Monday, May 26, 2014

Testing out a Nihola Trike

Last weekend was the Adelaide Cargo Bike Party, which unfortunately I wasn't able to get to.

However, I did get some cargo biking fun in, as Jurgen for Dutch Cargo Bikes stayed at our place for the weekend so that he could get to the party.  Jurgen bought with him a trailer load of interesting bikes:

On there you can see a bullett (in green), a bakfiets cargo long just like ours (in creme), and behind them both the Nihola trike (in black).  Here is the Nihola after I rode it to work this morning:

After his visit, we arranged to leave the Nihola trike here for me to try out, since I have never ridden a cargo trike in anger, and wanted to get a sense of what they are like to ride.

This was a bit of deja vu for me, because when I first thought about getting a cargo bike I was thinking of one of the big trikes because it would fit more.  I can't remember if it was Jurgen or someone else who wisely counselled me that if I could ride a bike, then I really didn't want a trike.  I was now about to put this theoretical knowledge to the test.

First, some important tests.  This particular one has only one seat-belt installed (the 2nd can be easily added), so it was just Miss.6YO who got to go in this morning to go to school.  She loved the little door, and climbing in that way as the following series shows:

The door is great for very little kids who are too small to climb into something like the bakfiets unassisted.

You do have to be a bit careful, as with a larger child, the trike may tip forward.  It won't tip far because of the geometry, however, this does mean that your back wheel is now off the ground.  This means if you are using the frame-mounted lock as a parking brake that the trike may now try to roll away if you are on a slope.  It does have a "hand-brake" function on the brakes on the two front wheels that locks the rim brakes on and provides some protection against this, but it isn't perfect.

It was rainy, so the weather cover got a good test.  Little miss loved the extra headroom compared to the rain shield we have on our bakfiets (there is now apparently a higher rain shield for the bakfiets, and we will very likely get one -- expect a post when that happens).  The generous head room is a real plus here in Australia where we need to wear helmets when riding.

Here we are fully loaded. There is a deceivingly large space under and behind the seat for putting loads of stuff.

The next test before departure was for my wife to take a look at it.  She has yet to hop on a cargo bike herself.  She immediately saw how much shorter, and thus more manoeuvrable the Nihola is.  Other people throughout the day commented on how fantastic and fun it looked.

It is also quite a bit easier to move around when walking.  This is in part because you can pick the back up and swing it around (that tilting forward problem becomes a feature here), something that is quite a bit harder on our long bakfiets.

Once at school, it attracted the usual intense interest that cargo bikes get from school kids:

The trike is wider than our bakfiets, and could only just squeeze through the school gate:

At low speed, the trike is really nice to handle, and does indeed have a tighter turning circle.  Compared to many other trikes, the Nihola has steering like a car, where the wheels turn, and the box stays stationary.  This is really helpful, as you can't end up with box at a horrible angle to the back when turning a corner, which is a common way for trikes to roll over.  

The risk of rolling over or generally throwing you off is a good reason to not get a trike if you can ride a bike, as all trikes have this risk, and the risk increases greatly with speed.

Pootling along to school was fairly comfortable, although I did immediately notice how trikes, especially tadpole configuration trikes with the two wheels at the front want to follow the camber of the road into the gutter.  You have to set a noticeable angle of attack towards the middle of the road to keep straight.   Then potholes and other obstacles will try to divert you.

At higher speeds, like around 20km/hour and above, the handling gets quite unsettling, simply because it is a trike.  My wrists got tired and a little sore just trying to keep it going straight on the various turns and strangely angled roads on the way to work.   It should be said that I work at Engineering at Flinders University, so this included riding it up Ring Road, which has some quite unpleasantly cambered corners.  I am sure that my wrists would toughen up if I did it regularly.

Being able to stop at lights without having to balance the bike was very nice.  Also, not having to balance meant I could pedal even slower than normal up the hill to work, which was very welcome on the 10% grade sections.

