Quite a while ago, about 18 months ago to be precise (yes it has taken some time to get round to finishing this blog post) I went to test ride some cargo bikes. I’ve rewritten this post several times, partly because of the controversery that reviewing cargo bikes seems to draw and partly because I had very strong views of the bikes at the time and felt maybe I needed to be a more objective, which hopefully the passage of time has helped a little.
So I preface this review with the caveat that my views are from the perspective of very small female, which poses particular problems for me that may not be relevant to taller people! The models I tested may well have changed in the meantime, but hopefully this reveiw will help make people aware of some of the issues you may need to consider when you are looking for a cargo bike.
I also want to say thank you to Zaynan at Practical Cycles who was very helpful and patient and for letting me test ride the bikes.
I haven’t riden any 3 wheeler bikes, for the same reason I ditched my trailer - the width. They won’t fit through my back door and although I appreciate they are designed to be left out in all weathers it would be nice to have the option of keeping the bike indoors. It’s always nice to start out on dry bike if it’s raining. There is also the issue of crap British cycling infrastructure, which is inadequate for a child’s bike, let alone a large tricycle- my daughter’s bike is about the maximum size you can comfortably navigate some of the ridiculous chicanes, barriers and right-angled bends that transport planners delude themselves into believing constitutes dedicated cycle infrastructure! So with a three wheeler, cycling in traffic is compulsory at all times, which is not what you would ideally choose with children on board.
The Bakfiets Long also gives you the option of transporting up to 4 kids - 3 in the front and one on the rack. (5 at a push if you put a Bobike mini on the front). As a parent, I think this gives you a lot of flexibility, you can ferry your children’s friends around if need be, or transport kids bikes when the little ones get to tired to ride on their own. The front box means you can easily supervise the kids in front, or if you have squabbles, a rear child seat would enable you to split them up!
There is the issue of the frame size, which is unfortunately designed for Dutch giants. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to ride this as I’m only 5’1”, but luckily I do have very long legs for my size. However, with the standard seat on it was a bit tricky and I could barely touch the ground even on tiptoes with thick soled boots. That wouldn’t be a major consideration, normally, but obviously with this type of bike you are going to be hauling heavy (and unpredictably moving) loads and need to be able to stop and steady the bike easily! After riding a mamafiets I know that with kids on a bike you need much more control than if you are on your own. There is nothing like a tantruming toddler to test your balance skills!
Fortunately, Zaynan had a spare saddle to hand and replaced the standard seat with a slimmer one, which did the trick. I would imagine swapping the standard saddle with a Brooks saddle would also be an option to reduce the height by an inch to an inch and a half. So, unless you have long legs like me, the Bakfiets would probably be too large for anyone under 5’4”.
So what’s it actually like to ride? I was well aware that there is a bit of a learning curve on steering a Bakfiets and despite my best efforts my brain was having none of it to start with. Even telling it I wasn’t riding a bike but steering a narrow boat only resulted in a small improvement. It is very much like steering a barge - definitely more a canalboat, rather than a yacht! The main issue is the large turning circle which does mean thinking ahead before making any turns. However, after a couple of minutes I was beginning to get the hang of it and I was already beginning to see you could get to like this bike.
The riding position is very similar to my Bloom, the very upright traditional Dutch style with feet forward, although the handle bars don’t return quite as far and their shape is slightly straighter than I’m used to. The grips seemed quite high quality, but not as comfortable as the ergonomic grips on the Bloom, but probably more durable. The gearing seemed pretty low on the standard set up, I managed a moderate hill in 3rd with ease, although I didn’t have any load. It is possible to have the gearing set even lower, which would definitely be a help for heavier loads or hilly areas. Everything about the Bakfiets feels well made and high quality and all the details seem well though out. The stand is super study - I stood on the side and tried to rock it and it didn’t move. The claim that kids can use it as a jungle gym appears to be no exaggeration.
The ride felt beautifully smooth and I’ve heard many people claim that the Bakfiets is fun to ride. This may seem odd for such a large heavy bike, but by the end of the test ride I was beginning to see why. It has to be said one of the reasons for this is the amount of attention this machine gets you. I’ve seen plenty of reviews from Bakfiets owners saying you have to be prepared to turn heads with this bike and about getting stopped all the time, but I wasn’t really prepared for the reaction it gets. Even in the space of my short test ride, people literally stopped in the street and stared open mouthed, people in cars pointed, they couldn’t quite comprehend what they were seeing, the number of swivelling heads was unbelievable! After a while I found the whole thing quite amusing and was grinning from ear to ear. It is definitely not a bike to ride if you don’t want to be the centre of attention!
