Sunday, March 31, 2013

First impressions of the Bakfiets

I've ridden the new bakfiets for a couple of weeks now, and I want to start reporting on my experience riding it. I'm sure I'll have more insights as I put more miles on it but I have a few notes already on capacity, handling, security and public reaction.

The first ride I took it on, I went all out on an enormous grocery run.  Because of the snow we had in Feburary, I hadn't been riding much, and we were low on pretty much everything.   This is what my cart looked like:

35 lb bag of dogfood, giant packages of both TP and paper towels, and just a lot of other stuff.  I was a little worried, but everything fit pretty well, although I couldn't keep the cover on because of the size of the big paper goods packages.

 I then headed up over the mid- Cambridge hill to meet the Scientist at Dwell Time for coffee.  I will admit that there was a bit where I was in the lowest gear and had to stand briefly, but I made it.   A full load and a steep hill are a worst case scenario, but now I know I can do it, if only for short distances. 
The view from the cockpit
The next day I did a Home Depot/ Target run to Watertown, and comfortably fit in a 3' roll of hardware cloth, a folding stool and assorted toiletries and cleaning products.  Normally I'd then have to stop home to unload, but I rode on to trader Joe's,  where I picked up a half case of wine among other things.  No problems with the weight or the volume. It's like having an oversized bag it's easy to toss a few more things in it.

It's a big bike and it's heavy.  No surprise there! However, it's geared appropriately, and I haven't had any problems going up hills. It actually accelerates surprising well, although the top speed isn't very high. I managed to catch the rider on the Onderwater tandem I posted about last week, but I was really really pushing, and it was a near thing.

In general it's much more stable than you would expect such a long thing to be.   I can actually ride comfortably at surprisingly low speeds.  I'm not going to start trackstanding at lights, but I can definitely inch up to them when I'm waiting for a light to turn but don't want to put a foot down.   Of course, putting a foot down is easy, thanks to the super low bottom bracket.
The tracking is very straight, I rode it comfortably one handed while eating an apple, and it felt very stable and not- twitchy. Turning while riding is not an appreciable issue, although turning it when I'm pushing it on a sidewalk is a bit tricky and I haven't gotten getting it through the front gate completely down yet.  The kickstand, as advertised is easy to operate and incredibly stable.   I'm getting the hang of positioning the bike near a pole so that it's in the right spot for the chain to reach when I pull it back onto the kickstand.

I took it to an advocacy committee meeting and everyone wanted to take a turn riding it, and even riding just 50 foot loops on the sidewalk, everyone was surprised at how stable it was, and seemed to be having a lot of fun.

One question a lot of people ask is "where do you lock a bakfiets".  In many cases, the answer is "wherever you feel like it,"  as in some ways it's self anchoring. The "cafe" lock or wheel lock feels fine for a short trip, especially when the bike is fully loaded- no one is going to pick it up and walk away with it. I'm getting pretty skilled at locking to a single post rack, but a multiple unit rack is a non-starter for obvious reasons.    I have an Abus city chain which I can use to chain the frame to a stationary object if one is convenient, and I would definitely use that if I were parking for more than 15 minutes, or in a location that didn't feel secure.
Dedicated Bakfietsen parking zone
 I've been using the box cover almost constantly because while it's not technically "secure"  I feel it's less likely that anyone will mess with what I have in the box if it's covered.  Plus it's been rainy/ snowy/ melty, and the cover keeps things dry, and in at least one case kept it bird dropping free!  I wouldn't leave my phone/ wallet keys in there, but with the cover, I'm not worried anyone is going to steal my library books or milk.

