More about my Hammer Truck

I recently received the following email from a reader:

I was researching cargo bikes and just kept seeing your blog pop up. I am very interested in doing a similar set up as yours.  I also was interested in elMundo initially.  A sidenote on the weight of the elMundo: they are now selling it with the electric components already attached and the shipping weight of the bike and box was 100 lbs. which seemed like a lot.

My question is pretty simple. I haven’t tested a Rans Hammer Truck in person since this is just the planning phase.  I read the height of the bike had a 31- 38 inseam. I am 5’5″.  I wondered about the comfort of the frame.  And if your wife was shorter than you and found the Hammer Truck comfortable… ?  Also just to pick your brain (and thank you very much in advance)  how did you like the Hammer Truck handling without the electric assist? You mentioned you test rode it for a day…

My plans are just like yours, I want to use it to take my 2 kids to school and errands and fun – reduce car use in general.  The kids are 6 and 4 and the bike trailer is just not cutting it these days.

Oh yeah! one more question. I read your post worrying about brakes.  Currently with the bike trailer I often hop off and just walk up the hills.  My question is, is a cargo bike easy to walk with when it’s carrying about 50- 60 lbs.?  Or very tippy? 

Thanks for the blog. I am surprised the Yuba people haven’t offered to let you test drive their bike. Surfing I ran across another cargo biker’s blog who actually bumped into the founder/owner while on a bike tour in Europe and had a very good impression of him and a good talk with him.

Thanks again. Happy biking! I am so happy I stumbled across your blog.

Best,
Jessamin

Thank you, Jessamin.  Your email reminded me that there are still a few things I can say about the Hammer Truck.  For many months, I have felt a bit uncomfortable about my bike’s relatively high cost, and I have been researching less expensive bikes that might appeal to a broader market.  That has been an interesting project, and I intend to continue doing it for a while.  But I don’t own these bikes or ride them on a daily basis.  My real expertise is my particular bike, and answering your questions gives me an opportunity to return to familiar territory.

To answer your question about bike height, my wife rides the Hammer Truck very comfortably.  At 5’4″, she is a little shorter than you.  As you can see in this photo, the seat stem for the Hammer Truck is angled at approximately 45 degrees.  When you lower the seat an inch, you also get an inch closer to the handle bars.  This seems to scale well for most body types.

Hammer Truck seat stem

While you’re looking at the seat, I will also mention that the inclination of the seat is adjustable.  When I first started riding the Hammer Truck, I had the seat almost parallel to the ground, like a normal bike.  However, the Rans web site shows their seats tipped forward, so I tried it.  It feels a bit like standing and leaning against a wall.  Tipping the seat puts a little more weight on your feet, and that’s what you want when you’re riding.  The slight curve of the seat back allows you to dig in for a little extra leverage when you need it.  These are all helpful when you really need to crank!

The Hammer Truck worked fine without the motor.  If we still lived in Denmark where it’s notoriously flat, I wouldn’t have needed the electric assistance.  I’ve spent so much time on this blog bemoaning the hills in our neighborhood, I decided I really needed to show you what I mean.  Yesterday afternoon, I put my 9-year old son behind the camera, and he took a video of me pushing my daughter up the hill, riding without assistance, and riding with the motor providing maximum assistance.

As you will see, this hill is a monster.  When I write about heating issues with my motor and brakes, you need to understand that I’m pushing both to a limit that most people won’t encounter.  Despite my occasional complaints, it’s pretty amazing that this bike can handle this kind of challenge.  (Note: the scraping noises heard in the video aren’t the bike — my son was balancing the camera on a mailbox to keep it level, and scraping as he pivoted the camera.)

You can also see from the video, pushing the bike uphill is possible, but not fun.  The side bars that carry loads so well are approximately where you want to put your feet, so you have to lean over a little.  It might be hard to see in the video because I’m already leaning against the hill so much.  It’s not as tippy as I thought as long as both hands are on the handlebar.  It would be almost impossible to do one-handed.

You might notice my slightly hunched posture when I’m riding in this video.  With the Hammer Truck, you generate power by pulling back on the handlebars, engaging the same muscles you would for rowing.  In my case, I can produce more cranking force this way than I would standing on my pedals on a traditional bike.  It’s more of a full-body workout, especially when I turn the motor off.  However, this might not be a good idea for people with fragile knees.

Speaking of cargo bikes on hills, this is probably a good place to mention one of my favorite web pages: Cargo Weight Calculator.  The calculator which gives you a rough idea about how much weight you can expect to haul up hills of varying steepness.  Another page on the same site shows you how to measure the grade of a hill.  Every time I turn off my motor and I’m reminded how hard it is to climb a hill with a load, I return to this web site, punch in the numbers, and I’m assured that there are real, mathematical reasons why it’s difficult.  It’s not because my motor is making me lazy.  🙂

Sometimes I get distracted by all the details of this project: the specifications, the prices, the compromises.  My blog is kind of heavy on that sort of thing.  I occasionally need to remember that there is an emotional and even inspirational side to cargo biking, and my favorite blend of practicality and inspiration comes from the Couch Potato to Full-Time Cyclist blog.  If you haven’t seen it, check it out — it’s really a great counterpoint to what you read here.