Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Where You Been?

A month without posts?!  


Between work and weather, there hasn't been much Bakfiets-ing around here recently. I could post daily updates on how great the bike looks sitting in the garage, but that would hardly be worth anyone's time, would it?  We did have one notable experience, though...
We took a ride to the bowling alley one Sunday morning to meet with some friends.  The weather was clear when we left, and Sara was thrilled that we were using the bikes to do something — to go somewhere — and not just to ride around.

Halfway through our game, we realized that the rumble of the balls and pins wasn't the only thunder we were hearing, and it was now pouring outside. We played an extra game hoping that the storm would pass.  It did, but my Brooks saddle was now soaked!  I hear that's not good for it, and I could feel the wet saddle stretching beneath me as I rode home. I tried to stay off the saddle, but the Bakfiets does not lend itself to standing pedaling.

When we got home I pulled the seatpost and saddle and brought them inside, formed the saddle back into something resembling its original shape, and left it to dry for a week or two. It seems OK now.

The weather is supposed to be good this holiday weekend, so I'm hoping we'll get out for some more adventures.  Drier adventures, hopefully.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Bakfiets/Smart Comparison Part 2: Features

Welcome to Part Two of the Smart/Bakfiets Comparison. We already looked at the raw measurements, now let's put some of the features of each side-by-side.

A 5-speed automated manual transmission keeps the Smart moving briskly down the road. Not to be outdone, the Bakfiets features 8 speeds. Notably missing from the Bakfiets is a reverse gear. Both vehicles are rear-wheel drive, and both feature a fully-enclosed drivetrain.

The Smart rolls along on four 15-inch alloy wheels. The Bakfiets has a 20-inch wheel in the front and a 26 inch wheel in the rear, each with 36 12-gauge stainless steel spokes.

Passenger Carrying
The Smart has one passenger seat, while the Bakfiets comes standard with a bench for two.
A standard lap-shoulder belt keeps the Smart passenger secure; 3-point harnesses do the same in the Bakfiets.
The Bakfiets has the option for an additional bench in the cargo box, providing the ability to carry 4 children (or more if you put some on the rear rack). You could probably fit 4 kids into the Smart, but the State may frown upon it.

Cargo Capacity
The cargo box on the Bakfiets is rated at 180 pounds, and the rear rack (not pictured) at 70 pounds. The Smart has neither a cargo box nor a rear rack, but it does have some space behind the seats that could probably carry the same amount. However, the back of the Smart is not as amenable to hosing out when it gets dirty as the cargo box on the Bakfiets.

The Smart and the Bakfiets each have two pedals. On the Smart, one is for going and the other for stopping. On the Bakfiets, both pedals are dedicated to going.

The Smart powers its lighting with a standard automotive battery, while the Bakfiets uses a generator integrated into the front hub.

Steering and Cockpit
The Smart surpasses the Bakfiets in comforts and amenities like a stereo, heating, lumbar support, etc. However, the Bakfiets makes up for it with a high-volume ventilation system and better visibility.

Lock & Key
Both vehicles require a key for use — the Smart for ignition and the Bakfiets to unlock the rear wheel. Both are below the drivers seat/saddle, rather than being on the steering column.

All-Weather Comfort
What do you do in the Smart convertible when the rain starts? Put up the roof. In the Bakfiets? It's umbrella time.

Thanks again to Darrel for bringing his Smart over to play.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Bakfiets/Smart Comparison Part I: Measurements

Huge bikes and tiny cars, what a great combination!

Welcome to part one in a series comparing the Bakfiets cargo bike to the Smart fortwo convertible. Interestingly, these two head-turning vehicles are about the same length and have similar cargo capacities. What other attributes do they share? What are some of the differences? I invited my friend Darrel to bring his Smart over for a photo shoot, and he was glad to oblige.

The Smart measures 106 inches. The Bakfiets is close at 101 inches. The wheelbase on the Smart is 73 inches, compared to 77 inches on the Bakfiets. I didn't get a good picture, but I think the Bakfiets has more ground clearance (as long as the pedals are in the right position).

The Smart's width is 61 inches. The Bakfiets is 27 inches from handlebar end to handlebar end.

Stay tuned for the next thrilling episode: feature comparisons.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Tune-Up Time

It's already been more than a month since I rode the Bakfiets home, so it was time to head in for a tune-up. The only real problem that's come up is that two weeks ago something happened in the rear hub, and 4th and 8th gear ended up completely out of sequence. 4th had the resistance of somewhere around 1st, and 8th was down around where 4th should be. Going from 3rd to 4th was like downshifting, and my legs would completely spin out.

Wanting to give Sara a few precious hours of time to herself, Everett and I bundled up for the trip in to Portland, hoping to arrive at Clever Cycles when they opened. I planned on a two hour ride, so we left just after 9am.

