Review: Urban Arrow Family

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By Neil Schirmer

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The Fam

As parents of two developmentally disabled children, my wife Deana and I struggle to wrangle everyone together for family activities. We’ve always tried to find ways to get our kids riding, and despite his visual impairment, that has been relatively easy with our son, Ryan. First, we used a Burley trailer, then a trail-a-bike, and finally a traditional tandem. This has been wonderful and we ride a fair amount, but we were often leaving the ladies of the house behind.

Our daughter, Allison, has gross motor issues and is non-verbal, so while she has good sight, even getting her to navigate a tricycle safely on her own has been a challenge. We had the Burley trailer which served us well and was a way for all of us to ride together for a few years when both kids were younger, but as soon as Allison grew out of that, the bikes fell by the wayside as a group option.

When we recently moved to Boulder, Colorado, all of the cycling infrastructure really got us hankering for a solution to get Allison on (or behind) a bike again somehow so we could all ride together. She’s 11, and she’s pretty big. Her inability to balance safely and consistently had us leaning toward some other trailer option. We briefly considered an e-bike plus a larger trailer to account for the added weight. In addition, we were trying to think ahead with a potentially significant investment involved. We wanted something that we felt we could use for at least a few years, and hopefully many more into young adulthood and beyond.

The A-HA! Moment

Brainstorming with my cousin Ellen via email one day, she offered to put us in touch with her friend James to discuss some possibilities. Ellen mentioned that James had recently gotten one of the excellent Yuba Spicy Curry cargo bikes for his family and thought it might be worth checking out and exploring as a solution for us.

As an e-cargo bike, it seemed compelling. After discussing some of the pros and cons, we decided we should go check one out in person. Both Ellen and James immediately pointed us to local cargo bike specialist, Front Range Cargo Bikes, with the thought that we could certainly put our hands on a few bikes there, if not get some novel ideas from folks who deal primarily in this niche.

It was probably only a day or two later when I headed on down to Front Range Cargo Bikes, and that’s when I saw it. Front and center by the open bay door, the first thing that caught my eye was a crazy, bakfiet-looking cargo bike with an electric motor, integrated lights, and a cool looking cargo area made of EPP foam. As I waited for someone to come help me, I started poking around it. The first thing I noticed was a small bench seat bolted in the cargo area with a SEATBELT!  QUEUE THE HALLELUJAH CHORUS.  Right then, I suspected we found our answer – The Urban Arrow Family.

First Test Ride

The first ride was a solo affair. I figured Deana and I need to crawl before we sprint – we needed to be steady on this bad boy by ourselves before we could strap a child in the front with a clear conscience.

The first piece of advice was that the steering would be much different from I was used to. The analogy used by the folks at the shop was, “it’s like steering a canoe”. I have to say, that’s a pretty good analogy. I was a bit wobbly, but as soon as the Bosch electric motor kicked in with the first pedal stroke, things straightened right out. More about the fantastic motor later.

I pedaled down to the end of the industrial area where the shop is located, and found a nice big area of tarmac to make a complete turn with lots of space, then headed back. Instead of going straight back to the shop, I hooked a left turn and rode on down an adjacent bike path. Before I had even hit the path, I had the steering sorted out, so I opened it up to see how the thing felt at speed. Right away, the bike is confidence-inspiring. At just under 100 pounds, one might think it would be a bear to manage, but with a low center of gravity, and a lot of the weight out in front of the long wheelbase, this thing is very stable. If there was a precise moment I knew the bike would work for us, it was then, on the path.

A return visit with Deana and Allison proved that the bike was, indeed, a winner. The test rides with those two went better than I expected. Deana quickly handled the awkward transition to driving a long and heavy machine, and Allison showed no fear riding in the front. In fact, Allison clearly loved having the wind in her face and was actually resistant to getting out at the end of the first test ride. Smiles and high fives ensued!

The Details

Tires, wheels, etc

The Urban Arrow has features galore that really make it a legit car replacement option. In fact, since we got the bike, my car has seen fewer miles than it has in years. A big reason why is all of the features that make the bike easier to grab as a first transportation option.

Starting from the ground, a thoughtful spec is apparent. Supporting you are two Schwalbe Big Apple Plus tires that serve two purposes – durability and suspension.

