Thursday, February 21, 2008

Is That a Wheelbarrow?

So we’re getting close to the year mark of having the cargobike in our garage and I feel comfortable writing a review about it. For those of who have never heard of a Bakfiets (pronounced ‘bahk-feets’) otherwise known as a cargobike, it’s a utility bike built in Holland that can be used to haul groceries, kids, or anything that fits in it’s forward compartment.

If you’ve never seen one of these before, watching one go by you is a bit of a trip. It looks like a wheelbarrow with a bike seat on it. The first time my wife and I saw one ride by us in Portland we about had a heart attack. We had been discussing for a while how to achieve a car-free life-style, and we knew instantly that we were looking at the missing part of the conversation. I emailed the company that sells these bikes in Portland (CleverCycles) the next day. For you Seattleites, it's Dutch Bike Co. Seattle.

Bakfietsen have been around for a while in Holland, and this fact becomes obvious very quickly when you get one of these on the road. The Dutch have had enough iterations on the design to get things right – every detail is well designed. The box up front is made of marine grade plywood, so you can spray it down with a hose. If your kids were to…say… drop a milkshake in the box (true story) it’s not a big deal. Grab a hose and wash it like your car. In fact, according to the literature, the bike is built to handle outdoor storage. I haven’t put it to the test, but it seems to me to be hearty enough. Something you can’t see in the photos is that the bottom of the box has a rubber mat floor in it that helps things to not slide around when you’re hauling cargo. It also has holes drilled in the corners for drainage; very handy. The box has a nice little bench seat for the kids that folds up when not needed, and has seatbelts built in. We thought we’d do the kids a favor and also purchased a seat pad, although they never complained when we didn’t have it. The Bakfiets comes with a 4-point kick-stand that is so sturdy that kids can climb in and out of the bike without it tipping over. Our kids treat it like a jungle gym and the thing never budges. These bikes also come with a rear-rack that is sturdy enough to sit on. We’ve never used it for cargo, but I’ve used it’s built-in bungee cords to wrap up little things like locks, jackets, and extra helmets numerous times.

As a lifetime bike commuter, there are some built-in features on the Bakfiets that I absolutely love; most of which have to do with braving the elements day after day. The spokes and fenders are stainless steel. That coupled with the anti-rust primer under the paint makes this thing completely weather proof. Got mud on it? No problem – spray the thing down. Left it outside during a downpour? No worries, it’s weather proof. And the internal Shimano 8-speed hub along with drum brakes and a fully encased chain means no mucky transmission. No maintenance whatsoever really. The only time I’ve taken it in since we bought it last June was to get the 30-day cable-stretch adjustments taken care of, and it’s still looking and running like it’s brand new. As a matter of fact, Todd (one of the other owners of CleverCycles) told me that he hasn’t touched the chain on his Bakfiets in years just over a year and it’s still looking factory new – this on a bike that’s stored outside(!) Can you even imagine re-greasing a chain on your bike every other year or so? I guess that’s what having a fully encased drive-train gets you.

Another wonderful standard feature is the wheel-lock. Just like your car, you use a key to unlock your back wheel; then you ride with the key in; and when you get to your destination you just take the key out and the wheel locks up. The bike is effectively parked. No U-lock or bike-rack required. Dean, another owner at CleverCycles, pointed out to us that it would take about three large guys and a pick-up truck to steal this bike with the lock engaged. In other words, this a perfectly good lock for running into the grocery store or catching a movie – maybe not so good for over-night. Our cargo bike also came with an 8-speed Shimano internal hub, which performs surprisingly well. It has one fantastic feature that I use every time I ride: you can change gears standing still. Don’t laugh, when you’re at a stop-light with 100+ lbs of kids and groceries, and you realize that you forgot to shift down, this is the greatest invention ever. You just shift down to 1st gear and take off when the light turns green. If you were stuck in 8th gear with a conventional transmission you’d be screwed. Another easily overlooked feature is the “step-through” frame design that lets you step out of the bike without that standard over-the-seat leg swing that is so much apart of getting off of any other bike in the world. I spent the first few months doing the leg-swing after parking the bike. Until, of course, my wife started making fun of me. Hard habit to break!

