A Bullitt owner responds

An excellent, interesting and challenging article has been posted by WorkCycles as Guest Post: Cargo Bikes and the Information Revolution. The comments are also very helpful.

The post is written by Josh Boisclair as US based bike mechanic with 15 years of experience with a wide variety of cargobikes.

Josh clearly has huge respect for the WorkCycles cargobike and I too think their bikes set the very highest standards for quality, robustness, low maintenance and practicality.

However, in the post Josh is also quite negative about the Bullitt. As a Bullitt owner for 5 months and over 1,000 miles I wanted to respond.as I felt some of the comments were somewhat unfair. I want to start by agreeing that the Bullitt is not perfect, in fact a month ago I wrote Is the Bullitt Clockwork perfect? which detailed all the things I don’t like about the Bullitt :-)

Anyway on to Josh’s comments:

Larry vs. Harry Bullitt:
This Danish bike is interesting. I like are the look, the colours, and the general idea of building a faster, lighter, sportier cargo hauler. There are a few messengers here in SF riding these around in very flashy custom colours. The bike IS very light, although the cargo platform is too narrow. Also, I am curious why they didn’t make it with a lower step-through. Perhaps because the market for these bikes is amongst experienced riders. Here is great video highlighting the Larry vs. Harry Bullitt in Copenhagen. Also visible are Sorte Jerhest rear steer trikes.

What I don’t like about the Bullitt are the ergonomics, the steering geometry, aluminum frame, exposed drivetrain, inability to mount a rear rack, lack of wheel lock eyelets, and the smallish cargo area. The steering column should be taller and threaded for use with a 1 1/8” quill stem. The frame should be chro-moly steel, like the Cetma Cargo bike and others, and the top tube should be lower. Aluminum is not nearly as strong as steel and is soft. To make a frame that won’t break, the tubes have to be thick and large, resulting in a very stiff ride. If the frame flexes enough, over a long period of time, stress fractures are inevitable. Even a small dent in a tube starts to crack after a little while. Aluminum is just not a material for a long-lasting cargo bike. I am very interested to see how and when these bikes start breaking.

(Ed: Josh, I disagree on this one. I suspect the Bullitt is so overbuilt that it’ll take a lot of use and abuse before even fatigue and crack propagation kills any. And besides it just wouldn’t be the same bike in skinny steel tubes. The fatness is very much part of the bike’s charm.)

So taking the criticisms one by one:

the cargo platform is too narrow.

I am bemused by this comment. The Bullitt is quite different to the traditional Dutch Bakfiets as the frame is the cargo platform. A Bullitt has two very deep rails which are the frame and which provide a flexible load platform to which various things can be fitted. The only other cargo bike with anything similar to this style that I have seen is the CETMA. I think this style has huge advantages in flexibility and ease of fitting a wide variety of cargo carrying boxes and platforms.

I agree the standard cargo offerings from LarryVsHarry (which are designed to match the frame width) are narrower than a WorkCycles cargo bike. I have no idea why Josh thinks this means the platform is too narrow. First, you can very easily fit much wider cargo carriers on the frame. Like this:

Second, why should all cargobikes have to be the same size as a WorkCycles. We all have different needs. Yes the WorkCycles is fantastic at carrying a crowd of small children, but our boys are much older than that (2 are taller than me). So my need is for carrying stuff and the capacity of a Bullitt is just right for me (at about one Asda shopping trolley load). The narrow cargo platform is in fact a huge advantage for me as the Bullitt fits so easily through standard doorways. Much wider would be very inconvenient for parking indoors (I do this at home, at Churches and at the Leicester Bike Park a WorkCycle cargobike would not fit in any of these).

I am curious why they didn’t make it with a lower step-through

I agree that a step through frame is a great design feature. It would make the Bullitt more friendly for people who wear skirts (I don’t) as well as slightly easier to get on and off with a full load.

However, I suspect that the design contributes to the high performance of the Bullitt through increasing the rigidity. I used to think that my Bullitt flexed a bit with a full load of shopping, however, I have come to realise that the flex is all in the tyres (otherwise the very light cargo sides would be bending – they don’t). You really notice this if you pump up the tyres too hard as the Bullitt then transmits every bump in the road to you.

Given that Josh complains that aluminium fails if it flexes it is odd to complain about a design feature that stops it flexing.

The reality is that the cross bar is low compared to most bike frames with a cross bar. It is easy to climb over although I mostly swing my leg over the back as on a typical men’s bike. Having no rear rack makes this easier than many bikes.