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These things are impenetrable, and even at the higher end of the pressure range, they offer a surprising amount of shock absorption over inconsistent tarmac. My only complaint with the tire set up would be the odd Dunlop valves which are sort of a combination between Presta and Schraeder and only fit one of my two pump heads in my home garage.

Moving up from the tires brings us to the excellent SKS fenders that came stock on our Urban Arrow. These are the bolt on variety and are wide enough to accommodate the Big Apple tires, and as anyone who has any experience with SKS fenders will tell you, they’re great. They come with buddy flaps installed and everything, so the coverage and splatter protection are top-notch.

Lights

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Mounted to the top of the front fender is an integrated headlight, and there’s a tail light mounted under the seat in the back that is similarly hard-wired. The lights can be turned on and off from a switch on the Bosch head unit, and the lights run off of the prodigious battery. The lights work well enough, but they do leave some room for improvement. The headlight is adequate, but not particularly bright. Because it’s very adjustable, I was able to point it in a way that maximizes illumination and it works well enough. The rear tail light is large, but again, if I could have it 100% my way, I would like to have an option to make the tail light blink. Despite these minor issues, both lights appear to be high quality and completely adequate.

Cockpit and Shifting

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I have to admit, it took me a while to get used to the bendy bars. With hands resting in position on the grips and just straight line cruising, it’s a very comfortable setup. The grips are…grippy, and the ergonomic shape is comfortable. Standing up in the pedals took a while for me to confidently figure out with this setup. There’s rarely a need to do so in order to accelerate or power up a hill – you have the battery-powered e-assist. Where it occasionally becomes handy is going over bumps, across uneven driveways, or otherwise navigating a bumpy section of road. Even though the saddle and tires are cushy, sometimes it’s nice to stand and use your arms and legs to absorb some of it.

The stem is like unique and provides lots of adjustment options:

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The bike came with the stem almost as high as it would go. The upside to that position is that it clears the bars out of the way for larger passengers inside the cargo area.  In a lower position, which is more comfortable for me as the driver for several reasons, the bars _might_ get in the way a larger passenger’s noggin. So far, this has not been a problem for us, even with Ryan who is a 5 foot 7-ish inch 15-year-old and always wears a helmet.

Shifting via the NuVinci N380 system is a key component to the killer spec on this bike. It’s a completely sealed and continuously variable shifting solution that’s contained in the hub of the rear wheel. There are essentially two extremes (easy and hard), with a rotating grip shift to adjust between those extremes.  I find that I need to pause shifting for a beat to make the up-shifts as smooth as possible. Downshifting seems to go much smoother while pedaling, but I find that I still pause my pedal stroke for just a second when going in either direction.  This is no different from what most people should be used to with traditional derailleurs.

Conveniently, you can shift to the easiest end of the spectrum while at a standstill. This comes in handy if you have to stop short, or just forget to downshift. This allows you to restart a 100 lb. bike from a standstill without needing to crank over a huge gear which is a must. The closed system of the NuVinci also continues the low-maintenance, durable theme of the bike. The chain is also enclosed in a rubberized Chainglider cover. As with the shifter, this keeps the chain entirely sealed, keeping water out, and also protecting the pant leg of your Armani suit from drivetrain lube, should you choose the take this mean machine to work after dropping the kids off at school.

The Key Bits – Cargo Area and Motor

What sold us on this bike is the integrated, purposeful human hauling capabilities. There is a cushioned bench that comes stock with the Family version of the Urban Arrow, and there are adjustable nylon belts to secure your passenger (or passengers). A second, smaller bench is available as an after-market option, which allows for a forward-facing and a rear-facing passenger in the cargo area. We haven’t gotten the second bench yet, but we may at some point.  For now, the main bench is perfect for any single passenger.

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I purposefully avoided the use of “child” in reference to the passenger, because there’s room for a full-sized adult. The hauling capacity in the cargo area is rated at 400 pounds, so with that much room, you could technically put two average-sized adults in there, as long as they were willing to share some knee room.  We haven’t tested the upper ends of the hauling capabilities, but it was reassuring to know we had room to grow.

The Bosch Active motor and battery are phenomenal. I had no experience with any sort of e-bikes or e-assist motors at all before test riding this bike. The first thing I noticed when stepping on the pedals is that the engine assists you right away. As with the downshifting capabilities described above, the instant assistance of the electric motor is VERY handy when you have a heavy and unsteady payload….such as an excited, hand-flapping, 100-pound autistic girl. The assistance is subtle and, in a word, perfect in those situations. It allows the driver to confidently lift both feet on to the pedals at very slow speeds, so steadying the bike is a breeze.