Public reaction.
So far public reaction has been overwhelmingly positive and I've had a lot of fun interactions.  It may be that after a year I'm tired of explaining it to everyone, but so far it's been a lot of fun.
On my maiden ride, while I sat in the cafe window drinking my coffee, I could watch a series of admirers stopping to take a long look.  Interestingly they were all 20's ish hipster guys, which I don't think of that being a primary demographic for a bike that's essentially a minivan.  That might have something to do with the Dwell Time demographic though.   At my next stop, the library a mother with two kids was very interested in the handling, having seen them in travels in Europe.  I had a guy at Porter square tell me at great length that he thought that they would be incredibly popular on the Cape and Islands where tourist traffic causes backups, and locals want a way to carry stuff without dealing with traffic jams.  Even the guys at the Cambridge Recycling Station were very interested, although they balked at the price.  The absolute best reaction though was from an adorable little girl in a bike seat, who said "Mom, it's a bakfiets!  I want a bakfiets!"  We just had a second to chat before the light changed, but not surprisingly they were Dutch.
Interestingly, I haven't noticed a big difference in driver behavior around me at all.  Perhaps because from behind, it's not that different from a regular bike.  You really do feel like you are taking up real estate on the road though.

This is just my reaction after a couple of weeks of riding.  Every Friday night I look forward to riding it all weekend, and I'm looking for excuses to ride it during the week.  If I had a better place to lock it at work I'd ride it into work just for the fun of it.  One thing I was realizing the other day is that I haven't had a brand new bike since I was in high school.  Even my "refurbished" bikes like Gilbert are  a hacked together system.   And the new bike does really work well- it's so smooth and nothing rattles or rubs or feels loose.  Even though I try to keep my old bikes maintained and tuned up, it's really nice to ride a brand new bike where everything just works without any fuss.  Here's hoping for many more miles of the same.

Monday, March 25, 2013

For Want of a Nail

Or in this case a bolt!

I had my first crash today in a good long while- years at least.  Evidently I lost the bolt fastening the brake arm to the chainstay, so the brake rotated around the axle,  wrapping  the brake cable around the hub and causing the rear wheel to stop suddenly and with extreme prejudice, depositing me on the road, sideways.

I was very lucky in that I was going slowly, in a bike lane, and I mostly just tipped over sideways.  My knee is scraped (although my tights were hardly snagged)  and I'm sure I'll have a heck of a bruise tomorrow, but otherwise I'm fine.  I disentangled the cable from the hub and rode home without a rear brake.  Will have to order another of the VO braided silver brake cables, because I don't think anyone carries them around here

Just a reminder to check all those bolts and nuts and to be a regular user of Locktite or star washers or both!

Off to soothe my knee and bruised ego with some New York Super Fudge Chunk, my cure-all of choice!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Small World

Yes, I am preparing a blog about m y first couple of rides with the bakfiets, but I have too much to say to do it quickly.  I promise I've been taking lots of pictures, and riding every weekend.  I was making my coffee on Thursday morning and thought to myself- only one more day, and then I can ride my bakfiets all weekend!

Today when I was finishing up my errands, I had a pleasantly surprising encounter.
I was riding along Memorial drive, waiting to cross Western Ave,  when suddenly, I saw a birhgt orange Workcycles Onderwater Tandem riding across my path on  Western Ave.   I rang my bell like crazy,  and the rider looked over at me, recognized that I was riding a bakfiets and smiled.
In the construction and confusion of that intersection I lost her for a moment, but when I was moving again I saw her ahead, and, pushing harder than I ever had on this bike (I may have even gotten out of the saddle) I managed to catch her just before our paths diverged.

We chatted a bit about cargo bikes, kids bikes and self-importing bikes from the Netherlands.  I started to realize that she was the wife of Aaron Naparstek,  who I'd also run into because of bakfietsen.

It was great to see an Onderwater tandem in person- having only seen them online.  She said they had gotten it as their kids (6 and 8 years old) outgrew the bakfiets, and learned to pedal on their own.  In her opinion the bike handles great- better with the two kids on board, although at the time, she just had a double pannier's worth of groceries.
Her only regret was that both kids couldn't pedal at the same time,  as they're both old enough to pedal, but not quite old enough to ride independently on the street.  In many ways this seems like a heavier duty, dutchified version of the Bike Friday tandem I posted about here.  It's nice to have the kid in front though.

