Saturday, March 28, 2009

Cargo Bike with Drops!

Getting ready for an epic tour (still time to vote), I decided to switch things up with my trusty Bilenky cargo bike. I have been really enjoying the cockpit of my Surly on tour. Aside from the obvious multiple hand positions to get out of the wind, I find that I'm most comfortable climbing with my hands pulling on the flats while spinning up a hill.

The Albatross bars that I had been using don't quite have enough usable flat space to do it comfortably. The A-bars do excel however in letting you stomp up a hill with lots of hand support. They're also overall really great at letting you steer a heavily laden bike.

I was trying to imagine what it would be like to do a long tour with the Bilenky cargo and I concluded that the multiple positions and more stretched out posture of putting drops on the bike would be preferable.

The only complicating factor (not a small one at that) was that I would require two kinds of road brake levers, one with the standard amount of pull for the rear canti and another with more pull to actuate the front disc brake (Avid BB7). Or another option would be to get standard road brake levers and put in a travel agent on the front one. I've used travel agents before and found that they worked, but for me, they were an undesirable addition. I frayed a lot of cables working with them. This concerned me because 1) the front brake needed a less common tandem length cable 2) the front cabling already had a lot of twists and turns to redirect the cable to the calipers.

I opted for two different levers, both made by Tektro. I used the Tektro R100 for the rear and Tektro RL520 on the front. Side by side, the are noticeably different. The RL520 came to a point at the hood and the actual brake lever arm was noticeably larger and longer for the purpose of actuating more cable on a pull.

So far in use, the brakes work fine but are a touch squishier than using the mountain levers on the A-Bars. They don't snap back quite as fast which takes a little adjusting to. However, they appear to provide the same amount of braking power.

Overall, the position is a lot more comfortable than using the A-bars for me. I'm in a bit more stretched out position, that seems to engage larger muscle groups. The multiple positions of the drops also gives me lots of options for ducking out of the wind and climbing. Surprisingly, if I don't look down at the front of the bike, it almost feels like I'm on my Surly. I've been able to match the cockpit dimensions that well.

In the drops, controlling the bike with a large load is a little unwieldy. That is the biggest sacrifice. However, it's too early to make any definitive judgements since I may grow more accustomed to this set-up. For small to medium loads (about what I think I would take on tour), it handles really really well.

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