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A mini-review and an update on Metrofiets

Posted by on October 24th, 2008 at 3:32 pm

Metrofiets drops by the office-8
Behind the bars of a Metrofiets,
with Phillip Ross, my 250-pound load.
(Photos J. Maus)

Phillip Ross from Metrofiets stopped by my office yesterday. I never got a chance to ride his Portland-made, bakfiets-inspired bike at the Oregon Manifest show, so wanted me to give it a whirl.

Before I took it around the block a few times (including once with 250 pound Phillip in the cargo box) I asked Phillip how things were going with the business. He said they were very busy at the Manifest show and that they’ve already got a few orders on the books. Right now, his partner (and builder of the bikes) Jamie Nichols, is working through an eight-bike run.

Needing more breathing room to work, Phillip says they’ve moved into a new shop space, doubling their square footage.

Metrofiets drops by the office-5 Metrofiets drops by the office-2 Metrofiets drops by the office-12

I also asked Phillip if they’d run into any legal issues in creating the bike. When I wrote about Metrofiets back in February, a few commenters — including WorkCycles owner Henry Cutler from Amsterdam — accused Metrofiets of patent infringement.

Phillip maintains, like he did back then, that he took special care to make sure the Metrofiets design did not infringe on any existing U.S. patents or copyrights and said there are no legal issues whatsoever.

When I finally got on the road, I immediately noticed the larger front wheel of the Metrofiets (it’s 4 inches larger in diameter than the Dutch version). It’s been a while since I rode an original bakfiets, but it seemed like steering the Metrofiets wasn’t quite as precise and crisp.

Metrofiets drops by the office-13

Out on the road, I could command the bike easily (after a few wobbles to get used to it). The frame has some liveliness/flex to it that I don’t recall on the the Dutch version. It’s nice to have some give in the frame material, and, combined with the larger front wheel, it adds a bit of shock-absorption.

After snapping a few pictures and attracting a lot of interest from employees of a nearby business (something that comes with the territory when riding such a beautiful bike), I swung back and had Phillip hop in the cargo bin.

At 250 pounds, he’s 50 over the stated weight limit of the box. I road around the block and even managed to snap a few pictures as I pedaled. I wouldn’t say it was easy to manage all the weight, but I wasn’t concerned at all that the bike couldn’t handle it.

Because it’s made locally and in small batches, the Metrofiets — which is already a very capable and well-designed bike — will only get better with age. Phillip said they’ve already added some gussets to the frame chassis. He also mentioned that they can customize the box design. One customer is getting a lock-box integrated into his, and Phillip says they’re making another with a fully closable lid over the top.

It’s great to see Phillip and Jamie’s business off and running. With Clever Cycles selling the original Dutch bakfiets and with a Chinese-made version just hitting the ground (more on that soon) Portland is fast-becoming an epicenter of cargo bikes in the U.S.

See a few more photos of my brief test ride in the gallery.

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Comments
  • Bent Bloke October 24, 2008 at 3:42 pm

    This is the obligatory “Where is his helmet?” post …

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) October 24, 2008 at 3:43 pm

    gee, thanks for nothing bent bloke

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  • Zaphod October 24, 2008 at 4:05 pm

    If/when the day comes when I need to upgrade my cargo capability beyond the Xtracycle, I’ll be looking at the Metrofiets. A bigger front wheel makes a lot of sense.

    With the locking box, they address an issue that I have with my Xtra: protecting your cargo. If I’m heading from work and need to grab groceries, I’m forced to bring the laptop with me. If I want to pick up beer and then grab vegetables from a different place, I have to get the veggies first or risk theft. I suppose it’s *possible* for someone to steal some rainbow chard but it’d be a first.

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  • Matt Picio October 24, 2008 at 4:24 pm

    Hey, they steal fryer grease now, it’s only a matter of time before the rainbow chard black market sets up shop.

    This is an awesome design, I wish Metrofiets the best of luck with this!

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  • Ethan October 24, 2008 at 4:45 pm

    I rode this bike a couple of weeks ago, and I can attest to a basic fact: the Metrofiets represents a measurable advance in the state of the art for this type of bike. I say this as a happy (original) Bakfiets owner. Some of the quirks of my Bak are noticeably reduced or absent altogether, and the Metro weighs over 30lbs less . . . meaningless in Amsterdam perhaps, but not in Portland and scores of other cities. Oh and it has Disc brakes. I’d sure like to have those when I carry three kids home in the rain.

