Cargo bikes to the rescue at the Disaster Relief Trials

Photos by Howard Draper

This is it. The Big One. The Cascadia Subduction Zone has shifted, resulting in a massive earthquake and tsunami that has devastated the Pacific Northwest. In Portland bridges are unsafe to cross, gasoline is being rationed and electricity is spotty. Luckily the city is filled with cyclists who can transport water, food, medicine and other relief supplies quickly and easily.

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Ok, so the massive earthquake that threatens Oregon hasn’t happened yet, but if or when it does the local cycling community will be well prepared thanks to events like the Disaster Relief Trials (DRT). A checkpoint-based bike race with a cargo-hauling twist, it’s designed to promote resilience in the face of the inescapable. In a handful of cities on the West Coast, the event simulates a three-day supply run on cargo bikes (or whatever bike can handle the load).

I joined dozens of other first responders, cargo bike fanatics and curious participants over the weekend for the Portland edition of DRT, which fanned out 30 miles across the city. From a central hub we raced to checkpoints where we picked up supplies including a case of food, a big bucket of water, a wooden pallet and a fragile egg. Along the way we had our manifest checked off and our cargo inspected. Different categories separated payload weights along with e-bikes or team efforts.

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Cooperation was key in many respects, often for route finding but also to lift the bikes over a four-foot wall and push them through a difficult uphill dirt section. All the participants were eager to help each other and the volunteers manning the checkpoints were helpful and friendly.

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The variety in bicycles represented was astounding. I’ve certainly never seen such a collection of longtails, bakfiets, trailers and trikes. Most were Yubas, Bullets and Surlys but there were also quite a few handmade bikes. I borrowed a beautiful, Portland-made Metrofiets for the event and, despite my limited experience piloting such a craft, it turned out to be a great platform for the day. Even with a massive front end, the bike handled well and shrugged off my 100 pound payload. All I had to do was pedal—and remember that the Shimano Alfine 8 shifter is backward…

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Of course, racing full speed around the city with a giant pallet strapped to your bike doesn’t really simulate the hazards and challenges of an actual disaster situation, but it does help the visibility of the cycling community as a resource that should be considered in disaster planning. On hand were emergency personnel and first responders from several local agencies practicing their aspects of communication and operations while a disaster relief information fair was being held next door.

At the end of the day I was exhausted, sore and satisfied. I certainly hope I never have to put any of the experience I gained into use in an actual emergency but, in the meantime, I had a lot of fun.

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Field Tested: Madsen kg271 cargo bike

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The kg271 is Madsen Cycles’ latest version of its fully equipped longtail cargo bike. The rear bucket—which straddles the rear 20-inch wheel—has been its signature look from the beginning. I’ve been curious about this design from the first time I saw it, and I’ve been stoked to haul my kids and stuff around for the last few months in this thing.

My kids have named almost every cargo bike I’ve reviewed in Bicycle Times, and the Madsen affectionately became the “bathtub bike”. Adults seemed equally as stoked on this bike, with comments about either the feasibility of filling it full of ice and beer and/or a rolling hot tub party. Could this be a commentary on the company I keep?

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The Madsen’s molded plastic bucket has always struck me as a practical and simple kid and cargo solution, and after this extended test, I can confirm is certainly is. The bucket has a pair of padded bench seats at both ends, with seatbelts for four kids. The benches are held in with hook and loop material, and can easily be pulled out for more cargo space.

Ride quality

The bucket is bolted to an obviously proprietary steel frame with what may be the world’s longest chainstays. Unlike most longtail cargo bikes, the rear axle sits behind the cargo area, which puts the entirety of the rider, passengers and cargo between the axles. Combined with the low passenger seat height afforded by the 20-inch rear wheel, the result is the most stable two-wheeled cargo bike I’ve ever ridden. I was able to ride at walking speed (or below) with no worries of tip over, and even do a short trackstands at intersections.

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The bucket has a very stable centerstand, which pops back into place with a push forward on the handlebars when everyone is ready to go. The reach back to deploy it may be difficult for shorter riders; keeping a solid grip on the bars and seat while stretching a foot back for the centerstand was strech for my 5’6” neighbor. But once it’s down it was secure enough to allow my 10- and 8-year-old to climb in and out without an adult to hold things steady.

Extras

The stock drivetrain is a 1×9 speed SRAM set up. I was fine with the stock gearing, but long-term I would want a double ring up front for lower gearing. The frame has the necessary cable stops for a front derailleur and shifter, but the handy chainguard would have to be removed. When the time came to replace the drivetrain, I would also opt for an 11-34 cassette instead of the stock 11-32.


Editor’s note: This review originally appeared in Issue #32 of Bicycle Times. To make sure you never miss a bike review, order a subscription and you’ll be ready for the everyday cycling adventure.


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The long run of chain is kept in check with an upper and lower chainguide, a nice touch, and it keeps the whole bike very quiet. A front disc brake is matched to rear v-brake mounted under the chainstays; the design of the frame in the rear leaves very little space for a disc brake mounting tab  Plenty of braking power all around, but I still wish there was the rear disc option for foul weather use. Full metal color matched fenders come stock, and my tester has the Front Basket option installed, a $95 option. The front rack mounts to the frame, and doesn’t turn with the front wheel, so heavy loads have much less effect on steering. The front rack was handy for book bags or extra large trips to the store.

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Parting thoughts

As an everyday option to the car, the Madsen is a winner. I’m a big fan of the turnkey nature of the Madsen, it is ready to haul kids right out of the box. I’ve used various front loading box bikes in the past, and loved the ease of dumping kids and bags and groceries in the box and rolling off, no need for extra straps and bags and lashing. The Madsen has most of those advantages, while taking almost no time to adjust to the handling. Since the box has a central channel and tapers from top to bottom, cargo space can get tight with two kids and a weeks worth of groceries, but for daily runs to school there was plenty of room.

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I have very few complaints about the Madsen. One drawback to all that stability is a distinct lack of speed, but one can’t expect a minivan to accelerate like a Ferrari. The chainguard could use a little more coverage and rigidity, my pants still snagged in the chain at times, and it was easily bent far enough to rub on the chainring.

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The reach to the bars felt just about right for my 5’11” self, but my shorter neighbor was more stretched out than she wanted. The stock stem is 45mm, which is about as short as they come, so bars with more sweep or a zero offset seatpost would need to be used to get things set up for shorter riders. The step-through frame is a very welcome feature for riders of all heights, as swinging a leg over the box or children’s heads is not a good option.

Madsen will soon be offering a fold-away rain cover option, and has a layaway program, too. 2015 models can be pre-ordered right now, and for the price and feature list, I would recommend this bike to families looking for a car replacement option. There are aftermarket options for an electric assist, but I’m hoping we see something like the Bosch mid-drive as a stock option in the future. In the near future I expect to see more bikes like the Madsen on our roads. Simple, approachable, easy to ride, lots of cargo space, and a price that is easily justified, the Madsen is ready for a starring role as cargo bikes become prime time.

Vital stats

  • Price: $1,875
  • Hauling Weight: 600 pounds (rider + bike + load)
  • Sizes: One
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