Monday, September 23, 2013

Replacing rear-tyre on a cargo bike in pictures

After 4,500km of heavy riding (including up that hill to work every day) the rear tyre of my bakfiets was getting a bit sad.  The tread was getting low:

But more importantly, a loose spoke that I found and tightened a couple of weeks ago or some other cause had caused the wide-wall to partially rupture, resulting in a large bulge that made the bike feel a bit like a clown-bike, bumping up and down every revolution:

The first step was to lift the rear wheel off the ground.  A cargo strap and handy verandah beam made this easy:
Resulting in a convenient air-gap under the wheel:
Next step is to undo the screws on the side of the chain case so that it can be loosened off. The pieces can stay attached, as we only need to be able to move the wheel around and get the chain off of the rear sprocket.
I had oiled the chain a little last week when it started making some noise, but apparently it needs more oil than I gave it. I applied the oil after changing the wheel to reduce mess.  The real reason for taking this picture was to show the bolt and nut to the right of the sproket.  There is one of these on both sides of the hub.  
These need to be undone completely, and the little retaining plate removed on both sides:
Now release the cable from the roller brake. This is quite easy to do, but hard to photograph the process of doing so. First, undo the bolt that holds the brake to the frame. Then pull the bolt where the cable connects to the roller brake to release tension on the cable, then pull the cable to release it from the lug just below the bolt that you have undone.  The brake is now free of the frame, allowing the wheel to be eased out of the frame.
Once that is done, and after jacking the wheel up higher, I was able to ease the axle and hence wheel out of the frame with a bit of fiddling:
Tada, no wheel in the frame.  Note that I left the Nexus 8 gear cable connected, since there was no need to remove it.
Then I removed the tyre and tube.  I was able to do this without even using tyre levers, but you might want to use some:
Then it was time to get the new tube ready, for which I had help unrolling it:

Then it was time to get the new tyre ready.  I am using Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres which claim to be the ultimate in thorn-proofing.  They are cited as being "quite heavy and awkward to fit".  I don't think they are particularly heavy or awkward to fit -- again, I didn't even need tyre levers to get the new tyre back on.  And compared to the weight of the rear wheel, the tyre is quite, quite insignificant.  And like all Good Sensible Tyres they have a 3M reflective strip for night visibility way better than any wheel reflector provides, and without the weight imbalance that reflectors provide:
Now it is time to reverse the process, and put the wheel back in.  This is the fiddliest bit, as you have to line up those bolts that you first undid.
Again, hard to photograph while you are doing it, but five minutes of fiddling and it was back in:
Here is the bolt nicely lined up and back in place, ready to get the bracket and bolt put back on:
And here they are back on, but yet to be tightened.  Now tighten on each side before doing up the axle bolts, until the chain is reasonably but not too tight, and the wheel is straight.  Then do up the axle bolts.
Finally, put the retaining bolt back on that holds the brake to the frame:
In case you unsure which one it is:
Then put the brake cable and nut back into the spot in the roller brake:
And here is that brake cable lug slotted back in, taken from below. Again, hard to take a picture of on your own with greasy hands:
And, ta-da, all back in.  Then it is time to refasten the chain case:
And after that it was time for a test ride, which happily confirmed that the annoying bumping (and several other odd noises) were a thing of the past, and that the brakes still worked:
The whole process took me about an hour, but if I had to do it again, it would take perhaps half that.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Back in Amsterdam

Going through my camera I remembered I was in Amsterdam a couple of months ago, and had forgot to post the pictures of my ride there.

First, a shot of a couple of house boats Dutch style.  Basically, with all the canals everywhere a fair few people are lucky enough to own mooring spots, and live in a variety of boats.

Here is one of the canals through Amsterdam, with lots of people enjoying the summer weather:

Here is the ferry across the waterway behind Amsterdam Centraal station, as usual with a lot of bikes on board.  If you want to get your car across, you have to go elsewhere; the ferries are only for pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.

Here is the bike I hired to ride around for the evening.  The double top-tube is a fairly common Dutch design that is good for taller people, as it makes for a very stiff and strong frame.  The integral cargo shelf on the front is also very common. Like most Dutch bikes, the handle bars are swept back and high so that you can sit upright while riding, the chain is in a full chain case, and there are internal gears and brakes for low maintenance, as well as a stand that actually works.

