Family Bike Shopping Part V: The Final Verdict

(See also Parts I, II, III and IV)

In a final round of consideration, we looked at some of the higher-end bakfiets, looking for something essentially like Mike’s bike, but with a better raincover and a less finicky kickstand latch. The trimmest I found was the well-regarded Workcycles Bakfiets Short, which is available in the northeast US at Adeline Adeline in NYC (thanks Andy for the tip about this store, and don’t be fooled by their website, they stock both the “short” and the “long”). As it turned out, Angela was going to be in NYC for a weekend in late Sept, so she popped in for a test ride and absolutely loved it. It fit her fine at the lowest seat setting, and felt almost exactly the same as Mike’s box bike for sizing, and like Mike’s bike, there was room for us to consider lowering the seat height a bit more by replacing the stock saddle with something less cushy & sprung*. The kickstand stayed up solidly and engaged and disengaged easily. The bike also had an available high quality rain cover to fit solidly over two kids in the box.

Giant crate containing the new bike

After Angela came back home and reported on the ride, we mulled over our options (again). We decided that kickstand functionality and the high quality raincover were important enough in terms of day-to-day usability, especially since winter riding was one of our primary objectives in shopping, that it justified the cost (and the higher quality bike overall was a nice perk). The calculation may have been a bit different if we could have been confident we could find a solid raincover for Mike’s bike without having to hack it ourselves, or adapt the Joe Bike cover to fit Mike’s box, especially since we weren’t certain we’d even be able to get a Joe Bike cover since they’ve discontinued the Box Bike line. While I enjoy a good DIY project, the raincover was important enough that we weren’t willing to just “figure it out later.” We wanted it to actually work.

We decided that if the Workcycles could fit our piccolo rack, we would go with it. But how to figure out if our rack would fit? Well, as luck would have it, I was going to be in NYC in October on a trip with H to visit friends. So H and I hauled the burley rack and hardware along with us on the bus (Note to locals: Worldwide Bus out of Alewife to NYC is great and you don’t have to slog downtown for the bus), made the pilgrimage to AdelineAdeline, and took the bike for a spin. As promised, the kickstand really stayed up, handling was solid, and for me, the fit on this bike was a bit superior to the box-bike. I think the handlebars may have been slightly farther from the seat, or perhaps the angle on the handle grips was more comfortable, but I didn’t measure so I can’t be certain. The box was beautiful and polished, a bit more solidly constructed than on the box bike with a stronger bench. I swear the bike was glowing.

So much bubble wrap!

So imagine my deep sadness when I couldn’t see any way for our rack to fit. There weren’t eyelets in the right places to install directly, and bracketing to the seat stay would have been hampered by the location of the wheel lock.  I talked with Frank, the adeline adeline mechanic, and let him know our dilemma, that we wanted this bike, but we needed our rack to fit. He sat down and pondered  and came up with a few good ideas. He was pretty confident he could get the rack to fit.

So, with a deep breath, and trusting that Frank could pull off the rack install, we put down a deposit on our new family bike, and left our rack and hardware in Frank’s capable hands.

On Halloween Monday, our new bike arrived in a giant crate, shipped from NYC. We unscrewed the crate, rolled out the bike, and unwrapped the bike from mountains of bubble wrap (this bike had better have a nice long life to make up for it’s carbon footprint from shipping alone…), and it is a beauty. Frank pulled off a fabulous install of our rack but the stock rack can be screwed right back on if we ever want to switch it back to the original. He even moved the included rear light to our rack and installed it very cleanly. Most importantly, H’s piccolo fits behind the bike like a dream. They even match! (That was pure luck though, red was the only color they had left. Obviously this bike was meant for us).

We’ve been riding the bike for a few days (though not yet with the trailer bike, I want to get solid on the handling before adding that variable), and so far, it seems to meet all our qualifications. I did drop-off and pickup on Tuesday, including a 4-ish mile round trip to pick up R from daycare and H from after-school down past Porter Square. It handled like a dream. The kids absolutely loved sitting in front (they were comparing notes on who could see farther) and the bike was wonderfully stable. It felt no different with two kids than with one, other than being heavier. This is in stark contrast to our Xtra, which handles fabulously with one child, but leaves a fair amount to be desired when riding with two. I felt so confident riding, stops and starts were easy, getting on and off the bike with the step-through frame was a breeze, and random kid wiggles barely influenced the handling. Getting the bike on and off the kickstand is smooth, and I love being able to leave the bike up parked on the kickstand with or without the kids in it. It is rock solid. The rain cover indeed looks great, and comes on and off easily, though we haven’t actually had weather yet, so further report on that will have to wait. With some doing, the bike does fit in our parking place. Getting it in, around our fire escape stairs is do-able. Backing it out is harder and is going to take some practice. It’s a very good thing we didn’t get something bigger. Any longer and getting it in around the fire escape stairs and into the spot would be impossible. So far, the gearing feels great and we’re getting used to shifting the internally geared hub gently. It’s possible we may sometimes wish for something a bit lower on big hills. Not sure yet how adaptable that will be. For now, we’re absolutely loving the bike as it is.