Last but not least, the cargobike comes with front and back lights that are powered by a generator attached to the front fork. The back light has a nifty little feature: it stores up the extra charge and stays lit when you stop pedaling. This is great when you’re sitting at a stoplight at night. The newer cargobikes coming out of CleverCycles these days have generator hubs built into the wheel, which are pretty sweet. Ours is a “side runner” that runs off the side of the tire. Truthfully, at first I was annoyed at the idea of something that added friction during the ride. But having used it for a while, the friction is almost imperceptible. Plus, I’m in love with the thought of not having to use batteries. (I’m so green! Don’t you want to be my friend?!)

Oh - and an option that we couldn’t pass up is this space-age looking rain-cover to keep the rug-rats dry when it’s wet. And it’s not just for rain – we’ve taken them out on adventures in the dead of winter (temp in the 30’s) and they were just fine in their little green-house.

In Action
“Is that hard to ride?” – wow do I get that question a lot. The answer is “Nope. Not after your first couple of rides.” I like to say that it’s like learning to ride a bike all over again, but much easier. Once you get the hang of it, you forget that it was ever weird to ride in the first place. That’s how it was for my wife anyway. To be honest, I was feeling pretty confident after about a couple of blocks. And then I was amazed at how smooth the ride was. It’s truly a well designed machine, with a low center of gravity that stabilizes the ride very effectively. Sitting up and having an elevated view of traffic doesn’t hurt the experience either. It is a very different ride than a regular road bike though. More like a cruiser, but with a lot more weight and inertia. Then comes the part that makes you nervous: putting the kids in. I was at Dean’s house in Portland taking a test ride (this was before they had their shop finished) and Dean said, “put your son in, try it out.” With all the false confidence I could muster I put my 4-year old in, said a few “our fathers” under my breath, and took off down the street. It was a bit awkward at first, especially since he was sitting off center on the right side of the bike, but not nearly as much as I had expected it would be. After a block or so I had adjusted. No problem. Then he saw a soccer ball in someone’s yard, “look Papa!” and shifted his weight all the way over to the other side of the bike. While I will admit that I had to do some acrobatics to not ditch, I was surprised how much the low center of gravity helped me to adjust. Had he done that in a seat on my road bike I’m convinced we would have hit the ground. These days both my kids could break-dance in the front and I’d hardly notice it. You get confident enough after a month that you’re adjusting their helmets and seatbelts or pulling you phone out of your pocket to catch the time – all while you’re riding.

A supposed advantage for these bikes that I haven’t found to be true is that the you’re supposed to be able to put your foot on the ground while seated on the saddle. The theory is that the angle of the seat-tube is so lax that the seat sits back from the pedals instead of above them – thus you’re far enough away from the pedals to be ergonomically correct (no knee strain from being too close) while being able to flat-foot the ground at a stop; all while seated in the saddle. On my cargobike, with the seat as far back as it goes, I still have to tip-toe the ground when I’m at a proper distance from the pedals. It’s not as extreme a stretch as it is from the saddle of my road bike (so yes I notice the difference) but I’m not flat-footed by a long shot.

For those people who have kids, the cargobike is a magical experience. I never liked hauling the kids around in a trailer. I especially didn’t like having them a foot off the ground, eight feet behind me in a fabric and aluminum target for inattentive drivers; which is how I’ve always thought of trailers. There’s something about having them right in front of you that makes you feel much safer about having them on a bike in the first place. Not to mention the fact that they’re encased in a sturdy wooden box with seatbelts on. I’ve read an article about a lady who was cut off by a car and ditched her cargobike. It slid 15 feet down a hill with her little boy inside. Neither she nor her boy sustained any injuries. Sounds good to me! Another advantage to you having your kids right in front of you is that you can manage them more easily. (i.e. answer questions, make minor adjustments, break up fights, etc.) Anyone who has ever towed kids in a trailer knows how frustrating it is to stop, lay your bike down, and then walk back and open the trailer just be cause you 1-year-old’s helmet has slid off to the side of his head and he’s crying. (And you just did the same thing 5 blocks ago!) On the cargo bike you can reach forward and push it back up. Even if you have to stop, the kids are more easily accessible in the cargobike than in a trailer. And most importantly, you can have a conversation with them the whole time. You just can’t do that when they’re in a trailer.

I have a hard time saying that there are any drawbacks to this bike – but there are certainly a few things that any potential buyer should know before plunking down $3k.

