Thursday, May 19, 2011

How We Ride: Christiania cargo bike

We’ve all admired the chic Copenhagers and carefree Amsterdammers for their casual inclusion of bicycles in everyday life, but what happens when these European cycling paragons have children? Do they pack it all in for a house in a suburban subdivision and buy themselves a station wagon? No! They just invest in the city cycling version of a station wagon—the cargo bike. Whether they’re built on two wheels or three, cargo bikes feature in many a photograph of “Supermums” on Copenhagenize and Amsterdamize. One of the most popular examples of cargo bikes is the Christiania cargo trike. The Christiania is now available in the US for the first time through the efforts of American Will Kearins and his export company, Boxcycles. BicycleSPACE here in DC has secured a coveted spot as a retailer of Christiania’s bikes.

The staff at BicycleSPACE, taking pity on my obvious desperation to ride one of these legendary bikes, generously allowed me to try out the Christiania with my son Baby A. We used the bike on two separate occasions: once on our Tuesday Biketrain from our Washington DC home to Baby A’s daycare in Hyattsville and back, and once on a Kidical Mass ride through Capitol Hill. Together, these rides illustrated both the strengths and weaknesses of the Christiania as an urban family vehicle/car replacement.
The Christiania occupies an important kid-and-dog transportation niche

Full review after the jump >>

Let’s talk first about the outstanding feature of the Christiania: it holds SO. MUCH. STUFF. Parents reading this know what I’m talking about, and parents-to-be, let me just warn you: kids need a lot of stuff. Even making the simple daily trip to daycare, we bring: Alex’s lunchbox, a change of clothing and crib sheets, a pacifier, a toy, my lunch, my laptop, a change of clothes, my purse, and the knitting project of the day. My poor, valiant Trek hybrid has nearly tipped over under loads like this more than once. What a relief it was to grab everything I needed and throw it all into the Christiania’s front box with plenty of room left over for Alex! The Christiania has greater carrying capacity than any other cargo bike or trailer I’ve ever seen. The handling isn’t affected no matter how much you load the box up (though when you start getting close to the 200lb weight limit, you will find yourself slowing down).

Sippy cup access: a crucial element
The Christiania is equipped with well-chosen components that maximize its durability and utility
  • 8-speed internal gear hub: low-maintenance, weather-proof, and offering the nifty advantage of being able to shift gears while stopped
  • disc brakes that retain their stopping power in any weather
  • step-through frame, chainguard and grippy rubber pedals to let you ride in everyday clothing
  • heavy-duty, puncture resistant tires
  • a removable weather canopy to protect kids and other cargo from rain and cold 

There are a few components that I would add or change:
  • saddle –while the upright posture does require a wider saddle than some cyclists will be used to, you don’t need such an over-padded saddle to ride this bike comfortably. A sprung Brooks or Velo Orange leather saddle will do the job without giving you sciatica.
  • lights – surprisingly on a bike this oriented toward transportation cycling, the Christiania does not come equipped with a built-in lighting system. Plan on adding some battery-powered lights for maximum nighttime visibility. The reflectors, while plentiful, are no substitute for a good set of lights for nighttime visibility.


It takes a while to get used to the Boxbike’s steering mechanism. Throw away everything you’ve learned from riding a two-wheeled bike: steering is controlled entirely with the hands and you have to lean into turns to keep your balance. Once you’ve banished all your assumptions, you’ll find that the Boxbike is incredibly easy to pilot, especially at low speeds. The gear range of the Shimano Nexus 8-speed is also thoughtfully chosen. As a short, out-of-shape woman with bad knees, I thought I was going to have trouble with some parts of the Bloomingdale to Hyattsville ride, but we made it all in one go without having to take a break. Of course, it took us longer—using the Christiania increased the time of our trip by a good twenty minutes each way. Our friend’s cycle computer indicated that we were traveling an average of 2mph less throughout the trip. At first I thought we could make up for slow uphill times by using the bike’s momentum on the downhills, but I discovered that the Boxbike’s steering gets increasingly responsive (technical term: squirrelly) the faster you go, so that the littlest change of pressure with your hands can put you out in the middle of the lane before you know it. No doubt practice can help you overcome this tendency, but for a novice user, I’d put the Boxbike’s top speed at 12mph.


The Christiania is great for people who:
  • need to haul kids, pets, cargo, or any combination thereof
  • have a daily commute of less than five miles each way
  • live in a fairly dense area
  • hate searching for parking spots

The Christiania is less than ideal for people who:
  • have to take their kids more than five miles on a time-sensitive trip (ie, morning & evening commute)
  • can only lock their bikes up on the street (just my intuition, but to me the Christiania looks like a good target for vandalism)
  • don’t like strangers complimenting them on their cool ride!

In short, the Christiania is an ideal car replacement. Its carrying capacity allows you to really pack it with kids, dogs, deliveries, or any other cargo you can think of, while its simple yet thoughtful design allows for lots of custom modifications. It’s a lot of fun for both the pilot and the passengers. Yes, it’s an investment, but this bike is so well-made that its maintenance costs are practically nil and it’ll hold its value far better than any comparably-priced car. I encourage you to stop by BicycleSPACE and test it out on a short trip, or ask them if you can rent it for a day. The hardest part will be giving it back! 

No comments:

Post a Comment