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Cargo Bike Test, Part 2: Wobble, Wobble, Weeeeee!

May 21, 2012
Bullitt Boys Down

Human Trafficking

Cargo-bikes, it’s not easy writing an unbiased review when you happen to think any bike capable of carrying stuff is pretty cool, I’ll admit I’m a little obsessed with them. Like a love-struck Bieber-stalker I’ve trolled the internet for years watching their re-emergence but until recently this affair had to be conducted online because there weren’t any available in the flesh.

That situation has improved of late with some boutique imports of European models and if you search hard enough you can purchase a Surly, Yuba or Kona longtail locally. While that’s encouraging, when was the last time you saw a cargo-bike on the streets of Auckland? It wouldn’t surprise me if you’d never spotted one.

Two legs pulling nine wheels

My Beast of Burden. How I get by with no Cargo-Bike.

Kiwis are a practical bunch and although our two-wheeled passions are dominated by sports cycling I’d have thought cargo-bikes would sell in greater numbers? The second most popular search-term after ‘places to ride’ on Bike Friendly North Shore is ‘cargo bikes’, I don’t get it, I thought they’d sell themselves? Anyway, I’m wandering a little, let’s talk about the Bullitt:

The first surprise was Big Blue was delivered to my house in a little stationwagon. There wasn’t a lot of room left over, but it did fit. I had contemplated borrowing a trailer for the return-leg but the narrow profile and relatively light weight made getting it back over the bridge a piece of cake.

Bullitt Cargo Mover

A bit of breathing-space in my Toyota but no room for passengers.

Once extricated from the Nissan the front wheel was reattached and there she sat in my garage awaiting inspection. The first thing that struck me was the sheer length of it, “how am I going to coax that thing around a corner” I thought to myself. Then moving around the bike I marveled at the lustrous paint, the quirky graphics and the abundance of shiny bits. Bullitts might serve a utilitarian purpose but they are a bike-nerds’ dream with quality components throughout and some beautiful engineering on show.

Below you can see the trigger-shifter for the 8-speed hub-gear, the primary steering linkage under the bike, the heim joint where the steering-rod attaches to the front fork and the ‘World Champion’ stripes earned at the Cycle Messenger World Champs.

Bullitt Gearshift Bullitt  Steering Linkage
Bullitt Steering Joint Bullitt World Champion Saddle

Enough gawking, let’s get this baby roll’n. I was raring to go but a little apprehensive about dinging someone’s pride & joy. “Try not to look at the front wheel and don’t put much weight on the bars, you’ll be fine.” That was the advice from the owner, so with that I wobbled off down the road, and wobble I did.

It’s a weird sensation when the front wheel is sitting a metre and a half in front of the handlebars, your brain is telling you it’s just not going to work. I pedalled shakily to the end of my cul-de-sac battling the light steering and managed to complete a slow u-turn with little grace, but without putting a foot down either. It was a quick learning curve however, within five minutes I was hitting turns at speed and even standing-up to pedal.

If you’ve ever ridden a longboard you’ll know the technique. You lay it over, trust the grip and “carve” through the turns. The weight of the bullitt, the quality tyres it was sporting and the long wheelbase made this all feel super-safe and stable, I was having a blast!

Bullitt F C 1

13 year old Thing-One gives five year old Thing-Three a ride.

When you live in a small street the jungle-drums start beating the instant someone gets a new toy. This one made quite an impact and it wasn’t long before the majority of the children in the neighbourhood had been given a ride. Our street is only 100m long and I must have ridden 10km that first afternoon shuttling parents and their offspring up and down. Even with an 8okg adult sitting on the deck you hardly noticed them, the steering remained light and the handling was almost unaffected. It was only when propelling that extra mass uphill I noticed a significant difference.

Easy-Up Down Easy-Up Up

One of the Bullitt features I loved was the handlebar height-adjuster ‘doofer’ shown above. A cargo-bike often has multiple users (it certainly would in my family) and with a flick of the quick-release you could adjust the height of the bars up to six inches. It was rock-solid, with no play at all and makes swapping the bike between a husband and wife (for example) a 10 second exercise.

The gearing on the Bluebird ’71 is handled by a Shimano Alfine 8-Speed internally geared hub. I’m familiar with the classic Sturmey-Archer 3-speed and this was similar but with a wider spread of ratios and a slick trigger-shifter like on a mountainbike. It was a pleasure to use but worked the opposite way to a derailleur bike so in the first couple of days I found myself shifting into a harder gear when I needed an easier one and vice-versa. I was getting the hang of it by the time the bike was handed back.

Hub gears are great around town and especially suited to a cargo-bike because just like in a car you don’t have to be moving to change gear. If you are barreling up to an intersection and the light turns red there is no need for that frantic clicking of gears we often do as the brakes are applied. You simply concentrate on stopping safely and select first gear when you are stationary, then you’re good-to-go when the light turns green. Much like the handlebar height adjuster mentioned above I wish all my bikes had this feature.

Grassy Bullitt

Hard not to get noticed riding this around town.

Now that I was feeling confident on the Bullitt it was time to venture further afield. I’ll talk about how that went in Part 3 of the review.

Thanks to Convoy Bikes for the review bike.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 23, 2012 10:28 am

    Really cool! Do all hub gears work opposite from derailleurs? All twist-shift bikes? I just rode a Nuvinci, and it was the same way “this thing shifts backwards.” I should know, but my only derailleured bike has bar-end shifters. Hmm. If I can keep the question in my head long enough, maybe I can do some research

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