cargo Trikes

A few weeks ago we posted a pic of a little ride around the block with some small friends. Bike buddies Danielle and Roxy from Born in Japan spotted our newest arrival — a result of bike love gone mad that is now in our garage.
The three trikes we compared all together - the turquoise Haley
Model 1, the white Christiania, and the Triple Lindy. The only one
that's not ideal for carrying kids is the one with the kid in it...
We found an ad on the Chainlink forum, a nearly-never used Haley model 1 tricycle for a tiny price. We made a pact to ignore it for a few days but then when we looked back it was still there. Here in Chicago it’s good to recognize an offer you can’t refuse, so we rushed to the guy’s house, tried it, and the kids rode in it, actually rode it, shouted a lot, and wouldn’t get out of it. When we woke up dazed we were home and it was in the garage with the children refusing to get out of it.
For other posts on these and other cargo trikes look at Family Ride (reviews JC Lind), Totcycle (Christiania and Nihola) and  Let's Go Ride A Bike (Winther), not to mention Dr Mekon, (Christiania and Bakfiets trikes), BikePortland (Haley) and others linked from these. 
Then we started riding it in the neighborhood, but it wasn’t fun (for us — the kids loved it) since it had never been set up and some components needed work. On the Critical Lass ride the pedal fell off and Dottie had to carry me on her handlebars to the bar. Well, almost. Now that all is taken care of, it’s much better, but it had us wondering for awhile what the appeal of trikes was for grown-ups. 

Then last week we took some highly refined European cargo trikes, the JC Lind Triple Lindy and the Christiania BoxCycles trike, for a test ride to compare. To cut to the chase, the more expensive trikes are in a different class. They have a lot of features that make them more durable and comfortable, more stable and easier to ride, and unlike the Haley they work well with kids. You get a lot for the extra money.


What It’s Like to Ride Trikes (from the perspective of a Cargo Bike Person riding their crazy used Haley)
A two wheeled cargo bicycle, long and massive though it may be, handles a lot like any other bike. Riding a big heavy cargo bike is like renting a van when you drive a compact car — it’s different, but not that different. 
It's easier to navigate small passages with the
Bakfiets but it works fine with the trike, too.
A trike is clearly a different kind of vehicle.  It’s true that you won’t often lose stability because of bad road surfaces like ice or sand. But zoom around a bumpy sharp corner fast enough and the whole trike will tip and try to fall over, more with some models than others. And, though any 3 points make a stable support,  your seat follows the contour of the road and lurches from side to side, which it doesn’t with a bike. The seat tube leans right constantly on a road that slopes to the gutter for drainage, more than you’d think. Where a driveway connects to a steeply crowned street it can be like hitting a motorboat wake in a canoe, and you have to steer into the bump slowly just as you would steer into the wave.

On the other hand, if you stop at an intersection you can just wait to go again. No balancing the kids as they move back and forth, no stretching legs to the pavement. Sit and enjoy the view. Carry more weight — you don’t have to balance it.

We learned a couple of important lessons by nearly falling over a few times: 

  1. You can’t stand up or go no hands well on (our) cargo trike. Since you’re what’s holding the seat and the box in alignment and the handlebar is always pulling you one way or the other, you should really hold on to the seat with your thighs to stay put. This is worse on (our) some trikes.
  2. Although the front brake on a two wheeled bike does most of the work and gives the best control, on a trike, the front brakes lurch the box suddenly to the side if they are applied unevenly. So use the rear coaster brake on its own. Coast with the pedals pointing front-back to make it easy to stop. 

