Pulling the Trigger on the Bullitt Cargo Bike
Words and photos by Kevin Sparrow
Bakfiets, bucket bike, cargo bike, or long john; no matter what you call it, this is a true workhorse of a bike. The Bullitt from Copenhagen, seem to be the cargo bike of choice for working messengers around the globe. My first opportunity to ride one was when I was working for Breakaway Couriers right here in Milwaukee. I have always wanted one for myself but had no idea just how much until my last trip to Amsterdam. There, I borrowed a friend’s bakfiets from the brand Work Cycles and took my wife Dani and daughter Lily for a riding tour of the city. After that one afternoon, I was convinced that I needed one. As soon as I got back from that trip I started researching what was available and affordable within the U.S.
I test rode several different brands and the only bike that really made sense to me was the Bullitt by Larry vs. Harry. If it is good enough for messenger life, then it has to be good enough for family life, right? It had everything I was looking for: lightweight, disc brakes, and something that I knew was going to last me well after Lily grows out of it. Unlike trailers that mount to the backs of regular bikes, I wanted something that could handle trips to the grocery store and possibly touring long distances. I was finally ready to pull the trigger.
PULLING THE TRIGGER
I contacted Brandon of Chicago Cargo and got the ball rolling. He is a customer direct dealer for Larry vs Harry right here in the Midwest. There are many different colors and builds to choose from. A simple frameset comes with a fork, headsets, steering rod, and even your choice of dropouts. There are 3 dropouts to choose from depending on your drive preference: external gears, internal gears, or coaster brake. This is great because you dont have to commit fully to how you want to set it up. The best thing about these bikes is that almost all of the components are common and can be bought right at your local bike shop. If you have any experience building a bike, you can easily do it yourself with whatever you have laying around your garage. Of course, you can also buy a complete bike, but what’s the fun in that?
While I was waiting for parts to come in, I started working on the cargo bay. Many messengers simply fabricate a base plate and stick an oversized rubbermaid container with some bungees to deliver their packages. Since my cargo (e.g. my daughter) is a little more fragile, I couldn’t go the bungie/rubbermaid route. I needed some sort of box and platform for her to sit comfortably. Larry Vs Harry does make a base, side panels and a seat, but I was looking for something a little more traditional like the wooden box that bakfiets in Amsterdam are famous for. I had some ½ inch foam board laying around, so I cut out a template to fit with the Bullitt’s shape. I then stopped at my local lumber yard to get some wood, stainless steel hardware, stain, and spar varnish. The total came out to $85, which is a fraction of what the complete set would cost from the manufacturer. With help from a carpenter friend, I was able to create my very own weatherproof box. I even made a seatbelt for kid safety.
24 HOURS ON THE BULLITT
I scavenged some existing parts, ordered some new ones and finally ended up having it all complete just in time for the Riverwest 24 hour bike race. Naturally, I was excited to try it out and break it in a little. In all honesty, 24 hours of pedaling was more of a cakewalk than I could have ever imagined. A few key components that made it so comfortable were the PDW Whiskey grips and the Easy-up stem for changing positions on the fly. Not once did I feel like I was at any sort of disadvantage. It is quick, responsive, and handles great. Because the load is lower than other types of bakfiets It makes a huge difference. To be specific, the aluminum frame makes it lightweight and easy to get up hills with heavy loads. The fact that I was able to ride this bike for 24 hours and feel as great as I did, means that this bike is realistic for daily use as well as for touring long-distances. Cross country road trip anyone?
One thing I really love about riding this bike is the reactions that I get from people. Because cargo bikes are not very common in the U.S., they will always turns heads when ridden. The Bullitt bike is a magnet for questions. I love offering it up for test rides. At first, the handling is a bit strange for people. Being far away from the front wheel, most people don’t expect it to be so responsive in the front end. The easiest way to get over that is to tell people not to look at the front wheel. Dani thought it felt “funny” for the first few tries, but now she prefers it to her regular bike and uses it more than I do.
CARGO BIKE LIFE
Cargo bikes are an investment and people tend to shy away from them because of the price. For a Bullitt or any well-made Bakfiets, be prepared to pay around $3,000. However, based on my family’s experience with it, it’s worth its weight in gold. And we always tell people, “it’s our mini van!”. As parents, we love that we can not only see our darling daughter as we cruise around the city, but we can also carry on a conversation with her. Every trip is a pleasant adventure. And as the rainy season nears, I will be building a rain cover for it; I’ve already ordered the poles and canvas. When it’s ready, it will be just as weatherproof and durable as any brand name kid trailer, but with an aerodynamic design to keep the ride flowing. But for those without children, this bike is useful for grocery shopping, day trips, and camping. If you are looking for a true two wheeled lifestyle I highly suggest considering getting one.
If you have any questions about the bike or if you need help finding one, I’d be happy to answer.
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