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...
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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 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.
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.
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.
|Whee! Hope we don't hit a bump. We don't know |
why the kids love riding in this bike so much.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.