My feeling is that this is a somewhat unfair criticism given that the Bullitt created and defines the performance cargobike market. Clealy this market segment is for enthusiastic riders many of whom would never consider a step-through design.

What I don’t like about the Bullitt are the ergonomics, the steering geometry, aluminum frame, exposed drivetrain, inability to mount a rear rack, lack of wheel lock eyelets, and the smallish cargo area. The steering column should be taller and threaded for use with a 1 1/8” quill stem.

Ergonomics: I have upgraded my saddle, pedals and grips. That is a very common thing for enthusiasts to do with their bikes. For me it reflects the performance side of the market where many riders have strong preferences regarding the contact points. As far as other ergonomics are concerned I don’t know what Josh is getting at, I find the Bullitt very comfortable and a good fit.

the steering geometry: I am not sure I understand Josh’s criticism on this one and I can get out of my technical depth very easily here. I find the Bullitt steering easy to learn, very stable at speed and also very manoeuvrable.

After much thought and discussion with Hans at LarryVsHarry I have decided to add the steering damper – I felt a recent off road trip around Rutland Water showed that at high speed on bumpy surfaces you can get a front wheel wobble (only been an issue above 25mph on bumpy surfaces and a light load).

As a design feature I like the engineering of the steering linkage, it is quite beautiful (and totally maintenance free). I think the lower connection to the front fork very sensible for keeping the steering linkage out of the way of cargo.

aluminum frame: I think Henry’s editors note responds to this as well as some of the comments where people note there has not been a single Bullitt frame failure yet. I would have thought that the deep frame sections would have been difficult to build in steel and so it would have been hard to get similar rigidity in steel. I do have a preference for steel (mostly on environmental and sustainability grounds) so if Josh can build a steel Bullitt I’ll come to him if my frame ever fails.

exposed drivetrain: Agreed, I am thinking about fitting a Hebie Chainglider which will address this. I suspect that this also relates to the preferences of the performance orientated market.

inability to mount a rear rack: Sort of agreed and I did put this in my criticisms. I don’t think it is a very big deal though and I don’t think I would bother fitting a rack myself. The main uses might be for a child seat (I don’t like rear mounted child seats very much) or for the shopping if you are carrying children in the front (I don’t have children to carry in the front).

lack of wheel lock eyelets: No big deal. LarryVsHarry provide a frame lock that fits using straps.

the smallish cargo area: As above you can go as wide as you like. Yes it is shorter than the WorkCycles long cargobike but why should it have to be the same. I don’t need a bigger cargo area as cargo generally takes less space than children.

Having a standard ahead style stem fitting makes it very easy to replace either the stem or handlebars to fit a specific riders preferences (for example several owners have switched to more swept back handlebars). Don’t be fooled by the pictures of people racing Bullitts, you can have the handlebars set to well above saddle height.

Conclusion

I think the bulk of Josh’s article is good, informative and helpful. I may respond on other points. Hopefully, this post is a useful response to some of what seemed like unfair criticisms of the Bullitt.

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14 Comments.

  1. Travis A. Wuttwer

    Good post. Thank you for taking on the task. I tweeted a response, “@dave42w well written. I have noticed that people get pretty protective other #cargobike choices. Specific bike for specific needs.”

    I have some thoughts that go beyond the 142 characters. I loved my bakfiets (WorkCycles) when I had it. It served the purpose. At the time I had three boys which I was hauling to and from school. For that it was good.

    Now, my kids ride their own bikes. I still want a cargo bike (love the things–have owned or own 4 different brands). However, my needs are different.

    I had to sell my bakfiets to pay mortgage and when I was ready and had the money for another cargo bike, I chose a Bullitt. I do not regret that.

    Strength and longevity are something that people can argue about forever with industry knowledge or anecdotal stories. A person could sell anything under any guise. I have found my Bullitt to be strong and it has not caused any issues.

  2. there is a saying- we don’t all like the same biscuits!!
    any article focussing on negative aspects subjectively is to be disregarded if there is no comparative baseline. A good reponse I thought.
    Colin

  3. As a builder of one of those *other* cargo bikes that the .nl post mentioned – I have been following your posts with glee. Keep it up!

    FYI: I love the Bullitt and what HvL are doing. It is a fun machine to ride. Of course, I ride a Metrofiets – except for yesterday when I took a Milk Plus out that had been fitted with an EcoSpeed electric assist. SUPER RAD – my knees loved me for it.

