cargo bike on the path

We just bought a box bike (from the Dutch "bakfiets") from Urkai. It's quite a bike. It's large, long, heavy. But it rides smooth and easy even when the box is loaded with a kid and everything for an outing.

It's been pretty fun. We immediately took the bike to an nearby town for ice cream (we have priorities). It was over an hour each way along a gentle rail trail. Our toddler loved it. On the way back it was getting dark so the built-in lights came in quite handy. And we could flip up the bench so our kid could sleep in the bottom on a pad.

We've wanted a Dutch-style box bike for a while. We've already got other Dutch bikes and appreciate the low-maintenance and comfort. The Bakfiets.nl cargo bike with electric-assist that we got is really well-built. The bike came in two boxes; one really long narrow box that held the frame and wheels, and the other held the box. Urkai is based in Burlington, Ontario, but ships anywhere in Canada. 

Full disclosure: I approached Urkai about getting a discount if I wrote up my experiences, and owner Andrew agreed.

 

cargo bike in all its glory

Here's the bike all put together. Everything but the canopy, which I'll talk about in a separate post. This bike is like a stretch limo and front loader put together. Yet somehow nimble; likely because of the low centre of gravity on the front.

On a rainy day I put on the canopy. With the canopy it feels like a moving tent, in a good way. I would like to just hang out in there with the kid while we're stopped for a snack. She got to sit there in comfort, with everything at hand.

view inside the box
I recommend filling the box with lots of stuff to give it that cozy feeling.

We put a thermarest on the floor so her feet could be higher and she'd have something to sit on. Sitting on the floor makes the bench into a nifty table.

Hills

We've recently moved out of Toronto to a small town in Simcoe County that has its share of hills. Which might explain why many of the two wheeled vehicles I've seen are e-bikes. But we've only seen one other bakfiets-style cargo bike thus far.

The majority of the hills the bakfiets can handle well. We barely brake a sweat if we put the e-assist on. Yet there is one really steep section on a nice, wooded trail between the two towns that pushes us and the bike to the limit. On our first attempt we had to get off and push the bike up part way.

 an insanely steep path

We finally met our match with it's insane 20% grade. (I went back to measure). Most people are unlikely to encounter such hills.

I've since gone back a few times and I can make it up now with the right combination of shifting down all the way and pushing hard on the pedals and pulling hard on the handlebars. We're exploring the possibility of using a bigger chainring on the back to help with the hills. Though it means we lose a bit on the flats. Not much of a loss since we seldom need to go that fast

All about the bike

There are lots of nice touches with the bike that make it a pleasure; such as the wheel lock, the magnetically closing harness for the kids, the enclosed chain, the internal roller brakes, and the smooth shifting of the gears. You may find that some of them are a challenge for some bike shops to fix, especially those who specialize in mountain bikes or road bikes. It could help, then, to learn a few things about your bike so you can fix the basics. And keep Urkai in speed dial.

 

locking mechanism
Here you can see the wheel lock. We've already got some Dutch bikes and like the wheel locks for the convenient locking for quick trips to the store. You can also see my reflection in the skirt guard which helps limit the spray from the wheel.

 

rear roller brake
You can see the rear roller brake. Roller brakes are internal so they keep cleaner than other brakes, and thus more dependable. Yet they aren't (in my experience) as strong as disc brakes.

 

front hydraulic disc brake
The front wheel of the bike features a hydraulic disc brake for effective stopping power. I really appreciate the disc brake on steep descents.

 

Nuvinci shifter
The internal hub is a Nuvinci, which is an innovative hub that does away with the gears and provides continuous shifting. Which explains the "animation" in the shifter: without gears numbers don't make sense so instead you see a little person going up a steep hill in easy gears and vice-versa.

 

battery
The battery fits nicely into the custom made rack and still allows full use of the rest of the rack.

 

electric assist motor
It uses a mid-drive Shimano Steps E6100. This basically means it provides a bit of support while riding and helps quite a bit on ascents. It allows four levels of support, the lowest being off. With the higher ones you can make a climb up a hill feel like biking on level ground. It's a great feeling to be able to scamper up a hill with a child and groceries in the front.

