My Rans Hammer Truck electric cargo bike

My cargo bike is a Rans Hammer Truck with sling bag and runners.  This is a “crankforward” design, which means that the pedals are about 10 inches in front of the seat rather than almost directly below.  This has some interesting benefits:

  1. The seat can be bigger and more comfortable, because it doesn’t have to be cut away to accommodate the motion of your thighs.
  2. Your sitting position is more upright and natural.  You aren’t supporting your weight on your hands, and your fingers don’t get numb.
  3. You can crank pretty hard on the pedals by pulling back on the handlebar.  You can climb a steep hill without standing on your pedals.
  4. You ride an inch or two lower than a normal bike, which allows you to put your foot flat on the ground when you stop.  That helps avoid tipping the bike when you’re carrying a heavy load.

 

The motor

The main downside to the crankforward design is that the bike feels a little wobbly when you’re travelling less than 3 m.p.h.  I’ve fixed that by adding a BionX PL-350 electric motor.  Now I can climb a steep hill with a heavy load at 4 or 5 m.p.h. — no wobbles!  The battery and motor are hidden under bags.  Since the motor is completely silent even under the heaviest loads, it’s not obvious to onlookers how much assistance I’m getting.  🙂

Accessories

To heighten visibility during our gloomy Seattle days, I’ve added CatEye headlights and tail lights and Down Low Glow light sticks to increase visibility from the sides.

The final result is pretty expensive for a bike (around $5K), but cheap for a second car.  I use it for errands, carting our kids up and down the hill to our local school, grocery shopping, going to the YMCA… well, you get the point.  It’s a lot more fun than driving our mini-van around the neighborhood, but our bike lanes are nothing to brag about, so you have to be cautious as well.  I never ride without the lights on.

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.