(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)
48 year-old Sellwood resident Alistair Williamson is like many other entrepreneurs with a passion for product design. When he set out to find a specific product and couldn’t; he decided to make it himself. For Williamson, the product was a bike that would be long enough for a child to safely ride on the rear rack, yet have a short enough wheelbase so it would fit on a bus or in an elevator. It also had to be strong enough to carry well over 100 pounds on the back, yet lively enough to be a fun-to-ride-everyday city bike.
Williamson’s quest to build that bike began in his basement in the fall of 2010. Next month he’ll start selling the Portland-made Midtail Flyer under the banner of his new company, Kinn Bikes.
The story of Kinn Bikes is as much about Portland as it is about Williamson’s personal quest. As he took the concept from idea to reality, he tapped into our city’s connected, supportive, and rapidly maturing manufacturing industry that is very well-suited to build bicycles.
(Photo: Tom LaBonty)
When I met Williamson back in February he was showing off his second prototype (neither the bike or the company had a name at that point). That bike was made by veteran local builder Joseph Ahearne. Ahearne’s early interest in the concept played a key role in proving to Williamson that the idea was worth pursuing. “After one conversation, he lengthened one of his jigs, and went for it,” Williamson recalled. The first prototype was built by another Portland builder, cargo bike maker Tom LaBonty.
LaBonty, who has built his share of cargo bikes, thinks the time has come for bikes like the Midtail Flyer. “People can see, and desire, the value of moving larger loads by bike; but for a lot of people, space, parking and storage are a deciding factor,” he says, “This style of bike has the potential to be a satisfying compromise… it feels like hatchbacks are on the cargo bike horizon. We got the mini-vans and station wagons, we have some trucks and recently we’ve seen a few sports cars — now here come the Subarus.”
Thinking back to those first prototypes, Williamson says he knew he was onto something when his grandkids loved riding on it. “It worked,” he said. What makes you say that? I asked. “Because my kids wanted to go faster, which was my clue that they felt safe.”
Below are a few photos of the finished product (including a shot of the nifty, lockable rear cargo box):
Williamson is a newcomer to the bike world. He came to the U.S. from the United Kingdom in 1988. He was working at Textronix as a systems engineer with their computer aided design tools. Wanting a change, he asked for a transfer to work at Tektronix in Beaverton, where worked for 10 years. After his career at Tektronix, he and a friend started a software company, which Williamson led as CEO during the high-tech boom in the late 1990s. Williamson says, that there was no eye-popping financial payoff for anyone, he learned a lot during the company’s rapid growth. “Then the high tech bubble burst, and there was a struggle to regroup afterwards,” he recalled.
In a change of gears, he went to work for Equal Exchange, a worker-owned coop that builds relationships with small farmers and brings their commodity products (like coffee, bananas, nuts and so on) to market. Williamson spent six years at Equal Exchange, designing the company’s financial systems. Now that he’s moved onto Kinn Bikes, this “designer at heart” says he’s happy to be working on something tangible again.
With success on his early prototypes and strong interest from biking minds he respected, Williamson was faced with the classic bike industry decision: Should he build the brand and have the bikes made overseas, or figure out a way to make them here in the U.S. His options for making them domestically were not great. There are some companies who could do the work, but none that would allow him to sell the bikes at the price point he hoped for (around $2,000 retail).
Then Zen Bicycle Fabrication set up shop in Portland. Zen, with a full staff of framebuilders and high-volume production capabilities, was just what Williamson needed (more on the company in our profile from last October).
Remembering back, Williamson said, “At that point, I might have let interest build, then ultimately have gone to Asia… But with Zen in town…”
Williamson has worked with Zen on the frames for the past five months. More than just weld the frame tubes together, the crew at Zen — including owner David Woronets and engineer Rick Zitzmann — also develop the bike’s innovative rear dropouts (taking them from Ahearne’s prototype and a sketch to a detailed engineering drawing) and helped test the strength of the rear rack.