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Beyond the instant availability of the e-assist, the motor feels and works very intuitively. It’s not a motor in the traditional sense – when engaged, the motor will not propel the bike by itself. It only assists the pedaller while pedaling with variable amounts of power based upon the four settings:  Eco – just enough boost to take the edge off of completely pedalling the thing by yourself; Tour – a bit more power, more than enough to help get over moderate hills with a light load without too much extra effort; Sport – the next notch up, great for powering up hills with a kid in the front, getting up to speed in traffic, and most any situation; Turbo – tons of power for getting over the steep hills with a full load.

The battery life on the unit is pretty good so far.  The higher power settings obviously eat up battery life much faster. If you left the bike in Sport mode, you might get 15 miles of pedaling assistance. I find that I most often use Eco mode when riding by myself, and the estimated range on a full battery in that mode is somewhere around 25 miles. My technique to extend battery life has evolved to maximize life between charges. When going downhill, I’m getting better about turning off the motor and just pedaling. I think Bosch got the design right when they developed this product because the toggle switch between e-assist modes is easy, intuitive, and right at your fingertips. Your mileage will obviously vary, but so far, we get two to three days out of a charge.  That’s with regular use riding at least one child to school every day (sometimes two), and using it for nearby errands and/or short fun rides around the neighborhood every day.

The Extra Bits

There are several key features built into the bike that really help put it over the top and make it easy (and fun) to grab as a primary transportation option. First, Urban Arrow used a sturdy, double-legged kickstand that engages and disengages with relatively little effort.

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The only thing you might need to take into account is steadying the bike when a passenger is getting in or out of the cargo area.  When the kickstand is engaged, if you don’t have weight on the seat, the bike will tip forward about an inch and weight ticks forward to the front wheel (you can see this better in the first picture at the top).  This is a natural consequence of the kickstand acting as a bit of a lever when it’s engaged with the bike defaulting toward leaning “back” toward the heavier back-end of the bike.  You can also just push the front down to ensure the weight is tilted toward the front of the bike to steady it that way if the passenger prefers that when they’re stepping in.  This is a very minor thing and is hard to explain, but I thought it would be worth mention. In either case, the bike is very stable and otherwise steady when parked with the kickstand in use.

Next, the seat has a hard molded plastic handle built into the underside:

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This thoughtful addition serves a specific purpose. As you’ll find out after test riding the Urban Arrow, it has a very large turning radius and is very long. This makes the bike hard to handle and manipulate in tight spaces.  Having a sturdy handle to grab helps pick up the back-end to move the bike around a bit quicker when you need to…and there will be times you need to (think parking on a tight sidewalk area). Because of the length of the wheelbase and the relatively low clearance, it could be pretty easy to scrape the bottom riding off of a tall curb or other obstacles, so just be careful in those situations – you can use the handle to lift the back end a bit to walk the bike over. As for the low clearance, I have yet to come across any major slam scenarios, but I did strike the crank arm while pedaling up and over a grassy sidewalk/path interface while riding my son to school one day.  This was undoubtedly a consequence of the low clearance (and perhaps a poor line choice by the driver!)

Next on the list of nice extras is an integrated lock:

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With the flip of a lever and a turn of the key, a miniature u-shaped bar wraps around the rim, between the spokes, and locks into the other side.  This essentially immobilizes the bike since attempting to move it causes the rear wheel spokes to bump into the bar, so you can’t roll it when engaged. To retract the bar, all you do is insert the key and twist, and the lock springs back, hidden away and locked in the housing.  The key (shown above) is locked in place when the lock is retracted, so you can keep it there and don’t have to worry about it falling out while riding around.  To disengage the key, you have to push the lever and fully engage the lock.  This is really handy and is another critical factor that makes the bike so easy to use.

Skeptics might be worried about relying upon a tiny locking device like this to secure the bike. The fact of the matter is, this bike is at least 5 feet long end to end and weighs right around 100 pounds.  It would take at least two people, a truck, and some planning to pick up and make off with this bike while it’s immobilized.  For almost every use I have for this bike, the integrated lock is sufficient and is all I rely upon.  I bring along a larger cable lock if I know I’m going to be away from the bike for more than a little while, and obviously, your circumstances may vary.