It was cool and foggy when we left, but the great thing about having a bike like this is you don't need to worry about where you'll put your extra layers when they come off!
My estimate was about right — the total ride time was two and a quarter hours, time-in-motion was an hour and a half*. The difference can be explained by a short Cheerio-and-leftover-pancake picnic and a stop to watch some birds on the river.
*I know this because I'm a geek and brought my handheld GPS. I'd never check it while riding, but it's fun to look at afterwards.

We arrived, handed over the bike, and met Sara, who had driven over after enjoying a leisurely, kid-free morning reading the Sunday paper.

Todd at Clever explained that they'd never seen that particular problem before with 4th and 8th gear. I feel so special and unique! It's all fixed now, but you'd have to ask him if you want any more detail.

The bike was ready around 5, but due to the increasingly early sunset here, I borrowed my neighbor's pickup to get the bike back home. What a nerve-wracking trip! I think I spent more time checking in the rear-view mirror that the bike was still there than I did looking ahead.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Bakfiets Shoe

I've recently noticed a certain wear pattern to my left shoe that I haven't seen before. I wonder what that scuff could be from.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Introduction: Everett

This is Everett, my son and co-pilot in cargobike travels. He's just over thirteen months old, and is the main reason we got the bike. I wanted to be able to share rides with him, to talk (even though he isn't yet), to point things out to him, and allow him to do the same. I like to think the bike was his first birthday present, because it was on his birthday while we were setting up for the party that Clever Cycles called to say they were ready to take a deposit.

We go cruising on the weekends, sometimes to a distant park for a picnic, looking for garage sales, or down to the Farmer's Market. It's nice to know that if we find something good at a garage sale or the market, we'll be able to bring it home with us. On weekday evenings we'll just ride around for the heck of it. 

When we ride, he has made it his duty to point out every cat, dog, bird, or squirrel that might cross our path.  Look, there's one now! He also points out the airplanes in the sky, but I'm pretty sure there's no risk of collision there.

After only about a month, he's already a big fan of the bike (aren't we all?), and on a recent trip to Seattle he spotted a Bakfiets on the road and excitedly pointed it out to us.

We're hoping that by next spring Mom is comfortable enough on the bike to use it for transportation to all of their activities — like play dates and story time at the library — while I've got the car at work. Then a few years later, the Bakfiets will carry Everett to school. For now, though, it's just me and him pedaling for fun while Mom rides alongside on her sweet sea-foam green cruiser.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Thursday, September 25, 2008

New Bakfiets Accessories

When researching the bike before purchase, I occasionally went to the English language version of the Bakfiets website:

A few days ago I forgot the "/eng/" and ended up at the Dutch page (, where I was able to recognize the words "newest accessories" on a popup. Oooh, sounds interesting!

The first accessory that caught my eye was this, to make a small lockable box in the cargo area with the folding seat as the lid of the box. In the two weeks we've had the bakfiets, lack of secure storage has been one of the first things we noticed. We've had to decide between leaving blankets, thermos, etc unattended when making a quick stop at the store on the way to a picnic, or packing them in with us.

It doesn't look like it would be too hard to make, as long as someone had some basic woodworking tools and the talent to use them.

The second item that caught my eye wasn't on the same page, but was in the 2009 Studio Photos slideshow. I can't link directly to the photo in the Flash slideshow, so I put together this composite:

A convertible rain cover! How cool is that? I had been sketching out ideas to make my own, but this looks a lot better than anything I could have put together. A cover seems essential here in the rainy Northwest, but my understanding of the Clarjis cover is that you're pretty much committed to it once it's on, at least for that ride. This convertible option would be great on those beautiful spring and fall days when the sun's shining, but a shower could break out at any time.

So where's the sign up list? I need both of these.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Basic Pleasure Model

Courtesy of cleverchimp, here's a photo of the inside of the Shimano Nexus 8 hub on the bakfiets. Not my particular bakfiets, mind you. I've always wondered what was going on in there.

p.s. anyone who gets the title reference and how it relates to this post is a super-geek.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Undercover Bakfiets

I know the bakfiets is made to live outside, but I'm sure that keeping it dry when not in use will only prolong its life. This is a motorcycle cover that happens to fit the bakfiets perfectly. It's only water-resistant, not waterproof, but every little bit helps.

It takes only a few seconds to put on and take off. There are bungees and drawstrings underneath if you wanted it on a little more securely.

Some showers today gave me a chance to test it. The cover sagged over the cargo box and a small pool (about a foot in diameter) formed on top of the cover. Some of that soaked through and there was about a half-cup of water in the box. The rest of the bike was dry.

I put a plastic shopping bag over the saddle to ensure it stays dry even if some water does get through the cover.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Tight Squeeze

Can a Bakfiets make it across the I-5 bridge between Portland and Vancouver without scraping paint? Is there room to squeeze between the bridge columns and the rail?

Indeed, there is!

