Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Workcycles Fr8: Some First Impressions

After a little over three weeks of riding my new bike, I feel like I have 15 pages of notes about how different my daily life on this bike is.  I'm not cruel enough to spring all those jumbled, hasty thoughts on any poor reader who happens across this blog, so I'll do my best to give just a few impressions in this post.  The three areas that I think about most are the ride quality, the bike's ability to handle large loads of cargo gracefully, and the fun of riding a bike with a kid up front and one behind.

Riding the Bike

This bicycle rides beautifully, even with wiggly children and very large loads of books or groceries.  It is absolutely a pleasure to ride, with or without significant cargo.

On the first full day in which I rode the Fr8, the kids and  I compiled the largest grocery list in recent memory.  (Two gallons of milk!  Ten pounds of flour!  A case of canned tomatoes!  You get the idea.)  I filled both panniers, put a large bag on the front rack, and then strapped another large bag on top of the rear rack (via a bungee on the metal tubing on the lower rear portion of Little's Yepp Maxi seat).  I knew that the bike was designed to carry lots of heavy cargo, but as I wheeled an overflowing shopping cart back to my bike, I feared that I had perhaps bitten off more than I could chew.  Should I have waited for a time when my children were not on the bike to test out a large and unwieldy grocery load?

While we were certainly not speeding through town, our return trip was relaxed and pleasant.  (I did pass a couple of people on the bike path, which was uniquely thrilling.)  The Fr8 just glided along the streets, rolling carelessly over potholes and up gentle hills.  Where I would have felt it necessary to focus on balancing my previous bicycle carefully under such a load (in particular when coming to a stop while climbing a slight hill), the Fr8 seemed resolute that it would remain upright and steady without much assistance from me.  Where I might have felt that I was having an argument with gravity on my previous bike with a big load, on the Fr8 the ride felt shockingly simple.

I am a very heavy library user, which is one reason that I felt I needed a proper cargo bike instead of a lighter transport bike outfitted with child seats.  Since the Fr8 arrived, I have made four library trips to pick up large loads of books (50 or more).   When carrying a significant amount of books on our previous family bike, I usually noticed the frame flex slightly beneath me, and felt compelled to focus a little more on balancing the bike.  It was challenging to carry lots of books home from the library when the road conditions were less than ideal, so I often rescheduled a library trip if there were heavy rains.  On one of my recent library trips with the Fr8, we encountered rain and hail (!) as we hauled our books (and of course, my two children) home.  It handled like a dream.  I used lower gears, and we pedaled along a bit more slowly, but in terms of balance, handling, and exertion, it was impossible to tell that I was carrying significant cargo.  Workcycles' website describes this bike as capable of carrying 500 lbs., and I'm curious to take a ride soon with it loaded to maximum capacity.  So far, though, it is quite easy and straightforward to ride with heavy cargo.

This bike also rides beautifully when I'm carrying nothing more than a wallet and keys.  I've ridden it several times without my sons, and each time, the bike glided along, smooth as butter, with little effort on my part.  Bumps in the road have a delightfully springy effect on the ride: the sprung saddle and wide tires cushion me from the rough pavement.  Paul Adkins described it as something like riding a La-Z-Boy down the road.

Loading and Unloading Cargo

Loading and removing cargo is straightforward and convenient on the Fr8. 


While I did have double-legged kickstand on our previous family bike, it was certainly not stable enough to handle children or cargo without at least some assistance in balancing the load on my part.  I feel like this new bike does all the balancing work for me.  I load Little in the rear seat, Big climbs on (typically he does this independently, unless the frame is wet), and then I load cargo into the panniers or onto the racks.  Simple.  I stand next to the bike if the children are on it, but I don't really need to steady it in any way.

This may not sound very important to you unless you have had some experience managing a tippy bike, squirming children, and cargo all at once.  Before the Fr8 arrived, I would occasionally have to stop loading groceries into my bike in order to help a tired toddler remember to stay close, or to help the kids work out a solution to a conflict.  With the Fr8, I have the option of loading my children onto the bike first, and then getting the rest of my cargo onto the bike without worrying about supervising mobile children.  Cargo-intensive errands are easier now, not only because the cargo is so well-balanced on the bike, but because helping my children stay safe and happy is sometimes easier with them loaded onto the bike first.  This has made a tremendous improvement in our errand-running experiences.


Fun Bike Factor


This bicycle is loads of fun to ride, especially with children!