Lastly, this thing has a siiick bell! A Dutch neighbor recently showed me a very similar bell that she has on her bike that she said she picked up on her last trip home, so I think these bells are a Dutch thing.  Anyway, there’s a great chance that you’ll be one of the few folks with a cool bell like this in your town. It’s just a small cherry on the top of an already stellar package that makes it fun to ride.

The Final Analysis

Because it perfectly fit as a solution to a problem that had been nagging at our family for quite some time, this is my favorite bike in the stable, and is the most fun I’ve ever had riding a bike. It’s certainly not going to get you anywhere as fast as other machines, and of course, you’re limited by its natural range of capabilities. You’re not going to go touring on it, you’re not going on any serious off-road trails, and you’re certainly not going to race this bike. I like to do all of those things, and this does none of them.

What this bike _does_ do is change your life. It changed our lives, at least. We’re lucky enough to live very close to a lot of amenities. We have two grocery stores, several banks, restaurants, dry cleaners, etc, all within a mile of our house. Our kid’s schools are next door to each other and sit less than two miles away. We also have an extensive network of multi-use paths and bike lanes right outside our door. These things unquestionably make riding a bike easier.

The undeniable fact is that we drive much, much less, and we are riding as a family again. If you think that you’re ready to make an investment in a purposeful, workhorse machine as a commuter, a grocery-getter, and an all-around car replacement, the Urban Arrow Family does all of this and more. Go get your hands on one and pedal it.

Postscript

I have to give a huge thanks to Ellen and James for helping us find this bike.  It really has been a blessing to have an option to ride together again with “all four friends”, as our son might say. We all owe you guys big.

Also, I can’t forget to mention that, if you’re serious about pulling the trigger on one of these awesome machines, be prepared to talk to people. More often than not, people want to talk about the bike when I’m out and about on it.  People are perplexed, curious, confused, amazed, and otherwise very interested in the bike, and they WILL ask you about it.  It’s a great conversation starter and it turns heads wherever you go.  You’ve been warned – enjoy!

LONG TERM UPDATE – OCTOBER 2018

Time and miles have not changed much with this bike. Pretty much everything has proven to be durable and reliable after extensive daily use, with two minor exceptions:

  1. The Chainglider chain cover came loose after several months and became difficult to secure. As a result, the chain would rub against it on the inside and generate a bit of noise when pedaling. After futzing with it for a few weeks and trying to find a way to get it to work unsuccessfully, I decided to just remove it. While this eliminated the built-in grease protection for your pant legs, things immediately became quiet again. I don’t wear pants where chain contact is much of a concern, and to be fair, I made no attempts to contact the vendor or take it to the shop. I’m fine with lubing, cleaning, and otherwise maintaining an exposed chain as with my other bikes.
  2. The stock pedals are not great. They were pretty smooth on the surface and would probably work well with a variety of shoes (including dress shoes), but they also began to make noise after some significant miles. I decide to replace them with some inexpensive nylon Odysseys and everything has been smooth and quiet since.

I consider both of these issues minor and neither change my previous enthusiastic endorsement.

Neil is a Colorado-based lover of all things bike-related whose favorite things are cyclocross and carless dirt roads. You can follow him on Twitter (@nschirm) and Instagram (@neschirm).

Note: Corrected 10/10/18 to reflect the following note from Urban Arrow-Ed. “The box on this bike is not EPS, the material used inside bicycle helmets. That stuff is brittle and purposely intended to break on impact. (absorbing shock in the process)  We use Expanded Polystyrene (EPP) which is actually what’s used inside motorcycle helmets – a more expensive and durable material altogether.  It’s sort of rubberized as you’ll see if you press on it. Almost impossible to do more than scuff, and it will not shatter like EPS. Also note that flashing taillights on bikes are illegal in many Euro countries as flashing is reserved for emergency vehicles and red flashing for trains rear facing”.

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Review: Yuba Supermarché cargo bike

Maybe driving a car is something you’d like to do less often. A cargo bike can make this a reality and can even replace the gas hog as a way of moving kids and groceries. Yuba, a company out of northern California, has been making longtail-style cargo bikes since 2006, first with the Mundo, Boda Boda and Spicy Curry models. Now, Yuba has expanded into the realm of front-loading cargo bikes with the Supermarché.