First: this bike is heavy! 80 lbs Around 97 lbs in fact. Add that to you’re weight (I’m 165 lbs) then add two kids (my two are around 60 lbs together) and assorted cargo and groceries; you’re looking at pushing well over 300 lbs with just two legs. Now if you live in a relatively flat town (like Amsterdam) that’s no problem. You’ve got eight gears, and you use them. But when you come to a hill, well… you’ve got problems. People ask me all the time if I like this bike (people love to talk about this bike by the way – a potential hazard if you’re anti-social) I always respond that I love it, until I’m on a hill. On hills the cargobike has three strikes against it: 1) it’s heavy, 2) you can haul a lot of crap in it, making it even heavier; and 3) you’re sitting straight up and down – which is a terrible position to be in to mash pedals. I say this because I have spent a few days on the cargo bike in relatively flat South East Portland, and then gotten on my road bike and towed a similar amount of weight behind me in a trailer (same kids + gear + trailer). The hills are a breeze on the road bike comparatively. If you’ve ever done “leg day” in a gym, it’s the difference between a leg press (bent over on your back) and a hack-squat machine (standing up). You can push twice the weight on the former than the latter. On a road bike, you’re in a much better position to push this kind of weight. Not so on the Bakfiets. The result is that you have to be disciplined about using a small gear on the hills, or you can kiss your knees goodbye. The proof is in the pudding. I had knee problems for the first time in 20+ years of biking this year – until I learned to back off. I will admit that it was my own doing. I had been subconsciously trying to maintain the same speeds on the cargobike as I normally do on my other bikes. You just have to accept that you’re not going to travel at the same speeds. And on hills, people may walk past you before you reach the top. Something you have to get used to.

Another thing you have to be aware of on a cargobike is braking distance. Todd explained it to me perfectly one day when he was telling me why they don’t put disc brakes or cantilevers on the Bakfietsen, “It’s a lot of weight, being stopped by two small patches of rubber. The kind of brakes you use are not the issue.” When you’re riding a cargobike, you have to be aware at all times (especially on descents) that it’s going to take longer to stop than it would on a regular bike; maybe even a car. I haven’t encountered an accident situation in which I was unable to stop in time (yet) – but I have twice unintentionally run stop signs at the bottom of hills when I didn’t notice the stop sign until I got to the intersection (damn cars blocking my view!) and one of those times I went through the stop sign with kids in the bike! Let me tell you, you don’t do that twice in the same intersection.

Some people think the price is steep. I will admit to never having spent $3000 on a bike before. But for us the price was easy to justify: this isn’t a bike, this is our other car. We sold a rarely-driven-truck that had been darkening our driveway for 6 months, and it paid for this bike. I realize that not everyone has a car to trade-in (although some good friends of ours did exactly the same thing – getting rid of their rarely used second car to buy a Bakfiets) – but do the math; you can easily justify the cost of a fleet of bikes, including a Bakfiets, when you compare that cost to how much you spend on single car. Car-payments, insurance, gas and maintenance – cars are money-pits. Anyone who has owned a car knows this all too well.

Maybe the last drawback I can think of is the handlebars being the same height as my kids’ heads. It’s simple physics – during a sharp turn the kids’ heads get in the way of the handlebars. There’s no other place to put either of these two things, so be careful not to whap the kids in the head when turning sharply. Good thing they wear helmets.

In conclusion – I personally don’t believe that any of the drawbacks outweigh the benefits. This is a fantastic bike and knowing everything I know now I’d would definitely still buy it again. I should point out that Bakfietsen may not be great for everyone. For people who live in Northwest Portland or Seattle for instance (have you seen those hills!!!) or people who don’t have kids and who just want to haul cargo (where a trailer might be more efficient) this would be an impractical bike.

But for us urban dwellers living in relatively flat towns with young children (under 6 or 7) the Bakfiets is a godsend. It truly is. On a spring day, when I’m riding on the waterfront with my 4 year old, and we’re both making goose-calls to the geese, or pointing out the boats – it’s heaven. It’s just impossible to have a more thrilling rapport with you child than when they’re sitting right in front of you during a bike ride. This last weekend we took the family out for a cargobike ride to Ladd’s Addition for hot chocolate, and my wife (riding her Dutch cruiser) asked, “do we ever have happier moments than this? When we’re out on our bikes?” I couldn’t think of any.


