The Bakfiets is Safest. Probably.

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I had to read this article several times to understand exactly what was going on and what was confusing me. Namely a piece in the Belgian newspaper “Nieuwsblad” (means… “Newspaper) proclaims the bakfiets as the safest type of bike for carrying kids, safer thus than bike trailers or child seats on conventional bikes. Now that’s no great surprise for me and not a finding I have any reason to argue. I carry my own two precious ones in a bakfiets and further earn my salary making and selling them. Workcycles has thousands of bakfietsen on the roads and thus far, knock wood, we’re not aware of any notable injuries. Then again we’ve also sold thousands of conventional type bikes, many of them equipped to carry kids and ridden daily, and I’m not aware of any notable injuries there either. So that’s not a terribly conclusive comparison; It just suggests that carrying kids on bikes is a very safe thing to do.

The Nieuwsblad article refers to a recent test by the German Automobile Club (ADAC). So I searched the ADAC site (geez it’s handy to be able to understand a few languages!) as source but nowhere could I find any mention of a bakfiets, never mind a test comparing the safety of kids carried by bakfiets with anything. I did however find an ADAC test comparing child carrier trailers with child seats on conventional bikes. In this study ADAC compared one top-tested trailer (Burley Cub) against one top-tested rear child seat (Römer, model not specified). Nieuwsblad reported that they simply rammed each rig into a stationary object at 25km/hr but on the ADAC site they show each rig being rammed from the side by a VW Golf and report that the head-on collision was also tested. That covers a broader range of high-danger crash scenarios than Nieuwsblad 25km/hr head-on bike T-bone. Not surprisingly, the trailer tended to remain on two wheels while the much higher mounted child seat on regular bike was consistently knocked over.

Just for background info our German neighbors LOVE testing products and they relish putting a big “Zeer Gut” or “Gut” in red letters on advertisements and products. They’re also renowned for their rigorous testing methods. The bike tests run by German cycling magazines absolutely put to shame the fluff published by the US bikey press. The Dutch bike rags fall somewhere in between but they still bore me to death.

But how then did Nieuwsblad conclude from a test comparing trailer and rear child seat that a bakfiets is the safest?Good question! Well it seems that Roel De Cleen of the Belgian Fietsersbond (Cyclists’ Union) just made that part up. I don’t mean to imply that it’s an unreasonable conclusion. It is actually a very logical extrapolation… but it’s just not supported by the data cited in the article. Moral of the story: Be critical when reading test results, especially when not reading the original source.

Happy New Year everybody!

I hope I’ll have more time to write in 2012 since 2011 was rather sparse.

8 Responses to “The Bakfiets is Safest. Probably.”

  1. Frits B Says:

    I think you should read the article again. Roel De Cleen explains that a child seat may cause more harm as the child sits higher, but he also points out (“wijst erop”) that if safety is your first concern the bakfiets should be your choice. “De Cleen wijst erop dat niet de fietsbakken maar de bakfietsen het allerveiligst zijn. ‘In die fietsen met vooraan een bak kunnen twee kinderen veilig vervoerd worden. De bakfiets is the best of both worlds. Je hebt de gebruiksvriendelijkheid van het kinderstoeltje dat ook altijd klaar op de fiets staat, terwijl je zo’n fietskar toch altijd weer moet bevestigen. En in de bakfiets zitten de kinderen net als in de fietskar veilig stabiel, want laag bij de grond'”. As you write, a very logical conclusion, in addition to the ADAC report.
    But, as the Nieuwsblad writes, safety has its price. Easily 2000 euro for a bakfiets, up to 500 euro for a trailer and 100 euro for a child seat.

    A Happy New Year to you, too!

  2. henry Says:

    Hi Frits,
    Good point. So I can better say that De Cleen stated his opinion about the safety of bakfietsen and then the Nieuwsblad writer drew their reasonable but not scientific conclusion.

  3. Frits B Says:

    The only thing wrong in the Nieuwsblad’s article is the first paragraph (the Ankeiler as the German term goes, meant to draw the reader’s attention). “Om kinderen te vervoeren, is een fietskar achteraan veiliger dan een fietsstoeltje. Maar het allerveiligst is nog de bakfiets. Dat blijkt uit crashtests van de Duitse automobielclub ADAC.”
    What they inserted is the second line, and forgot that that conclusion was made by De Cleen, making their statement in the third line untrue. Should they have switched the second and third lines around, they would have been in the right all along. But it probably sounded better this way. And writing a newspaper is a haastklus.

  4. Jan Says:

    This might interest people….

    The PDF is freely downloadable.

  5. henry Says:

    Thanks Jan,
    Yes, I forgot about that German test of transport bikes… Speaking of German tests:

    Trekkingbike tested several transport bikes and found the Workcycles Fr8 “Sehr Gut” (very good, the highest rating). The link is above.

    Other bikes tested: Kemper Packmax, Bullitt, Surly Big Dummy, Prana TP300 (same as Yuba?), Xtracycle. Contrary to my post above it was not a particularly rigorous nor insightful test. Our dealer, Florian Borde of Velo Company in Munchen was interviewed though.

  6. Jan Says:

    There’s one rating better than ‘Sehr Gut’: SUPER. Still, if you read the article, all tested bikes were in the SonderKlasse (definitely better than average). The Fr8 comes out very well. Better than the (Kemper) PackMax, ‘but at a price’.

  7. Martin Says:

    This might interest people as well: or
    All articles are for free.

  8. ichbindiegute Says:

    I found your site via flickr (while searching for a way to mount a childseat in my bakfiets*) and it’s quite interesting! I’m amused about the background info (‘Just for background info …’). 🙂

    In Germany there are no governmental rules when it comes to toys or baby/child equipment. At least there are no governmental authorities to watch out for the rules to be complied. All we have are ‘Stiftung Warentest’, ‘Ökotest’ and – when it comes to child safety in public transportation – ‘ADAC’. And when there is a ‘Sehr Gut’ on a product it is likely to be bought.
    And it’s true: The tests are very rigorous. That is german thoroughness (‘deutsche Gründlichkeit’)! 🙂
    But you always have to watch out for the weighting of criteria. Some tests concentrate on safety, but some also concentrate on ‘ease of installation’ for example.

    * I asked this question also via flickr. Do you have instructions for me how to install a child seat in the bak of a bakfiets? Tightening screws through the plastic doesn’t seem to be sturdy enough. In case of an accident the plastic wouldn’t resist, would it? I have a Römer Jockey but don’t know how to mount it to the bench.

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