The Haley
The Haley Trike we got is the simpler, cheaper Model 1 but with an optional 3-speed Shimano hub. There’s also a heavier duty Model 2 available. Haley specifically tells you not to carry people in it. So do we, since it is a lot tippier than the others we’ve tried. Even though we still haven’t been able to convince our kids to get out — they love it — we wouldn't choose it again.  (People in Portland have a similar problem.) There are better choices to carry kids. There’s no seat in the box, but it’s good for carrying lots of groceries. It’s made in Philadelphia, honest, and a single speed base model costs $1240 new on their website, $1580 for one with the options ours came with (when it’s new). We did not spend anywhere near this on our used bike.
Compared to the Bakfiets, larger box, less stable.
More of a cargo-only option, not ideal for kids.
This one is secondhand but unused, a couple of years old. It smells strongly of laundry soap, its box is a peculiar turquoise, and it came with white knobby low pressure tires like those for a pink mountain bike at a discount store, mounted on single wall aluminum rims. Those tires buzzed, rode squashy, and slowed us down. I swapped them for high pressure 26 x 1.85 Michelin City tires. It made a world of difference with the handling.

The trike also came with a very wide, contoured springy seat like one on an exercise bike. Tilting the seat up in front and moving it back a couple of inches improved control a lot. There is a one-piece steel crank with a steel chainring, plastic pedals, and a hockey stick-type chainguard. Fenders and clips are galvanized or plated steel. The whole back end looks a lot like a cruiser bike. The paint scratches easily.
Whee! Hope we don't hit a bump. We don't know
why the kids love riding in this bike so much.
It has independent steel sidepull brakes on the 2 front wheels with oddly different brake levers — a Shimano integrated brake lever/twist shifter on the right and an unmatched, no-brand one on the left which is much closer to the handle than the first one. The 3 speed Nexus hub has a coaster brake. The handlebar is like a shopping cart handle with cork tape around it, mounted on the back of the box. No lights, minimal reflectors. The wooden box is well reinforced with welded steel supports all around.

Loaded, it is pretty stable and comfortable once you get going and once you’re used to the trike handling, but it takes more concentration and handlebar wrestling to ride well in urban traffic than with the Bakfiets,  Onderwater or with the Boxcycles or JC Lind. It’s not as responsive and at the same time a bit skittish on uneven curves. It’s hard with all the trikes to avoid potholes with all 3 wheels. 

But even if it’s not ‘zippy’ it is pretty stable and handles a huge amount of stuff. You can carry very unwieldy things into hard-to-reach places with it, you can ride your dog to the beach and right into the sand (I guess — no dog), and it’s big and visible on the road. We put a big double wire basket on the back and now you could carry who knows how many bags of groceries all at once. 14? 18? More? The cargo box also has a wooden cover and you could lock it closed pretty easily.

The JC Lind Triple Lindy
The Triple Lindy

The Triple Lindy from JC Lind in Chicago is a different kettle of fish which I just test rode for a quick loop around the block, in and out of a row of poles, and up and down a few driveways. See the link at the top for Family Ride's recent and very comprehensive review of this trike! Though it’s named for a Rodney Dangerfield joke, it’s made in Holland. It costs more than the Haley, about $3400, it’s big, much more robustly constructed, and ultimately easier to control. The components and materials are noticeably better than the ones on the Haley, and the frame and paint seem much more durable. Things that are galvanized or plated on the Haley are stainless steel on the JC Lind. The smaller wheels - 24" in back and 20" in front - keep the center of gravity lower, and the seat automatically tilts in a turn, which counteracts a lot of the jumpiness on bumps that the Haley has. The Triple Lindy's cranks are mounted forward to keep your seat low, which is comfortable on the flat and helps with the seat movement, but it’s a disadvantage going up a steep hill.
The Haley and the Bakfiets in the Fulton Market district
It is intended for hauling either cargo or kids, has a seat and straps, can hold a rain cover, and comes with lights. The kids loved riding in it, too, and we could fit all 3 kids in with no problem, though only 2 on the seat. It has a 5 speed SRAM coaster brake hub in the back and two drum brakes in front that are linked together to a single brake lever. It is in the middle, I guess to encourage use of the coaster brake instead. The shifter is on the seat tube, due to control cable length, but you can find it easily even if it’s not in the best place. It has a nice Brooks saddle. The 5 speed gearing extends farther down than the 3 speed on the Haley, so starting is a bit easier but you can still get going fast. The ride is calmer than the Haley and it's easier to go faster and still stay in full control. It still doesn’t seem as responsive as the 2-wheelers we often use, but it’s pretty close, and again, it holds more and it’s not going to fall down with your kids or crate of eggs or whatever in it.

