(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.
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.
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 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).
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’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.