Here it is again next to a big old-style bakfiets with a 4x8 foot tray:

It was also fun to log my ride in Amsterdam on strava to surprise my friends who track my rides back here in Australia.

Actually, it has been quite fun using strava lately.  Partly, it is nice to get an idea of my week-by-week riding, but also because strava is usually used by more serious athletes on much faster bikes.  I have already had to log a support request because strava didn't support bikes over 20kg until I came along. They have now bumped that up to 200kg after I explained just how much stuff I cram in the bakfiets sometimes.  It is also nice to know that I have already climbed more than 2km since I have been logging rides there.  I'll do a proper blog post about it once I have a bit more data on there.

Bakfiets travel, business class style

Last weekend we had a meeting a couple of blocks from home to go to, but Caleb was asleep.  So we made a little nest for him in the box, and transported him in, where he stayed happily snoozing for a while. We then walked the bike around.  Isabel decided to wear my helmet, since I didn't need it to walk the bike:

She also decided that she would like to ride on the back rack Dutch style, which she quite enjoyed.

Avast ye landlubbing blaggards! It be talk like a pirate day

Yesterday was International Talk Like A Pirate Day.

When you have small children and a bike with the turning circle of a barge, this is a recipe for fun.  So 45 minutes with some old canvas, some spare water pipe, tin foil and cardboard, and the HMS Bakfiets was hijacked by a scurvy crew of pirates.

We were fairly well received at Isabel's school, mostly by the young lads.  But the best reception was at lunch time when I rode a colleague down to the University plaza in the box, brandishing our cutlasses and yelling Avast! at anyone in our path.  We even had some piratical conversations with others on the plaza who were aware of the day.  Someone did take a picture of us, but I don't know where it has got to.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Article summarising the cargo bike options in Australia (as of 2012)

A little Melbourne-centric, which is after all where most of the cargo bikes are available.

It is nice the wide range of bikes that are covered, including a couple of families of bikes that are Australian designed and Chinese manufactured.  Those cargo bikes are not surprisingly much cheaper than the European ones.

I generally agree with their analysis overall, with the exception that they don't consider level of maintenance required, and a comment about ground clearance and an errata on the weight for the Christiania two-wheeler.

The bakfiets, while heavier and more expensive, use the components that they do so that maintenance is minimised as far as possible.  For example, the use of shimano roller drum brakes and dyanamo hubs so that you don't have to worry about brake maintenance or your front light going flat.

The Christiania two wheeler has a very low crank. Even on the bakfiets long I find the crank is quite low if you make a sweeping bend with the wrong pedal down.  Having it even lower, like on the Christiania would annoy me. Also, the article quotes the bike as 23kg when it actually weighs 28kg -- but still a considerable 6kg or so lighter than the bakfiets, and the Christiania fits smaller riders much better.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Christiania 2-wheeler cargo bike: comparison and pictures

[Update: I have since ridden a Christiania (in Copenhagen no less), so see my post about that as well as reading this one].

A friend is looking at getting one of these, and in the process I did a bit of looking around and found a few resources for these otherwise hard to find cargo bikes:


There are a few key differences from my perspective, that can be summarised as:

The bakfiets is a bigger and heavier bike, which means that it can fit even more stuff in the box, which for me is good.  The extra weight is mainly noticeable on hills, where it can be a royal pain.

The bakfiets comes standard with a full chain case and skirt guards so that you don't really need to worry about getting road grime on you or on the serviceable parts of your bike.  These items can be added to the Christiania, but don't come standard.

The Christiania is a bit shorter, and noticeably lighter, but at the cost of reduced cargo capacity.  Also, the pedals are marginally closer to the ground, which makes it better suited to smaller people (especially combined with the reduced weight).  For bigger people the lack of ground clearance of the pedals might be annoying when turning corners.

The box on the Christiania has a door for easier access by little people. On the bakfiets you need to lift them in, or they need to climb in using the running board. The bakfiets box has no door on the side, making it ideal for carrying bulk goods.

General consensus is that the bakfiets has nicer handling than the Christiania, but this is fairly subjective.

In more detail

A few advantages of the Christiania:

1. The little door in the Christiania would be great for small kids, as our 5 1/2 year old still regularly wants help getting in and out.  This is especially true when the bike is full of stuff, and the spot where the little running board lets them get in is already full of stuff.  I expect with the door some of this hassle might be alleviated.