BoxCycles/Christiania
the BoxCycles / Christiania

This is less expensive than the Triple Lindy but smaller, costing $2800 or so. It is well made and quite stable to ride. The kids love it too, it has a seat with storage underneath for them, and it can hold a rain cover. It only holds 2 kids easily on the seat. I tested the 8 speed freewheel version, which I liked, but it also comes with 7 speed coaster hubs. It’s as stable as the JC Lind but doesn’t hold nearly as much as either of the others. Danielle at Born. In. Japan. has Roxy Boxy, her very well loved Christiania from J.C. Lind that rides the roads here in Chicago. 

Summary
I think that my preference remains with the two wheeled cargo bikes, since they can get going quickly and handle much like any other bike. And, I guess, since I’m used to them. Even the stable European kid carrying trikes don't swoop through a fast, uneven curve as well as the Bakfiets. However, you do have to hold the cargo up when the two wheeler is stopped, and if it's leaping around like my kids do it does require some arm, body and leg strength to keep everything upright sometimes.  

For people with lots of heavy cargo, or who don’t want to have to balance their load (jumping children?) every time they stop, or who are unsure of their balance or have limited bicycle experience, or who just like the three wheeled ride better, these cargo trikes offer an excellent alternative to the car or the bike and trailer. A lot of people prefer trikes to two wheelers and after trying out these three options I can see why (though I still like the 2-wheelers).

If you are interested in trying out a cargo trike, we strongly recommend riding every model you can, with a realistic load and road conditions, before deciding on a purchase. They’re all different. Don't be surprised if your kids love them. Our kids are really blase about riding in our other bikes but they clamor for a trip in the new one.

Appendix
Trikes (and dealers) that are available nowadays include a 3 wheel Bakfiets (possibly  special order from a Workcycles dealer), the Christiania/BoxCycles (JC Lind), Velorbis (Copenhagen), Nihola (no chicago dealer?), Winther (Lind), Onya (online?), and Organic Engines (made in Florida, online). Haley (online) makes a heavier duty model too but again not for kids. I think de Fietsfabriek trikes are no longer imported but old dealers (Lind, Rolling Orange) may still have stock. ***Edit 9/18/11: Rolling Orange imports them, Lind has a couple left.
the Winther Kangaroo

In Chicago, the stores with the likeliest selection of trikes are JC Lind and Copenhagen. I guess Rolling Orange and Adeline Adeline in New York and Clever Cycles in Portland Oregon would also be good places to look. Maybe you can find one used like we did. And even if you want a trike, try out a two wheeler, too - all of these dealers carry one. The trikes that are like strollers with a little pedaling position in back (like Zigo) are sometimes available at mainstream dealers but don't make sense to us.

15 comments:

  1. Great review of cargo trikes! Interesting to note the differences in the bikes -- good to know!

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  2. Howdy Samantha! Thank you! We hope to see you guys out on the road again soon!

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  3. Comprehensive! I can tell the back-to-school routine has treated you well.

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  4. Why don't you try a Babboe Big (3-wheeler) or Babboe City (2-wheeler) cargo bike? Check out www.babboe.nl or www.babboecargobike.com for more information!

