jinty (jinty) wrote,

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Cargo Bike road testing

Yesterday we managed to have a test drive of some cargo bikes, meaning we can hopefully now come to a decision, finally, about what to buy for kid-transportation. We tested the following four kinds of bike:
* Nihola family
* Babboe Big
* Christiania
* BellaBike 2

We want to use a cargo bike so that we can take the kids to the market on a Saturday, and so that on the days when we have sole childcare, either of us can just hop on and take them to a local drop-in centre or similar. As it stands, R has the car on his day at home but I don't, because he needs it for work, and the drop-in that R has taken them to before now is rather a faff to get to by public transport. If we don't get a cargo bike then I can take them by bus into town or to Cowley Road, but it ends up being a bit of a haul back from the bus stop to home after an excursion - and right now toddler A still demands to be carried some of the time. Basically having a child transportation solution will mean that it's just much easier to get out and about, rather than sticking to the nearby park or nearby friends (who mostly have Fridays as childcare days, which is fine for R but not so useful for me and my Mondays). Said child transportation therefore has to suit us both, as well as fitting through our gate with a minimum of wood-hacking.

I'd had high hopes of the Nihola, because of cangetmad having used it for some time and spoken well of it, but in the event I really didn't feel comfortable at all on either this or the Babboe - I am just too short for either of them! Although getting on and off a too-big trike is much more stable than doing the same on a too-big bike, When pedalling I can't get all the way down to the bottom of the travel. Part of the issue was also in getting used to being on a trike at all, I think; certainly for the first two trikes I tried, I found it hard to even get the steering to work naturally for me, I wobbled, I nearly drove into things (and nearly got myself into the path of traffic on the road - yes, this was a trial-by-fire test drive on real roads!).

Bella Bella Bike
The BellaBike was the third one I tried and it immediately felt much more natural, much more comfortable for me. I could steer without too much difficulty right away; the handlebars were nearer to my body and when I made a tight turn even the hand that was furthest away pushing to make the turn was not uncomfortably stretched. I did have to lean into the turn quite substantially, but that felt natural too.

It wasn't perfect; it's not a step-through bike like I'm used to and while you don't have to lift your leg up as high as to get onto a gent's bike, it isn't quite as easy to get onto as my current bike, though I'm sure I'd get used to it quite quickly. Something that I suspect I could get more rather than less annoyed with is the fact that I seemed to be bumping my left foot against the frame of the cargo bit each time I pedalled; Martin from the bike place said that you're supposed to pedal with the ball of your foot rather than your instep, which would resolve the issue but again isn't something I'm used to doing. (Given that it's only my left foot that this happens with I wonder whether it might be something to do with putting it together, and maybe if it was set up precisely for us from scratch maybe it wouldn't happen.) Even if it does keep happening in real life though I don't see it as a deal-breaker. Finally, and again this is something that I'm sure I'd get used to, it has a back-pedal brake, which is pretty useful in general (easy to use to slow down when going down a steep hill, for instance) - it does however mean that you can't spin the pedals backwards to get one of the pedals to the top of its travel so you can kick off, though.

I didn't even try the Christiania in the end because when I got on I could tell right away that it was going to fall in the same category of "too big, don't bother". There is supposed to be a version available that is more suitable for shorter people but this is presumably a special order, and the bike folks didn't seem to have more than general knowledge about it. Specifically, none of us could see how the makers would be able to shave more than about an inch off the frame size without some reconfiguration of the geometry of the frame, which seems a bit much to expect. After all, these bikes do come from countries where the population are on average rather taller than most of the rest of Europe! (Maybe I should be considering the peculiar Brazilian trike instead, cos at least I know that Brazil is much more a nation of shortarses, heh.) It was a shame not to have tried the Christiania because that was the e-bike that they brought, so that we could see what different the electric motor would or would not make; R did try this bike but I'm not sure that he switched the motor on, and certainly he didn't take it up a hill to give the electric assist a proper go; we got a bit short of time by the end.

The test drive process itself was really useful and helpful. We found an online retailer, Kids and Family Cycles, who are based in Dorset; initially we'd thought we'd be making a day-trip of it and trying out bikes at their location, but in discussions the boss, Carolyn, told me that they also offer a demo/test drive at your own home. The price for coming to Oxford is £90, but you get £60 back if you buy a bike from them. Obviously you can't test quite as many bikes because they have to get them to you, but they can bring up to 4 trikes plus a two-wheeler in one go. Realistically we would have been pushed to test drive any more than we did, given the constraints of dinner time and baby-toddler-parent patience. It's quite impressive: a big white van pulled up outside our house, two people got out, and they started hauling more trikes than you'd think was plausible out of the back. The two people in question were Carolyn (billed as the company's child transportation expert - good title!), and her husband Martin - clearly ready for some serious weight haulage when you clocked his back support belt (one of those thick leather jobbies).

I'd had fond anticipatory thoughts of taking bikes down the hill, through some narrow bits, and back up again; in the event, it takes a while to get the bikes out of the van, put them together, and wobble your way across to a reasonably quiet bit of road. Toddler A was madly excited and climbed in and out of all the bikes; she loved it, but in the end was starting to get a bit manic and she needed to be taken indoors to sit quietly with a bit of iPaddery while supper was being finished. We did have a good hour and a half or more, though, and as far as the bike shop people were concerned we could have had as much more as we needed, pretty much.

One thing I was particularly grateful for was Martin's help in getting the trikes to a quietish location for the test drive, and accompaniment during said tests. The fond anticipatory thoughts mentioned above had me, in my imagination, getting on the trike and sailing downhill right away. The reality was rather wobblier and more unsteady. I'm pretty sure Martin stopped me from driving first into a parked car and then into moving traffic on my first few moments of trike cycling! Martin and Carolyn also helped tortipede figure out the likelihood or otherwise of getting the various trikes through our garden gate; I wasn't there for most of that discussion but it looked like we could get most of the models through most of the gate and would only need to chop a little bit off the gatepost to be able to get them in and out. Ah, yes, pity we didn't think of that before getting the new gate and bike shed put in only a couple of months ago... (To be fair, at that point we were thinking of a Gazelle Cabby, which is a two-wheeler and doesn't have the same width issue. Though as that's too long for our shed, so that was a different dimension we failed to take into account properly!)

Anyway, so it looks like we have something that should suit us, and we're very pleased with the service provided by Kids and Family Cycles. Clearly it's crucial to be able to do test drives of this sort of expensive machine with a lot of pretty user-specific requirements; being able to do this at your own location is a massive benefit, especially if you're a cyclist without a family car.

One last amusing bit spotted during avid research of the different kinds of cargo bike: tortipede found this cool German website which includes almost all the kinds of cargo and special purpose bikes available throughout the world. Like all human endeavours it is clearly subject to error; specifically, I can't seem to find the Gazelle Cabby there, which certainly matches its stated site definition. But where else would I expect to see rather neat little icons depicting the different bike types? or a large range of specialist coffee or ice cream trikes? Or a list of wheelchair-transporting bikes? Fantastic stuff!
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