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.
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 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.
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.
* 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.