Zen is far from the only local company Williamson has tapped into: Sugar Wheel Works is hand-building the first run of wheels; The Bike Commuter shop in Sellwood has given Williamson workshop space, tools to borrow, and valuable insights into the bike business; Parks Metal Products (in Aloha) is laser cutting the dropouts and other small parts; Williamson is building the racks and assembling the first batch of bikes at ADX in southeast Portland; the rear rack is inlaid with material from Bamboo Revolution; the rear rack cushion is made by Mugwump; and the tool roll that comes inside the tool box is made by Portland’s Bundle and Stow.
“I figure that over 80% of the final price of a bike bought in Portland goes to companies based in Portland. That’s a pretty good use of dollars.”
— Alistair Williamson
In part because of his work at Equal Exchange, Williamson maintains a deep respect for supporting small, local businesses and he strove to have as much of the bike made in Portland as he could. “I figure that over 80% of the final price of a bike bought in Portland goes to companies based in Portland,” he said, “That’s a pretty good use of dollars.”
Throughout his journey, Williamson went through many of the challenges you’d expect from someone pouring their heart into a start-up business. “I would obsess over details,” he explained, “some which are vital, some are useful, but some because personal fetishes and should be let go of. It can be hard to tell which is which.” He has also had a general “lack of sleep, lack of money, and lack of weekends,” for the past two years.
But Williamson was quick to share the joys as well:
“Seeing it work. Having the grandkids wanting to take the bike to the hardware store, the grocery store, soccer practice, OMSI. Having them chant ‘faster, faster!’ from the back. Going down a steep-ish, rooty, muddy path and having them shout “do it again” when we got to the bottom. Really, the chance to turn a chore/errand where you used to strap a kid into the back of a car into a neighborhood, outdoors adventure that you do together — that is genuine, heartfelt magic.”
Family riding is at the heart of Kinn Bikes. The name itself, Williamson says, was inspired by two words, “kin” (as in family) and “kinetic” (related to motion). “KinKinectic was quite a mouthful and KineticKin sounded like a cartoon character,” reads the Kinn website, “So we adopted Kinn to mean ‘family in motion’.”
Now, nearly two years after Kinn Bikes was born in his basement, Williamson’s business is finally in motion too.
The Kinn Bikes website just went live a few minutes ago. Kinn’s partner shop, The Bike Commuter in Sellwood, will have two Midtail Flyers on hand for test-rides starting August 21st, with the first full batch of bikes ready for sale a few weeks later. Williamson says he’ll sell the bike in 4-5 shops (including one in Seattle) and he’ll sell them direct via his website to people outside the area.
The bikes will come in two basic versions — with either a nine-speed rear derailleur for $1,950 or an 8-speed Shimano Alfine internal hub for $2,200. Wheel size is 700c (standard road bike size). If you’re curious how this bike fits on bus racks, the front wheel is made to easily flip around, shaving several inches off the wheelbase length. More info at KinnBikes.com.
Love the bike, but I have a hard time believing it will fit in a Trimet bus rack. My standard length fat-tire 29er takes some serious wrestling to squeeze into those racks, even with the front wheel turned backwards (to shorten the wheelspan a bit). This bike looks WAY too long to have any hope to fit. I’d love to be wrong on this…
Oh, I just realized, after viewing his site, that the bike also utilizes the turn-front-wheel-around trick. Well done, Mr. Williamson.
I’ve never heard of that trick (perhaps because I’m used to rim brakes), but that answers my question.
Incredibly nifty project and so local! Hats off.
Plus hidden inside the head tube is a little spring detent that lightly holds the wheel in place when you twist it backwards so you can lift or carry the bike without the wheel & handlebars flopping about.
It’s one of my favorite parts of the bike; just enough ‘fold’ to make it work by using the part of the bike that ‘folds’ anyway.
I’ll be watching this and waiting for a 26″ wheel and seat tube length options.
The seat tubes are approx 19″ and 21.5″ for the two sizes.
There was lots of back and forth on wheel size early on, but with a small run we had to chose just one size and it was 700c. I’d love to hear if it’s question of rider size or other preferences that lean you to 26 inch wheels.
And to all, we are always interested in people preferences and perspectives; you can help us make a better bike.