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  5. That's kind of an obnoxious advertising comment, isn't it? Babboe sells cargo bikes, I think made in Asia, on the Dutch market. JC Lind has carried them so you could call there for an informed opinion and comparison to the other trikes above. There's a 2-wheeler in Chicago that we know of and the owners are very happy with it - look on Bike Fancy (we have a link) for a picture. Though Babboe started with poor quality products (judging by web comments on Bakfiets en Meer and other sites), this has apparently improved in the past few years. I don't try a Babboe Big because there aren't any to try here, that's why.

    There are other trikes on the market that I can't find, too, like the Sorte Jernhest, so it may be a good idea if you are interested in trikes to check out any dealers in your own area and ask about other options.

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  6. I hope some of these bikes show up at the Cargo Bike Roll Call on Monday, September 12, 2011, at West Town Bikes.
    http://cargobikerollcall.tumblr.com/

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  7. That's from 6 to 9 PM, isn't it, Steven? And you don't have to have a cargo bike to go, so it's a chance to see some and maybe try one out?

    Family riders who want to come are welcome to hobnob, check out bikes and maybe test out different ways of carrying stuff around.

    We'll probably be there with bells on.

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  8. I should have carried you on my handlebars! Or at least my rear rack. :)

    Very interesting to read about all the different cargo trikes. I'm much more of a two-wheel fan, myself. I think a lot of people assume that a trike is automatically more stable, but as your trike demonstrates, that is not necessarily the case.

    Do you know what your plans are for your new trike, keep it and make it work or sell it?

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  9. I know Chicago is flat as a pancake griddle, so it may not apply to you, but I would encourage residents of hilly areas definitely to try a trike before buying it. My experience with trikes is that the considerable extra weight over a bicycle makes it more logy and sluggish, and the small selection of gears in the models you've tried here may make it extremely difficult to climb inclines. Also consider the necessity of stopping on downhills and whether the OEM brakes are up to the task of stopping the loaded trike.

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  10. Funny, I always thought I'd probably like a 2-wheeler more, but your comment about not having to step down and balance the bike when stoppped is making me think a 3-wheeler might be a lot more practical in Paris (short blocks, lots of red lights). And my wife would like it more too, probably. Well, I'll have to try both solutions when I get the need for a cargobike (downtown DINK means I never have much cargo to haul around). Thanks for you impressions, always good to have though we have different needs and preferences.

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  11. Thanks for all the comments!

    I tend to lean pretty strongly in the direction of two wheeled bikes for cargo now, even after trying the trikes. Dottie (or others!), if you need a trike to carry heavy stuff around Chicago let us know - it's souped up about as good as it's going to get at this point though it isn't working out as a kid carrier, and it's cheap : ) .

    I think Jonathan has a good point about hills, though the 8 speed hubs are theoretically relatively wide range (over 300%). You can't get to as high a maximum speed safely in my experience on a trike so if you set the gears down (different front and rear sprockets, to make it easier to pedal in all gears) even with a small number of speeds you should be able to get up most hills. The low, slack seat tube angle doesn't help on hills though - in hilly places you might want to raise the seat and move it as far forward as it can go. There are bent seat tubes for BMX bikes that might let you get a little further forward. And, of course, there are places with terrain mountainous enough that moving a few hundred pounds by cycle just doesn't make sense no matter how you gear it.

    The brake issue Jonathan brings up applies to two and three wheeled cargo cycles equally - the drum brakes, roller brakes and coaster brakes these bikes use have a nasty tendency to overheat going down hills and fail. This might be a place to think about hydraulic disks (high maintenance, grabby, but they will really stop), or even V-brakes. This is one of the reasons it's good to try anything you're considering purchasing in real life conditions beforehand. I think that the newer IM80 roller brakes might not be as awful as the IM40s and IM70s we have. If you're designing a bike it's hard to find an ideal solution, but if you remember how the 1970s racing bikes used to stop pretty much anything is an improvement over that.

    Klaus, in Paris you'll have easy access to lots of these bikes. I'm sure you can find a trike that's ideally suited to your route. I'd suggest having a range of speeds at least, though - when I rode around Paris years ago there were plenty of moderate hills to climb. Maybe by the time you need one there will be a wonderful new solution we haven't seen yet.