  1. thanks matt for the thorough review. some small errors of fact: i (todd) haven't owned a bakfiets for much over a year (you said "years"), but it is kept outside year-round and indeed the chain needs no attention -- nothing on it does. another thing is the weight. we honestly believed it was 80lbs once, until we shipped our first and needed an accurate weight. it's like 97lbs or so. don't you feel more manly now? we have to shift the paradigm of strong riders going together with featherweight bikes and get lance on one to haul his girlfriend around.

    We can swap your 17T cog for a 19 or 21 if you want a lower low gear, at the expense of top end. We can also get your saddle much further rearward for better foot-down and climbing stories.

    As for the height of the bars relative to kid heads, yeah. The Dutch generally graduate their kids to their own bikes for actual transportation before they are so tall. Maybe we should install belts at the floor level to deal with this.

  2. Hey Todd - thanks for chiming in! I'll update the article to reflect the more accurate info.

    I have a 19T cog on currently. I may take you up on swapping it for a 21 before summer this year (when my wife starts using the bike a lot more). But for myself, I think the 19 is about right. My comments about hills were more about how cargobike riders, especially riders who are used to road-bike style riding, need to adjust their attitude towards getting up hills. The attacking style doesn't work, and that was part of my problem. I've had to get in touch with my inner Buddha and practice patience. The saddle on my Bakfiets is about as far back as it can go right now, and I think it's in a good position in relation to the pedals (although I'm sure you'd be the better judge of that). What I find myself wishing I could do is lean over more during up-hills. Truthfully, sometimes I do lean way over the handlebars Obree style when I have a heavy load. I'm sure that looks quite hilarious.

    As for the handlebars, I have wondered if the kid-seat could be lowered. The kids' legs might be a little awkward resting on the ground, but they'd still be able to see over the edge, and the few inches might make the difference. Not that the handlebar issue is any more than a minor annoyance. The only time I ever have the handlebars turned that sharply is when I'm parking the bike.

    (This is Vaughn BTW) - and thanks for helping me out with the 8-speed rotary shifter the other day. It came in really handy!

  3. here's how to get the seat back further:

  4. Thanks for the very thorough review! I plan on forwarding this to friends and family. See you on the roads!

  5. Your Graham Obree reference is not lost on me - I use it when I am on a long climb to work in the morning on the bakfiets I recently bought.

    I've found that my side abdominal muscles and my arms tak the brunt of the pain while I stand up to go uphill.

    I figure it's cheaper than a gym membership - and going down the backside of the hill is a blast.

  6. Thanks for the Cargobike review! I´d like to ask if you are satisfied with the front drum brake´s performance. What make is it (Sturmey Archer, SRAM etc?)? Is it cable driven or hydraulic?

  7. On negotiating hills: I have been riding my (generic) bakfiets with three gears through one winter. I have found that leaning back instead of forward (as I would on a road bike) makes hill climbing easier. You pull the handlebars to get the extra force down. Works for me...
    One feature easily overlooked is the possibility to bring your own cheering crowd. I get my kids to start cheering me on as soon as we get to a hill. Everyone enjoys that - me, them, and the people we pass.
    None the less, I have considered installing a Schlumpf Mountain Drive to get really low gears.

    Grace and peace!

  8. Given that I live in West Virginia, I'm beginning to think that as much as I admire the BF in principle, that it would not be very practical here; we are called "the Mountain State" for a reason.

  9. Could you put a battery powered drive assist on one of these bikes for extra help up hills? I live on the flats of Colorado where there are grades, not obvious hills, unless of course you go to the mountains. I'm looking into bike options to eventually replace my suburban. What are your thoughts about hauling infants around in a bakfiets? Could you strap an infant seat into the box or would the ride be too bumpy?

  10. Hey – I just noticed that there was a question about the drum brakes; sorry I missed that…

    I’m not sure I could provide any insight here. It’s hard for me to think of a way to provide a fair comparison. I’ve only ever had drum brakes on the bike – and the specs of the Bakfiets are so different than any other bike I’ve ridden that to say that caliper, disc, or cantilevers would work better would be moot when all those bikes were under 30 lbs and the Bakfiets is 97 lbs. Speaking to Todd at CleverCycles on the issue, and he left me with the impression that drums were the best option. That said, I’ve heard a few other Bakfiets riders complain about the soft brakes – one even claimed he was getting braze-ons welded on the rear chain-stays so he could install cantilevers brakes on the rear wheel. I’m pretty sure he never follow through, but I’ll report on it if he does. Personally, I have a hard time imagining that different brakes would change the stopping power. It’s still 200-300+ lbs of person, cargo and bike – being stopped by two small patches of rubber on the pavement. The kind of brakes you’re using seem almost secondary to that fact. Let's say you did have stronger brakes - and the bike started to skid... I'd say that's an equally bad scenario to not stopping in time.