That just left riding home.  Now that was an interesting experience.  I normally do the ride down Ring Road at close to the 50km/hour speed limit in the bakfiets, without trouble or feeling out of control or at all unsafe.  Goodness me riding a trike down that hill is a very, very different experience, and not one that I want to repeat in any hurry.

I was in and amongst the afternoon peak-hour traffic leaving the University, and the trike is just a bit too wide to keep left enough to let cars go past easily.  So I had the real sensation that I was holding up the traffic.

The natural tendency of trikes to follow the slope of the road was a much greater problem, and to control this I had to brake the whole way, and try to keep below about 20km/hour.

Turns against the camber can only be made at very low speeds, and I ended up missing my usual turn onto Flinders Drive because I couldn't safely take the turn.

That left me with the unenviable task of riding the trike down the weavy and strongly cambered Ring Road and University Drive towards Sturt Road.

I managed to stay in the left car lane, but only just, and only with a lot of work.  I feel sorry for the poor traffic behind me as the trike tried to take me into the right-hand lane on several occasions.  You really have to be watching the sideways slope of the road ahead and managing the angle of attack quite intensely with a trike on this kind of road.

All up it took me probably 75% longer to get home than with the bakfiets.

So after my adventure, what do I think of the Nihola and trikes in general?

Regarding trikes, I would repeat the wisdom given to me two years ago:  Go for a two-wheeler unless there is some reason why you really can't.  Two-wheelers handle better, especially at any credible speed, and on cambered roads.  Of course, if you can't balance, only go short distances at low speed or have some other reason why a trike meets your need, then they fine.

As for the Nihola specifically, I haven't ridden other trikes.  However, I do know enough about the normal tadpole trike configuration that having the wheels turn and keeping the box and rear of the trike in line makes the thing a whole lot safer, and it really won't tip in normal conditions, provided that you keep below about 15km/hour.

So in short, my feeling is that the Nihola is one of the best trikes on the market, is really nicely made, and the kids loved riding in it, but it is still a trike -- and that introduces some serious limitations.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

It was supposed to be flat-pack...

Today I went to Target to get a cupboard for our son's room that my wife had seen on special.  It comes flat-pack, and she and the kids were going to a birthday party, so we figured it would make sense for me to go and get it on the bakfiets.

So I wandered into Target, found said items, and then discovered that all the floor stock was black, and we wanted white.  The only white one was the demonstration unit that had already been assembled.  Finding a store assistant, I asked if I could buy that one.  Not only did they say yes, but we even got it 10% off because it was ex-demo.  That just left the challenge of getting it home, as it was no longer a little flat-pack box, but quite a bulky storage unit.  Fortunately I carry cargo straps in the bakfiets just in case, so I was able to strap it down, and ride it home happily:

Friday, May 16, 2014

Riding around Copenhagen

This week I was supposed to have been in Norway for a conference.  The conference got cancelled at the last minute, but I was already in Sweden by then, so I rearranged some things to meet with some other organisations while I am this side of the world.

The upshot of all that is that I ended up with a day in transit in Copenhagen, with several hours between my flight from Oslo and onward flight to Luxembourg.  So naturally I decided to get out of the airport, and ride around in Copenhagen a bit.

I have already ridden in Amsterdam twice, so I was especially interested in seeing how the "other cycling capital" compares.

My overall impression was that Copenhagen was more of a compromise between a regular car-oriented city and a cycling city than Amsterdam, where bicycle reigns as the overwhelming mode of transport.

Copenhagen has much less cycling infrastructure than Amsterdam, with cyclists and motorists sharing the same physical roadway much more often.

In fact, the key difference with Adelaide was more the attitude of drivers and cyclists to one another, rather than the infrastructure.  This is a bit sobering, given the generally poor relationship between cyclists (who regularly flaunt the law and seem to go out of their way to annoy motorists at times) and motorists (who regularly fail to look for cyclists or other non-car road users, and seem to believe that cyclists somehow don't pay any tax or own and register cars, and thus should not be on "their [the motorists]" roads).

Anyway, enough social commentary, and now for some pictures of my wandering around Copenhagen.

