break at the stream

bakfiets touring step 1: lower gears

This week I lowered the gear on my bakfiets to prepare it for use on longer trips with steeper hills and bigger loads. It was shipped to me with a 17 tooth (17t) rear cog. Lowering the gear range involved purchasing and installing a 20t rear cog.

I found the 20 tooth cog online through Niagara Cycles, referred to as the “Shimano Nexus 20 tooth cog”. The product doesn’t seem to be listed on the site now. Perhaps it is temporarily out of stock. The part was about $6 plus shipping. My local bike shop charged me about $25 to install it for me, which seems like a good deal.

I was quite concerned that I wouldn’t like the change, that it would be too drastic. I had read online that people made this modification for “hilly areas”, almost as if there would be no good gears to use on level ground. My experience has been the change is no compromise at all. In fact, I think it would be sensible to sell them like this in the first place. On flat ground, I am more likely to be able to use the most efficient direct-drive gear. Before, the direct drive gear was set to high for my common use. The lower gearing is welcome on hills, allowing me to spin at a higher cadence. I doubt I’ll miss the lack of gears at the top end of the range. I rarely used them. As a cargo and kid bike, getting up to 20 mph sometimes is plenty, and the adjusted gearing still allows me to do that.

While I’ve only had a few days to test the new gearing, it already seems like a clear upgrade from the 17 tooth cog the bike shipped with. Already this spring I’ve made a successful 20 mile trip with my 13 month old daughter, and she seems to love bike rides, even as long as that two hour trip. This summer I hope to try full day tours, with 50 or 60 mile distances. At this point, my primary concern is working out a shade solution for her.

  • Great stuff. I’ve been umming and ahhing about this for a while. The only unresolved question I have is whether to go for the 23T. My most used gears are 3rd and 4th. Rarely in 5th, never just find myself in 6-8. I like to spin 90-100rpm to save my knees. I think I’ve read elsewhere that you should aim to make 5th your most used gear on a Nexus hub, as that’s the direct gear. Maybe 20Y is sufficient even for a spinner like me.

  • Mark Stosberg

    The respected bakfiets-en-meer blog has a comment about 23T cogs on a bakfiets:

    We’ve also tried a 23T rear cog. In Holland it was quite unpleasant, requiring us to ride almost entirely in the 7th and 8th gears. However the bike’s owner in England was very happy with the gear range. We suspect she rides very, veerryy sloooowwwllly.

    Again, I haven’t tested the 20T cog for long at this point, but at this point, wouldn’t be inclined to lower the gears further. I like spin more myself– I’m using to riding a recumbent where that is the only real option for hills, since I can’t stand up and crank the pedals.

  • G

    I too just did the 20T cog upgrade. I can’t believe that I didn’t do it sooner. Prior to the upgrade, I couldn’t really use gears 7 or 8, and I was always hoping for something lower than gear #1.
    I’ve got about 3,000 miles on my Bakfiets, and with the kids just getting bigger and heavier, I was hating life going up hills.
    It’s like a whole new bike now.

  • Jeff Hype

    i love these type of bikes.and i would like to have such one. especially small boys and girls  like these things very much and i too like these type of adventurous bikes and similar belongings.