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Call it a Front Loader, Long John, or Bakfiets if you want to get fancy – the Supermarché puts the load low and in front of you for certain advantages. Compared to a longtail, a front loader opens you up to carry a wider variety of loads more easily. Small children can be sat side by side as you pedal along, chat them up and keep an eye on them. Front loaders are also great for those odd or heavy loads like boxes of bicycle magazines, bass drums or kegs. Not that you need to chat with your drum or your beer, but those are the kind of thing I like to carry. The center of gravity is low, and the cargo space itself can be configured to accommodate a wide variety of “things.” The Supermarché can (soon) be had in an electric version if you live in a hilly area or just want some more juice to go further without questioning your physical ability to do so.

So what sets the Yuba Supermarché apart? One design goal was making a cargo bike that would fit a wide variety of people and carry a wide variety of loads. This is accomplished with a loooong seatpost and a looong steerer tube for a wide range of seat and handlebar adjustments. I had no trouble fitting my 6’4” frame on to the Super – in fact, I found it fit quite well whether I was sitting or standing to pedal. With its short seat tube, the Supermarché is designed to fit riders as small as 4’7″.

Another goal was to make the Supermarché as easy to ride as possible, so Yuba’s team selected a cable-actuated steering system which not only eliminates the usual damage-prone steering rod extension to the front wheel but allows for an even lower center of gravity. They also used different sized pulleys and played with fork rake to make the Supermarché relatively easy to handle.

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The drivetrain is of the Shimano 3 x 8 trigger-shifting variety and connected to 20-inch wheels front and rear, providing ample gearing for the steepest of hills. Those 20-inch wheels have fat 2.4-inch tires and 36/48 spokes (front/rear), which provide confidence when carrying heavy loads. Plus, there’s only one innertube size to keep in stock for flats. Braking is handled by Tektro hydraulic discs for ample stopping power. The frame is aluminum the fork is cromoly and a wide kickstand holds the whole thing up without issue when loading or parking.

Other pertinent info? The Supermarché weighs 58 pounds before accessories and is capable of carrying up to 300 pounds of cargo, 220 pounds in the front and 80 pounds over the massive rear rack.

Accessories are a big part of the Supermarché thing. There are a variety of bamboo platforms and boxes available to customize your ride. My review rig came with the $250 bamboo box, which is pretty key if you just want to drop stuff into a box and forget about it. If you want to haul children, there’s a $150 seat kit that attaches to said bamboo box. And for the minimalist with a huge load, there’s a simple bamboo baseboard for $70. You are also free to build your own solutions and mount them to the frame. A third child can be put in a $199 Yepp child seat mounted to the rear of the bike. One more cool accessory is a $35 frame lock that slips through a special bracket that locks the back wheel from turning.

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How about the ride? Starting off on the Supermarché is definitely easier than a couple of other front loaders I’ve tried riding. The step-through frame makes it easy to get on, and once you push off there’s no drama, even with a large load. The riding position is comfortable whether sitting or standing and wide MTB-style handlebars with ergonomic grips made controlling the bike a breeze.

Acceleration was great for such a large bike with the smaller wheel size. Loaded, the low center of gravity was appreciated. I have carried some pretty heavy loads with the longtail Mundo, and getting the weight even lower was yummy. The burly center kickstand also makes parking a breeze. Mind you, the wheelbase is quite long, so it doesn’t have the turning radius of a regular bike, but it does feel pretty natural once you get rolling. The only thing that felt odd to me was the five feet of bicycle sticking out in front of the handlebars. This made it a bit weird when, say, pulling out from between two parked cars, but I got used to it. The added length (8’5″ total) also takes the edge off the roughness of the smaller wheels when the going gets rough.

Coming off the Yuba’s Mundo longtail, there were a few things I noticed right away. First of all, I found myself picking up and moving more odd loads of various sizes – a bass drum, Dirt Rag magazines, people, etc. This can be addicting. Why bother with a regular bike when you might decide to do some shopping, stop at a garage sale or flea market, or want to give someone a ride home? The Supermarché is becoming my daily driver.

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In the past, I had already been handling many daily chores on my Yuba Mundo cargo bike. But now, with the Supermarché my car is going to be parked even more. Yuba makes it easy to go car-free! Breathe the outside air, enjoy the day and be happy!

Price: $2799

More info can be found on Yuba’s website.

(Edited 2/1/18 to reflect earlier use of cable-actuated steering system)

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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.

Gallery

Click on the magnifying glass to see full-size photos.

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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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