    Re: power assist for the Bakfiets…

    Again, I’ve spoken with Todd about power-assist for the cargo-bikes, which he is especially knowledgeable about considering that he ran CleverChimp – which developed the Stokemonkey electric motor for bikes a few years back. (Now defunct?)

    Todd actually has a Stokemonkey engine on his Bakfiets and it works quite well; but he seems fairly confident that CleverCycles will never release that as a product for the Bakfiets due to safety concerns. The concerns are chiefly around A) the Bakfiets being largely a “child-transport” vehicle, so there would need to be child-proofing of the engine controls, and B) the Bakfiets is just a really large and heavy bike that’s already hard to stop. Mix that with additional speed and torque (and an inexperienced rider) and you’ve got a potential disaster. I understand the concern. The Bakfiets is a bit harder to control than a normal bike (as is any bike that has a load or non-standard configuration). Putting an engine on it just increases any the risk of an accident.

    I’ve told Todd on a few occasions that if he ever needed a test family, we’d happily volunteer. He told me in the nicest way possible not to hold my breath. :-)

    Re: infant seats…

    Check out this link:

    there’s hundreds of pictures of cargo-bikes with different kid-configurations; many of which involve infant seats. Both of our kids we’re out of their infant seats when we got the bike, so I’ve never had personal experience. But I would assume that it’d be ok. These bikes provide a surprisingly smooth ride.

  11. I'm going to fly to wherever you live, give you SUCH A PINCH, and then I'm going to go buy TWO of these bikes. I LOVE THEM.

  12. RE: Infant Seats

    +1 to the godsend-status of the bakfiets for young families.

    We have three children under 4 years old, one currently an infant. My wife is already nearly back to her pre-marriage weight/shape primarily because of "bakfietsing" around - grocery shopping once a week and library once a week. Our regular weekend bakfiets adventures are the stuff of family-promo TV commercials.

    We've been using it since December 2007 and have worked out a good system for carrying kids and crap. The two older kids sit on the main bench seat with their safety-straps on, and the infant gets strapped into one of those detachable-base infant car seats (without the base) and it gets set right on the floor at the other kids feet. It is not attached or strapped in, but with the high "bak-walls" on all sides I doubt anything would ever happen to dislodge it. I suppose a heavy collision of some sort could conceivably throw the thing, but it has a really sturdy handle bar which spans the open/child side which would act as a roll cage. The rubberized floor of the bak prevents the thing from rattling terribly as a result of normal road vibrations. Another nice thing about our child seat is that it has a collapsible cloth shade - pretty important for our little one here in Tucson, Arizona.

    Infant seats are pretty big and ours essentially eliminates leg room for the seated children. However, they are able to rest their legs on the sides of the infant seat itself. No big deal.

    When my sweetheart goes grocery shopping, the only available cargo area in the box is under the bench seat and here and there around the edges, so we have found it necessary to get a couple bags for the rear rack. We went the cheap route for this however, not wanting to drop another couple hundred. We bought and installed a couple of those $0.99 cloth Safeway bags on either side of the rack. They work great and can be rolled up and bungeed tight to the rack when not in use with a pump and patch kit inside.

    About hills - with its eight gears I haven't found a hill yet that was impossible. Difficult yes, but not impossible. However I commute 20 miles on my road bike everyday and am in excellent shape. My wife has had to get off and push on several occasions. When you come to a big hill and drop it to 1st gear you just have to tell yourself, "hey, I'm still going about as fast as I would if walking, and look how much stuff I'm hauling, and just wait until I crest the hill and head back down."

    Great review - I second everything said. I can't imagine life without our bakfiets.

    Feel free to contact me with any any additional questions.

    Kevin Coffin - Tucson, AZ

  13. Re to the electrical bakfiets: there is a company which sells a kit to upgrade the whole thing with a front weel drive. Looks quite primising:

    Best & happy bakfietsing,
    Dieter Braun, Germany.