You might not want bomb across it at high speed, but there's plenty of room. This photo was taken going north on the southbound side (yeah, yeah, deal with it) at its narrowest point. I'll go back later to see how it fits on the narrower northbound side.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Minor Adjustment

I took a tool to the Bak for the first time today. Nothing much, I just adjusted the brake levers slightly. From the factory, they come facing quite far down. I'm pretty sure the human wrist just isn't meant to bend this way. Maybe if I were 7 feet tall and reaching down toward the handlebars, this arrangement would work. But I'm not and it doesn't.

I understand that they're set up this way so the levers don't hit any passengers in the head when turning, but my only passenger is thirteen months old and has at least a foot and a half of growing to do before this becomes a concern. And maybe by that time I'll have grown the foot and a half I need in order for the downward facing brake levers to be ergonomically viable.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Brakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo

Here's how fifteen minutes of my morning went, trying to fix last night's brake problem:

Spin the wheel, squeeze the brake lever.
Nothing happens. Adjust the barrel.
Spin the wheel, squeeze the brake lever.
Nothing happens. Adjust the barrel more.
Spin the wheel, squeeze the brake lever.
Nothing happens. Adjust the barrel the other way.
Spin the wheel, squeeze the brake lever.
Nothing happens. Adjust the barrel back to where it started.

Spin the wheel, squeeze the brake lever.
Nothing!! Freaking!! Happens!!

Trace the cable back under the box, up to the handlebars, and out to the lever on the opposite side from the one I was squeezing.


The bakfiets runs the front brake to the right lever, and the rear brake to the left. I did not know this an hour ago.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

What a Drag

Rode the Bak down to the grocery store today. About 7 miles total, downhill on the way there and uphill on the way back. It was the first real ride since the ride home on Sunday.

The bike seemed much heavier & harder to pedal than the Bak I rented last month. I know the new version is slightly heavier and has a different seatpost angle, so I thought that must be the reason.

Then I got home, put it on the stand, and gave the front wheel a spin to see how the generator light looked. No spin! The front brake was dragging. No wonder it was so much harder to get around than I'd remembered. I feel silly now, knowing what the problem is, but I honestly thought then that that must just be what it was like getting 300 pounds of bike + me + baby + groceries uphill.

It was after dark (which is why I was playing with the light), but I found the adjustment barrel and was able to back the brake off slightly. A good spin of the wheel will now get maybe two or three revolutions. Still nothing like free rotation.

Sunrise will bring a closer inspection.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Homecoming, Part II

Home is in downtown Vancouver, about a dozen miles from Clever Cycles. I'd never ridden that route before — in fact, I haven't ridden in Portland other than an occasional weekend ride through Waterfront Park and the Eastbank Esplanade and when we lived there five years ago.

That Esplanade was the first stretch of my route. Move it, roller-bladers and skate punks! Don’t you see I’ve got a 100lb, eight-foot-long bike, and I’m not used to steering it? Save yourselves, get out of my way! Switchbacks at the north end of the path proved a little bit difficult to navigate due to the turning radius of the bike, but they were nothing that couldn’t be handled with a wide turn as soon as it was clear.

I headed up Williams, cut across on Killingsworth to Denver and followed that until it joined Interstate near Portland International Raceway (if there's a better route, please let me know), then up through Delta Park to the maze that is the bike path system between there and the I-5 bridge.

The dreaded I-5 bridge. Here I was riding a huge bike with a wheelbarrow box in front, on a path that had always seemed to be only one inch wider than the handlebars on my regular bicycle. Slow and steady, I threaded the needle — OK, so it was a little wider than I thought — and was finally on familiar ground. I’d actually ridden from here on the Bakfiets we rented earlier in the summer, so I knew it was no problem getting up the hills to home.

Except that when I rode before, I hadn’t ridden 10 miles immediately prior. Oohhhhh, my achin' legs. But I made it. The bike and I were safely home.

Total distance: 12.75 miles. Total time: 2 hours (including stops for photos, text messages, and drinking fountains). Total calories burned: seventy-bazillion. Total smiles and waves: I lost count.

Sunday, September 7, 2008


At long last, I got the call that our Bak was ready!

We all piled in to the car and headed for Clever Cycles. The shop was busy, so we spent a few minutes checking out stylish helmets for my wife, Sara, before we were helped.

"I'm here to pick up my Bak!" My grin must have been ear to ear.

After paying for it and making sure that serial numbers matched between the bike and the paperwork, Dean led us outside where our Bak awaited. He went over some of the differences between this and the previous version — things like the seat post angle, the rack construction, etc.

Sara joked that there was no need for the overview, since I'd done nothing but scour the web for Bakfiets blogs, sites, FAQs, and photos for the last two weeks.

After a brief preflight inspection and a spin around the block, it was time to get serious. I had to ride home. I kissed the wife and baby goodbye, and headed down the road.