Thanks, my bad for not actually reading through your info specs.
Getting the seat tube length down to the 15″ range along with a lower rear rack would help with the shorties out there.
26″ rims are just plain stiffer, stronger, more universal plus tire choices and price points.
Anywhuzzzle just what I need as the Troll I am on is very whippy when loaded and needs to be changed out.
I would be available for beta testing a 21.5 with 26″ wheels you can pick the color.
Alistair, one reason I sold my Kona Ute after trying it for a month was that I found I really preferred the lower height of my 26″-wheeled Yuba Mundo. With a load placed up high on the rear rack–especially a load with unpredictable movement, like my kids–I like the feeling of greater stability that I seem to experience when riding slightly lower to the ground.
I know some people like to more easily attain and maintain speed with taller wheels, but for my purposes, i.e. carrying cargo (living or otherwise), going faster is not a virtue.
I also like the ready retail supply of fatter tires for 26″ wheels, which make for a quieter ride and are a big bonus when carrying more weight over irregularities in the roadway.
Awesome bike–just awesome.
I gave up my kona ute just because of that, too. It sure did roll but I’m short and the higher bottom bracket made it tricky to balance at a stop without reaching the ground (track stands are not my forte – with two kids on the back, anyway). Now I have a nifty handmade longtail with 26″ wheels, which suits me MUCH better. I find the stability and weight distribution to be much improved… whether due to the wheel size alone or the general change in design is not clear to me. In any case, my bike won’t fit on a bus/max :-/ I definitely need the capacity for grocery shopping, though. 3 young boys make for a hungry family!
Yep. A big drawback carrying more than one kid on the UTE is that the cargo deck is centered aft of the rear axle, rather than directly over it (or in front of it), so with a second kid the weight behind the rear axle caused my front wheel to skip during turns.
I’m no mechanical engineer, but I presume that this condition is exacerbated when the rear cargo load rides higher, as with taller wheels, which in essence creates a longer lever exerting downward force behind the rear axle, and increasing front-end lift.
Doh. Jonathan, please feel free to delete that prior post with the photo link. I had previously borrowed the photo from the Joe Bike site. I just realized I’m a pic thief, using a family I don’t even know as subjects. Apologies to any and all.
Certainly some of that is the wheel size, and some, as you note is the bottom bracket height which is independent of wheel size.
For the reasons you give the Kinn has a low bottom bracket (over 1″ lower than the Kona’s). But as I too discovered working with Joseph Ahearne, if you want a great fit for an unusual bike, a custom frame is very hard to beat. Enjoy!
Put me down as a 700c lover. I personally find it a much more versatile size. Just my 2 cents.
I love the design, but it doesn’t boda boda well with my pocketbook.
Were this a different web site I would be directing you to pay the Pun Jar, an imaginary beast that consumes anything. But sine we are a long war from the Twin Cities I’ll just suggest you drop Mr. Maus a little something via PayPal (or PunPal if your account works).
Great design, and I personally think it’s a real bargain for a hand made bike! Kudos for thinking about the needs of most cyclists and going through prototypes. Oh, and using local vendors, so cool! I would love to get on the list, visit Portland, and bring one back to Hawaii!
wow, a bike to carry the kid AND it fits on the bus rack?! I’m in love!
Nicely done. I look forward to seeing them proliferate.
Cargo bike roll call tomorrow night (thursday) at Green Dragon?
I didn’t see the weight in the on-line specs. Does anyone have it?
We haven’t weighed the bike with it’s final, final component set. But including the fenders and rack (obviously) we’re predicting it’ll be 34-38lb’s depending on frame size and gearing choice.
How does that sound to you?
We’ll post an official weight range by August 21st.
Sounds dreamy 🙂
Love the bamboo back bumm-board, but my little darlings would,ve had to have some closed-cell foam for traction & cush. Owner-installed option, I guess.
Fortunately we have them covered! 1.5″ inches of closed cell comfiness shrouded in glorious recycled color, custom made to fit the Kinn.
Here’s a photo, there’ll be more details on the site by August 21st.
The nifty footpegs work too as they can take some wight in bumpy sections, just like we do with the pedals.