Big likes sitting up front, dinging the bell, and viewing the streets, creeks, and paths.  There's this hard to define "Wheee" factor when you are sitting with a child between your arms.  It's fun for Big, of course, but also for me.  Somehow, with the front child on a saddle (as opposed to our previous set-up, where Little was belted into the Bobike Mini), there's this little bit of extra child movement and wiggle that adds to the feeling of bike joy.  I don't know how else to describe it.  It's not something that affects balance or handling at all.  Perhaps it reminds me of doubling up with a friend on my bike as a kid?  Anyhow, if you have the opportunity to ride with a child in a front saddle (I've heard that Brompton also makes one), I recommend you try it.  (Kidical Mass Eugene attendees: this is an open invitation to take my bike for a spin around the park!)

Our closeness on the Fr8 also improves communication, which most folks agree makes riding bikes with kids more fun.  When Big was behind us, via the Follow Me tandem coupler, it was sometimes difficult for me to hear him, especially because I have a slight hearing impairment.  Not a problem anymore!  The boys love talking to each other on the bike, swapping jokes, asking each other silly questions, or planning our afternoons.  I'm happy about this most of the time.  Until I have to help them change the subject.  (Yes, those were my children comparing each other to various parts of a chicken's anatomy on the bike path last week.)

And of course, it's fun to ride a bike that you feel is beautiful.  I bought this Fr8 because I wanted a family bike that could handle up to three kids and lots of cargo, but with a smaller footprint than a longtail bike or bakfiets.  I love this bike because it functions just as I need it to (and in fact, better than I ever expected it might).  It doesn't hurt, though, that this thoughtfully designed bicycle is also, to my eye, an elegant one. 

28 comments:

  1. very cool... just looked at the pics
    will read later

    the stable kickstand design is a great feature!

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  2. I certainly hope to be riding a fr8 in the future, sounds like the kind of bike that resolves any potential conflict.

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  3. Gwadzilla: We do love the stability of the bike for loading kids and cargo. I would imagine that there is more than just the kickstand involved, but I do recommend the Hebie centerstand.

    Severin: I don't know that I would say that it resolves any possible conflict. There is certainly lots of active parenting involved in helping two small children and lots of stuff travel from one place to another, regardless of the mode of travel. :)

    I will say this it's nice to have the kids separated and on the bike while it's parked sometimes, and the ease of riding or loading it with heavy cargo is a plus. I didn't mention it in the post, but this is a very heavy bike. I can lift it in and out of an Amtrak freight car, but I can't say that I'd want to carry it up and down the stairs of an apartment building every day.

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  4. the Hebie Centerstand ROCKS!

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  5. The Fr8 looks like an amazing cargo bike. I live in a pretty hilly city (Troy, NY) and while I have theoretical bakfiets lust, the combination of the price and the idea of pedaling one of those up the big hills here make it unattractive in practice. My daughter is outgrowing her WeeRide front seat, and the idea of a cargo bike that can go on the CDTA bus bike racks is very appealing for longer distance trips.

    Even more appealing is the possibility that I could share this with my partner - how easy is it to re-adjust the bike for another rider - I'm 6'4" and she's 5'10"?

    I am excited to see that there is now a bike shop in NYC (adelineadeline.com) that is a dealer for Workman and carries the Fr8! It is out of stock for the moment, but having a (nearly) local store and eliminating NL->US shipping charges and/or remote dealer complexities makes it seem much more possible, even with a moderately hefty price tag.

    I'm also curious about your experiences with the FollowMe. My brother-in-law would be able to bring one from Germany in a few weeks, but at twice the price of the Puky 16" kids bike he brought the last time he came, the option of a $30 used Alleycat tag-a-long seems like it might make more sense (if nothing else, it would weigh less for pulling my daughter up the hill).

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  6. Alexander:

    I just spent twenty precious kids-are-still-sleeping minutes typing up a lengthy response to your comment, and it was somehow deleted by Blogger! Argh. Look for my reply later today or early tomorrow.

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  7. This bike looks amazing, thank you for the review! I especially love that child seat up front and it looks like it would be so much fun getting to be the kid sitting up there where all the action it. :) Maybe one day I'll be able to acquire one of these myself, I'm definitely bookmarking as a dream bike for when the little one in my stomach right now is bigger.

    S.

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  8. Alexander:

    In our experience, the Fr8 is very comfortable (and easy to adjust) for riders of different heights. If you look on the Workcycles website you can read more about their adaptive seat tube design. Apparently, the Uni frame (the step-through model that we purchased) is supposed to fit riders from about 5'3" to 6'7".

    If you live in a very hilly city, you may want to think about the weight of this bike. So far it has been easy to ride up gentle hills on the Fr8, but I have also hopped off to push it up a very steep one. Then again, I test rode a Fr8 with cargo and child on the hills of Ballard, in Seattle, some time ago. I would definitely take one for a test ride before committing.

