Monday, 28 April 2008

Car Free Weekend

My wife was away this weekend leaving me to mind the baby. I did what I'd normally do on a weekend.
On Saturday i popped to our local Market town (6 miles each way and hilly), picked up some shopping, had some lunch and headed home.
On Sunday i popped to our local garden centre and picked up some seedlings (2.5 miles and mildy hilly), headed home and did some gardening. Mike loves his watering can!

Prior to getting the child seat and the new bike, both of these would have been car based journeys, as it was they were really pleasant outings. We passed 'horsies' on both trips. As we cycled slowly past Mike had a good long look coupled with urgent pointing. Normally horse riders and cyclists have a slightly fragile relationship , but this time we got 'Oohs!' and 'Aahs' and 'Look at the little baby!'

In fact we get this reaction wherever i go with Michael on the bike. Utility cyclists are quite rare round my way and i don't think I've ever seen a baby on the back of a bike, so i guess we're a bit of a novelty. What fascinates me is that people smile and they have this sort of pleased look on their faces , which is clearly saying 'That's so nice to see'. Makes me wonder how many think it would be nice to do !

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Kalkhoff Agattu: Second Impressions

I’ve now used the Agattu for a day out round town with Mike, a commute to work via the station and several mini trips. I now have a good idea of what it can do. This is my first big city style bike (although my wife used to have one) and my first electric bike.

Ive noticed 4 things I love about it:

  1. Its so heavy and such a strong ride, that you don’t notice the weight of a child in a rear child seat. Obviously the Dutch have known this all along, while I learnt it yesterday.

  2. If I get home from work and I want to take my son out for a 5 minute ride I can just get on it and go. Its got full lights and reflectors (so I don’t have to worry about visibility), Its got a chain guard (so I don’t have to tuck my trousers in my socks), Its got plain rubber pedals (so I don’t have to put on shoes that I don’t get mind getting roughed up or my ‘special’ clipless shoes), Its got a built in lock and no quick release mechanisms so if I park it at the village play park or outside the local shop, I can just clip that shut and walk away.

  3. The electric motor is incredible when pulling away. Just push the pedal gently and off you shoot. In top gear! In the city with a child seat, this is just amazing! I cant wait to try a roundabout!

  4. It climbs my local steep hills (again top gears best!), with very little effort from myself. In fact it climbs better than it goes on the flat! This is what i bought it for, the other three things are icing on the cake.

Any cons? Well more niggles really:

  1. I wish I’d bought the step through frame to make using the child seat easier.
  2. The inner tubes came with woods valves. For those of us born after the war, Woods valves are a very old type of valve that first appears to have been used by Stone Age man. Why they’ve been fitted to a 21st century bike I have no idea. Annoyingly the free (Not free! I paid for this useless lump of plastic!) pump is for woods valves only as well. As I’m not a body builder I couldn’t actually pump my tyres up. They’ll be making bikes from wood next.
  3. They should have fitted forks that completely lock out, on very smooth roads, the fork travel is wasted. That said the forks are very well behaved , you don't feel like your bouncing and the handling is superb on fast descents and braking.
  4. The handle bar grips are incredibly comfortable, but on a hot day they felt very sweaty compared to old fashioned handlebar tape. I might sew a posh leather sleeve for them.

Overall though, 9/10 with lots to love.

The Hamax Plus System: The Review

We’re settling on the Hamax plus system as the system of choice for us. I thought I’d put my thoughts down on paper about this system. As i said earlier, we bought the seat and a rack first as we were desperate to get out on the bike and it just looked right.

The system consists of 4 parts: The rack; The Seat; Panniers and a basket.

The Rack:

So there’s actually 3 different racks (called Carriers), not one. The Basic, The Plus and the Plus Premium. The two posher models have straps on the top for attaching loose luggage, fit a wider range of bikes, are allegedly easier to fit and remove and incorporate pumps and lights etc. Our first purchase was the Basic, so I’ll restrict my comments to that. It’s basically a normal rack but it’s a bit more substantial and you feel that when you pick it up. The Rack will take any type of pannier when the seat isn’t on. Following the fitting instructions enabled me to fit it to my wifes Dawes Sardar in about 30minutes. About 20 minutes of this was dealing with the horrendous plastic threaded screws on the existing rack and the new one. Of course these will never shift which is what you want on a rack where your wee-one will be sitting on. Once fitted it looks very sturdy and secure.

