Melissa and I are having a baby, and with every baby comes challenges. Fortunately, some of these challenges are overcome by buying new bikes. That's why Melissa and I test rode a Larry vs. Harry Bullitt provided by Vie Bikes.
During my 24 hour test period I rode 30 miles up and down many of San Francisco's challenging bike routes. I rode both during the day and at night. I tried to cover as many use cases as possible. In the end, I had the most amazing experience I've ever had riding a bike.
*note: Product testing is dangerous. Do not attempt to recreate this testing regimen on your own.
After a couple false starts it became very apparent that the Bullitt handled like a bike, but was not a bike as I knew it to be. Because of the weight of the vehicle the rider has less control by manipulating their body weight (like you would when riding no handed). This puts more emphasis on balancing the bike by steering it. Additionally, the front wheel is a further out than with a typical bike. This has the effect of dampening the turning sensation. These factors took some getting used to.
However, after a few tries I was up and peddling around. A few minutes later I felt comfortable enough to take on traffic.
If I had to compare it to any other genre of bike I would say the posture feels like riding a mountain bike. This will feel familiar to most North American Transportation Bikers.
At 6 feet tall and lanky I ride a large bike. But even for me this bike is very reachy. This has two negative side effects when using the Bullitt as a family bike:
- Fit: It seems like this bike is designed for Dutch bike messengers. A group of people I'm almost certain is 11 feet tall. This makes the bike a bit big, even for me. Shorter individuals will find the reach very long and may have standover height issues. Vie Bikes says it fits riders 5'4" and up.
- Visibility: A more upright posture would make it easier to see behind you. (something very important for the family bike!)
Specific to my Vie bikes setup (I believe) was a very poorly matched set of handlebars. The handlebars included were intended for a more upright riding posture and ended up murdering my wrists by the end of my 30 miles.
My first real city riding test came as soon as I hit down town San Francisco on Folsom St. At Folsom and 2nd there is a section that is nerve-wracking at best. It hosts highway speed traffic and requires significant "lane taking". On this day it was exceptionally bad. Even though I was still a novice on the Bullitt I would have to weave it across three lanes packed with stop and go suburbanites "just trying to get home."
I rode as normal along side the traffic in the bike lane. Then, each time I had an opportunity to slip between cars and move closer to my desired lane I took it. I went slowly and carefully but had no trouble at all making my way through the frozen river of cars. I didn't even miss a traffic light cycle!
After surviving Folsom traffic I hit the separated path on The Embarcadero and went straight to the cruise ship terminal. Here, in a large concrete area, I practiced my figure eights. I learned the following rules for handling the Bullitt:
- As soon as you feel the Bullitt start to tip over hop off the seat and hit the breaks.
- Keep the seat low when you first start so you can easily reach the ground.
- Do your best to avoid hitting the steering limiters. It's difficult to maintain control if you do.
- Tight maneuvers are tough. It's generally best to walk the bike into position before hopping on.
- It's really hard to track stand. I failed :-(
After learning these things I was handling the Bullitt like a pro. I felt totally confident that I could take on any of San Francisco's streets safely.
I rode north following the San Francisco Bay Trail until l hit the hill just before Fort Mason. It's a pretty steep one by San Francisco standards, though not incredibly long. This hill was the location of my next test.
With me and about 15 pounds of gear the BionX D-Series became the star of the show. I casually strode up the steepest part of the hill, blasting past tourists pushing their bikes and lycra'd out millionaires on carbon frames. I reached the top still singing along with my music and never having broken a sweat. (for those curious, assist level 4 was a must)
For some reason the D-Series also made a pretty loud clunking noise when at maximum torque. To this issue Vie Bikes says "after [a] break in period with spoke tension loss, the harmonic vibration you hear is a potential issue with OEM [BionX] wheel sets." So maybe it's an edge case issue with the D-Series?
Kick Stand Test
All that "climbing" made me hungry so I decided to stop for lunch. I flipped down the kickstand, hopped into the bucket, and enjoyed a sandwich.
The Bullitt I tested was not equipped with a seat and definitely wasn't comfortable to sit in. But it was stable. I never felt at all like the bike would tip over, even while climbing in and out.
Polk St. Test
Polk St. is home to one of San Francisco's high injury corridors. A dangerous mix of antsy drivers and a badly maintained road surface creates risky situations for people on bikes. Throw in a pair of tough hill climbs and a fast descent and Polk St. starts to look like an ideal testing ground.
The Bullitt felt natural weaving through the potholes and taking the lane. Despite the fact that the last 4 blocks of Polk st. were bumper-to-bumper automotive chaos, the size of the bike was not a factor. I was able to easily and safely slip through automobile traffic.