With the rain cover

We anticipate getting about 3 years of solid use out of this bike, until R is 5 and H is 8, with both kids riding in front in bad weather, and H pedaling behind in good weather or on errands where we need more cargo space. Once R can pedal on his own, we’ll likely switch to a tandem+trailer bike set up. We’re keeping our Xtra, which I think will actually be superior to this bike for cargo only and a good lighter weight one-kid option. We also sometimes have need for two separate two-kid bikes to arrange drop-off and pick-up logistics (in which case I’ll take the Xtra since handling it is less of an issue for me). I anticipate that this will be our go-to kid bike, especially in bad weather. For once, I may be looking forward to winter riding (though you should probably ask me again in 2 months or so).

If you’ve followed along on all this shopping, you might have noticed a strong upward trend in the prices of the bikes we considered. We started out considering the Sun, which at about $700, is extremely affordable by cargo bike standards, and ended up at the workcycles, which clocks in at $2700 (and thats before shipping and rain cover). It’s a good thing we didn’t keep mulling over our options — who knows how much we would have spent then! For our family, this is a use of our hard-earned money that dramatically improves our life for the next several years. It’s a purchase that improves our ability to ride happily as a family, to ride more safely and confidently, and to ride through a New England winter. We have enough money to go for it only because we are not supporting a family car, which costs at least double that for only one year. So, we consider this money well spent. We’re looking forward to the rides and will keep you posted (and as always, if you are local to Cambridge and are considering this or a similar bike, please be in touch for a test ride). I hope though, that as I walked you through our process, it was clear that there are other great options out there that might be more within reach for your family (see below for a few more that we ruled out somewhere along the way**). If you are in the market, good luck. And happy riding.

The piccolo fits!

——————

* Does anyone have nominations for a saddle they’d like to see on this bike? I haven’t decided yet if we need to switch it out, but if we do, we need something with less distance between the top of the seat post and the top of the saddle itself when installed. Judging by eye, this saddle has something like 5″ distance. Obviously would also need to be good for an upright riding posture, and now that we have such a nice looking bike, I think it should look rather stately as well. I’m iffy on whether leather would be OK given outdoor storage (though it will be covered, that’s certainly not 100%), but a treated leather might be OK. Any ideas?

** A few additional notes on a couple more bikes we considered and why they got kicked off the list, but they might be right for you:

The Madsen: Pros: cost (about $1500), stability, step-through frame, easy hauling of multiple kids. Cons: no adaptability for kids to pedal, no rain cover

Bike Friday Family Tandem with single trailer behind for now, and piccolo behind for later:  Pros: Cost (starting at $1500, but would likely pay more once customized, so less than the workcycles, but not exactly cheap, especially with a trailer purchase as well), longevity (we would use the bike forever, long past when our kids are grown) Cons: Less easy cargo capacity (though panniers can work, they are more tedious to load), limited weather protection, but mostly, I really hate riding with trailers. They make me nervous on the road and I feel disconnected from my kids. If you don’t mind a trailer and one of your kids is big enough to pedal, this is a great way to get a two-kid set-up that will last essentially forever.

Halloween bike (that's Glinda the good witch and a flying monkey in there)

 

About Nathan

Nathan is a postdoctoral research fellow in neuroscience. He thinks parenting is way more fun when you don't have to worry about car seats.
This entry was posted in Biking with cargo, Biking with kids, Child-related issues, Links and reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

38 Responses to Family Bike Shopping Part V: The Final Verdict

  1. Ash L says:

    For my Raleigh step-through which is a hair too large for me I went with a Brook B68 saddle. It’s as wide and cushy as a B-67 but it’s unsprung and I haven’t noticed any comfort difference over the B-67. It will save about 2″ of clearance.

  2. Danno says:

    So glad you two found the right bike for your family. If we ever get a bakfiet it would have to have rain cover and dyno lighting other than that not too picking except Heather is 5’1″ and I am 6′ and it has to be able to have both of us ride it. Can’t wait to go on rides with you all and see it in action!

