Cargo Bike Lifestyle

The Cargo Bike: Bullitt by Larry vs Harry

Larry vs Harry is a cargo bike maker based in Denmark, and Bullitt is the name of their flagship cargo bike.  They offer e-assisted and ‘manual’ versions (I’m fortunate enough to have the former).  You can see lots of great pictures that give you a broad sense of the bike on Instagram – links at the bottom.

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How Does It Feel?

It handles really well.  It’s essentially the longboard of bicycles.  The front-loading cargo deck configuration means that the center of gravity is kept low (stable) and loads are visible (safer).  The cargo deck is still relatively narrow (less than the width of the handle bars) so it’s relatively streamlined and can still manoeuvre through tight traffic.

Basically the Bullitt is a great example of great European design: functional, elegant and balanced.

It is rated to carry 180 Kgs including the rider, which equates to you and a small truckload of groceries and or children.  My heaviest regular load is the weekly market shop for fresh fruit & veg (~20-30 Kg’s worth?) – more on that later.

As you can see, it’ll accommodate a wide variety of load types and can be used in a number of ways.

It goes fast.  Bullitt’s are equipped with the Shimano STePS system, which will assist you up to ~25 Km/h, after that it’s up to your legs and/or gravity.

Battery & Motor Performance

To understand this some local context is needed.  My daily commute is just over 4 Km, of which 3.3 Km’s of that is a steady 150 m vertical ascent (heading home).

The battery lasts me 5-7 days, based on approx. one return trip to town a day (x7), and depending on how much additional riding I do.  The journey home usually drains ~10-12% charge depending on how charged it is.

The STePS system has 3 assist modes: eco, normal, high, as well as no assist.  I tend to ride with the e-assist off except for when going up-hill or into a string head-wind.  Unless my load is especially heavy (or my knees are feeling particularly weak) I’ll stick to Eco-mode assist for the normal commute home.

According to the specs a full charge will assist you for 145 Km on the flat, for comparison High will assist you for 65 Km.  I tend to use eco to get better endurance, and frankly the extra power achieved by the more powerful assist modes isn’t something I find I need – but it’s good to have it in reserve.

Loads & Configuration

My goal is never to carry anything on my back ever again; I want to maximize the bikes ability to carry stuff and my own comfort.  I’m also keen for my configuration to be as flexible as possible.

My solution to this is:

  1. Flat open deck – no permanent / fixed side walls.
  2. A pair of large fish bins (approx. 41 x 64 cm) with lids for general cartage.
  3. A pair of army surplus ammo pouches for small items.

The bins have the same width and length but slightly different heights (28 cm & 19 cm), the idea being that the variety might come in handy.  They both have (interchangeable) lids which provide adequate protection from rain.  Depending on their relative orientation they can stack on top of each other or sit nested inside each other.

I have sliced up a foam camping mattress for padding – you can see it lining the front bin in the picture above.  A single layer of this seems to protect fruit adequately, as well as laptops, and you can always use a double layer (I got three sections from the one mattress).  The foam also helps raise your items off the very bottom of the bin, so if any moisture does make it inside your stuff is less likely to get wet.

The bins can be used a number of configurations:

  1. Stacked on top – as seen in the first picture above.
  2. Stacked within each other.  If the taller bin is placed in the lower one you get one big bin with the ability to expand out if you need the extra capacity.  f you stack the lower bin in the taller one you get a split level; e.g. you can put laptops and other ‘nice’ things in the bottom and other items in the top -like wet raincoats, dirty boots or whatever.

Bindings:

I have two cargo-straps: 1 x 3m and 1 x 4m.  The 3m will comfortably loop around the cargo deck and both bins top-stacked.  (Note: the strap needs to pass between the frame and the steering rod as you don’t want to impede the steering rod).

The 4m strap will comfortably to a double “n” loop over both bins high-stacked.  This is the configuration I am most using currently.  Imagine the loop starting at the top of the load – it passes down one side, goes under the frame and back up again; down the opposite side, under the frame and back up again, where it completes the loop.  This technique give s nice firm double strap.

Above: showing the double “n” loop, and an ammo pouch for small items.

I also carry two lengths of 6mm rope from the local marine supplies shop, which is great for random stuff.

Above: for comparison – the shorter fish bin inside the taller one; and “high stacked”.

Finally, I also have a few rubber bungies, these are made from recycled car tyres with a bit of dowel for a handle.  Basically you just need to carefully cut an intact cross-section so that you have a nice strong loop of rubber, and then loop one end around the dowel and back through itself (a little bit like the first step of tying a cats-paw knot).  You can extend these by hitching a second loop onto the first (like the longer of the three bungies, below).

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The only minor pain is that with strapping stuff in I’m frequently forgetting things – either that I should have out, or need to put in, so I find myself messing about with straps and so on a bit.  But on balance its a pretty minor problem to have.

Manoeuvrability

You’d think the longer wheel-base was a challenge – actually it’s not too bad, but you’ll want to be a little more conscious when planning stop-offs so that you can avoid having to do U-turns on the footpath.

The biggest challenge I find is inner-city stops where you want to change direction – you can pick up the rear of the bike and pivot on / manoeuvre with the front wheel easily enough, the only real challenge is available space.

As you can see in the video below, slow cornering around tight corners is no problem provided there’s enough space.

In terms of slow riding, I can stay upright doing as little as 4 Km/h.  The relative size of the wheels to the overall bike means the ratio of gyroscopic force the wheels produce is not as great.  But in general the Bullitt is really well balanced and great to ride.

Have I Ever Fallen Off?

Just the once.  It’s hard to pin-point the cause exactly.  It was early on in my Bullitt days, doing a sudden lane change on a wet smooth road.  There was a gap in the traffic and a car was offering me entry into the far lane.  I had both bins high-stacked with a bunch of gear.  I turned into the lane and rode across it, then sharply turned to straighten-up and the bike flipped over on it’s side and slid.

Did I hit a patch of oil?  Impossible to tell.  I think it was partially the sharpness of the turn, the wet conditions, and perhaps overall speed – not super fast but not hanging around either.

Once I fell I was pretty much just tobogganing along, the nature of the frame meant I was somewhat lifted off the ground by the mid-frame “h” shape off the handlebar stem, so apart from some minor scuffs I was unhurt.

Interestingly, I had the fish bins lashed down with a single cargo strap and they were totally intact – didn’t really move at all, so picking the bike up again and clearing the road was pretty easy.

Conclusion

Front-loading cargo bikes are super versatile, possessing good speed and manoeuvrability but with prodigious carrying capacity.  The Bullitt is an awesome example of this architecture of bike, and makes for a great car replacement.

References

  1. http://www.larryvsharry.com/ – designers and manufacturers of the Bullitt.
  2. https://www.shimano-steps.com/e-bikes/europe/en/product-information/city-trekking/e6000 – more information on the Shimano STePS system, 6000 series, which I have mounted on my Bullitt.  Various Bullitt models use different versions of the STePS system.
  3. https://www.bicyclejunction.co.nz/ – local Wellington Bullitt dealers.  They also carry other types and brands of cargo bike.
  4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hGPl3HPPotY&list=PL-oWnHyIj78AIrTyp9gTUnRd9iNKMEv1i – The Adventures of Pepper the Cargo Bike; me & Pep’s cruisin’ around Wellington and beyond.
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