 

parking stand
You see the sturdy parking stand which folds up towards the back and attaches with powerful magnets.

 

box for the bike
You see the sturdy wooden box. The base I believe is laminated fibreglass but I haven't checked.

 

bench in the box for the bike
The box features a bench for fitting two kids. The straps attach with magnets and have a locking mechanism. This works well on most rides, though if the kid gets sleepy it's not ideal.

 

view from box of the handlebars with e-assist computer and seat
You see the cockpit, including the electronic display and controls near the right handlebar.

 

 

front light powered by e-assist battery
The front and rear lights are powered by the battery and can be turned on at the display. I kinda wish they could be turned on independently in case the display won't turn on. But perhaps the battery won't work either.

 

It's no earth-shattering news that biking with a baby or a kid turns regular, confident adults into super cautious and anxious parents. I become super aware of any movement and try to guess the intention of every driver before even they are aware of their next move. A slight movement to the right means they're thinking about turning right. A tilt of the wheels means they want get out of their parking space as quickly as possible. But this is exhausting, so for the most part I try to avoid busy streets as much as possible unless there is a dedicated and physically separated bike lane.

My daughter is 2 years old and we've been biking with her for over a year. She's content and happy to be riding in her front bike seat on our bikes (my wife and I both have one on the front). I get many wows and comments about the Yepp Mini bike seat (even though I think my bike is even more interesting). It's a bit of golden age for bike gear for children. It's much easier to find quality bike seats and bikes for children in North America, much of which is common in northern Europe where people have much more experience of carting kids around by bike.

The Yepp Mini puts the kid right in front of me, putting their head right near mine. This lets me hear a lot more of what she's saying and I can talk or sing to her without having to yell over car noises. The Mini easily mounts on the bike, in this case a Workcycles FR8. I love this bike. It's very sturdy, big comfortable tires, can carry a tonne, and can stand outside without getting rusty. It's also slow. It has a cool feature that allows it to comfortably fit a wide range of heights. In short, it's built like an SUV.

I've created a quiet route from home to daycare, avoiding the speeding cars on Queen Street West as much as possible. But we can't avoid Queen St entirely so for that section, without any sense of guilt, I ride on the sidewalk. I ride slowly and carefully and will give the right of way to anyone walking. People are quite accommodating when you've got a baby on board.

Once I arrive at the daycare, I use the double kickstand to prop up the bike safely. It is quite sturdy, but I'm thinking of getting an even wider one, which might require looking online.


At the daycare

The Fr8 has a built-in front rack that is attached to the frame rather than the handlebars and fork, which is typical for baskets. This means the bag for daycare stays stable and won't affect steering. They've thought of everything.

Local tourists

For last few months I've been with the toddler during the day for half the week and she's in daycare the other half. It's been wonderful. So long as there's been no ice, we've had the chance to explore many parts of our neighbourhood. For instance, we enjoyed taking the pedestrian/cycling bridge from Portland to CityPlace, stopping along the way to look at the trains.


Trainspotting

We've enjoyed going further south to Queens Quay and bike along the new, completely separated bike path. Always get lots of looks at the bike and baby. My ego likes the attention and I think the toddler does too. It's quite sad that the City couldn't bother to provide a safe, comfortable link between the city and the water. Strachan sucks, Bathurst is worse. Simcoe has a semblance of a bike lane so is probably the best. But when I take the bridge at Portland, the easiest is to continue south taking Dan Leckie Way. For some reason the planners made this tiny road with minimal traffic into a wide, fast four lane road with turning lanes. It's sad and ironic, given that Dan Leckie was one of the first city councillors to champion bike lanes. According to Councillor Cressy, there are hopes to put bike lanes on this street, but it baffles me that the staff couldn't have just done it on this brand new road. It shows how much it's a fight against an internal culture with staff that ignores and devalues cycling, just as much as the more visible fights against knee-jerk politicians.

