Thursday, 17 April 2008

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.


Conclusion

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.


6 comments:

thebogheaddiaries said...

Hi

Great review.... however... I don't know how you feel about this system now... I have just returned mine...

The small plastic catch on my pannier bag broke while I was on a shopping trip with my wee girl.
The bag would then slide off the rack within minutes of starting off. I secured the bag by twisting the shoulder strap around the saddle post (which was not ideal obviously)

When I used the bags and seat together I found it near impossible while loading up for a journey, to control the bike, a toddler and the difficult lining up, sliding on and securing of the pannier bags.

I don't have a particularly badly behaved child and I wasn't attempting to carry anything heavy or strangely shaped.

The pannier bags size is reduced by about 40% while the child seat is attached and the sections that are supposed to fold in don't fit around the legs of the seat unless the seat is reclined, which is not practical for a non-sleeping child.

Luckily my wonderful bike shop gave me a refund but I do feel it is important to share how poorly the system functions with daily use. :(

Love the blog :D

Cycledad said...

Hi Boghead!

Very timely post! i juts got my set of replacement panniers after the plastic attachment bits had broken on both of them! However, i loved these panniers so much that i got a replacement set rather than a refund. Interestingly the new panniers have much sturdier plastic attachment bits.

I'm planning to do a 3rd impressions post to update folks on the issue with the catch. I'll mention your comments as well.

I find loading the panniers awkward but ok (easier as i got used to it) and i try to always load somewhere where the bike is leaning or locked against something solid. I can fit mine with the seat upright or reclined. I do use them all the time though and it takes practice.

I think 40% is a bit strong i reckon nearer 20%. i can still fit my laptop + stuff in, you just need to pack carefully.

I still love them though, because they are just such a sensible shape. All bags should be this shape its great! It stands up on its own! Genius!

We have a 2nd one on the way and i'll get a front seat for him/her. Now that will be awkward!

Actually you have made a valid point about the controlling of toddlers while locking and loading bikes. Good post subject!

PS My wife grew up in little boghead!

MelbourneCycleDad said...

Thanks for the info in these posts. I am working out the best bike seat for our little girl (11mths). A search highlighted your blog as i thought about the Hamax.

I also have Ortlieb Classic Roller panniers and wasn't quite sure if they'll work. I don't want to have to buy any new panniers. You mention you could squeeze them on, can they fit on with the seat?

Cycledad said...

yep they go on if the bag is empty, then you could load the bag up.

I think you'd only need to file out a slot less than a cm and the whole thing go on and off no probs even when loaded.

Luci said...

Thank you for the really helpful article on the hamax bike seat.

I wanted to upgrade my son's exisiting (Belleli) seat because he could get his arms out of the straps no matter how tight I fastened them. Thinking I ought to give them business and not just buy on the internet, I tried to get info on bike seats from 3 independant bike shops in my area. Not one of them seemed even the slightest bit interested in selling me one. None of the assistants knew anything about bike seats and one kept trying to sell me a trailer!

Based on your great description I went and forked out £88 for the Hamax system (from Wiggle) and I love it. Not only can my son not escape from it, he looks so much more comfortable than he did before and now gets really excited when he sees me getting his bike helmet out.

Worth every penny - Hamax should be giving you commission!

Lewis Jones said...

Hello,

Thanks for this very useful review. I wonder if you could specify what the seat model is? Not sure if it's because it's now 2015 or if it's because I'm in Australia but the packages of seat, rack, panniers etc are not referred to in the same way.

Thanks again for the review