2. The Christiania is apparently about 5kg - 10kg lighter than the bakfiets long that I have, although getting exact figures on the weight of the bakfiets is tricky, and I have only weighed mine on a commercial weigh bridge with 10kg increments.

3. If you are short, the seat can be set lower to the ground.  This will obviously and rightly be a deal maker for some, and quite likely with overlap for those who find the reduced weight attractive to keep their power to weight ratio reasonable.

4. The Christiania is somewhere between 20cm and 30cm shorter than the, which will make traversing railway mazes and other obstacles much easier.

A few advantages of the bakfiets cargo long:

1. The consensus seems to be that the bakfiets bike has better handling, empty or full.  But this is really a comparative issue, and probably won't be that significant for most people. But I certainly do appreciate the smooth "processional" quality of the bakfiets, that feels almost like (in a good sense) a pedal-powered landlubbing canoe.

2. The bottom bracket of the Christiania is about 20mm lower to the ground than on the bakfiets.  This for me would be an issue, as I sometimes scrape a pedal on the ground even with the bakfiets, and have to think about which pedal to have up in the air when sweeping around corners or hopping gutters.  But perhaps this is my mountain-biking heritage coming out, and maybe road bike riders already have the neurons trained to deal with this.

3. The bakfiets has a full chain case, which means that no goo gets on your chain. I haven't had to clean mine in over 12 months of heavy use totalling almost 4,500km. In general, the Christiania has less protections against getting mucky, with the lower bottom bracket, lack of full chain case, and lack of dress guards on the back wheel (although as Peter from psbikes points out in the comments, they are available as options).  These might sound like minor things, but the absence of a 100 little hassles that normally arise with bike riding is exactly what makes cargo bikes practical, and can be the decider for use on any given day. I would strongly recommend getting the skirt guards and full chain case if buying one of these bikes. More on that in a moment, but first the verdict.

4. The box on the bakfiets bike is 20cm longer (1m versus 80cm), allowing you to fit more stuff in.  I quite often fill mine with kids and shopping or work gear.  The trade-off is that the is longer, which can cause problems in tight spots.


Overall, I think that both bakfietsen are sound, and all things being equal, I still prefer the bakfiets, largely because of the larger capacity of the box, and it comes with the chain-case and related bits as standard.  Of course, if weight and manoeuvrability are your biggest concerns, then the Christiania would be the bike of choice.

But don't take my word for it, try them both out and decide for your self.  The bikes are available from and the Christiania bikes from

Now, back to that discussion about minor inconveniences...

To give an example of the impact of some of the "little" differences between sensible bikes (like bakfiets) and sports equipment (like road bikes and mountain bikes), I had a conversation with a cycling colleague at work last week about whether we would each ride home.  My friend was worried that it might rain, and as a result he might get a Dreaded Black Stripe up his back from road grime, as he needed to go somewhere directly after he got home, and consequentially opted to drive home.  It took me a few seconds to remember the problem and sympathise with him, because I have not had a single Dreaded Black Stripe, chain print or other road/bike grime related incident since I have started riding the bakfiets, and as mentioned, have not needed to perform an ounce of grime related bike maintenance.  In fact, if I have the kids on board we seek out the puddles and ride through them at speed, knowing that we will all stay safe and dry.

Combine that with the ability to park inside the school yard for the school run, park at the airport all week for free when travelling overseas, make the Coveted Door Park at supermarkets look like a distant and inconvenient option, and command the attention of motorists anywhere*, the bakfiets is an amazing step up from a "traditional" bike for convenience.

* One of the first things you notice as a cargo bike rider, especially of a big one with a box, is the amount of rubber-necking you will attract.  Combined with the high and visible riding position, the result is that the chance of failure to be noticed by vehicle traffic is reduced (reducing the risk of turn-left-through-you type collisions), and people take a generally amused or positive view of you on the road.  My often stated theory for this is that if you see a cargo bike on the road, you know instinctively that it is one less car on the road at the time, whereas if you see a pack of middle-aged men in lycra on bicycles that each cost more than your house, they are probably just clogging the road up on their way to their next latte, and combined with the variable respect shown by cyclists, may not unreasonably end up with a rather negative attitude by many of the motorists who encounter them.

Nice cargo-bike comparison

Has a nice discussion about the most appropriate cargo bike for various circumstances, from a family that owns three rather different cargobikes at the same time: