FAQ: Bakfiets Cargobike
Here’s a rather random collection of handy things to know about the Bakfiets.nl Cargobike in FAQ form. There’s no particular order (yet) and I’ll just keep adding to the list as I think of new questions. Maybe I’ll even organize them and add photos eventually.
Note that most of the commentary below is geared toward the intended uses of the Bakfiets Cargobike; family transport. The bike is hugely versatile but carrying multiple little kids, groceries and household stuff is what it was designed for. In Holland where a couple thousand per year are sold 99% are used as kid carriers. Of course even family Cargobikes eventually get pressed into service for other purposes: carry building materials, taking the recycling out…
I’m about to set off for my first (test) ride. How do I ride this thing?
Riding a 260cm long bicycle with a box in front and the front wheel steered through a linkage is strange at first… for about 30 seconds, until your mind/body get used to it. After that you forget why it ever seemed difficult.
Here’s how to best deal with those first wobbly meters:
How do I carry a baby with a Bakfiets Cargobike?
In Europe the standard baby carrier for the car is the Maxi-Cosi. In fact they seem to have something of a monopoly on these. Unlike most of the other makes I’ve seen (especially the American infant car seats) the Maxi Cosi is quite compact and it fits nicely into the box of the Cargobike. If the baby is an only child the Maxi Cosi (or equivalent) can be strapped into the bottom of the box of a Cargobike Long, with the baby facing the rider. Do use some sort of pad/pillow/cushion/blanket between MC and the wooden box to soften the ride. Of course this has to be done properly so somebody with either experience here or with good mechanical skills should fit it.
WorkCycles makes a handy Maxi-Cosi carrier that fits all Cargobikes and also leaves room in the box for other cargo and kids (see below). A MC will also fit into a Cargobike Short, but it’ll take up the entire box. If you haven’t bought the bike yet, just get the Long version since you’ll need it anyway if a second child comes along.
How do I carry both an infant in a Maxi Cosi and toddler(s) on the bench?
Firstly you need a Cargobike Long to do this. If you mount the Maxi-Cosi directly on the floor of the box there will not be enough room behind for the legs of kids on the bench. As a result the kids will put their feet on baby brother or sister in the Maxi Cosi making for an unhappy ride.
Most shops install a Steco Buggy Mee in the box, as suggested by Bakfiets.nl. This steel-framed system holds the Maxi-Cosi securely but it unfortunately also takes up most of the volume in the box.
WorkCycles developed its own solution a number of years ago. Its a quite simple “bridge” with straps and a cushion. This Maxi-Cosi holder takes up little space in the box and holds the Maxi-Cosi somewhat higher creating just enough legroom for the kids sitting on the bench behind.
How can I safely carry children too big for a Maxi-Cosi but not yet ready to sit upright on the bench?
This is a common problem here in Holland, where babies often outgrow their infant car carriers by seven or eight months, before they sit well enough to be secure on the wooden bench. We take an old Bobike Mini bike child seat (the one that fits behind the handlebars), saw off its legs and modify it to fit on the Cargobike bench. This provides much more support for a small child, yet still leaves room for an older child on the bench. Two of these seats will fit side-by-side on the bench for twins.
My kids are too big for the harnesses and/or bench and/or canopy. What can I do?
Its time for the kids to ride their own bikes. They’ve been free loading for long enough! Well… that might or might not be the solution. Kids in this age range can also ride on a child saddle, such as on the Workcycles Fr8, on a simple rear seat, on a tandem such as the Onderwater…
Can I take adult passengers in the Bakfiets Cargobike?
Its not the point of the bike but sure, why not? Its a great way to show grandma around town, to ride your bride into the sunset, or to film a running race. Just don’t seat adults on the Cargobike’s kiddy bench because they’ll damage it at the hinges. For occasional use just put some cushions or blankets in the bottom of the box. If you’ll be doing this regularly you can fabricate a suitable bench for your passengers.
Why does the Stabilo parking stand swing further forward than is needed?
The Stabilo stand is self-adjusting so that on most reasonably flat surfaces all four legs will contact the ground. The more weight one puts on the bike the more stably it will stand.
Though it seems a little strange there’s really no need for anything to prevent the stand from swinging further forward. Just kick the stand down to release it from the magnetic latch, let the stand fall and pull the bike back enough to roll it onto the four stand legs. Locking the rear wheel lock adds extra security like a parking brake and the 12 gauge spokes won’t be damaged from the force. Pulling the bike further back won’t do any harm but the bike won’t stand stably that way… so don’t do it.
What’s the handiest way to raise the Stabilo parking stand before cycling?
With lots of weight in the box it’ll take a firm shove to roll the Bakfiets off its parking stand.
My Stabilo Stand sometimes falls from the magnetic latch. How can I fix this?
The magnet is welded to its mounting bolt at an angle. Probably it has loosened and rotated. Rotate the magnet until it contacts the stand perfectly flat and then tighten. It won’t fall anymore.
My Cargobike has begun to wobble on its Stabilo stand. How can I make it stable again?
The hinged connection between the vertical and horizontal legs of the Stabilo stand wears and loosens up with use. This causes the bike to sit lower, perhaps not evenly. On a convex parking surface both wheels may touch the ground causing the stand to “hang”.
We have various ways of tightening up the hinged connection between the legs:
How do I get the kids in and out of the canopy?
Our favored method for installing the tent/canopy is to first set the rear legs in place, then set the front leg on the block and secure the front elastics (or snaps if you have a Bakfiets.nl canopy instead of the WorkCycles/Clarijs canopy). The last step is to just pull the rear elastics onto their holders.
To get the kid(s) in and out just remove one of the rear elastics and open that side like a “gullwing” door”.
Can I seat two kids on the optional second bench?
Well, its not recommended but many people do it anyway. You’ll need to drill new holes and fit a second harness. With more weight on the bench its advisable to fix it to the box permanently with a few screws.
With two kids on both the front and rear benches and one in a child seat on the rear carrier one can carry five children with the Cargobike. Whether we recommend it or not is quite irrelevant; I see tough moms doing it all the time here.
What is really the maximum load capacity of the Cargobike?
The advertised limit of 80kg in the box and 25kg on the rear carrier is conservative. The 25kg figure for the rear carrier is actually an EU legal limit for rear carriers while the Cargobike’s carrier is much, much stronger. Carrying an adult passenger here is no problem if you have adequate tire pressure and a rider confident in handling the load.
The 80kg front load rating is based more on the handling characteristics of the bike than strength issues. A handful of the first Cargobike frames broke as a result of a poorly placed reinforcement That’s long since been corrected and about 10,000 Bakfiets.nl Cargobikes have been ridden daily with hardly a frame failure.
If you load a Cargobike very heavily you’ll note that the steering becomes rubbery and sluggish. The bike is unpleasant to ride and your reaction times will be poor. That’s not safe though sometimes we just have to get something heavy from point A to B and we do it anyway. You can minimize the slow steering by pumping the tires (especially the front) up to their maximum pressure, and riding very defensively. Remember: your braking distance is also going to increase considerably.
Somewhere around 100-125kg the steering really becomes too stiff to be safe. Be careful.
What are those weird tire valves on my Cargobike and how do I use them?
They’re called “Dunlop” or “Blitz” valves and city/utility bikes in most of Europe have them. They’re not better or worse, just normal here. Of course there are special pumps for them, but a pump intended for Presta (French) valves will work OK too.
The correct pump for Dunlop valves is quite handy though because it has a sprung clip to hold the head on the valve while pumping.
Using the Dunlop valve is easy: just pump to fill and unscrew the top to let the air out… which you seldom need to do.
Note: Cargobikes we’ve shipped to the USA for the past several years have all been fitted with auto-type “schraeder” valves.
Why are the brake levers pointed so far downward on my Cargobike?
That’s so that they don’t smack your kids in the head when you turn. Please leave them that way if you carry kids on the bench. Actually you can also adjust them horizontally if that works better for you.
What’s the best way to lock my Cargobike?
A quality hardened chain with 10mm square links and an integrated lock is enough to keep away all but the most determined thieves and enables you to lock to a fixed object in almost all situations. The rear wheel is so difficult to remove that locking it is quite unnecessary. If possible set the bike next to a pole to lock the main boom tube to a pole. Wrap/wind the chain around as necessary to avoid any slack.
In really high theft areas the front wheel can occasionally get stolen. What a thief can do with a super heavy duty 20″ rollerbrake wheel is a mystery. If you’re worried about this you can loop a small lock through the front wheel and fender. Even better is to bore two large holes in the front of the wooden box (use a hole saw) so that you can run the lock through. This is serious overkill for most locations.
People always toss their trash in my bike’s box while its parked. How can I prevent this?
You could stand next to your bike and yell at every lowlife who does that but this will probably get old pretty quickly. More pleasant is to put the cargo cover on the box when you leave it. This has two added benefits:
Really, I recommend that every Cargobike be equipped with the cover. We use ours more than the (admittedly more charming) Canopy.
I find it difficult to ride without hands on the Bakfiets Cargobike. How can I do this?
How do I fix a flat tire with all that complicated stuff around the wheels?
Silly foreigner! There’s generally no need to remove the wheel to repair a flat:
What regular checks and maintenance should an owner undertake so as not to become a pain to their bike shop come servicing time?
Not much really.
Tires need air.
The most important thing that many owners forget is to put air in the tires. Even tires that have never had a puncture have some porosity and slowly lose pressure. Especially on a heavily loaded bike properly inflated tires will ride much better and last much longer. Don’t worry about precision – just keep them pumped up.
Chains need oil.
Checking and lubricating your chain is easy and easy to forget since its hidden inside the chain case. Unlike a bike with an exposed chain the Bakfiets Cargobike can be ridden and stored for months in wet weather without touching the chain, but eventually some oil will still be needed. Depending on how much use the bike sees you should occasionally pop open the little hatch at the back of the chain case (twist carefully with a large screwdriver between the two tabs at the back to open). Prop the rear wheel up with a block or hang it from the ceiling with the front supported by the parking stand. Then you can pour oil on the chain while slowly turning the wheel or crank. Any good lubrication oil will work and excess will just drip off into the case. A couple times per year is sufficient.
Chains need adjustment
If you’re handy you can check the chain tension while the case hatch is open. To adjust the tension you need to loosen the axle nuts and brake reaction arm and then adjust with the axle tugs. If you’re not handy or if this sounds intimidating just leave it to a good bike shop. A loose chain is far less of a problem than a too tight chain.
Perhaps the only critical adjustment on the bike is the cable tension for the gear hub. Properly adjusted a Shimano gear hub will run smoothly for a long time. Ridden badly enough out of adjustment that it jumps out of gear it can be quickly destroyed leading to very expensive repairs. The adjustment is generally quite simple but Bakfiets Cargobikes have been built with a number of gear hubs. You’ll have to find the info for your particular hub. A couple notes:
Does the box require any treatment to preserve it?
The box of the Bakfiets.nl Cargobike is made from “betonplex” a highly water resistant impregnated plywood used primarily for molding concrete. Its tough stuff. Nonetheless water can seep in wherever the finish has been compromised such as the edges, joints, where accessories have been installed or where its damaged. Protecting it is simple: Paint such vulnerable points with thick paint in a suitable color. This is done at the factory, but adding more after installing accessories or repairing damage is very helpful.
Also important is to protect the box with the cargo cover. It might be quality betonplex… but its still wood.
My rack elastics have died. Where can I get replacements?
Yeah, the original elastics (“snelbinders”) aren’t the greatest. The Bibia Quattro Strong elastics are much better. They have four strands instead of three and each is much thicker and stronger too. WorkCycles has them, as do many good bike shops in the Netherlands. They come in colors and they’re not very expensive either.
Can I get replacements for the Stabilo parking stand feet?
Yes, not only can you get replacements… you can now fit much better replacements. The original parking stand feet were actually crutch feet. The new feet are meant to fit the square legs and they stay put and last longer. Yep, you guessed it: WorkCycles has them in stock.
My Cargobike has an Axa HR tire dynamo and its rubber running wheel is broken/cracked/missing/worn out. Are these replaceable?
Of course and you know by now where you can get them.
How can I gear the Cargobike for use in a hilly area?
