Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Thinking inside the Baks

As anyone who's read this blog much knows, I run almost all of the Cycler-Scientist household errands by bicycle.  Groceries, CSA pickups, Household tools,building materials, landscape supplies, boxes to be mailed, library books, compost, exercise equipment, toy wheelbarrows, takeout foodChristmas trees:  there isn't much I haven't at least thought about carrying by bike.  I was talking to my friend Cris, about how I draw the line at the propane tank for the grill.  The consequences of a full tank of propane falling off the rack and bouncing on the street seemed pretty terrifying.

But now, I'll be able to carry the propane tank too!  As those watching my twitter feed may have guessed, I received a two very large boxes last week containing a Workcycles Cargobike Long aka "bakfiets."
The box with the frame and wheels
WorkCycles Cargobike Long
Photo from http://www.workcycles.com
The bike is a present from the Scientist for a "Birthday of Significance" last fall.   He actually had a plan to buy a Bakfiets.nl bike when he was in Munich right before said birthday,  but when he arrived at the dealer there, they'd sold out.  We test rode one at Adeline Adeline, but shipping it from NYC seemed almost as much trouble as shipping one from Europe.  Plus the Scientist was going to Amsterdam in January, and we thought he could just pick it up while he was there, and self-import it as "luggage."  The German and Dutch postdocs in his lab were so excited and helped him do a lot of research on the subject.

So we started talking to Henry Cutler at Workcycles, and thought we'd basically figured it out, and then sort of forgot about it until mid-December.  Then we got bogged down in the logistics of one person taking a couple of giant boxes on the plane,  and by the time we figured that all out, Henry had sold out of his stock.   Those Bakfietsen, selling like hotcakes!  Unfortunately the Bakfiets.nl factory,  where the Workcycles cargo bikes are built (with slightly tweaked specifications) was going to be closed for the holidays until the day after the Scientist was coming back to the US.   After looking at the logistics, we decided to have it shipped via UPS from Amsterdam.

But why a bakfiets?   I first rode a bakfiets about 6 years ago in Portland OR, at Clever Cycles.  Maybe it's because of my crazy cargo-carrying tendencies (see first paragraph above), but I thought they were so cool, and ever since,  they turn my head like no other bike.   I know that there are a lot of arguments for long tail bikes, and now that step-through long and mid-tails are available, they might work for me.  However, I like the option of carrying really bulky stuff (like said propane tank)  or cargo that I need to keep an eye on in front in a big box.   For example, I'd like to be able to rig a harness that will let me take the small brown dog with me on nice days while I run my errands.  I probably won't ride it much to work (although I may ride on CSA pickup days),  but will probably ride it most weekend days.  My days of organizing my errands in circles to dump things and pick things up at the house may truly be over.

Also, for me, the bakfiets has a romance that I don't feel from the longtails.  I'm suppose I'm kind of drawn to the idea of being a poster-bike for car-free life when I'm riding around.  It's been hypothesized that cargo bikes are the "new indicator species"  in places like Boston where we are starting to have a serious bike culture.  A cargo bike says "I live my life with a bike, not a car, and I need a bike that will make that possible."  And I won't be the only one-I know a couple of families locally that have them, and though I wouldn't say they're common, they're increasingly visible.  For example, just after I met the UPS driver to get the box, just as I stepped out of my door to head to work, a Bakfiets went by, ridden by a young man who looked like a bike messenger,  with a box filled to the top with stuff.

There are two unfortunate things- Firstly, although Workcycles spent a lot of time wrapping each part of the frame in foam, evidently the customs inspector took a lot of those wrappings off (to check for contraband???)  and that, combined with a rather large hole in the box resulted in some gouges in the seat tube paint.

  Further unwrapping revealed that the box had been crushed badly enough to bend the 1/4" steel plate where the steering linkage attaches to the fork,  and the front fender had been badly dented and the paint cracked.  I am waiting to meet with UPS for them to "inspect the packaging" as part of a claim.  Not sure if we can get touchup paint yet, or if we need to replace the fork to properly attach the linkage.

Secondly, and even more upsettingly, I probably won't be able to test ride it for another week or so.  Partly because of the UPS damage claim, we haven't assembled it yet.  The Scientist is going to be out of town later this week,  and I can't assemble it without his help, let alone get it out the door.   Even if I could, it would be terribly rude to enjoy my first ride on his thoughtful present without him there to watch. Maybe by the time it's all together for a test ride the snow will be at least slightly melted!   I'm honestly not sure how we'd get it out the front gate right now, as there's a 4' snowbank about 3' away from the gate.
Gee- I bet you can't guess which part this is!  Sitting on the enormous snowbank.
So in the meantime it's sitting in my dining room taunting me!  The good news is that I absolutely love the color.  I was a tiny bit worried as "matte silver" could cover a lot of ground, but it's a nice dark silver- something J Crew would call "Titanium" The red fenders and black chain-case are a great contrast too.  The frame alone looks enormous sitting in our dining room, and I keep nervously looking at photos of them with people for scale, and trying to assure myself that it will be the right size.

A test ride and more photos will have to wait.  But I'm sure there will be lots and lots of photos of Portage P0rn featuring the new bike in the future- so stay tuned!