There are two mechanisms to adjust the angle of the rack and also the ability to raise or lower it about 1cm. I shoudl think any bike that can take a rack will have no problem with adjusting it. When searching on the internet, I found some wild variations in pricing from 14.99 to 29.99 so look around for a good deal. I’d be tempted to order through your lbs and haggle for a price for the whole system. The rack is only marginally more expensive than Hamax’s other fitting mechanism, so they’re quite comparable in price.

The Seat:

First Impressions: Well I discussed this earlier, its great. It’s the most substantial seat I’ve seen, with a best in class recline (by 2 degrees!) and more space in the head area for the rear of the helmet than any other seat I’ve seen. I’ve used it for my day trip in Cambridge, which is a UK city that knows child seats, and people with 1 year olds kept asking me about it because they were so impressed with how substantial it looked compared to other things they’d seen. The photo on the right shows the seat reclined.

Safety and Ease of Use: As rear seats go it’s as safe as any in the event of a fall. My advice is don’t fall (and buy a rear view mirror). However, in terms of giving your pride and joy a safe ride it’s very convincing. The 3 point harness fits smoothly, easily and securely. The blurb says it can be done with one hand and it’s true. The straps are easy to adjust and look secure and comfortable. (In fact the straps are much better than Michaels expensive car seat!)

Getting the feet in the foot rests is a bit fiddly, but I don’t bother with this for short journeys. Looking at reviews of other systems, foot rest design is a perennial problem, so don’t let that put you off. Basically it’s the best on the market.

Comfort: As I said Mike loves it,. The powerful spring keeps it soft even on a touring bike on a bumpy road. It can be reclined up to 22 degrees by twisting a big red knob which is easy to turn even against gravity. I have one quibble, which is that it doesn’t recline far enough; it could do with another 5 degrees. When I fitted it to my new bike and used it in Cambridge I found that my sons head kept falling forward. This hadn’t happened on my wife’s Dawes Sardar and I think there were two reasons for it. First there’s a very slight difference in angle in the fit of the rack, so I’m going to try tilting the rack back a little and seeing if that resolves the problem. Secondly, on my trip to Cambridge, my son was wearing a thick coat with a big hood and a scarf. Both of these were filling the space between his neck and the back of the seat, thus making it difficult for his head to fall back. If addressing these two issues doesn’t resolve it, I think I should be able to arrange something with Velcro that would allow me to stick the back of his helmet to the rear of the seat. When he’s awake I’ll keep the Velcro covered up and when he falls asleep, I can pull over, stick his head to the seat and carry on. Given that this rack reclines further than others and has more space for the helmet and neck than others, it makes you wonder if the others can work at all , without fitting the seat tipped back in the first place. Look at how much headroom Mike has in the photo above! Compare that to other bike seats you see around.

Ride Quality: You’ve got a massive heavy lump on the top of the rear of your bike. When we fitted it to the Dawes, we found it took some getting used to. Once your moving its fine, but starting off is a bit wobbly. However, when fitted to my tank like
Kalkhoff Agattu you don’t even notice it! I guess the Dutch, Swedes and Germans have known this for years. If you want to use a rear seat in town ie where you will be stopping and starting a lot, then get a big bike. If you just want it for occasional leisure rides then a lighter bike is fine. One of the design reasons for using a dedicated rack is that you get the centre of gravity as low as possible. I’m guessing every cm counts for a weight in this position.

The Panniers

Originally I’d intended only to use the seat as our leisure ride seat, but I’m so pleased with it that I decided to cash in and get the whole system. So I bought two more basic racks and 2 panniers. The panniers are designed so that they can be fitted when the bike seat is attached. After buying them, I realised I could squeeze my ortlieb rollers on there as well, although not when loaded with something rigid.

First Impressions: Metropolitan Unisex Urban Cool. They are very ‘unbikey’ and look like a normal modern satchel style city bag. When you open them up you find a very nice satchel strap (good!) and a big orange bag, which is clearly for waterproofing (bad!).

As a Bag: The bag is a long rectangular box shape with a lid that splits in two by means of a zip in the middle. Once its opened up, its very easy to pack and to find things, which is in marked contrast to a normal pannier. There is a zip pocket under the front flaps, which is easy to access but out of sight, so I’d be happy to keep cards, keys and phone in it. There is also an internal little pouch in the roof of the bag, which is just the right size for a spare inner tube, a couple of tools and a packet of tissues. The bonus here is that when i open the bag, there aren’t random bike bits floating around in it, just ‘normal’ things. The split top design works really well as a bag. When you want something, it’s easy to pull one side open, shove something in and close it again without looking. It’s comfortable to carry, but suffers from the rack attachment catching on your back a bit. Hamax take note!, Build a flap of material that will cover this while being carried, but can be rolled up when not being used. I’m probably going to try and sew one on myself.