  14. Having tried most of the brooks saddles, I will say that you should SERIOUSLY consider putting Brooks B.135 or B.190 (wider version) on a bike like this. The reason is that these saddles have a push-pull dampener system that has a powerful stabilizing effect on the bike's load when you are sitting upright. It's really amazing for hauling cargo on any bike. The stability is increased both side-to-side and fore-aft directions because the rebound dampeners are effectively "in stereo" and paired with a torsion spring in the front. It's a huge improvement over the B.66/B.67 saddle. Also, the leather hammock makes a huge difference in comfort in it's own right. The B.135 has the same top as the B.66/67, while the B.190 is a great choice for women with wider hips, although it's no less comfortable for me.

  15. I've been riding a Winther Kangaroo Bike to carry our two sons (five and eight now) for almost two years now.

    What amazes me is that a lot of people ask about getting a cargo bike for similar reasons, but then moan about the price (£1,800/$3,600). They want something "cheap".

    Never mind that I sold an £1,800 car and replaced it with the bike. Never mind that the car cost £250/$500 a month to run while the bike costs £25/$50 (insurance and maintenance).

    Never mind that I've saved £4,275/$8550 (based on December 2006 fuel prices) by using the bike instead of a car. If I use today's fuel prices, the savings would be another grand or two.

    No, all that matters is that £1,800 is not cheap enough because they can't/won't see that the actual cost (in 2006 prices) over two years is:

    Car: £6075
    Bike: £2475 (inc £200 of lights)

    Of course, it's also much greener, I'm much fitter (I ride it in hilly terrain), and we have a lot more fun than in a car.

    Some of our experiences:

  16. Alright, painfully detailed East Portland question... Have you taken the baks up the hill on Harrison on the way out of Ladd's Addition (between 21st and 28th or so)?

    Very interested in the bike, but I live at the top of the hill and want to make sure I can make that slog.

  17. hey - I have indeed ridden the Baks up Harrison between 21st and 28th - which, if I'm right, is the hill going up away from downtown that turns into the Lincoln bike Blvd. Is that right? Yeah, well that hill ain't fun. It's a whole lot of not fun - especially with kids and groceries in it. My wife had me go up that hill after a trip to New Seasons with the kids last summer. I'll say two things about the experience: 1) I did Not have to walk the Bakfiets up the second part of the hill, or anything like that - I did, in fact, make it to the top just spinning in granny gear. 2) I wouldn't want to do that on any kind of regular basis.

    There is a possibility that if I did, though, that it would get easier. I hear from other cargo-bike riders that you quickly become a much stronger rider if you have to ride up a hill to get home every day. since I live in a relatively flat section of SE (over in the 60's between Division and Powell) I don't often do big hills... so I haven't really had the opportunity to make that transformation.

    So I might base your decision on whether you're currently a strong bike rider. I'm no racer, but I have ridden my bike 300+ days a year for the last 20 years, and consider myself a fairly strong rider. Being that kind of rider - I haven't yet encountered a hill in Portland I couldn't get up on the Bakfiets. So it's difficult for me to imagine what a casual rider might think of riding this bike up Harrison. If I were a casual bike rider (once a week or less) I might think twice about getting a cargo bike knowing I'd have to get it up that hill on a regular basis.

    Hope that helps.

  18. Poser,

    Thanks for the response, it was perfect. Right now I bike a few days a week to work and that's about it. Looks like if I get the Bak, I have to really commit with both money and getting in a bit better shape. That's not a bad thing, but it's nice to know what I'm getting into.


  19. This is just a thanks for writing this article, a full description of the day-to-day usage issues is what I needed in considering a purchase of this bike.

    I also appreciate the comment from CleverCycles, and will be interested in the results of a lower gear setup or the seat being more rearward.

    We live in Seattle, right on the Burke-Gilman trail a mile from our grocery store. I've thought the Bakfiet would be ideal transport when our 6 month old gets a little older.

  20. thanks for a great review. I'm considering buying one and live in a hillier place than Amsterdam (although Amsterdam does have some nasty bridges). Would you say if you climb up a hill, it's very do-able (even if it's slow). Would your wife say the same? Thanks Shin

  21. hi
    i was wondering if there is a top bike rack for the car compatible with the yakima racks that would hold a dutch cargo bike.

