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Product Review: Christiania Cargo Bike by BoxCycles

Posted Feb 11 2011 1:10pm

UPDATE: I received a message from BoxCycles that the lighting issue I mentioned in this review is being addressed in the next shipment to the U.S. Look for better mounting options and possibly a dynamo.

My experience: BoxCycles arranged for me to borrow a model of the Christiania Cargo Bike from AustinBikes for a long weekend of testing including child transport and grocery shopping.

Build Quality: 5/5

Function: 4/5

Style: 5/5

Overall: 4.5/5

Availability: AustinBikes (1213-A West 5th Street) is the exclusive Texas dealer for the Christiania cargo bike at a retail price of $2700. Currently, the model in black with rain cover is available, however pre-orders for a May shipment are being taken now for those who want a different color or component build.

Overview

The Danish-made Christiania Cargo Bike offers families and those wanting to replace their car a practical, well built option for transport by bicycle. Its largest in class cargo box provides a lot of carrying capacity, though this size means you will need a dedicated space to park the Christiania. While the three wheel platform takes some getting used to for the experienced cyclist, it provides an extremely stable platform for loading cargo and for those who might not feel confident cycling a load on a two wheeled cargo bike.

This box is huge!

Note about terminology: For this article, I will make comparisons of the three wheeled Christiania box bike with the two wheeled, Long John-style box bikes like the Gazelle Cabby or WorkCycle Bakfiets . The Dutch term bakfiets, or box bike, is an accurate description of both styles of bikes but for sake of brevity when I use the term bakfiets it will refer to the two wheeled, Long John version.

Build Quality and Function

The Christiania box cargo bike is a high quality bike designed to take a beating and be left in the elements. The power coat frame and lacquered box communicates that this is a bike meant to be used and abused.

The best feature of the bike is the cargo box which is larger than any other box bike on the US market. I was able to fit an entire week’s worth of groceries including milk and sodas plus my 4 year old child without a problem. The size of the box could also be a drawback. The double wheels and box take up a lot of room when parked, and the box does not fold down like the Cabby and other soft shell bakfiets. This means you will need more space then a normal bike for parking and storage. It also means riding up on a sidewalk is less feasible. On the other hand as I’ve found with other cargo bikes, the bike’s size gives you more respect on the road so maybe the sidewalk becomes less necessary.

Week's worth of groceries & a child. No problem!

The box includes a bench with seat belts for two children. The bench also opens up for storage and includes a lockable lid so you can leave valuables, another unique and useful feature among cargo bikes. The removable rain cover uses tent style poles for structure and allows the sides to be removed if you wish to use it just as a sun guard. There are also nice small features like a step up plate on the rear drive side of the box to make getting in easier for kids.

Other standard features reflect the utilitarian nature of the bike: fenders, a rear wheel frame lock, bell, and chain guard. My only major gripe with the bike’s design is the lack of built in lighting that is standard on bakfiets. Due to the trike design, a dynamo wheel is not possible, but I could not find a decent place to put a forward light on the bike. The handlebars would be blocked by sitting children or the rain cover, and there are precious little other places to put a light on it. I question why a bike so obviously designed for daily transportation is not equipped for riding after dark. There are a few other minor stylistic changes I’d like to see like a rear rack, a frame lock that allows a plug-in chain like the AXA Defender , and fully encased chain drive, but the lighting issue was the only reason the bike did not get a perfect score for function.

Very nice gear range on 7 speed internal hub. Full chain guard, rear rack, & lock upgrade would make this perfect.

Ride Quality

The Christiania is a box bike on a three wheel platform, but unlike the trike designs in the U.S., it has two wheels on the front and a single wheel on the back. The frame pivots from the front box to the driver’s compartment for turning, yielding a bicycle that is much more maneuverable than the one wheel front, two wheels back design. For an experienced cyclists, this design takes some getting used to as you have to break old habits that keep a two wheeled bike upright and turning. This means no need for putting your foot down at stops, but it also means no leaning into turns. The pivoting front box is pushed different directions to turn, but if you fall into the old habit of micro adjustments on the front wheel at slow speed, it can make your driving erratic. Particularly disconcerting is riding the Christiania on our high camber roads. You feel yourself wanting to lean to right the bike, but of course, you can’t. Zenning out is key, and after a half day of riding, it seemed very natural to me.

7 speed shifter & bell on shopping cart style handlebars

The gearing on the Christiania is in my opinion the best specing of the entire bike. They have not made the mistake of gearing as if we live in the flat, flat Netherlands or Copenhagen. While it comes with a 7 Speed Shimano Nexus internal hub, the designers have paired the chain ring and rear cog to yield a very forgiving lowest gear, the best in all the cargo bikes I’ve ridden. This means I was able to take all the hills in my neighborhood and along South Congress even though the bike weighs over 70 pounds. This gearing is also appreciated when getting the bike going as pushing off with your foot like you do on most bikes is tricky on the Christiania. Being able to start pedaling from a stop is a nice option.

Lots of reflectors but unfortunately no lights

The braking system on the Christiania is a combination coaster brake and disk brakes on the front two wheels. I was very thankful for the disk brakes as the coaster was certainly not sufficient for going down hills loaded with children and groceries. (As a side note, this is why I avoid bikes that only have a coaster brake. If your chain pops off on a down hill, you have no brakes. The results can be catastrophic!)

The front pivot make the Christiania much more maneuverable then conventional trikes, but it is still bulky. I find two wheel bakfiets to be more nimble on this front. I also found the steering on the bike to be pretty squirly when you got above 15 MPH. Due to the double wheels and weight distribution, small steering adjustments at these higher speeds can get out of hand quickly so you have to be more focused when running faster. This is something I’ve not found to be an issue with bakfiets. Having said that, you really will not be riding this bike much above 12 mph unless you are going downhill. Finally, you can tip the bike if you try to turn at high speed. I noticed one of the front wheels lifting off the ground on tight, fast turns when unloaded. The Christiania is built for slow pedaling and carrying lots of stuff, not racing.

Summary

My kids loved riding in the Christiania.

If the lack of a lighting system is addressed, the Christiania box cargo bike makes a great option for carrying children or packages and purchase by bike. There is a reason box bikes are considered the SUV of the cycling world. They are just so useful that you may have to question why you bother to own a car at all. The Christiania gives you the most carrying capacity of box bikes on the US market. They are a welcome addition to available bakfiets and deserve a test ride when you are considering a cargo bike.

Editor Note: BoxCycles is an site sponsor of Austin on Two Wheels.

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