Let’s first put this into perspective: This bike will never be ideal for carrying heavy loads in very hilly terrain. In fact carrying considerable loads up bigs hills is plain old hard work with any bike.
But rolling terrain and small hills as a part of one’s daily route on a Bakfiets Cargobike will work fine for the moderately fit and motivated rider. WorkCycles fits 8 speed Shimano hub gears to all of its bikes and that already provides quite a wide range of gears. However the overall gear ratio can be lowered (or raised) by changing the rear cog. The bike is equipped stock with a 17 tooth, thus a 20 tooth cog will lower all of the ratios by 18%. That’ll provide some more hill climbing ease without making the bike annoying to ride on flat terrain. You will spin out of the 8th gear with a tailwind or small downhill.
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.
Can I fit a Rohloff 14 speed hub to a Bakfiets Cargobike?
No. Not without extensive modifications that would cost about as much as the bike.
Can I fit a Schlumpf Mountain Drive 2-speed crankset to a Bakfiets Cargobike?
Yes, but it will be a lot of work, very costly and you’ll lose the chain case. You’ll likely also damage your internal gear hub as the low gear of the Mountain Drive puts enormous stresses on the hub gears. Only the special Sram P5 Cargo hub is rated as strong enough for use with the Mountain Drive and we don’t fit these for other reasons (see “gear adjustment” above).
Is it possible to add electric assist to my bakfiets?
Yes, it is possible but we haven’t yet found a system that provides a worthwhile benefit for a reasonable expense and with minimal downsides. Don’t get me wrong here: I believe that electric motor assisted bicycles will play a great role in the future. However they’re just getting started and there are a number of hurdles to overcome before electric assist becomes viable for a heavier load carrying such as the Bakfiets Cargobike. When that happens we’ll also look at how the Cargobike itself needs to be changed to make IT suitable for use in the situations power assist will enable.
General notes on pedalec systems anno 2008:
How would we fit the motor to the Cargobike?
Clever Cycles in Portland, OR, USA has built a handful of “Stoke Monkey” equipped bakfietsen. It does work though Clever has decided, for various reasons, not to pursue the stoked bakfietsen commercially.
Update October 2008: An factory developed electric assist system for the Bakfiets Cargobike is in the works. Its a fairly simple but effective system with a 250W front hub motor and battery mounted bayonette style in a special rear carrier. There are still a few issues to work out and delivery date is not yet known. I’d guess Spring 2009, but that’s no promise.
Update April 2009: The factory developed electric assist system for the Bakfiets Cargobike is available. We’ve heard other dealers complaining about “teething problems” so WorkCycles is still testing this and a competitive system before selling them to customers.
My Cargobike has begun to shimmy at certain speeds. How can I fix this?
Such a shimmy is a harmonic so it occurs at certain speed ranges. We see it occasionally though thus far never in dangerous levels as can occur on racing bikes. Its nonetheless very annoying and fixing it can be tricky.
Can I fit disk brakes to a Bakfiets Cargobike?
No. Do you plan to be going 80km/hr with kids in the box or something?
Beginning in July 2008, all Bakfiets Cargobikes distributed through WorkCycles have been equipped with a upgraded “Shimano IM70″ rollerbrake with a substantial heatsink, cooling fins and a higher leverage ratio. These brakes are more powerful and consistent than the standard rollerbrakes used previously and also more resistant to fade during longer hills.
The new brake can be fitted to the rear of all existing Cargobikes, but the front forks of most Cargobikes built until about 2007 lack the tab necessary to fit the IM70′s external cable stop. In other words if you have an earlier bike and upgrading the brakes is important to you it will require replacing the front fork (which is not such a big deal, really).
What is the maximum speed of a Bakfiets Cargobike?
An ex bike racer (and generally hard-core sportsman) friend in New Hampshire, USA claims to have achieved 80km/h on a downhill… with two kids in the box, himself tucked behind the canopy as an aerodynamic fairing. This was about 4 years ago on a Cargobike Short, entirely undocumented and certainly not recommended. Regardless of the hyperbole, this guy is one of my best friends since childhood and he’s done far crazier things so I don’t doubt its approximate veracity.