It’s not just the novelty factor that makes this such a great bike to ride, it is something in the handling. It doesn’t feel heavy, quite the opposite, it feels amazingly light, yet very stable. Unloaded it seems much more nippy than the Bloom, which in comparision feels quite sluggish. I’m still not sure how it (or rather I) would cope with loads on Sheffield hills, but there is the option of electric assist (an option I did seriously consider).
Overall, I felt that this is a fantastic bike for hauling kids, obviously there is a catch and that is the price tag. This is particularly high with the Euro being so strong against the pound. However, if you are able to use it as an alternative to a second car, it would be very good value for money.
Next I tried the Madson. I didn’t have any preconceptions about this bike, before I tried it, as I didn’t really know much about them. They are pitched as a budget cargo bike, but this obviously comes with a downside and the corner cutting on quality is very aparent from the first touch of the handlebar grips, which are particularly unpleasant. I have to say now, it is quite the worst bike I have ever had the misfortune to ride, but that may be because I have been spoilt by the Bloom. The Gazelle quality and smooth ride is hard to match, and I find most bikes a disappointment now. The Bakfiets, I would say is the only one which beats it.
The Madson feels like a mountain bike with 2 wheelie bins strapped to the back. This may seem a harsh description, but the clanking and creaking noises coming from behind didn’t inspire confidence and the set up felt decidedly top heavy and unstable. I was very concious of the buckets on the back even with no load and it felt like the frame flexed quite a bit. After riding the bakfiets the whole contraption seemed very amateurish. The steering felt decidely notchy (like my Gazelle Bloom does when I’ve forgotten to take the steering lock off). I can only assume this was because of the flex in the frame. The riding position is what I’d describe as an agressive, quite forward leaning stance. Fine if you like that sort of thing, but not for me. Not helped by the fact I was feeling slightly bloated and it was decidely uncomfortable having my stomach compressed. Although the seat height goes slightly lower than the bakfiets and the frame isn’t a high crossbar, it’s not very low either and not easy to get on and off with kids in the rear (a front scissor action is required to get on and off without clobbering them, which is a pain).
Of course at this price all the things you take for granted on a dutch bike are missing. No chain case, no lights, no lock etc. You would be looking at quite a substantial outlay to make this into a practical everyday bike. Don’t be fooled by the pastel colours, and the curvey frame either, after much mulling over I have come to the conclusion that this isn’t so much a “Mummybike”, but a Daddybike”. Julian at Totcycle loves his and I can see that if you’re a 6 foot bloke who likes mountain biking, this would be more up your street.
Finally the Yuba Mundo. I tried the German manufactured welded model (which is no longer made) with an eZee electric assist kit. I hadn’t thought the Yuba was a serious contender for kid hauling, but this was the real surprice. I really liked it. The seat height had the lowest height of the three making it suitable for a wide range of heights. Again it doesn’t have a proper step through frame, but the step over height was lower than the Madson.
It was a really smooth ride, with no sensation that there was anything on the back despite it’s long tail, possibly if anything a little too deceptive. The ride position is quite upright, another surprise and with the fat frank tyres to even out the bumps it was a supremely comfortable too.
It was the first time I’d tried a bike with electric assist and it has to be said it was great fun. But on a serious note it enables larger loads and older kids to be transported particularly in hillier terrain. Another advantage, in a vehicular cycling environment, was from the throttle option in addition to the standard pedelec, which meant that accelerating out of traffic lights was a totally new experience. Instead of encountering idiots overtaking in the junction or honking horns at me for daring to use the ASL, the throttle meant I was well out of the way. Something unachievable (for me) by leg power alone. When you are carrying kids not having to endure that kind of behaviour is definitely an advantage.
The main reason for test riding these bikes was to see if there was a better alternative to my mamafiets. Although I decided to stick with what I have in the end and work on getting my kids to be independent cyclists as early as possible to get over the weight issue! If money was no object, I could see that the Bakfiets would enable some of the journeys we currently do by car to be done by bike. As these aren’t that frequent, the additional fuel and parking costs (even over a five year period) wouldn’t come close to the cost of the Bakfiets. It would be a different calculation if I hadn’t already found a practical form of child transport and if I was making the decision from scratch it would be easier to justify the additional expense.