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With Madsen, an unlikely inspiration and a new approach to cargo

Posted by on November 7th, 2008 at 2:32 pm

Bike Gallery owner Jay Graves takes an employee (his son Simon) for a spin on a Madsen cargo bike at the kickoff event last night.
(Photos J. Maus)

Last night at the Hollywood Bike Gallery store, Portlanders got their first chance to kick the tires of the new Madsen Cycles cargo bike.

Madsen preview party at Bike Gallery-5
Jared Madsen.

Jay Graves hosted the party and Mr. Jared Madsen himself flew in from Salt Lake City (where his company is headquartered) to answer questions and share his bikes with us.

Madsen is a 35-year-old father of three (ages 2, 5, and 8) whose youthful good lucks belie his life and business experiences. Before diving head first into the bike industry, Madsen owned a construction company. Prior to that, he was an engineer and fabricator. Working on a contract basis, he would design and build prototypes of everything from vending machines to foldable electric scooters. After the prototype was built, he would take the design to China and work with a factory to produce the product.

Madsen preview party at Bike Gallery-9
Daniel, a father of two, gives it a test-ride.

It wasn’t until inspiration struck from an unlikely place that Madsen ever considered bringing a product of his own to market.

At a design conference in July of 2005, he heard a talk by journalist/author Robert Neuwirth. The topic was the growth of shanty-towns or “squatter communities” that are springing up all over the world — fueled by an estimated 70 million people a year moving into urban areas. As Neuwirth (who sees these as hopeful and positive places full of opportunity) described the mud-ridden and narrow roads in places like Mumbai (India) and Rio de Janeiro, Madsen had a revelation.

“They need a cargo bike.”

Madsen preview party at Bike Gallery-10
The bin has two bench seats and
buckles for the kiddies.

Madsen had previously lived in Holland for two years and the daily biking culture had a major impact on him. “I saw this whole new lifestyle and realized that a bike can do so much more than I ever thought.”

Fueled with memories of bakfiets in Holland, Neuwirth’s ideas about shanty-towns and his talents as a designer and engineer, Madsen got to work.

He told me he loves the traditional, cargo-in-the-front bakfiets design (and his early prototypes were in that style), but in his opinion, the bakfiets has a few flaws he wanted to overcome. Thinking back about the rough and muddy roads in the shanty-towns, Madsen determined that the front-loading design couldn’t handle off-road and/or bumpy conditions. “You can’t really unweight the front wheel on the bakfiets. And, rough transitions, like going up a small curb, can be tough.”

The end result is the Madsen kg271 — a bike with a standard front end and an elongated rear section that accommodates a large bin draped over a 20-inch wheel (a non-bin, rack version is also available).

Madsen preview party at Bike Gallery-7
A close-up of the bin
over the rear wheel.

The bin is made with the same process (roto-molding) and out of the same material (polyethlene) as whitewater kayaks. It is light and extremely durable.

Madsen initially thought he would sell the bikes in Europe, but now his four-person company is focused solely on the U.S. market. Since he designed the first prototype two years ago, the cargo bike and family biking market in the U.S. has matured.

At the recent Interbike trade show, Madsen said he didn’t think anyone would even notice his bikes. “I just got the smallest, cheapest booth possible,” he said. But after he got written up in a show publication the first day, streams of interested bike shop owners and industry members came through his booth.

“We were blown away with the response at Interbike.”

Madsen preview party at Bike Gallery-6
This is a prototype rain shell.

Madsen’s now busy making his first shipments to bike shops throughout the country and dealing with last-minute production glitches. Bike Gallery is the first shop in the country to have the Madsen’s available for retail sale.

At the event last night, Bike Gallery head buyer Joel Grover said they intend to focus on the family market; “We see people buying these to take their kids to school.” For a large shop like Bike Gallery to stock a bike like this is a major sign of change in the industry. Just a year ago, people would have laughed at a bike like this. Now, Grover just hopes they ordered enough to keep up with demand.

“We definitely see a future in this category,” he said.

The bikes are $1,299 and one-size-fits all. More info at MadsenCycles.com.

I’ve got a Madsen for myself for a few days and I’ll be sharing my initial impressions about it soon. BikePortland.org’s Family Biking columnist Marion Rice will also be test-riding a Madsen so stay tuned for her review as well.

NOTE: At BikePortland, we love your comments. We love them so much that we devote many hours every week to read them and make sure they are productive, inclusive, and supportive. That doesn't mean you can't disagree with someone. It means you must do it with tact and respect. If you see an inconsiderate or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan and Michael

  • chuck November 7, 2008 at 2:42 pm

    I saw Jonathan’s at the VEER VIP screening last night. looks really awesome. not a bad price tag for a work bike, too. looks like you could be creative and come up with new racks/buckets for the rear as well.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) November 7, 2008 at 2:50 pm

    i can’t wait to see someone fill the bucket up with ice and drinks this summer (boy that seems like a long way away!).

    and yes, there are drain plugs at the bottom of the bin.

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  • Paul Tay November 7, 2008 at 3:03 pm

    Why am I not impressed enough to replace my lowly $99 Wal-Mart kiddie trailer?