    Still pending (and needed to make this bike truly viable in Portland) is a great canopy system to protect kids and cargo . . . but I hear this is in the works.

    Photos:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/ethanjewett/2939818237/

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  • peejay October 24, 2008 at 4:53 pm

    And with three competitors for the “SUB” market, here’s to hoping that the prices might come down a little!

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  • red hippie October 24, 2008 at 6:14 pm

    I like the Metrofiet but I would not consider it state of the art. These would be my cargo bikes of choice:
    http://www.larryvsharry.com/english/LarryvsHarryShop.html Total sex appeal.

    Notice the riding positions that allow a rider to get more of their weight behind the pedals. The top of thigh riding position on the Bikefiet gets very monotonous on longer hills.

    Maybe Metrofiet’s next model can allow for better hill climbing. I’d definitely be on the list for one.

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  • joel October 24, 2008 at 7:24 pm

    ive ridden the metrofiets in multiple incarnations now, and theyve done a fine job with it! im really pleased to see more options popping up in the cargo bike market, regardless of where they come from (though i have my biases towards local production…). i do believe it can still be done even lighter, but thats me – i wont be happy till i can buy a sub-50 lb long john :)

    my only quibble is still with the large front wheel. i understand why theyve gone with it, but for me, its just too sluggish, and doesnt do anything to improve the bike as far as my purposes are concerned – its a deal-breaker for me were i to be in the market for another long john style cargo bike.

    thankfully, im pretty sure metrofiets would be willing to build one with a 20″ front if i so desired.

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  • Peter October 24, 2008 at 8:42 pm

    It’s always seemed to me that a three-wheeled version of a cargo bike is what is needed – most needed, in fact, when dealing with heavy loads. The two-wheeled version just seems unstable – mostly when you’re stopped or moving slowly, but it seems you’d never really lose the unstable nature of the bike. Heavy load, much of it out front, only two wheels – i guess if they do it in Europe…

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  • joel October 25, 2008 at 6:24 am

    well, it depends on what you consider a heavy load.

    the long john style, two wheeled cargo bike works really well for fairly heavy loads, on account of its low center of gravity and large loading platform. you are correct – the most difficult times are when you are stopped – the transitions from fully stopped to just starting to move, and vice versa, as well as getting the bike up on the stand, are the most difficult moments with a heavy load. but the design is by no means unstable, and hardly unstable by nature. its a *very* stable design, by virtue of its low center of gravity, and the placement of the load *between* the two wheels.

    ive carried up to 400+ pounds on mine (a cat/hpm long haul), and, while i am a) of somewhat larger stature and b) quite experienced at handling larger loads on these bikes, things dont really start to get interesting until about 300-350 lbs, which is really quite a bit of weight to be carrying on a bicycle. but 400 is basically the max id considering carrying. (for what its worth, i think the manufacturer suggests 200-250 lbs as a payload limit. i know that its possible to build a long john designed to hold more weight than you could possibly handle on it, upwards of 500-600 lbs, which would be difficult for even the strongest of people. a geo metro has a payload limit of around 600 lbs, including passengers. i weigh about 180 lbs.)

    above 300 lbs or so, for most people, yes, i beleive a cargo trike is definitely something that should be available. there are load-carrying trikes available in the states, but most of them are either primarily low-payload child-haulers like the christiania, or boat anchor factory floor bikes like the worksman (im considering tadpole-type pushing trikes here, as my bias towards the superiority of pushing cargo is well known :) ). i would LOVE to see more and bigger cargo trikes available in this country, trikes like the one cafe velo uses (and bigger – i think of that trike as about 2/3 size to ones ive ridden in amsterdam).

    but in the hierarchy of cargo-hauling designs, the long john style *definitely* has its place, for loads and bulky objects in the 100-300 lb category, primarily because of its stability at these levels, and its maneuverability, which trikes by their very nature lack.

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  • Travis Wittwer October 25, 2008 at 6:58 pm

    Best to Metrofiets and everyone attached to it. I have followed the story with interests and it makes me smile that such a bike is made in Portland. To think that you can meet and work with the folks that make your bike is a great thing.

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  • jim October 26, 2008 at 7:01 pm

    How does this handle compared to a bike with a box behind you? I would think a box behind you with 2 wheels in the back that could tilt on their axis would be the way to go

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  • joel October 26, 2008 at 7:49 pm

    first off, i am going to say that i am unabashedly pro pushing cargo by pedal power rather than pulling it. just so you know where my bias is – but believe you me, its based on some measure of experience – ive ridden all kinds of cargo bikes, from full-blown cargo trikes down to longtails and cycletrucks, for varying periods of time, from briefly to quite extensively. i like to think i know at least somewhat what im talking about :)

    in my opinion, this design, commonly known as a “long john”, or, more recently, a “bakfiets”, is the BEST handling cargo bike at this weight point (as mentioned above – i consider this design most ideally suited for cargo in the 100-250 lb range). having the weight between the wheels, rather than largely centered over the rear wheel (as in a longtail, which can cover almost the same weight range, though the long john is better suited for bulkier objects), or over the front wheel (as in a filibus-style cargo bike, like bilenky makes), vastly improves the handling and stability. a properly designed long john, in capable hands, can be almost as maneuverable as a standard bike. since the cargo is in front of you, you can easily see what spaces you and your load will fit through, and adjust your steering accordingly, whereas i feel that bikes with trailing cargo loads require a bit more overshooting with steering. where you point the front wheel is where the rest of the bike is going to go, rather than having the wide turn effect like semi trucks do.

    in the cargo world, two-wheelers will almost ALWAYS outperform trikes when it comes to handling, all other variables being equal. im not entirely sure what you mean by wheels tilting on their axis, but as i envision what youre saying, thats a whole mess of additional complexity in the cargo area, which i prefer to keep as simple as possible.

    beyond that, cargo trikes, while having the advantage of larger payload capabilities, are wider than long johns, longtails etc. most of the ones ive ridden have HUGE a turning radius.

    even in the world of cargo trikes, i will ALWAYS pick one with the cargo space in front of the cyclist. you can see the load, interact with the load better, and in all of my experience, its easier to move and maneuver the load.

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  • JP October 27, 2008 at 10:06 am

    How sweet would it be to have a folding cargo bike?! A bike that could somehow fit on the MAX or the plane. I know: the box could transform into a carrying case for the bike itself. Okay, whoever decides to make it from my idea, all I’ll charge is 1 free bike.

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  • BicycleMike October 27, 2008 at 3:41 pm

    Great bike no doubt about that. My only thought is this, the price needs to come down, it it is crazy expensive. I know, cheaper than a car. It’s not out of my price range, I could write a check today but wow it’s just waaay to expensive. In the end it’s all about personal needs, what is too expensive for me might be right up anothers alley. If the price came down quit a bit I’d buy one today.

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  • biketruck October 28, 2008 at 9:00 pm

    I think that the price is what it is Bicycle Mike. It costs about the same as a Bakfiets from Clever Cycles. But it has disc brakes, looks better and it is made in the USA with material from the USA. That alone was reason enough for me to put my order in. This is not a wallmart bike. It is being hand built for me by people I have met. YES…It would be cool if they built a dozen at a time. That might bring down the cost but as I said cost isn’t the primary reason I ordered one. Besides the Metrofiets kicks the Bakfiets A** in weight, style and handling. It’s 30 lbs lighter! That 30 pounds made a big difference when I was pushing it up the hill near my house. And coming down the hill with my girl friend in the box…the disc brake worked without jamming on the brake levers. With a Bakfiets I have to PLAN AHEAD to make a stop when loaded (with cargo) ;)

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  • Office bee October 31, 2008 at 3:58 pm

    I just rode the bike in the picture! Philip was at Stumptown coffee and let me ride it around the block a few times. Nicer ride than I thought it would be. I have never ridden one of the clever bikes. It was easy and not as scary as it looks. I love the color!

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  • jim November 2, 2008 at 1:08 am

    Maybe an amber light on the front to help make the long low front more visable in our grey cast metro setting (safety first)

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  • jim November 3, 2008 at 11:25 pm

    Joel-
    Thanks for the reply
    -Jim

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