  1. A) I'm so jealous!
    B) Where are you going to keep it? If we didn't live in an upstairs apartment, I'd be super jealous!
    C) I'm so sorry to hear about the damage in the mail! What a pain. I'm crossing my fingers for a positive outcome (remind UPS they are losing money and this would be a good opportunity for some good PR/"make me want to use the postal service again" service).
    D) I'll be looking to you as a guinea pig - I mean roll model - in all this : )

    1. For now it's going to live under the porch, chained to the porch support post.
      It's UPS, not USPS, and although they were supposed to call me yesterday, I never heard from them. We'll see how the process goes.

    2. Cycler: I've nominated you for the Liebster Award.

      Check it out: http://midlifecycling.blogspot.com/2013/02/nominated-for-liebster-award.html

  2. Congratulations! Looks like a great addition to your family. I, personally, wouldn't buy a bakfiets due to my very hilly neighborhood but since you live closer to Boston I am sure it will work for you.

    Too bad it arrived damaged but it looks fixable.

  3. The bakfiets and you will be a match made in heaven I am sure. Too bad about the damage, unfortunately this is fairly typical. The colour combination is interesting. Looking forward to seeing this thing in person, and congratulations!

    1. You know me so well :)
      I was reading the comments on your Radish review and they seemed mostly towards "the only reason to have a bakfiets is if you have kids. And since I don't, I was starting to panic a bit that we'd made the wrong choice. I do think that I'll love it though, for the reasons listed in the post.

    2. "the only reason to have a bakfiets is if you have kids."

      I don't agree with those comments. A long tail like the Radish can fit 3 kids just fine. And a bakfiets has so many other uses and advantages. They are just different systems, but kids don't have anything to do with it.

      As I see it, there are three potential drawbacks to choosing the bakfiets. One is storage issues. The other is handling (some don't like it). And the third is long distance/ serious hills. I don't think either of these apply to you, so I predict you will love it.

  4. Fantabulous! Welcome to the club.
    As for the steering linkage, it will probably be fine. The plate on my linkage has been bent for about a year when it was backed into by a coworker. The linkage uses a ball joint so it can take the misalignment. And this point doesn't receive much stress so the loss in strength will not be detrimental.
    But if they pay for a replacement for, don't hesistate, say thank-you.
    Look forward to seeing you on the road.

    1. Yes, Workcycles thinks that I can probably bend the plate back down (although I'm not sure how I'm going to bend a 1/4" plate without some serious banging on the plate) enough to make it rideable. I just know that the paint is going to come off of it in chunks- I can see the crazing where it flexed, and it's going to just pop off the first time it gets wet then cold.

      It must have taken a LOT of force to bend it, and am hopeful that UPS will pay for a new fork/ fender.

    2. "not sure how I'm going to bend a 1/4" plate without some serious banging on the plate"

      You might want to talk to Paul at the Artisan's Asylum - they may have a vise or tool that could accomplish this with minimal damage.

    3. Well, Hopefully UPS will make good and replace it. And it's possible that it can be hooked up as is- We won't know until we try to assemble it, and am waiting for UPS to come "inspect" it. Will have to deal with it for at least 6-8 weeks- it will be that long before the factory does another run of red painting, and then it will have to be shipped here.
      I'll go crazy if I can't ride it before then!

  5. Congratulations! What a spectacular birthday present!

  6. WOW; I'm so jealous!
    That will be so much classier than the gassy baby (propane tank)in a kiddie trailer, which is how I do it.
    I can't wait for your first truly epic cargo carrying post. What will it be; a gardening supply run, a trip to BJ's for a years worth of cereal, building supplies (including drywall), deliveries to a local food bank, or a BBQ on wheels?


  7. Replies
    1. Is that Angela from Carfree with kids? Can't tell from the photo- it's hard to take low-light action shots!

    2. Oh, and the cargo bikes I "know about" locally are Brian, Aaron Naparstek, Mamma Vee, The Carfree with Kids ladies, Whoever owns the Nihola trike that's often parked near the cambridge common, and the guy who builds his own. And then there's the guy who biked past my house as I was taking delivery of my bike- never seen him before.

    3. Veloria, Hard to tell from the photo, but it doesn't appear to be Angela.
      Cycler, there are a few more. We rode together at Honk last fall. Photos: http://www.flickr.com/groups/1774733@N25/pool/
      You'll notice a Sorte, Cetma (orange), and a Christiania (beige) bakfiets (not a trike). Angela's neighbors have a Gazelle Cabby that I didn't get a picture of.
      Many cargo cyclists around here hang out on the BostonAreaFamilyBike google group, and many do not have kids just cargo bikes, so you would definitely be welcome; "family" can be a very encompassing term :) http://groups.google.com/group/bostonareafamilybike
      We are definitely a growing minority!

    4. here is another local owner that wrote a review of their new Christiania Bakfiets.

    5. No I don't think that's her in the picture; different bakfiets.

  8. Todd Constantino of the Boston Cyclist Union has a CETMA bakfiets.

    You might be able to bend the linkage tab with a big crescent wrench and some clamps to hold the fork in place.


  9. Looking forward to hearing about the good outcome...

  10. Glad it arrived, sad it got damaged along the way!
    I saw some bike racks in India that were built to carry 3-5 propane tanks, I kept trying to get a picture, but haven't spotted one in my folder yet.