Why would you want a Bakfiets?

I first saw a Bakfiets cargo bike in Amsterdam a few years ago and it struck me as a practical and oddly elegant solution to the problem of carrying children or large loads around a city without the bother of a car. Having no children and quite a few bikes already, I gave it little further thought until 2010 when we took delivery of a daughter. As this new cargo got more mobile and increasingly heavy, it began to dawn on me that a Bakfiets might be just as good an idea in Oxford as Amsterdam.

Oxford is a cycling town and lots of people carry children around on bikes. Rear-mounted seats are the most popular but there are is also a significant number of trailer bikes — where a frame with bars, saddle and a single wheel are fixed to the main bike’s seat post — and quite a few trailers — where an independent trailer with two wheels and a cover is attached to the bike.. Having never ridden a bike with kids on board, I studied these options carefully over a number of months but all seemed less than ideal. I discounted both the trailer bike and full trailer options on the grounds that I would be uncomfortable having my precious cargo dangling behind me in the traffic. I thought I was also likely to spend more time than was sensible checking that she was still on board rather than concentrating on the road ahead. The rear-mounted seat was an option but the passengers I saw installed in such seats never appeared to have much of a view, particularly once the pedaller in chief had put on a backpack to take up what little room was available between the nose of the passenger and the backside of the rider. In addition, none of these options showed any sign of being much fun, whether you were pedalling or sitting; laughter was noticeable by its absence.

Forward-mounted seats, whether on the handlebars or crossbar, are rare in the UK but they struck me as rather more sensible, offering both peace of mind  and the opportunity for interaction. Plenty of Dutch companies offer such seats but my mouse kept wandering back to the Bakfiets. I dismissed it, of course — it would be ridiculous to spend that much money just to ferry a daughter around when you have already invested in all those slings, prams and buggies — but the more I looked at it the more sense it made. Living in the city and working from home, I don’t need to own a car (the last one was written off while it sat stationary outside the house by a Polish articulated truck) and I do have a garage. You cannot carry much shopping on a pram, even less on a buggy, and sooner or later someone is going to get sick of being pushed around and want to walk, rendering any journey a feat of endurance for both of us. If I needed any further persuasion, my mind was made up by a quick look at the interest being earned by the meagre savings already being hesitantly earmarked for  another bike.

I took delivery of my Bakfiets long cargo bike in July 2012 and can report that both captain and cargo are enjoying the experience enormously. What I thought might be something of an indulgence on my part has become an essential, used daily for the multiple trips to nursery, shop and park, whether just up the road or down into town. We’ve got used to being pointed and waved at, and the only thing to delay us now is stopping to talk to people who want to talk about this strange but loveable bike.

14 thoughts on “Why would you want a Bakfiets?

  1. I love this thing. Trust the Dutch to combine practical with cute.
    Lengthwise, it looks like the dragster of the biking world, but it is without doubt the safest thing I’ve seen for transporting child whilst riding bike – short of asking the missus to follow behind with said child in back of a Volvo.
    I probably can’t comment as have never been brave enough to haul a kiddie trailer myself, but those trailers dragged by bicycles worry me. I get nervous when approaching one in my car, but I am surrounded by oodles less blind spots than a lorry.
    More Bakfiets please. I am surprised that no one has made a serious play to import/build and market them in Britain.

    • There are few companies importing Bakfiets – I got mine from the good people at Kids and Family Cycles in Bournemouth (I’ll add them to a links page) – but I don’t think there is anyone in the UK manufacturing anything similar. Pashley still produce a wide range of workbikes but they haven’t branched out to include people carriers yet. However, if you want an ice-cream bike – and who doesn’t – they are your people.

      • Hi Jonny,

        Love the blog……glad to hear that you acheiving celebrity status in Oxford and choosing a sustainable mode of transport all at the same time! Just off to do my school run for my 3 boys in my Bakfiets too!