    Are you interested in carrying more than one kid, or just having a child who has outgrown a typical front seat riding with you on a front saddle? If you're looking for the latter, you might also consider a Brompton: infinitely more travel-ready than a Fr8, you can load it up with stuff, and it also accepts a front child saddle. You can see a fully loaded Brompton at the Path Less Pedaled blog. Julian of Totcycle has a Brompton with a front child saddle, so you might look there, too. I'm not sure when it will be available, but Workcycles is also creating a lighter weight modular bike in the style of the Fr8 called the Gr8. Perhaps it will accept a front child saddle as well? And, of course, you can put a great child seat and panniers on any bike that you already love.

    As for the Follow Me, I need to take the time to write a review! In brief, I feel that the Follow Me has a few advantages over the typical tagaong, but I can see why you might go with a less expensive option, especially if you're hoping your child will be riding independently soon (as I hope my older son will be). I understand that typical tagalong-type attachments tend to shift and rattle a bit in transit. They also can make it difficult to carry cargo on a rear rack in some cases, and most aren't compatible with rear child seats. And, obviously, you can't disconnect your child on the bike path for some solo riding when you're using a tagalong.

    However, we have had issues with our Follow Me bending out of shape after our (previous) family bike tipped over. We were able to bend it back into shape, but you'll want to invest in a sturdy centerstand if you decide to get one.

    I hope this helps! Best of luck figuring out how to configure your family bike as your little one grows.

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  9. Eugene Bicyclist, you are welcome to take our bike for a spin anytime. See you at Kidical Mass, perhaps? Or you and Sharrow could meet us at a park to chat and take a test ride. I'm pretty sure that we already know each other through some mutual friends and a class we took long ago. I promise not to disclose your secret identity. :)

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  10. S., this is my dream bike!

    Isn't it fun to be imagining that little baby out in the world, growing up? I remember riding my bike when I was pregnant with Little, picturing him sitting in the trailer next to his big brother. I've so been enjoying reading about those little moments of joy in pregnancy through your blog. Thanks!

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  11. If I was buying a city bicycle now, this is what I would get. It would be really funny if I did, as the guy who makes the Fr8 unsuccessfully sued the guys who made my Metrofiets for design infringement or something. It would be very funny to have them side by side in my garage : )

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  12. Oh my my, but do I love this bike. Looks like fun, I wish I could take it for a spin! How old is Big?

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  13. Adrienne:

    I love your beautiful (and sturdy) Metrofiets. I think these two would look lovely together, even if their "parents" aren't good friends. :)

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  14. MamaVee:

    Thanks! Big is about to turn five next month.

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  15. Do you have any more details on the Gr8 model in development?

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  16. Michael:

    I don't know much about the Gr8. Henry of Workcycles seems to be pretty good about responding to folks' questions about his bikes. I'd try contacting him via email or his blog for more information:

    http://www.bakfiets-en-meer.nl/

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  17. Adrienne,
    There was never even talk of legal action between Workcycles and Metrofiets. If there had been it would have been between Bakfiets.nl and Metrofiets, since it's Maarten van Andel's bakfiets design in question. I just ended up in the middle since Metrofiets' contacted Workcycles several times "undercover" as part of their research and I put 2+2 together later. I then told the story on Bike Portland. But even then I'm not aware of any legal-ish communication between Bakfiets.nl and Metrofiets. It's possible but I doubt it.

    The real court case you've probably heard about was Bakfiets.nl successfully getting several of the Chinese bakfiets clones banned from the EU. However they won the lawsuit but the nasty bikes just kept coming though ever changing importers, under new names, and with miniscule design changes. What's the expression... "They won the battle but lost the fight."?

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  18. ...and for those wondering about what the Gr8 will be, Emily above pretty much hit the head on the nail: It's a much lighter, more compact, less cargo oriented bike with the same modular construction and versatility as the Fr8.

    We intended to already the Gr8 in production but we're still not satisfied with the framebuilder's pre-production samples so it's been delayed until they get it right.

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  19. Emily, just out of curiosity - how tall are you? Have you had any short friends try out the Fr8?

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  20. I've had a Fr8 for about a year now. I'm almost 6'6" so was wondering if I should order the cross frame or the Uni. I emailed Henry and he assured me the Uni would work for me. Glad I bought it as I wasn't looking forward to swinging a leg over (back problems). I put Basil Kazan black bags on the back, an open wicker former picnic hamper on the front (sans handle) and a lidded suitcase style hamper on the back, with custom designed lifting hinge to access the panniers. Carries everything I need with space to spare. My only other addition was a Crane brass bell (very loud).