    Danno

  3. dr2chase says:

    Turns out a 5-gallon bucket (of the generic kind that you see everywhere around construction sites, and also at certain Big Box Stores that shall remain nameless) makes a nice horrible-weather seat cover for bike storage. For actual riding in horrid weather, the velo-orange neoprene Aardvark seat cover works pretty well. Would one of those xtracycle bike covers fit your new bike? (I have one, if you want to try it for size, but I find I don’t use it much, so it might not be that convenient for you either.)

    The treatment I use for leather saddles is to slather them up with Obenhauf’s (Rivendell sells it), and leave them sitting on a rack on top of the furnace over night (i.e., a quite-warm place). I’m sure I have offended the leather care gods, but it works for me.

  4. somervillebikes says:

    “For actual riding in horrid weather, the velo-orange neoprene Aardvark seat cover works pretty well.”

    dr2chase, I have this saddle cover and love it! I keep it in my saddlebag all the time. What I like about it (besides being waterproof) is that it stretches to fit the saddle, and doesn’t look like a cover when it’s on.

    For storage, we are able to *barely* fit our Bike Friday tandem in our 8′ x 8′ shed. The bike is 7’6″ long! We hang the Piccolo from a hook, and my wife’s bike and my daily commuter bike get crammed in together next to the tandem.

    As for saddle recommendations, since this bike is going to live outside, I would *not* recommend a Brooks or any other leather saddle, simply because one night in the rain or snow while forgetting to put a cover on it, and it can turn into a butt hammock. Also, given the saddle height relative to handlebar height, this is a pretty upright seating position. I would go with a wide saddle. I don’t have a specific brand I can recommend, however.

  5. Jen (yup, another one) says:

    Awesome!!! It looks great and your explanations of all the options and their pros and cons has been fascinating and informative. So glad you’ve found something you are thrilled with!

    P.S. – How would the Bike Friday have worked for you if the main rider has to be 5’8″?

    • Dorea says:

      Well, SomervilleBikes above rides the bike friday and he’s way taller than 5′ 8″ — my understanding is that it really is made to fit a huge range of sizes.

  6. Kimberly says:

    We have a Brooks saddle (not sure which one) on our bakfiets and I find it really comfortable. We do get to store our bike in a garage though, so don’t have to worry about weather much (and being in California helps too)…

    I’m excited to see your set-up after all the suspense. My husband and I were just talking about whether/how we could attach a trailer bike to our bakfiets. I’m looking forward to hearing about how the bakfiets w/ piccolo handles.

    Jen, I’m not sure I understand your question about being 5’8″ for the Bike Friday, but we have a stock Bike Friday triple and it fits me (5’5″) and husband (5’9″) fine…

  7. Jen (yup, another one) says:

    On the Bike Friday page that’s linked, it says “The Captain can be 5-foot-8 to 6-foot-5, and the stoker from 3-feet to 6-foot-5.”

    • Dorea says:

      Hmm. I wonder how short the captain can be then — my understanding was that the captain could be short but I may be mistaken…must check this out…

  8. Mike says:

    I would write to Henry Cutler and ask him about saddles. He would certainly know better than anybody what works for storing a bakfiets outdoors:

    http://www.bakfiets-en-meer.nl/2010/11/15/cargobike-almost-in-the-canal/

    For winter, I can highly recommend two things: studded tires, and pogies. I rode a bakfiets (Workcycles Cargobike long) throughout last winter in Winnipeg. I never skidded on ice, and my hands were never cold. You can get studded tires for the bakfiets from Peter White, of course, and you won’t find anything better than these to keep your hands warm:

    http://www.fatbikes.com/dogwood-designs-pogies-plus.html

  9. Easy says:

    Did you consider the bakfiets trike at all?

    • Dorea says:

      Well, we pretty much considered everything, and trikes (particularly the smaller nihola trike) were in there at some point, but after riding the Cabby, which came close on the heels of a less than ideal trike, I was very much liking the bike idea. Now that we have this bike, and I see how tight it is to get into our parking spot, the two wheels really do help with parking. It is easier to maneuver in and out than a trike would be, both due to width (even if a box is narrow on the trike, the tires add width) and how tightly it can turn. It’s hard to explain the geometry of our parking spot, but involves maneuvering around fire escape stairs in a tight space, and I doubt most trikes would have done it. We’re also so amazed by the bakfiets stability at this point, I can’t imagine feeling like I needed more stability. So, long way of saying, yes and no, we sort of considered a trike, but we didn’t try out any besides the zigo.