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  • junixrose November 7, 2008 at 3:25 pm

    With the rain shell the bike looks like a pedal powered pope mobile.

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  • Aaron November 7, 2008 at 3:35 pm

    Wow! Half the price of a Bakfiets! Now we’re talking. Looks fabulous.

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  • Bent Bloke November 7, 2008 at 3:55 pm

    Cool to see more cargo bike offerings. Even recumbent makers are getting into the act. Check out the Rans HammerTruck:


    A little more money ($1995) than the Madsen, and more like an XtraCycle.

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  • KWW November 7, 2008 at 3:58 pm

    Now I can have a healthy lifestyle whilst my chauffeur sweats it out, going up west Burnside, enroute to my palatial McMansion in the west hills!

    Onward Jeeves!

    Is the jockey whip included?

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  • Anonymous November 7, 2008 at 4:02 pm

    That “employee” cargo Jay Graves is hauling is none other than his son, rising star mechanic Simon Graves who already can out-tune his Ol’ Pa on anything newer than an ’84 BMX.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) November 7, 2008 at 4:17 pm

    thanks for the tip.. i didn’t realize that was Jay’s son… my how quickly they grow up.

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  • Graham November 7, 2008 at 4:53 pm

    How funny, I was just moments ago walking home from the coffee shop, and saw one of these for the first time ever, bumping up 51st, near Hawthorne. I was curious about the bike, got home, and lo and behold, here is the information I seek.

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  • pursuitabeast November 7, 2008 at 6:30 pm

    I got to ride one of these for about 6 blocks today. Fun and easy to ride! Couldn’t convince any of my friends to ride in the bucket though.

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  • Jed November 7, 2008 at 8:43 pm

    I saw one of these in the flesh at the office space I work at. I have to say that I was completely impressed beyond my expectations. I had seen the photos on this site, but man, in person, this bike is sick! I currently use an old bike wit a modified Burley trailer as my SUV, but now I thing I might move on over to Madsen.

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  • Ian C. November 7, 2008 at 9:32 pm

    I’m so happy to see so many cargo bikes coming out. The Bakfiets is just way too expensive, but this is prices just about right for a family with small kids.

    Too bad my kids have outgrown such things!


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  • Joe Rowe November 7, 2008 at 9:41 pm

    Freakin Awesome! The more cargo bikes the merrier. My first feeling of the grass is greener as a Bakefiet owner. The benefits of a Madsen ( A Danish name FYI ) are a front disc brake ( nice ) and lower price tag. The Bakfeit has a lot going for it the Madsen lacks: Theft resistant, always ready hub lighting system. Room for 4 kids in front where you can see them, in the rain there is no road splatter and no brake issues, millions of tested miles and years of design perfection, integrated lock. You want a cargo bike to be like a car, grab the key and go! No worries about lights, trailer, clothing, or bike issues. I thought I might regret our Bakfiet purchase, but afterwards I wondered why I did not buy it sooner. It changes your life in so many good ways.

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  • Corn Dogg November 8, 2008 at 1:45 pm

    I had a chance to check one of these out today, and I must say, they are pretty sweet. Much easier to ride than one would think. It handles better than you would expect from something like this. I was quite surprised as to how it rode with a 200lb friend riding in the back. It took a little extra work to get up hill, but honestly, how often are you really going to haul 200lbs or more on something like this. Great bang for the buck!!! Go try one for yourself, you will probably be amazed.

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  • […] Some background on Madsen. […]

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  • bearhat November 9, 2008 at 2:13 pm

    pretty funny seeing Simon fit in the bin ’cause he’s one tall fella. awesome.

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  • Jessica Roberts November 10, 2008 at 2:39 pm

    It was fun to see you and the girls biking by on Saturday, Jonathan, though I bet they would have liked a bakfiets-style rain cover…I look forward to the full report. I’m particularly curious about what you think of the cargo-in-front vs. cargo-in-back configurations.

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  • jason November 14, 2008 at 11:14 pm

    Just got my own Madsen bike, have been giving kids rides around the neighborhood in the dark – they don’t want to get out! Was able to haul 4 kids, too much fun.

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  • Joe Rowe November 29, 2008 at 1:20 am

    Ohhh. There is one more advantage in a bakfeit missing from a Madsen and that is the ability to shift while not in motion. The internal 8 speed can do a lot of things a deraileur and cog can’t touch. In other words, if you are hauling any load on a madsen it is hard and/or wobbly to start up on a Madsen unless you remembered to shift to an easy gear before you came to a stop.

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  • Julian December 3, 2008 at 11:36 am

    This preview and your flickr pix got us so worked up we couldn’t wait for the full review … our detailed 1st week impressions are here

    I’m a big bakfiets fan, and were money no object, we’d probably have one. But the Madsen has a very nice thing going on. Hauling cargo in the back works great, but kids in front is more social for the driver (they have a blast either way, the more the merrier). And it really lends itself to a dual tube down low glow on the lower tube.

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  • Steve July 7, 2009 at 10:51 pm

    News update. As of July 7th the Downtown bike gallery has a sale on the Madsen. I was there the other day.

    $300 off if my memory is correct.

    Old price : $1300

    new price : $1000

    seems too good to be true.

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