    I second the comfort comment - this thing glides along effortlessly and road bumps are just not an issue. 8 speeds is plenty. Weight is not a problem (though I wouldn't say that if I lived in a four story walk up). I take it everywhere around town and much prefer it to using the car (an 8 cyl SUV).

    When you stop, be prepared to be photographed by strangers and to answer questions about the bike.

    With my size, biking has always been a bit uncomfortable. The FR8 has changed that completely.

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  21. saathoffs:

    I'm half an inch over 6 feet tall. My husband is 6'4", and he has comfortably ridden the bike as well. I have had some shorter friends try out the Fr8, but I can't say for sure how short they are! So far, our family has a good impression of this bike's ability to suit many different heights of riders.

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  22. Anonymous:

    My height was one reason I decided on this bike as well. There were a few bikes I was considering, but I knew I might be on the taller side for some of the other step-through frame bikes out there. I'm glad to hear that you've had a good experience, too.

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  23. Just stumbled upon the blog...I have been looking for a solution as my daughter is out growing the iBert (stem mount). I have been dreading the thought of having her in a rear seat, or worse a trailer...eek!!!

    So I started looking at trikes with front cargo (two front wheels) where I could fab a seat with cargo, or a "love seat" configuration...

    Anyway, I guess my real question is, in your estimation, what is the size limit for the stem mount on the Fr8? My daughter is about 38" and 40#s now, and I would do a dance if I could get another year of her riding with me in front...

    Thanks for the blog...

    Cheers,

    Nathan in NorCal...

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  24. Hi Emily, We live in a pretty hilly part of Western Australia and already have a Bakfiets cargo bike (which we love) but its electric which we need for such a heavy bike. We are looking in to getting a Fr8 and ditching our second car but wonder if we need to electrify it too. How heavy is the Fr8 and have you tried an electric one?
    Cheers Adam

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  25. Hi Emily. We love the look of the Fr8 and it's great to hear your review. we are in Western Australia and have an electric Bakfiets long. We love it and are now looking into getting a Fr8 (or Gr8?) as a smaller, lighter cargo bike alternative so we can get rid of a car. i just wanted to know whether you think we would need to put elec assist on a fr8 since our area is fairly hilly. we definitely need it for the Bakfiets, but then that's 45kg of bike! Unfortunately we can't test ride a fr8 (unless we travel 4,000km), so it's hard for us to judge. Do you know anyone who has elecrics on a Fr8? Thanks, Amy

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  26. Hi, Nathan:

    I'm sorry that I didn't answer your question immediately -- I've been away from blogging for awhile.

    In terms of the weight limit for the front child seat on the Fr8, I would ask the folks at Workcycles. I've found that Henry seems to respond promptly to emails or blog posts the couple of times I've contacted him. I've had adults ride on the front seat without any difficulty, and Big is also in the 40 lbs range. I think the trouble you would run into eventually would be that your daughter might not be comfortable resting her feet on the front footpegs. She could rest her feet on the front rack, perhaps. One of the reasons I chose the Fr8 is that I think it will work well for both my sons as they grow older and taller -- for example, even once they're on their own bikes, they might want to hop on mama's bike when we're out late and they're tired.

    I hope this helps! Good luck to you. And I don't think there's anything wrong with using a trailer if it's convenient and comfortable for you both -- whatever works!

    Good luck to you!

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  27. Hi, Amy and Adam:

    First of all, I really enjoyed browsing through your blog, especially all your lovely photos! We just finished our first year brooding eggs under a couple of our hens, so I'll be curious to see how your adventure turns out.

    I haven't ever test ridden an electric assist Fr8. I live in a town with some big hills, but I don't often have occasion to climb them. Moderate hills (and I don't know if my definition of "moderate" coincides with yours) are usually not a problem because the lowest gear is pretty low. When I do climb a big hill, I sometimes get off and push, especially if I am carrying both kids or lots of books.

    My Fr8 weighs 75 lbs, unloaded, as I have it configured, so it's by no means a lightweight bike. If you look through Bakfiets en Meer, the blog written by Henry of Workcycles, you will notice a recent post about electric Fr8s and how he doesn't plan to sell them to the general public. I can't remember where I read it, but I do remember reading at some point that Workcycles does sell Fr8s in some hilly parts of Europe. Good luck to you! And I would encourage you to talk to the folks at Workcycles -- I can only speak for my own experience.

    Hope your chicks hatch in good health!

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