It was great to meet another cargo-biker-  I suspect most of us are kindred spirits in some way, and it's nice to have an easy way to identify each other as we travel through the city.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Putting it together

After it taunted me for almost two weeks, sitting in the dining room half assembled, I finally put together the bakfiets this weekend.  There weren't any directions, but the major systems were all pre-assembled, and it was (hopefully) pretty intuitive.  If anyone sees a major mistake, please let me know in the comments.

Firstly, I got together all the tools I thought I'd need:  metric allan wrenches,  ratcheting box wrenches, screwdrivers, giant crescent wrench, utility knife, grease and locktite.

Next, I slid the fork into the headset.  The fork and light and fender were all pre-assmbled.  I'm putting it together even though it's damaged,  I think it will work OK for now, while I wait to hear what UPS will do in terms of replacing/ repainting it.
The top nut had an integrated rubber flange to keep water and dirt out of the headset bearings.  This extra-giant crescent wrench was purchased for a plumbing project, but mostly gets used on bike headsets.

The whole assembly is capped with a nicely-machined stainless steel cap, held on with a set-screw.  This isn't normally an issue with most bikes, since the fork is directly below the handlebars.

Next I attached the linkage from the handlebar assembly to the tab on the fork
This is the part I'm not 100% sure I did right.  I put one washer above and one below the plate, not sure if I should have put both below the plate.  The nut is a "Nylock" lock nut, and I'm not 100% sure I tightened it enough.  It's hard to tighten, because the threaded part can rotate in the ball joint.  I held the neck of the ball-joint with needle-nose pliers and tighened the nut "fairly tight"  but in retrospect I think I should tighten them up until the nut is more snug against the metal plates on both ends.  If anyone out there has assembled one of these,  any advice would be welcome.

At this point I hit a snag.  The bakfiets has front and rear roller brakes.  They look like disk brakes because of the big disks which are cooling fins for the brake drum.  This type of brakes are very weather-proof- unlike any sort of rim mounted brake they are unaffected by wet conditions.  This is the kind of brakes I have on Gilbert's rear wheel,  and I've disassembled and re-assembled them many times.  Generally there's a banjo bolt (bolt with a hole through it)  which is clamped down on the brake cable, and which is bolted through the action arm on the brake.  When you unbolt the cable from the arm,  it's easy "lose" the setting on the cable, and you have to fuss with it when you re-assemble it to keep the tension correct.  Shimano solved this problem by creating a "quick release" plate that you bolt the cable to, and which then fits into the action arm.  
I need item "8" on this axonometric.
And guess what-  the plate is missing!  I went through all the packaging three times,  but  there was a big hole at the back of the box, and if it came un-attached from the bolt, a small part like that could easily have fallen though the hole.  For purposes of just getting the bike on the road, I went ahead and secured the cable out of the way.
I called on Monday, and unfortunately Shimano USA says that this little piece is "obsolete." So I'll need to get one from Workcycles, or will have to improvise another solution.

At this point the "bike" part was all assembled (sans front brake)  and ready to go. The small brown dog did an inspection of my work, and then it was time to take it outside to attach the box.
The box fittings use Torx "security" screws.  Fortunately I have one of those "50 bit" sets that you get at Home Depot for $19.95, which has 3 sizes of torx bits.  I'm so excited to finally get to use one of them!

From this point the assembly was just a matter of a few minutes with a power screwdriver;

 I put the cover on,  just to make sure it all fit OK
I love the red, silver and black color scheme!
And then it was time to wheel it (carefully) out the front gate: 

and go for the inaugural ride!

I immediately took it on an enormous grocery run- but this post has already been too long, so I'll detail the first couple of rides and my observations about it for another post.  But I can summarize my initial impressions with one word-  Yowza!