P.S. to find the right thickness (not too expensive, not too thin) I rode off of the six inch kerb in front of our house time and again with assorted neighbors/grandkids on the back it we got it just right.
Well done Alistair, The finished production product looks great. I am looking forward to throwing my leg over one next time I am up there. I should have a Rambler you can take for a spin as well. Fingers crossed that these multiply like rabbits for you
Alistair, awesome work! What say ye to a parent of twins?
Trailers have their use, but this format answers the problem of carrying your kid-hauling rig easily on transit, up/down stairs, and stowing it away with minimum space required. I’ve got two kid trailers, and they both live full-time in the driveway behind my house under a tarp because they’re too wide to routinely bring inside the house (no garage).
Hmmm, I’d probably say buy Surly Big Dummy (and a Kinn too, why not?). I think Surly makes some very well thought out steel and you can fit two of almost anything on a Big Dummy.
You can have a front (ages 1-3) and rear Yepp seats (2 on up) on a Kinn, and I have had two kids on the back of my bike. However I wouldn’t want that to be my everyday bike transportation for two of the same age.
Of course you could also get two Kinns, or as they’d probaly to call it “Kiiinns for Twiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinnnnns”. Then they cam make you race each other.
With all this tech talk, may I ask what’s the rear drop-out spacing?
In my experience a heavily loaded 700C dished for a 9-speed cassette goes through spokes like a teen-age wannabe punk rocker goes through guitar strings. As tandem manufacturers have learned, dishing for 145mm drop-out spacing is better and 160mm is best. Trekalized has millions in tooling invested in 135mm, but the rest of us shouldn’t be equally beholden to their profit margins.
Hi Alan, you certainly may, it’s 135mm.
And I understand your concern, finding a suitable wheel took a long time. When we were looking at the best use of money to get a strong, reliable wheel for the Kinn, we saw could spend more on a hub or more on the wheel building itself. We chose wheel building with Sugar Wheel Works in Portland hand building the wheels. That also, to your other point keeps the profits, the learning and the responsibility in our community.
It’s always a balancing act, but we think the wheels are well specified and unusually well built, Jude (of Sugar WW) call them the Silent Heros of the bike. Still, if we are wrong and the wheels are up to the task we’ll fix it. Meanwhile if a spoke breaks you’ll be glad to hear there’s a 3 year spoke replacement guarantee. You won’t see that on many production bikes.
Finally have the Alfine internal gear hub option. No dish, and high flange make for a very, very strong wheel indeed.
Any thoughts on a future Gates belt-drive option with the Alfine hub? (Yes, I realize it would require a designed frame-break at the stays or drop-outs). Likewise any add-ons planned for a chain-guards, dynamo lighting, etc.?
I’d love to do a gates belt drive, but it’s not the frame that’s the problem: Gates only make a 5 belt lengths and none of them is long enough. I even looked at a German belt drive system that is similar but has longer belts but it was too expensive. Fortunately chain and chain guard still work well.
and so to the rest:
Chain guard – it will come with one standard, not shown in the photo because the particular guard had not arrived yet.
Dynamo – there is an option to have an Alfine dynamo on the front. The light choice is up to you or your local shop.
There will be seat cushions & stoker bar & footpegs for the rear sold as accessories.
Kickstand, there will be two choices, a 2 legged for those putting a child seat on the back and a one-legged if you are not and prefer and simpler kickstand.
Time for me to get the accessories page up!
Very nice bike. What I really love is the collaborative nature of this project! Kudos to everyone in the local cycling industry who have contributed.
1. Consider an Alfine-11 as an ungrade. The -8 has some big gaps between gears. 2. If you do a smaller frame, go for 26″ wheels on that one.
“ungrade” should be upgrade, of course!
I like the collaborative nature too – and now it includes the people on his thread and their insights and suggestions. I raise my coffee mug to you all.
I actually have the Alfine 11 on my bike. I love it, but it’s quite expensive too (it would add a few hundred dollars to the price). I’m curious, how much extra would it be worth to you?