  10. JB says:

    Wow, this bike is awesome! Congratulations on the purchase. I bet the kids had fun playing in the shipping crate. Subtract a bit off the carbon footprint if that was the case :)

    This bike deserves nothing less than a Brooks. I was going to say a B67, but Ash L’s B68 sounds even better. Just tuck an old grocery bag under the rails of the seat for emergency use. I’ll never use anything but a Brooks. Can’t believe it took me 30 years to figure it out!

  11. JPTwins says:

    hey there,
    i’ve met you a few times at bike thingies, but this is my first post here. I’m 6’5″ and I rented this exact model when my family was riding around Amsterdam for a week. What amazing and delightful fun we had. We could carry so much: two kids, plus a bunch of stuff at their feet. the best was when they got tired once, one kid lay down on the bench, and the other lay down on the bottom of the box and both fell right asleep for a nice two hour ride around getting lost. It was Amsterdam, do as the locals do. We also had the rain cover on the entire August week due to the weather, and I imagine it will keep the kids warm in the winter too. We also saw kids with raincoats on and flat covers pulled up to their chins bedspread-style. cute!

    I think this choice makes sense, and I think that if, in 3-5 years, you find this isn’t the right bike, you would really not have too much trouble with the resale. Money well spent, in my opinion, and definitely a quality product.

  12. I am so glad that you decided to get this bike! Of all the cargo bikes I have tried so far, the bakfiets was my favourite. Hoping to see yours around Cambridge one of these days. As a side note, Portland Velocipede in Maine sells these as well and some might find it more convenient to travel there than to NYC.

    • Dorea says:

      Thanks! We are definitely enjoying the bike. As of about a month ago Portland Velocipede didn’t have the VanAndel/Workcycles, but they did have a Gazelle Cabby and a Babboe City in stock. They said they keep one or two of this type of bike in stock, but that exactly what they have varies (and both of these were too big for us). Seems like a really lovely shop, and a great way to get some actual test rides within an easy drive/train of Boston.

  13. Jed says:

    Congratulations! I’m so pleased that you found a quality cargo bike that you feel good about. This has been quite a lead up of posts to your purchase. I’d second the recommendation for studded tires, pogies. There are quite a variety of both, I prefer Schwalbe Marathon Winters.

  14. sara says:

    Thrilled for your family. Cannot love, love our bakfiets more. Ours came with a Brooks saddle and we love the saddle so much, we have put these on our other bikes. (That’s a lot of love, I see!)

  15. mamavee says:

    Oh wonderful! I love it.

    by the way- your cost trend upwards etc kinda makes me feel better as I have spent a lot on bikes. I wanted so badly for the Xtra to work … then the cargo bike was the perfect solution for me.

    I also bet you have more than 3 years with it. I upgraded my bike this year and have a 5 and 8 yr old and I am sure I have a few kid toting years on it. Plus frankly- for me it’s how I prefer to ride with cargo minus the kid and I will be using it as my car alternative for kinda ever. I secretly hope my kids will use it to go out when they are teens and ride one or two friends across town to hang out…. I wish Williams Sonoma still had a store in the atrium as I was planning on triking there to buy a juicer tomorrow. ( then I realized the store is no longer. too bad I cannot bike to natick :-( )

  16. Christopher says:

    Did ya’ll consider a Bullitt?

    • Dorea says:

      We did. Very briefly.

      We originally ruled it out because it is not at all compatible with the rear rack for our trailer-bike (burley piccolo). Had it made it past that hoop though, it still would have eventually gotten cut for lack of a full rain cover and less than ideal seating for two kids (the narrow box would have been great for our parking situation though).

      Since then, I’ve been able to take one for a bit of a test ride (we have a friend nearby who rides one happily with his 1-year-old and have been lucky to take his for a spin). After riding, I was more convinced it wasn’t the right match, partially due to the high top tube and the sizing. It would be a very difficult bike for Angela to ride due to sizing, and we’re pretty sold on the super-low step through now that we have the luxury on our new bike. The handling also felt finicky ridden side-by-side with the (much heavier) workcycles, and would have definitely taken some getting used to.

      Obviously the huge plus for the bullitt is weight (I think roughly 20 pounds lighter than our 80 pound workcycles, but bullitt enthusiasts should speak up), and for those who prefer it, the more active riding position.

      A lighter option that addresses most of these (but not the rear rack issue) is the Winther Wallaroo, which is built on the bullitt frame but minus the top-tube: http://www.splendidcycles.com/products/winther-denmark

      • Christopher says:

        Thanks! Wonderful insight. My wife and I are looking for something that we both can ride, but we live in a 600 sq/f apartment. So, size and weight are currently an issue.

        Do you find it easy to adjust the seatpost based on whether you or you wife is riding the bike?