This was the view outside the front of Copenhagen Central Station. Only a few bikes to be seen in this direction, and much more car-oriented infrastructure.

But look in another direction, or go around the corner, and there are lots of bikes.  The bikes are much more varied in style compared to Amsterdam, with many more mountain bikes and racing bikes in the fleet compared with the much more uniform city-bike fleet in Amsterdam.

... and more bikes.

Like in Amsterdam, some bikes find unusual graves.  Here are the bent and buckled carcasses of bikes that have fallen onto the train line and been thrown into the verge.  

A nice view down the river from on a bridge.

... and towards one side of the bridge...

... and looking down into the water which also serves as the grave yard for many bikes.

Here is the nice bike shop guy who let me try out a Christiania two-wheeler.

While I was talking to him, this family turn up and say "You're from Australia, aren't you?" in a Melbournian accent. They are living in Copenhagen for a few months, and getting their new cargo bike serviced after assembling it themselves.

Here is my noble steed that I rented for DKK100 (about AUD$20) for the day.  The Christiania was much nicer and more fun to ride!

Here is the view across the street where I had lunch

And some people riding past on cargo bikes.

And a Mum riding a 3-wheeler.  I really wanted to get a few shots like this to help people in Adelaide understand that cargo-bikes are often ridden by women, and you don't need to be an athletic guy to move your family this way.

This is a road safety centre playground like the one that used to be at Oaklands Park for kids to play and learn the road rules in a safe way.

I am visiting Copenhagen, so had to have my picture taken by the little mermaid.

Cobblestone road next to the Royal Palace.  The queen was apparently in, but I didn't see her.

There is also a Noah's Ark you can go on and do various things.  It was quite rainy as can be seen by how wet Bo was.

The entrance to the Ark.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Riding a Christiania Two-Wheeler in Copenhagen

This week I am on a work trip which got a bit messed around due to the threat of a hotel strike in Oslo.  The net result was that I had a few hours in transit in Copenhagen, and so I took the change to get outside, and ride around Copenhagen a little.

For a long time I have wanted to try riding a Christiania two-wheeler, and also to visit Copenhagen to see the bike culture there.

This post will focus on the Christiania, and I will talk more about riding in Copenhagen in another post.

While riding around I found this nice bike shop where they were kind enough to let me take a Christiania two-wheeler for a ride, despite me being very honest that I was not going to buy it, but just wanted the chance to ride one so that I could write about my experience.

So here is the nice guy from Barholt Cykler in Copenhagen, and the Christiania two-wheeler that I would get to ride:

We had a bit of a chat about it, and some of the advantages, including the nice side door that makes it easier for very little kids to get in and out:

He then explained that he rides a Bakfiets Long very similar to the one I ride.  His view was that Bakfiets was a more "finished" bike, while the Christiania felt a bit less refined.

The cover mechanism is different, but I didn't get to play with it enough to know whether I thought it was better or worse.

The stand mechanism on the Bakfiets was easier to operate, and a little more stable with the four feet on the ground instead of two with the Christiania, but both are fine.

The two bikes are quite similar, as I have discussed in a previous post, so I was interested in how the bike felt, and how much difference the reduced weight made.

Copenhagen is about as flat as inner Adelaide, that is there are some fairly gently but noticable slopes on various roads.  The Christiania was quite noticeably easier to ride up the slope than I feel my Bakfiets would have been.  Of course the Christiania didn't have all my junk sitting in the box and panniers, so it wasn't entirely fair, but I still expect that there would be a noticeable difference.

The steering on the Christiania felt very similar to the Bakfiets, and after the first turn, I wasn't really noticing the difference, except that the Christiania has a spring that tries to return the steering to the middle, which could be felt when turning sharply, but was not a problem.

The cargo box is a little smaller, both shorter and narrower, and the bike as a whole is a little smaller.  As I mentioned in my other post, this would suit a smaller rider for whom the Bakfiets feels too large and heavy.

All in all, the Christiania was the pleasant and practical ride that I expected.