Regardless, riding along Queens Quay during a week day is great. No traffic, barely any bikes or pedestrians. Just us, the boats, ducks and perhaps another toddler/caregiver going by.

 

I've been accused of "age and gender discrimination" by a self-described "grey-haired guy", John Schubert.

At least I think its me. It certainly seems as if he's referencing a blog post I wrote a few years ago: "Avid cyclists as policy makers are going extinct and they've no one else to blame". I've accused John Schubert and company, of being "avid cyclists" who achieved positions of some influence over cycling infrastructure and were able to impede its progress for decades. Below you can see some of these surviving "avid" cyclists (source), on a trip to critique New York City's cycling infrastructure. The three on left are members of the obscure but semi-powerful National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices Bicycle Technical Committee (John Schubert, John Allen and John Ciccarelli, members of NCUTCDBTC, and New York bicycling advocate and planner Steve Faust).

I compared their approach to cycling with that of more recent leaders in cycling infrastructure, including Janette Sadik Khan (former head of NYDOT), Mia Birk (former Portland Bicycle Program Manager and Alta Planning principal) and Dr. Monica Campbell of Toronto Public Health. All my examples happened to be women (this will become important below).

I called the former cycling leaders "avid cyclists" to capture an attitude to cycling which is usually revealed by the specialized cycling clothing, specialized gear, and a focus on training to cycle in any kind of urban traffic. It certainly has its appeal to some people (as it does to me who has been known to have fiddled and repaired many a bike, taught CAN-BIKE to many, and obsessed over bike gear). But it does not appeal to the masses. And the evidence shows how cycling barely survived for decades in car-obsessed North America.

The new leaders do not focus on special clothing, nor gear, nor riding skills akin to training to "run among a herd of elephants". Rather they have focused on making cycling appealing to the masses by making the urban environment more comfortable and safer. As I mentioned in the previous post, "increasingly these policy makers are not the gear heads, "avid" cyclists and the road warriors - the survivors when everyone else stopped cycling. I'll happily put myself in the category of a reforming avid cyclist. Instead the leaders are increasingly women and men who are intensely interested in making cycling (and walking) safer for their families."

But here's what Schubert says in the quote taken up by NYC Bike Snob:

Here’s a story about age and gender discrimination: Some years ago, I participated in a review of some bicycle facilities in New York. We found that one facility, if you obeyed the traffic signals, would only allow an average speed of six mph (and that’s in uncontested traffic conditions). That’s unlikely to generate much compliance with the signals. We found other stuff, good and bad. We reported on it. So a few years after that, I found that some know-it-all had decided we were all irrelevant because we were old white guys. And published a picture of us, comparing it with a picture of Mia Birk of Alta Planning. And said how much greater Mia is, because she’s an attractive younger female, and we weren’t. Birk is known for defending bicycle facilities that cause bicyclists to get crushed underneath turning trucks whose drivers never saw them. (Hint: Google “truck bicycle blind spot” for some important information.) Most of the people saying, “No, don’t build this crap” are old white guys. But our viewpoints should be ignored, because we’re old and white.

For the record no where have I said "Mia is better because she's an attractive younger female". Note that he ignores Sadik Khan who is not young, and also Dr. Campbell (because he has no idea of her age). I have even less respect for Schubert now.

I couldn't care less about the age or gender of these people. Though it is telling of the background and environment in which they grew up. It wouldn't matter who these guys are except that as part of the semi-powerful NCUTCDBTC committee they've helped hinder truly transformative bike facilities in the US. It was only when some leaders who happened to be mostly women (with a range of ages) did an end run around this committee and created their own guide for cities that they helped break the strangle hold.

I am a white-bearded man in his forties. My mother rode her bike everywhere growing up in The Netherlands. I am quite happy that the old ideas are losing their grip and new ones are gaining power. And it doesn't matter if the people who embody those ideas are young, old, of any gender, class, race, culture.

My toddler also thanks the new leaders in safer cycling. Now we must ride off to the playground. (For gearheads: the bike is a Workcycle).

baby on bike