Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Chinese Cargo Bikes are OK with me.

That? Right there in front of the Smart car? That's us (minus Catie, who took the picture) on my cargo bike. (We posed there because I get a kick out of the fact that my bike can hold 200% more people than a Smart and still uses less gas.)

The main bike is a Virtue School Bus - the non-electric-assist version, bought from Iron City Bikes in Pittsburgh. Tristan is chilling up front in the box. The attachment is (I think) a second-hand Tagalong - Daniel is probably too big for it now, but he's not very confident riding on his own yet. (That Tagalong handles like it's been through a war, anyway - it's probably time to retire it and get him riding independently.)

Yes, I ride a Chinese built cargo bike.

That's controversial in the cargo bike world. Most "serious cargo cyclers" will tell you that a Chinese built bike is a "BSO" (bike-shaped object) not worth the components on it. "Why are you wasting your money on that bike? You should be riding a hand built CETMA Largo, or maybe a Workcycles KR8. At the very least, you should buy from some country other than China!" When I asked why, people started talking about things like frame failure, shoddy parts, and companies masquerading as high quality Dutch bikes when they were really cheap knock offs.

I'm not saying that Workcycles and CETMAs aren't totally awesome. They are high quality, handmade bikes, and if I had the means I wouldn't mind having one. But running down all Chinese bikes because they're made from inferior parts and metal, or because they're just not European, doesn't exactly wash. Some varieties of bikes that are "Made in the UK" or "Made in the EU" are actually just assembled and finished there, out of Chinese frames and parts. The components on the Virtue bikes are Shimano, which are industry standard parts. Yes, if you're deciding to import a container ship of bikes, you need to be careful that you're dealing with an honest company that isn't trying to pass off counterfeit goods, but if you're buying from a company stateside they will have already checked those things out. I felt much more confident in buying my Virtue after talking to the bike shop - they told me that everyone who had bought one through their shop had been very happy with it. They hadn't seen any problems with frame weakness or component problems, and I've been very happy with mine too. The only thing that has had to be replaced was (I think) a brake cable and some inner tubes. It rides well.

I freely admit, I bought the Virtue instead of another brand because I had $1000 to spend and no more. My next choice after a Virtue would have been a bike from tomscargobikes.com, but as it happens he's on hiatus until after January 2015. I love the idea of an upcycled bike made from donor bike parts, but I just don't have the know-how to build one myself. A Workcycles KR8 is beautiful, and built to withstand a bomb, but costs over $4000 plus shipping! A sight too rich for my blood, especially since the only East Coast dealer just closed up shop, so it would HAVE to be shipped.

If I were to do it over again and I had a little more money at my disposal, I would have gotten a Worksman front loader with the 7 speed option, and built a box to go on it. Why? The only real drawback I found to my School Bus is common to most front loading cargo bikes in any price category - the cargo weight limit is listed at around 150 lbs. I can easily top that with two kids and some groceries, and I know many people just push their limit to see what they can haul. Maybe that's why there were frame failures? But the Worksman is rated for 500 lbs, and is made in the USA. With a home-built box, you could reasonably carry adults, special needs kids, luggage, groceries, and large dogs along with whatever else you want to carry. What's more, it's more affordable - only about $1200 with 7 speeds - than most other options.

In my next post, I'll get into why I went with a front loader trike instead of a 2 wheeler or a long tail like the Edgerunner.

Oh - by the way! My book is going to be FREE for Kindle on Black Friday! If you get it, please review it on Amazon - it makes a huge difference in how many people will see it.

Edited - I don't agree with the human rights violations in China, and I prefer to buy American when possible. I just want to clarify that just because they're not hand-crafted beside a Dutch canal doesn't make these bikes worthless. They're still a viable option for people wanting a cargo bike. 

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