This is the first bike I’ve seen in the cargo/urban typeset that just screams at me, “This is a really well-thought out bike.” The touches are really fantastic, especially for a production bike. I would totally get one if I had the cash.
Bike does look good. Mixte style top tube and down tube curved where it meets the head tube, visually complement each other, in addition to serving practical purposes. Thinking about whether the frames’ relaxed geometry would allow good riding position using drop handle bars, or if using them would be completely contrary to the bike’s general concept. Not that a 38 lb bike is ever going to be a racing bike, but conveniently being able to lower one’s profile by riding the drops, can be a nice way to cheat headwinds.
Seeing how the rear rack front supports evolved in the prototypes, from straight lines to angled lines joining with and crossing the seat tube in the final design, is exciting. That eventual change really perked up the bike’s visuals.
The bikes’ lines also bring to mind ebike-pedal assist potential. Of course, something like that would be more weight and more money.
Glad you like the bike, it really was a pleasure crafting it to get the very most out of the space and materials while striving for elegant lines.
As for drop handlebars, no problem at all. I’m expecting a few people to swap out the bars for drops. the bike is not quite as laid back as most cargo bikes, after all it’s design to work well as an single rider commuter or everyday bike too. The front geometry is very close to a traditional touring bike (for fellow bike geeks it’s 72/72 angles, an 80mm bottom bracket drop, and 45mm fork rake). In fact I think it would make a great adventure touring bike – huge load capacity, long wheel base gives it a cushy ride plus it can take 2″ tires and fenders.
Happy to see such a nice thoroughly designed product. So much better that so much of the work is done with local labor, talent, and materials. Time to take back our country from the 1% run monopolies one small business at a time;)
Can’t wait for a test ride. Might take awhile but this might just be my next bike! Glad to hear about thoughts of a belt drive. Just have to get Gates (last I knew a great US family run business) to seize the opportunity.
Anyone heard any inkling if Chris King ever thought of making an IGH? That could be really cool. I know, day dreaming about a total niche product but can you blame me?
The bike looks pretty! And useful! I’m very excited to see another entry in the mid-tail market. I’d love to see pics of it all loaded up with kid(s) and panniers. Could you add a front rack/basket as well?
Thanks, and pictures are coming next week.
You can put a basket and front racks on the bike (it has rack bosses on the fork dropouts and mid-blade). However the basket/rack means you can’t flip the front wheel round to make it shorter. You get to chose whats more important to you.
In full disclosure, haven’t ridden a midtail yet. My life revolves in many ways around carrying two kids and their stuff, and a midtail hasn’t seemed practical for that. Having spent so much time working on the LT platform, I am genuinely curious how far one can ‘stretch’ the capacity of bike while keeping the wheelbase manageable, but I fear that the midtail concept leaves a lot on the table for folks looking for a truly versitile yet rideable bike – but time will tell. In sum, we at Xtracycle can’t let go of those precious 8 – 10″ in length, but we’re finding some great ways to address some of the handling issues endemic to all longtails built off of 26″ wheels. Here’s the inside scoop: http://www.xtracycle.com/blog/edgerunner-series-part-2/
“My life revolves in many ways around carrying two kids and their stuff, and a midtail hasn’t seemed practical for that.”
Maybe that is the problem right there.
The increase in one-child families in the US has been more than 3x faster than the drop in two-child families since 2000. Perhaps Alastair is hip to that. 15.149 million households in the US with one child (2010 census). I bet if Alastair can sell ten percent of them one of these bikes he’ll be pleased. 🙂
I’m a big fan of longtails, and of the groundbreaking work Xtracyle has done over the last decade. If you look up-thread you’ll see I recommended Sean (with twins) buy a Surly big dummy (a longtail). However besides one-child families that 9watts mentions there are also those who need their everyday bike commuting/errand bike to cope with a kid, like when you get the call at work.
“Honey, I’m still at the doctors with Mitch, can you pick up Suki from childcare?”
Or for families who have their kids one at a time; buy a midtail at first, then when child number two arrives, the Kinn becomes the second bike and get a longtail. Sweet.