    Thanks again for commenting!

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  12. Thanks for the compliments and the review! It's fun to get someone else's perspective on our trikes. Just a couple quick notes...

    We always tell our customers to switch hands in tight turns, that's why all three trikes pictured have grocery cart-style handlebars. That might help keeping your wheels on the ground, as our trikes are the narrowest pictured (to get your drum set or whatever through American doorways). For reference, check out our main riding video if you haven't already.

    And for real, we don't recommend our trikes for moving children. The trike you have is designed for moving inanimate objects heavier than the rider, and has metal on the inside, a lid, bolts coming in here and there, etc. to do so. If kids are riding in our trikes there should be seats, belts, padding, and such put in by the owner, as they're cargo only when they leave our shop. We think of our trikes as affordable little city pickup trucks, and children probably shouldn't ride in the back of a pickup truck either.

    The other trikes in your review, I think, are more like fancy little station wagons. While they are much more expensive, they truly are much better suited for kids, and probably just as much fun for them. I don't have children myself, but I think they're worth the costlier investment; a drum set, however, is not.

    Thanks again,
    Stephen Horcha

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  13. Thank you for the note!
    First off, anyone who hasn't looked yet should check out the videos Haley has put onto YouTube.
    Second, it's true - the Haley will fit through a normal sized door that you can't get through at all with any of the others. It is really practical for carrying cargo. The pickup truck analogy is a good one.
    And the more I ride ours the more I like it, but also the more I agree that it really isn't for kids - not only because of the missing padded seats, but also the narrow stance, the tall 26 inch tires in front (others have 20s) and the position of the cargo directly over the front wheel and its bumps. With the Bakfiets passengers are shielded by the long wheelbase from most serious bumps. And the steering is more forgiving on the Bakfiets (though perhaps the Haley lets you maneuver more precisely through a narrow place.)
    All in all, if you are moving stuff around - delivering in a city, supplying branches of your business from a central head office, moving things from one side of town to the other - you could do a lot worse than the Haley and most other things will cost you more. If you are moving kids look at the rest of this blog.
    If Haley were going to improve a few things and I were nitpicking (which I'd never do), I'd consider moving the main box connector hinge a little bit forward of the front axles or something similar in order to add some trail and stability to the steering and strengthen the connection to limit the wobble on the back frame. The left brake handle, the front brakes, the chainguard and the Shimano three speed hub could be better. Lots of connectors could be stainless. Grip tape on the top of the tubes might keep them from getting scraped in use. Nicer saddle or generator lights, maybe. I wouldn't change the strong, welded box frame, the step through convenience, or the big cargo capacity.
    Thanks for the comment, and we hope you find lots of cargo carriers out there who can use your trikes! And, if in the future you feel like branching out, consider building a smoother handling, maybe less maneuverable model with seats built in for Junior. We could use more US-made kid carrying options.

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  14. Hi Chicargo,

    Good advice. As you know, the limits of turning on a tadpole are when the front wheels hit the main tube, and pulling the pivot forward of the wheels limits the box's motion and makes the turning radius larger in return. We're about mobility more than anything else. Most of the other suggestions are standard on the pricier M2, except easily changed or added stuff. Everyone has their own favorite seat, lights and pedals; one of the older Philly M2s now has a banana seat I've heard!

    We're very happy that the kids' trikes are finally here, and for now we're content to stick with the contractors, artists, vendors, musicians, etc.. There's room for all kinds of cargo bikes and trikes.

    Just one more thing; wait till it snows!

    Thanks,
    Stephen

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  15. Does anyone know of someone or somewhere near Chicago who has a Nihola that I could test ride? I am in the market for a cargo trike & would really like to see a Nihola in person. Thanks! koller.mary at gmail dot com

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