After ruling out the Zigo, I was able to take our friend’s Gazelle Cabby for a spin. Now, we weren’t actually considering a Cabby for reasons I’ll get into in a minute, but before riding the cabby, I hadn’t been thinking a Bakfiets-style bike, with the kids in a box in front, would be right for us. I was focusing on winter riding stability and thought I’d prefer a trike. But after riding our friend’s Cabby, I realized that the two-wheeled set-up might work really well. It felt substantially more stable with two kids loaded than our Xtracycle does, but was still quite maneuverable. The stability on the wide kickstand was fabulous for loading and unloading. With the kids held low to the ground and contained in a box, we’d likely feel more secure and be more willing to ride in iffy conditions.
Now, we didn’t actually consider the cabby for two reasons. First, we didn’t think we could get it locally (though it turns out I was wrong, there was one available at Portland Velocipede in Maine — it may still be there). The second reason was that the back end would not have been easily compatible with our burley piccolo trailer bike, and we could not have used a seat-post-mounted trailer bike because when the seat is set low for Angela, there is no seat-post to mount to. So after that ride we were convinced a bakfiets might be the way to go, but the Cabby wasn’t it.
I started looking for bakfiets-style bikes that would fit a standard back rack, and thus be likely to work with our trailer bike, and our friend Brian suggested looking into the Joe Bike Box Bike. As it turns out, when we contacted them, Joe Bike only had one 2011 Box Bike left. They confirmed it should work well with a standard rack. It’s very trim for a bakfiets so we had hopes it would fit in our parking space. We actually seriously considered getting it. But as it it happened, the last 2011 Box Bike, indeed the very last such bike to be sold by Joe Bike ever (they are replacing this bike with another in their line up), was bright pink. I really really tried, and I knew H would probably love it, but I just couldn’t quite do a bright pink bike. Then Brian mentioned a guy in Maine building on the same frames (these are the Chinese “Carrier Pigeon” frames built up with much better parts), who turned out to be this guy, Mike Gilheany of NEAT Bikes.
So, after finding out Mike indeed had similar bikes in a somewhat more tasteful red, we made a weekend trip up to Portland Maine on the Amtrak Downeaster (as a result, R now refers to all trains as “downeaster”) to try out his bike, and we really loved it (the beautiful September weather and lovely beaches also certainly made a nice impression). It is indeed very trim for a bakfiets-style bike, only a bit longer than our Xtracycle, and the box is about 25″ wide, actually narrower than our Xtra handlebars. At about 60-65 pounds, it felt much lighter than the cabby (which my friends say weighs in at about 80-90 pounds), and we got used to the handling quickly. At the lowest seat setting, Angela fit on the bike, though fit would have been better with a different seat (with less cushiness) and we would have planned to switch that out. The kids absolutely loved it, and we loved biking around Portland and getting to meet Mike. The price on this bike (roughly $1300-$1800 depending on components) was within reach for us. Indeed, this price places a bakfiets-style bike about on par with a new longbike with child seat, so folks in the northeast who are parsing their family bike options should definitely keep this Mike’s bike in mind. Bakfiets purists will scoff that this the frame is made in China and say ominous things about whether the bike will really last. But most frames are fabricated in China, and we had word from a family that has heavily used this bike for about three years, including parking it outdoors, that their’s was holding up with absolutely no issues, so we were fairly confident it would hold up to our treatment. The other huge plus for this bike was that of all the bikes we considered, this was the only one that would have taken our Burley Piccolo rack with absolutely no modification required. We just could have screwed it right on the frame.
There were however a couple drawbacks. The latch for the kickstand on this bike was finicky, and the kickstand didn’t really stay up well while riding. I thought this might just be wear and tear on Mike’s heavily used demo bike, but I found a couple similar reports about the Joe Bike and checked in with our friend who had rides this bike and she had the same issue. So it looked like something we’d need to actually think about and fix, or just decide live with. The second issue was that the box rain cover wasn’t fabulous, and according to a friend with this bike, only really fits over one kid and she just ended up usually skipping it. There was some possibility that the Joe Bike Box Bike raincover might fit, but I wasn’t able to get details on how that one would have connected to the box, and since Joe Bike is retiring the Box Bike line, it seemed iffy at best.
We very nearly signed on the dotted line with Mike before leaving Portland, but we wanted to think on it just one more time. Of all the bikes I’ve described so far, this is one I know we really would have been happy with overall had we gone with it. I’d definitely encourage folks in the area to touch base with Mike, and if you make a day trip to Portland, you can also check out the bikes at Portland Velocipede. They usually have one or two cargo & kid bikes in stock.
Next time, the final verdict.