Cargo Bike Test, Part 3: Human Trafficking
After riding the Bullitt around the hood for a couple of days and feeling pretty confident it was time to venture further afield. Not keen on hauling a bunch of fake cargo just for the sake of a “test” I grabbed some “human cargo” and set off for Devonport on a beautiful winter’s morning.
The Midget Assassin is a spindly 22kg, even with food and drink onboard it wasn’t a significant load, but this style of bike is often used to haul kids so a paltry 25kg load would have to do. With that said there are no shortage of hills between Campbells Bay and Devo and I suspected ‘the engine’ was going to get a workout anyway. Another factor worth considering was if the Bullitt wasn’t comfortable enough for it’s “cargo” I was soon going to hear about it!
From my house it’s a big slog uphill no matter what direction you’re heading so right off the bat I was climbing the first couple of Ks. Despite pencil-thin legs I’m a reasonably strong rider (from years of singlespeed mountainbiking) but it was immediately obvious the bike was under-geared for East Coast Bays’ hills. It wasn’t too bad, my knees weren’t about to pop, but I was “grinding” more than “spinning” and in the back of my mind I was thinking “my wife would not be enjoying this!”
Once up on the main road the fun began and it was a downhill run to Milford, then flat-as-a-pancake through to Takapuna. The Bullitt is really enjoyable on the flatlands, once you’ve accelerated the mass from a standing start it’s easy to maintain speed and you cruise along with a big smile on your dial. Smiling faces were to be a common occurrence on this outing with some cars literally slowing down to shadow us, usually so the kids onboard could get a better look at Big Blue.
To break-up the journey for my fleshy cargo we made several stops. Pet shop, bike shops, parks, playgrounds, dairy, supermarket. Almost without fail folks would approach me with questions about the Bullitt, “how much was it, where did you buy it, is it hard to ride?” The general public just loved the concept and they instantly “got it”, people could imagine just how useful a cargo-bike would be. In a marked contrast to this the two bike shops I called in at totally ignored the Bullitt. It was as if it didn’t even register in the “bike realm”, so far outside our Kiwi sporting paradigm it wasn’t able to be processed. Isn’t that weird?
From Takapuna we shot down to Hauraki Corner (using the excellent Lake Road bike lane) and joined The Green Route to Devonport on Francis Street. I ride this route often on more conventional bikes and thought the mix of boardwalks, bridges, gravel paths, concrete footpaths, grass and hills would be a worthy test of the Bullitt’s capability.
The sun was out and both rider and passenger were having a ball but a couple of uphill sections proved pretty hard work. Larry vs Harry make a Bullitt frame that accepts front and rear derailleurs and the mountainbike-gearing that enables would be the go in this part of town. The 8-speed (internally-geared) hub on Big Blue was a joy to use, it just didn’t go low enough for the steep stuff.
The Bullitt was proving very comfortable with the exception of the saddle. My tush was coping, but a wider, less highly-strung model would be an improvement on such a machine. With the Bullitt you are in “mountainbike-position” with a slight lean to the handlebars, and the long wheelbase combined with sensible volume tyres takes the sting out of a stiff aluminium frame. I was also relaxing more at this stage and had stopped fixating on the front wheel (so far out in the distance!), I just pointed the bike where I wanted to go and it did, easy peasy.
The Shimano Afine brakes were awesome, plenty of stopping power and excellent modulation. “Excellent modulation”, now there’s a prattish description! What I mean is the “feel” or “feedback” you get as you apply the brakes, this makes it easy to control without locking-up a wheel. Modern hydraulic disc-brakes are fantastic and they make a lot of sense on a bike carrying a few extra pounds like Big Blue. I could stop this thing on a dime and the length and weight meant the rear tyre stayed planted to the pavement even in a panic-stop situation, very reassuring.
The engine and cargo were in need of refuelling by the time we got to Devonport so we parked-up in Windsor Reserve (by the wharf) and chowed-down. The Midget assassin then ran amok like a demented fox terrier while I sat on the Bullitt answering questions from all & sundry.
After lunch a leisurly cruise was in order to soak-up some of that Devonport vibe. We trundled to the end of the wharf via the bizarre new “safety” boardwalk, rolled down King Edward Parade to the Naval museum, chatted to fishermen on Torpedo Bay wharf and then looped around Cheltenham Beach before returning to the main drag.
The terrain in Devonport is ideally suited to a cargo bike, if I lived down there I’d own one in a heartbeat. Food shopping, school drop-offs, carting hardware/sporting equipment/firewood/friends/family/fox terriers – it would all be a breeze. A breeze that is until you decided to ride up a volcano. My volcano of choice in these parts is Mount Victoria, I just can’t be in Devonport on a bike and not make the effort. The view at the top is breathtaking, the trip back down exhilarating, and if you choose the off-road path and the grass is wet “breathtaking” doesn’t begin to describe it.
“Breathtaking” is however an apt description for riding a cargo-bike up Mount Victoria. No matter how fit I think I am the lungs and legs always feel the burn on that ascent. A light mountainbike with low gearing might be a different proposition but none of my stable conform to those “lightweight” or “low-geared” categories and with the Bullitt I had met my match. I managed the first third but by the time we got to the tennis courts I’d cooked my goose and was forced to walk until the hallucinations subsided. Things then flattened out a touch and I jumped back on and spun to the summit pretending I had ridden the whole thing for the benefit of the assembled tourists.
The Midget Assassin was having a great time to this stage but I didn’t want to push my luck so after barreling back down the mountain we returned home via main roads. All the hills that caused me concern that morning were no longer a challenge and we made it home in record time.
I would have liked Big Blue for another week (shoot, I would have liked to keep it permanently), but I think the time we spent together gave me a good feel for the bike and how a serious cargo-bike could fit into my life.
The actual product, the “nuts & bolts” was very impressive, on their first attempt Larry vs Harry have hit a home run. The Bullitt is cleverly designed, beautifully made, well specced and performs flawlessly. It is very light for a cargo-bike and considering the load-carrying capacity, remarkably fast and manoeuvrable. A cargo-bike novice can hop onboard and be throwing it around like a pro in a couple of hours.
You pay for that quality of course, a Bullitt is a serious investment, but good value compared to a car and certainly cheaper to run.
Five or ten years ago when my kids were younger and I was tripp’n all over town pulling a kiddie-trailer I would have stumped-up for a Bullitt. I did a lot of shopping and errand-running by bike then, usually with a child in-tow. Having that amount of carrying capacity built right into the bike would have been great, but now my family has grown-up and push their own pedals I just don’t need that capability often enough. I’d still like a Bullitt, I just don’t need one.
If money were no object I’d have one in my quiver tomorrow (with electric-assist for North Shore terrain), but I’m skint so I’ll make do with racks, baskets, bags and my cargo trailer until those magical Lotto numbers drop. If I lived in a flatter suburb or owned a small business that would benefit from the profile and utility a Bullitt provides, things would be different.
If you get the chance to try one grab the opportunity, you won’t be disappointed, it’s a marvelous machine.
Thanks to Convoy Bikes for the review bike.