As a Pannier: The pannier attaches by sliding it on and off the rack.

There’s a catch at the rear end that needs pulling out to attach it. You can see it in the right hand corner of th photo. Personally I hate it. If I’d been designing it, I’d have built re-inforced slots into the side of the bike seat that would have enabled fitting of a modern quick release system. Once it’s on, it does seem to sit still, so no problems so far. If you wish to fit it while the child seat is attached, you need to fold (or stuff) the front corners in. There is a knack to this which I’m learning, but I’m sure there must be a better way.. Hamax take a second look at this please!. Once its on you can only get things out of the rear half of the bag. It’s the price you pay for having the most substantial child seat on the market. That said , its also a feature because one of the Hamax publicity shots shows the bag, with the rear flap open and a bottle of wine, a newspaper and a bunch of tulips sticking out the top (Everything your modern Dutch shopper needs ϑ).

Overall Impressions of the Panniers: This morning I was riding to work without the child seat. I looked at all my panniers (I have a few) and chose one of these. Why?

  • Its a great bag for work. Crucially I’m happy to carry this around at work without it looking like dorky cycling kit.
  • Its really easy to pack and find things in it. So it makes a great laptop + bits + lunch +stuff bag

It does suffer 2 major flaws, which I really hope Hamax will look at.

The Basket:

I didn’t buy it, but I am going to buy a different one for the front of the Kalkhoff Agattu that uses a ‘Click Fix’ mechanism as we already have these on our tourers for a handlebar bag with map case.


I love the seat and I love and hate the bags. They do the job and they do it with a certain style. There are a few features that seem very ‘version 1’ and I hope Hamax work on these, because I think the concept is great. A complete system for your bike which turns it from a toy, to a practical family transport system, without the complicated research.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Great Day Out

I had a great day out yesterday with my son. We took the new bike to Cambridge for a bit of an explore. I'll have to add some more detail on the bike and the hamax plus system at a later date.

It was a lovely sunny day, so Mike loved cycling from our house to the station, which is very rural, i could see him in my rear view mirror twisting around and pointing. He loved the trip on the train and then riding round cambridge at the other end. Citycycling is really stimulating for countryside kids, just because of the diversity of what they see. Plus Mike loves all the bikes and cambridge folks love kids in bikes.

It was my first full day out with him and the bike, so it was a learning experience. I think some of the things i learnt were:
  • He loved it and we're doing it again!
  • I was a bit alarmed to see him sticking his arms out all the time trying to grab or point at things. This was bit of an issue when cycling in a narrow 2 way cycle lane, but much less so on the road, where theres more space. Its something to pay attention to.
  • He's happy to have his hour long sleep in the bike seat, whether its moving or still. I rode round a park with him for 10 minutes to get him to sleep and then adjourned to a riverside cafe with a good book and a coffee.
  • The bike becomes the pram, which means i couldnt spend the day shopping, but if my wife had been with us as well, we'd have had plenty of space for luggage and someone to share baby carrying duties.
  • Cambridge has a fantastic central bike park
  • The piccies taken on the train going home. Mikes got that dazed but happy look on his face.

Monday, 7 April 2008


I've just enjoyed a long weekend in Edinburgh, which is a lovely city. Its also a cycling city, which has incredible cycling motorways that lead directly into town radiating from the city centre.

I fancied a ride around Edinburgh and i knew Michael would enjoy it more than using a pram. So i phoned several Edinburgh cycle hire establishments before i went to see if it was possible to hire a child seat.

Not only could i not hire one, but the shop owners sounded positively horrified at the very idea. I think i was more disappointed at the attitude than the fact i couldn't hire one. Edinburgh may be a cycling city, but its clearly not a family cycling city.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

The new bikes here!

Hurrah! The new bikes here! Wow it weighs a tonne! Its like riding in a tank! Once you get it up to speed though it just keeps going. I cant see myself being blown around in the wind on this thing!

I took it out for a ride, while the battery was charging, its a nice steady ride, very very stable. Once the battery was charged i went straight down my local very steep hill and took the bike up it from standing. Nice....! It felt hard and i wasnt sure if the engine was doing anything but then i turned it off and almost stopped dead. I remembered this is the type of climb where your legs burn and your heart thuds, but with the engine it was more just a bit of effort.

Cant wait to get it baby...ised.