        Here’s a lovely review from a satisfied Kids and Family Cycles customer:
        “I love my Bakfiets. Despite it arriving just as winter set in, it is now our everyday way of getting to nursery and back. It was brilliant for the Christmas shopping too. We all love the fresh air, I love the exercise, and as another plus, it has given me and my son the confidence for him to cycle the journey as well, as I can pop him and his bike in mine if disaster strikes! You are absolutely right to call them life-changing bikes – they are. Mine is a joy to ride and I’ve had so many people stop me and admire it too. Thank you.”

        Camilla, Hertfordshire

        Kids and Family Cycles

  2. how does it handle on hills, both up and down? particularly headington hill, divinity road or morrel avenue?

    • It handles very well but you do have to accept that getting up a long hill with a very big bike is going to take some time. The Bakfiets has plenty of gears as long as you have the patience to push the pedals round. My journey from town up to Headington tends to take me through the meadows to John Garne Way, where I get off and push the last, particularly steep bit, or up Morrel Avenue, where I sit back and spin away until eventually I reach the top!

      • If the hills do get too much, or the children just get too heavy, you can always consider an electric cargo bike. Here is a link to a Youtube video showing you the new electric Kangaroo, which is UK compliant for all the UK electric bike legislation. Now available for £2999 and it really does offer you an low running cost alternative to a second car. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hc0xPW2zTQ

  3. I’m considering joining you in Oxford with this amazing sounding bike, and am thinking of getting an electric assisted one. Can I pick your brains?
    Living up in Headington, we use the very steep Barracks Lane most days – with an electric assist, presumably going up is OK, but I’ve seen it mentioned that if you need help to get up a hill on a Bakfiets, it probably isn’t safe to go down said hill as there’s not much chance of stopping! Is this true?
    Also, do you have problems finding places to lock and leave your bike?
    And, crucially, does it fit through the Barracks Lane bike barriers?!
    Thank you!

    • Having got up a hill on a Bakfiets, there doesn’t seem to be too much to worry about as you approach the descent. The stopping power of the hub brakes is perhaps not as sharp in feeling as the more traditional rim/block brakes but they shouldn’t give too much cause for concern unless you’re an inveterate thrill-seeker used to fast descents and last-minute braking. Taking it a little bit easier on the downhills, perhaps touching the brakes on the way down to take off some speed, could ease any worries and it is worth putting a tick in the ‘plus’ column for the fact that hubs are not affected by rain in the same way as rim/block brakes.

      With regard to locking a Bakfiets, a top-end U-lock with a wheel leash solves almost any parking problems. With regard to barriers, I don’t know the Barracks Lane obstacles but I have had to modify a few journeys to make sure that I can get the truck through, but I’ve only found one or two that have beaten us.

  4. I bought a Bakfiets Long Cargo Bike with electric assist about 2 years ago and just love it. I had a Burley trailer earlier and was never really happy as the little one often fell asleep in the back and his head was completely unsupported in that state. There’s also the issue of not having really good contact with the passenger. The Bakfiets avoids all of that. Now that our boy is nearly 7 and bicycles on his own bike he still sits like a little prince in the Bakfiets. We often give his friends a ride home too. There’s a degress of implicite safety in the bike – it being so unusual and creating quite a lot of attention when out in traffic. Probably aided by me “pimping” it with a flame job. The el. assist transforms the bike and makes it possible to climb the steep hill up to the school. Here in Stavanger there’s a number of hills so I would recommend the el. assistance version unless you live somewhere as flat as Holland. The brakes aren’t wonderful, but more than OK, as mentioned above the thing gathers quite a bit of speed on decents so continuous braking is necessary rather than one poweful application. I have a V brake on the front and the front fork “chatters” at certain speeds.

    Regarding locking the bike came with a eyelet on the fram to attach a chain too, typically Dutch, very practical. The paint finish is very good and the whole bike is designed to be a workhorse and not to be pampered too much. Cycle barriers as a problem in so much as you need to slow right down and take a long swing at them, but I rarely have to stop and get off the bike. Being so long it’s very stable even with a full load. It replaces the need for a second car and when you look at it like that it’s actually quite cheap.

    Perhaps the best of all is the number of smiles and acknowledement one gets when riding it from other traffic/pedestrians 🙂

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