Review: Torker Cargo T

torker cargo tTester: Eric McKeegan
Country of Origin: Taiwan
Price: $600
Weight: 45lbs.
Sizes Available: One
Color: Green or Gray
Contact: www.torkerusa.com

It isn’t often that practical bikes get a second glance. The Cargo T elicited a wide range of comments from seasoned riders (How heavy is it? How much can it carry?) to casual observers (Man, that bike is bright, does it have a motor?). It is an odd-looking bike, part cruiser, part Dutch city bike, and part mini-truck with a ladder rack. The Dutch connection is not surprising; a very similar bike is sold by Batavus, a Dutch company also owned by Torker’s parent company Accell. Regardless of the observers’ background, everyone seems to intuitively understand the beast of burden nature of the Cargo T.

Let’s start with the racks. The front rack is rated to 25lbs., and I’m sure I exceeded that a few times. The rearward tilt to the platform and tall rear support made loading and securing boxes a snap. I was able to carry a case of beverages with a single strong bungee cord, and found the handling to be quite acceptable when loaded. The steering response was spot on at anything above walking speed. At lower speed the front end had a tendency to fall into turns. Not really a big problem, just something to pay attention to when loaded. The rack will soon be available separately for $50.

torker cargo t

The extra-long rear rack is rated to 40lbs. and uses oversize (M6 versus the standard M5) mounting bolts at the dropouts. I honestly expected the very sturdy-looking rack to be rated to carry more weight, although in personal experience, loads much over 40lbs. are not much fun to carry on a rear rack. I used an older Jandd pannier to carry stuff, and had to add a loop of wire to the lower part of the rack, as there is no mounting point for the bottom hook on the bag. Torker knows about this issue and is working on a redesign. Overall, the racks work very well to carry a bunch of stuff, and with the addition of a few straps or bungees and a basket or bags, make for a super-versatile errand runner.

The riding position is decidedly upright, and combined with the flat pedals, chainguard and fenders, it’s very easy to hop on with whatever you are wearing. The seat is wide and soft—I found it fine for shorter rides, but my wife hated it. The step-through frame makes it easy to, well, step through when the rear rack is piled high, and also made modest riding while wearing a skirt possible, according to my significant other. The oversized steel frame was surprisingly stiff; the lack of a top tube made me think it would wind up a bit when loaded, but it showed no signs of flexing. I expected a harsh ride to accompany the stiffness, but the coil springs on the saddle and wide tires offer plenty of compliance. The upright position should make for a good fit on the single size for folks from about 5′ 4" to somewhere over 6′.

No two ways around it, this is a heavy bike. We (as in the collective American cycling populace) need to get over our fixation about this, particularly on bikes that will never be raced. On the Torker this weight adds up to a sturdy bike with little need for routine maintenance. The Shimano 3-speed hub was set-and-forget throughout the test, and the ability to shift while stopped or coasting was a welcome change from the derailleur-based drivetrains on my personal bikes. Gear range was just fine; once in a while I wished for a lower gear when climbing the steep hill up to my house, but other than that I thought little about it. Those looking for super-low gears to crawl up hills will be disappointed though. I did need to back off pedaling pressure a bit to downshift, but overall the internal hub experience was very positive for me. Makes me wonder why I’ve always settled for either one or 16+ speeds.

torker cargo t

The wheels use a sturdy set of Alex DM350 rims, which look as beefy as the downhill mountain bike rim I use on my personal cargo bike. Short of being run over with a car, I don’t see these needing to be trued for a long time. The 26×2.0" tires are a good mixed-surface tread; it would be nice to have a puncture-resistant belt in there, but the thick rubber has fended off all road debris so far. The steel fenders did a better job of keeping water off me than any of the fancy thermoplastic ones on my own bikes, most likely due to the mounting hardware that attaches to the outside of the fender, not inside where it can spray water out the sides and onto feet and shins.

The brakes are designed to need little maintenance, and work well in all weather. The rear coaster brake took some getting used to, and I still sometimes inadvertently apply the brake when hopping a curb. The front brake is a Shimano hub brake. It works, but it honestly reminded me of the brakes on my steel-rimmed ’80s 10-speed. They do their job, but those looking for disc brake or even V-brake power will be disappointed. In their defense, this bike is not designed to be a performance bike, and I never had a problem stopping from the relatively casual pace this bike is most suited for, even loaded up on steep hills. Plan ahead for sure.

Two nice features work together to make loading and unloading cargo much easier. The first is the two-legged "center stand" that keeps the bike perpendicular to the ground when parked, and much less apt to flop over when cargo is added or taken off. The second is the Shimano headset lock. When twisted to the "on" position, the front wheel is prevented from moving—very nice for loading a bunch of stuff on the front rack. There is an internal clutch that lets go with a series of clicks when you turn the bars sharply, a good thing to remind you to turn it off before riding. Center stands will be available soon for aftermarket sales at $30 or so.

torker cargo tIn the negative column, the inexpensive 1" threaded headset and non-cartridge bottom bracket are not on my list of low-maintenance items. Both can be replaced with a more durable unit should they go bad, but they seem out of place on a bike that is otherwise well spec’d to handle use by casual riders that have little interest in maintenance. The chainguard is great for keeping the chain from eating your pants, and offers some shielding from road spray for the chain, but a full wrap chainguard (including the backside) would really seal the chain off from the elements and greatly extend the life of whatever lubricates it. The other complaint I unearthed on the interwebs was the lack of a generator light, something that is stock on the Batavus model. The mounts are still there on the Torker, so adding one would be pretty easy. Swapping out the light for a front brake and a multi-speed hub was a wise choice for the hillier terrain that is often found in American cities.

Overall, I’d love to have a bike like this in my stable. Simple to operate, easy to ride in street clothes, low maintenance, and plain enough to not attract thieves. I found myself grabbing the Cargo T before anything else I own for trips three miles and under. I did ride it back and forth to work a few times, but the 14-mile round trip is better suited for something more speedy. At first glance the $600 price might seem a bit high for a three-speed, but the versatile cargo racks and very well-thought-out parts selection make the Torker an investment that should easily pay for itself in reduced mileage on your car, particularly when the load hauling ability is taken into the equation. For those not into the green color, a very subdued grey is available.

[Ed notes: This product review of the Torker Cargo T originally appeared in print in Bicycle Times issue #3. Photos by Justin Steiner. Click here to subscribe to Bicycle Times.]

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