However, the downhill section revealed another of the Bullitt's flaws. The tiny front wheel coupled with a stiff and light aluminum frame meant that every bump in the road went straight into my wrists. If you are traveling with a tiny human it would make sense to choose a smooth route and travel slowly. (duh)
The hills were trivial with the D-Series. I was even able to do much of the climbing from assist mode 3.
Market St. Test
Despite being a federally certified canyon of death in 1960, Market street traffic is predominantly bikes today. This gave me a chance to see how the bike felt in the commuter peloton.
In short, it felt great. Especially because everybody wanted my badass cargo bike.
However, because of the size of the bike, passing slower bikers was more difficult. This left me riding with the slowest person on the street for a portion of my trip. But for me it's a family bike. Who needs speed?
Trader Joe's Test
For this test my goal was not to test the hauling capabilities of the Bullitt (that comes soon). Instead I wanted to see what it was like to go to the grocery store with this unique vehicle.
The issue I ran in to was parking. The bike racks were designed so that only one cargo bike could fit on each of the two racks. Both of which were taken. I was able to lock up on a sign post instead.
I think parking will get easier as I visit more places and find more spots to lock up, but will always be a little harder than riding a regular bike.
I was super excited to see what the headlight added to the bike riding experience. This also meant that I got to do a night ride through Golden Gate Park, one of my favorite (and darkest) city rides!
As you would expect, the headlight was awesome. The beam was plenty wide and gave me at least 50 feet of excellent visibility. Having such great lighting built into the bike definitely added to my impression that this bike is a true car replacement.
Being on the empty midnight streets of Golden Gate Park also gave me the opportunity to test no handed riding. With a totally empty bucket, a good downhill, and some gentle curves in the road I was able to ride for about 1/4 of a mile. More than I expected!
I know, this is the one you've all be waiting for. How does the bike do with a heavy load?
I tested this at night with my friend Jason. We rode out to Stow Lake and took turns riding in the bucket. The test track included two short (but non-trivial) hill climbs, a few corners, and a short but fun descent. The entire loop was about 1.1 miles long and took about 5 minutes. The two of us together are 360 pounds. 90% of the Bullitt's rated capacity.
Riding with a heavy load is a bit different than riding with an empty bucket. The main difference comes when entering the turn. The rider needs to anticipate the corner and begin leaning in earlier than you would normally. This is the opposite of competitors like the Extracycle Edgerunner, which is easy to get into the turn when loaded, but will have a tendency "high side" as you exit.
Ultimately Jason and I both came to the same amazing conclusion: the bike is even more stable with a heavy load in the bucket than it is empty. While I would definitely need more practice before taking a full grown adult passenger into city traffic, I do think it's plausible.
The BionX D-Series was very impressive in this test as well. Not only was I able to take both inclines along the test route with ease (assist level 4) I was also able to do so without shifting gears. The motor provided enough torque that I was able to pedal 370 pounds up hill without even thinking "granny gear".
While I did not do the entire test ride on one charge of the battery, I probably could have. For the average San Francisco rider carrying a light load I would expect to get 25-35 miles per charge. Or, in terms of trips, you can probably make it across San Francisco and back 2 times.
I didn't run the battery down completely so I don't know the charging time. But I would estimate, based on my experience with the iTroll, that the battery requires about 4 hours to charge from a full discharged.
While I was unable (unwilling?) to test the bike's performance in a crash, I did spend a few hours researching various safety concerns across different bikes. The results of this research led Melissa and I to choose a front loading cargo bike instead of a rear loader. I am working on another post that outlines my methodology for analyzing crash scenarios. For now you'll have to take my word that the Bullitt appears much better suited to keeping passengers safe in a crash than a rear loading cargo bike like the Edgerunner.
My entire test ride experience was really excellent. This is due in no small part to the hard work Vie has put into importing this unique product. It was most apparent in the small tweaks Vie put into the bike. The rear rack, handlebars, lock, and many other accessories were selected by Vie to make my experience as easy as possible. Add in Vie's 5 year maintenance plan and their passion for bringing biking to more people and it's unquestionable that they're a cut above the rest.
I highly recommend giving one of their bikes a test ride.
The Bullitt cargo bike by Larry vs Harry is a true car replacement. There is a bit of a learning curve, but after a short time the rider will be comfortable riding it however they ride their normal bike. Where the Bullitt is exceptional is in its cargo carrying abilities. Load it down and feel confident.
I look forward to adding one to my stable (along with a new family member) in a few months.