P.S. I’d love to bring a Kinn by Xtracycle HQ next time I’m in the bay area and you can all take it for a spin. If that sounds good to you just let me know (email@example.com).
Hey 9watts, watch out! You’ve nearly discussing family planning on this site and we all know that’s verboten! Well, maybe only verboten if you have six kids. 😉 >>Wink<<
This bike sounds awesome. I have looked at longtails for years but the parking/weight/etc tradeoffs have just been too much, and I am really impressed by the attention to detail!
It’s a really cool bike. I got to see it in person (we just finished painting Alistair’s house) it makes a lot of sense for people with space constraints that are looking for cargo/kid/grocery bike. Not only that but Alistair is first class.
For all the work that many of us are doing on the fringes, this looks like a fantastic representation of “cargo central”.
Nice all-around design, and I love that it fits on a bus rack … probably easily maneuvered on trains, too.
I bought one of the Kinn bikes and have been riding it now for a about a month. I love it!
I came to the Kinn not so much from the transportation of goods and kids angle but from the commuter angle. I had been searching high and low for a bike for my hilly commute in SW Portland. You could either find citybikes with fear gears and no disk brakes, or go for a road/cross/ hybrid bike compromise where I would have to add fenders, racks etc as an ill-fitting afterthought.
The Kinn works really well for my purposes. I chose the external hub and upgraded it to 27-speed. The gears have a great range and work well on the many ups and downs on my commute to OHSU. I rarelyhave to use the “granny gear” and can even make it up and down the really steep gravel road outside our house. The disk brakes are great for that and riding in the rain.
The transportation capacity was a nice add on and I’m actually using it more now that I have the option. For example my kids mostly bike on their own bikes, but it allows me to pick one up from an after school activity when they took the bus in the morning. And the bike handles well even with my 80lb-daughter on it. The kids love riding it of course.
In general the bike is really nice to ride, a great commuter bike. It’s very stable and handles well. I like the slghtly moreupright position. The handlebars are comfy. And I love having a bike that was made mostly in Portland and have direct contact with the builder.
Forgot to mention that it does fit on a car roof rack (Subaru) when using a wheel mounted rack (fork mount doesn’t work with the fenders).
Thanks for the feedback! You will be glad to hear that we have fixed the fender / roof rack issue, and would love to upgrade your bike (a quick and easy fix). Drop me or Alistair a line and we’ll get that sorted out.
This is sad news – but I want to post here for the benefit of anyone currently considering a Kinn bike. I am currently 3 months past the promised delivery date for a Kinn bike that I ordered in October 2013. I was actually very excited to make the pricey $2600 order, but I have grown increasingly concerned about the ability of the company to actually deliver on the goods. My bike was finally shipped to Seattle a couple weeks ago, for assembly at our local bike shop. However, it turns out the bike is still missing critical parts that were due as part of our order. In particular, we are missing the saddle (!), spoke guards, and wiring necessary to connect the dynamo lighting. (The lights were supposed to have been pre-wired and functional upon delivery.)
It seems that all of these issues could be readily addressed, by simply providing the needed parts (although I’ll still have to pay for our local shop to wire the supposedly pre-wired bike). But for weeks, Kinn’s owner, Alistair has refused to respond to requests for the parts and is avoiding any response to me, or any action to address the situation. I have talked to other staff from Kinn, who are kind and responsive, but unable to address the problem without Alistair’s intervention. At this point, the Kinn staff actually can not even get in touch with Alistair.
Honestly, I do not understand what is happening – something is broken at Kinn.
I hope to post here again, soon. To report that all has been resolved and things are once again on the up and up with this company. Until then – buyer beware. I would not order a Kinn bike until there is a clear intervention to address the current problems with production, quality assurance, and communication in this company.
I have also been waiting for a Kinn frameset, since I made my pledge of $920 via Kickstarter in October 2013.
During April 2014 I have been trying to contact Alistair Williams without success.
So at the moment I have absolutely nothing from Kinn bikes.
This startup is knocking the nails into its own coffin.
I too want to make sure that others do not commit financially to this “venture”. Jonathan (Childers) is not an isolated customer.