  22. amermaidmmv asked about hills: I would say that about any hill is doable, as long as it isn't extremely steep. But I won't sugar-coat the experience. For longer, or steeper hills, you have to go slow, and it is hard work. You're pushing between 250-400 lbs (depending on your weight and load) up a hill. That's work - there's no two ways about it. My wife is intimidated by some of the hills here in Portland. If we're taking a trip with the kids and the cargo-bike, and there are going to be hills involved, she'll jump through a lot of hoops to make sure I'm the one who's riding the cargo-bike.


    Sam asked about a top rack: I think that NO is that answer to that. I heard Dean tell a story about loading his cargo-bike up on top of a car once. He said it took three guys to get it up there, and they decided they'd never try it again. Remember this is a 97 lb bike - and it's quite awkward to pick up. There's a guy in Portland who blogs about cargo-bikes, here's his story about transporting his Bakfiets home by car-rack (not entirely positive).

  23. Going back to the question of battery assist from fernandapowers:

    We have a Cargo Bike manufactured by the Center for Appropriate Transport ( in Eugene, OR. It is custom made to specs and runs about the same as a bakfiets, if not a little bit less. We had it made to accommodate a Bionx battery assist system, which required the use of disk brakes. We live in a particularly hilly area of Los Angeles and sometimes the battery assist is used to push the bike up that last horrific hill. The disk brake issue was a bit of a worry, but the Bionx system actually has a friction based charge system for use while riding. This effectively amounts to downshifting in a car and letting the gear control the speed. This manages speeds on downhills near our house with very severe slopes (and stop signs at the bottom) with no problem.

    We explicitly chose catoregon because at the time they were the only outfit that we found capable of accommodating the battery assist.

  24. BTW, thanks for the response and great blog!

    Here's ours in action:

    Turn your volume up if you like dorky family audio.

  25. I just bought a 2009 Bakfiet, will bring it home 3 days from now.

    The 2009's answer an issue discussed in this thread, the seat angle being positioned further back in order to get more power to pedals. The angle is more raked in the 2009.

    This blog entry we are commenting within helped me decide to purchase the bike. Thanks for writing it.

    I will be blogging about my experience with the Bakfiet, at

  26. Hi Poser,
    thanks for that review. It's a nearly Dutch guy (actually, Belgian) who reads you >2 years after you wrote this :)

    I'm considering buying one as it's getting difficult to carry on my usual bike, with two seats, my 4 y and 2y kids (45/26lbs)... and the third baby is under production so... let's go for a large, family van - two wheels and human-powered version!

    One, very simple question:
    - How tall are you? do you believe it wouldn't be a problem for a guy 1m95 high to ride that bike? Ergonomy is so important when choosing his own bike.

    Ok, another one:
    - Still happy with your long bakfiets after 3 years? Is it still in a pretty good shape?

    Thx for this article. I wish you could quit car forever as I did before I had children. It's really feasible!

    Liévin, Brussels

  27. This comment has been removed by the author.

  28. Thanks for the excellent review! I'm 99% of the way to buying one of these bad boys. Just been researching how they will be to ride on the hills here in Oslo, Norway... your review is one of the few mentioning the challenges, but it's reassuring it at least seems possible :)

  29. For the Dutch readers, I found the following review (Englis redaders can Use Google Translate)

  30. @ Sam
    Brussels is a quite hilly place. Anyway after more than 1 year I still can make it with my 3 kids (19kg, 15kg, 9kg + school material and my personal effects)

    The Bakfiets behaves ok including the robust 8-speed nexus gear. (only when carrying > 80 kg it's getting hasardous to steer it)

    I have some sport at least with level differences up to 50 meters in my town. 25m up to get to the school every day.

    I would add the expensive electric in-wheel engine only if my commute was gettinglonger. With my 6 km that wasn't a problem. If I had 10 Km one-way I would buy it, for a better average speed and avoid end-of-day tireness.

    Indeed the urban speed of a bakfiets is significantly slower: for me, I'd say, an average of 12Km/h compared to 16 KM/h on my city bike.

    But bike is Autonomy, and I don't like wires, batteries etc. I stand on my -nearly- 200W of man-power.

    Last thing: for procurement at the grocery shop, the Bakfiets-lang is just amazing in how easily it replaces a (large) car. I carry 100Kg every month. I move large or heavy stuff in and out. For an eco-logical guy with a large family, like me, it's a real good trick to have a cargo bike and block any pressures to buy a car.

    When the boyz'n'hood are shouting after me "nice bike, dude!" I use to answer "this isn't a bike, it's a van." Actually a delivery/family van, depending on the nature of the load.