    • I have really enjoyed seeing some of your special bikes. Absolutely beautiful.

      It is good to see other solutions to problems. For example I have only seen the big very fully equipped coffee trikes before your coffee bike. They are very practical as complete mobile coffee shops unless you have to ride them any distance or on a hill.

  4. Rule number one. Never take any blogpost/criticism seriously when written by a company who produces a competing brand.

    • Mikael,

      I agree about not taking these things seriously, but at the same time I also believe in challenging them :-)

      I have been doing that for years in other fields (theology and gender being one) as I don’t like to see rubbish left as the only view expressed for people to find.

    • Mikael, Dave and others,
      The post also wasn’t meant to be taken soooo seriously, and just to be doubly clear it wasn’t written by the company Workcycles. I cleaned it up and published it which does of course still make me somewhat complicit. That I cannot deny.

      I made that all quite clear in my introduction and even added several comments within the text where I most strongly disagreed with Josh the author. Perhaps the most notable of those were my notes defending the Bullitt.

      I’m happy to see that plenty of commenters have challenged Josh’s opinions and that the discussion has been very civil as well. In contrast and this was Josh’s point in the first place: Most online reviews are just empty fluff pieces repeating a press release. I’d much rather host a somewhat brash, tactless article mostly based on solid foundations and inspire some controversy and that seems to have worked.

      Metrofiets: Yes Josh was particularly harsh in his assessment of your bike. But he made it very clear that I could edit his language use but not change the content. It was thus all or nothing and I can’t imagine Josh has any reason for a bias against Metrofiets. Nor would that be his style.

      -Henry of Workcycles

      • Henry,

        The post also wasn’t meant to be taken soooo seriously

        I am surprised that you seem surprised that people took it seriously. I am saddened because I don’t see how a post like that can be helpful for your standing as an expert in the field of cargobikes.

        As for the Metrofiets I have no reason to believe Josh is any more accurate in that assessment than he is about the Bullitt. I think only 2 very minor points of his Bullitt critique have any value at all. That is lack of rack mounting points and the exposed drivetrain (which is easily fixed with a Hebie Chainglider). Given that his “critique” of the Bullitt does does not hold water why would I think he would be any better critiquing the Metrofiets?

        Finally I would like to make an open offer to Metrofiets. If you guys ever want an independent UK test of a coffee bike then send me one any time. I won’t even charge. Mind you the same applies to anyone offering me a free coffee bike (or trike, I’m not fussy) :-)

        • Dave,
          I wasn’t surprised that some people took it seriously. I knew I’d end up taking some heat for putting Josh’s post online and yes, even as a guest post on my largely personal blog there’s still a clear relation to Workcycles. Whether it damages my reputation that I’ve published a colleague’s (in retrospect admittedly sometimes dodgy) opinions I don’t know. Most commenters are addressing Josh so probably not much.

  5. I spotted your comments on the original article. It seems that Josh has very strong personal preferences with respect to cargo bikes, although perhaps it would be nice if he had only written about bikes he had actually ridden himself. Your Bullitt, like all things, is not perfect, but I can see its strengths and that it seems ideal for your needs. I think that when we make a large investment in something such as a bike, it is only natural to become somewhat defensive when the bike, and thus your choice is criticised. As you saw in the comments, as a Yuba Mundo owner, I leapt to the defence of that particular bike, and in a way, my own decision to buy one.

    It is always nice to encounter fellow UK cargo bike owners, we are a rare breed, but growing fast.

    • One of the other things I loved about the Yuba which was very obvious from the beginning was the ethical side and the support for good bikes in Africa.

      I have been amazed at some of the loads that people carry on a Yuba. Absolutely fantastic. Also it seems a lot better for carrying adults and teenagers on the back (I suspect they think it is more dignified?)

  6. I love my Bullitt. First thing I did was change the saddle, and handlebars to swept-back bars that enable me to sit up high and proud, and put on a rear rack. I wasn’t aware that it wasn’t possible to do this, so I just did it. When my local shop gets the larger size collar in stock, I’ll have the quick release saddle height adjustment back in place too.

    I reckon the Bullitt will outlast me. And the 7-y-o and dog love sharing the box.

    • Nik,

      Would be interested to see pictures of your rear rack. Of course few things are impossible, it is just that the Bullitt does not have rack mounting points on the seat stays.

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