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.
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.