        • Dorea says:

          Adjusting the seatpost is no problem at all. Angela is at the very low end of the fit range (she’s 5′ 1″ and does OK, it fits me perfectly at 5′ 4″). I can’t speak to the fit for taller people.

          But it sounds like storage is going to be a big issue for you. Are you hoping to store a bike inside? Will getting it inside involve any stairs? If so, I don’t think the workcycles (or possibly any of the other bakfiets-style bikes) will cut it for you. They are beasts. Even the “light” (remember, that’s relative to other cargo bikes…) bullitt would be nearly impossible to get up any stairs (though thanks to the narrow profile it would fit very nicely through a doorway). Do you have any outdoor storage options? That’s what we’re doing (and the workcycles is built for it). Depending on the age of your kid(s) and the kind of hauling capacity you need, there are some lighter/trimmer options.

      • Jeremy says:

        Canopies for the Bullitt are now available thru Splendid Cycles. Here is the link:

        http://www.splendidcycles.com/products/bullitt/accessories

  17. Adam says:

    We have a Bullitt so I guess we should speak up!

    My kids are 1.5yrs old and 4.5 yrs old, although they’re both very big for their age. We’ve had a Bullitt for a year now and have used it with both of them sat next to one another for school runs, shopping and just general getting about and fun trips with other kids and parents. They’re just starting to get too big for the standard box, so I’m looking at building my own wider box (out of marine plywood) or waiting until Larry Vs Harry finally release their kid cabin for the front (which looks great from the photos Hans sent me a while ago) Not heard any news on that actually being sold yet though.

    As I say my two kids are big, more like the size of a 3 and 6 year old and we’re at the limit width wise now for them to sit side by side. A great bike though and it was the lighter weight that made me go for the Bullitt.

    I did like the traditional Bakfiets too when I rode it though. Just needed something slightly easier to lift up the couple of steps into our house though. Although having said that when a bike gets to a certain weight it’s never going to be easy, so 24kg vs 40kg doesn’t make as much difference as you’d imagine. Also, in use it’s the weight of what you put in it that affects it more, which for us is kids (getting ever heavier) and huge amounts of food shopping etc.

    I would be lost without having it now. It makes such a difference to our lives and what we’re able to do.

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  19. Kaye Horton says:

    Great! this bike is awesome! Congratulations on the purchase. I bet the kids had fun playing in the shipping crate. Subtract a bit off the carbon footprint if that was the case.

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  21. Charles says:

    Hi, did you consider the Long vs. Short? Do you ever wish for shoping that you had more cargo room with a kid in the box? Thanks for the review!

    • Dorea says:

      One of our most restrictive shopping criteria was being able to fit the bike into our extremely awkward parking space under our building’s fire escape that requires maneuvering around two tight turns, which is what kicked out the long as a viable option for us. It’s a trick even with the short.

      One of the only times we do wish for more space is in the rain. The kids don’t fit very well under the rain cover (especially the older one, we probably owe a post about this — those europeans don’t design things for kids in helmets…) and if we had the long, they could just sit with legs out on the bottom of the box. For those considering this size decision, note that the long is much more popular and the more commonly used bike, and that it’s about 20 pounds heavier (the short is 80 pounds, the long about 100, yes, I really said 80 and 100).

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  27. Maggie says:

    Hello, I’m thinking of getting a bakfiets long for commuting with my two boys (3.5yrs and 1yr) in Toronto. Problem is that our townhouse doesn’t have a garage. I could leave it in front of our house but there are a few steps that I’d need to bring the bike up every day to do this. Do you think it’s feasible to haul the bakfiets up a few steps daily using a ramp? And how tightly can the bakfiets turn? Could I turn the bike up the stairs making a sharp turn from the sidewalk or do I have to makes ramp that goes down the curb on to the road for a straighter haul up the stairs? Any thoughts would be appreciated because I’d love to get a bakfiets! Thanks

    • Angela says:

      Hi Maggie, I think stairs and a bakfiets will be pretty hard. Building a ramp might make it viable, but they tend to have a very wide turning radius, so you’ll have to be really thoughtful in how you get that ramp built. If you could borrow a bakfiets and do a test drive you could work through that turn yourself, and feel how it feels pushing it up ramps, which will give you an idea about what it’s going to feel like to push it up your ramp. Do you have a store that can give you a test drive?

      • Maggie says:

        Thanks Angela, that’s what I suspected. I’m hoping to set up a test drive for this weekend. The alternative would be an xtracycle with hooptie and child seat but there’s no protection from the elements so I’m not as keen on this option. Toronto weather can be pretty unpredictable.

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