Cargo Bikes and Stone Tablets Pt3

Last time we were having it out with longtail cargo bikes. Longtails are all over the internet blogs, but now we’ll talk about a much rarer beast: the long john.
long_john_ernst_600_01.jpg

What are we calling a long john? Well the namesake for this genre is the Danish bike that was first produced around 1938. Still being produced today, the bike’s key features are the front cargo area and a linkage steering system. There’s been some comments pushing to separate bikes that have a long, low cargo section behind the front wheel, and those bikes that have a shorter cargo section sitting above the front wheel. From a frame builders perspective, the need for a linkage steering system makes these two variations much more similar than they are different. There are some makers today building the short and high variation preferentially (see Bilenky). For simplicity’s sake, we’ll just lump these two variations together under the long john moniker. We’re also going to include bikes that have a cargo box or seats built onto the cargo section, as it’s no great feat of engineering to add the box or seats if the frame already has the space.

What are the advantages of the long john? Well, in the long/low configuration, very heavy loads can be carried, but as distinct from longtails, long johns do quite well at bulky loads. The cargo section, or in some cases cargo box, doesn’t require the load to be separated and balanced like a longtail’s cargo deck and side bags frequently do. And the low center of gravity improves stability. In the case of long johns fitted with seats, the advantage is that the seats can be totally enclosed and child passengers need not actively balance themselves on the bike. In fact, neither are uncooperative children likely to upset the rider’s balance.

Where do long johns suffer? Much like longtails, they can be cumbersome to maneuver. Sitting so far behind the steering access takes some adapting. Much like a longtail, the long john is a big, complex bike and it’s unladen weight is on average more than comparable longtails. The bigger ones are probably even less car rack friendly. The short john variation minimizes this, as to be expected from a smaller, lighter bike. Lastly, long johns are less suitable to offroad riding than a longtail. The front wheel is too small to float a large load on soft surfaces, it’s harder for the rider to see the technical line for steering the front wheel, and the rider cannot unweight the front wheel at all.

It should be acknowledged that the long john design has developed primarily as a city-dweller compared to the longtail’s backcountry roots. From the consumer’s perspective, the market offerings are in many cases highly refined products. Bakfiets of the Netherlands makes bikes that have all the traditional amenities of European city bikes including enclosed chains, internally geared hubs, and rain shield for the cargo bay. And importantly, the manufacturers of long johns have long ago perfected sturdy kickstands (or to be more precise, center-stands) for these bikes

sleeping-baby-workcycles-bakfiets

I’m in Portland OR today, and I’ve already seen a couple of the Bakfiets bikes with forward childseats. In Copenhagen, I saw so many of this type of bike with fully enclosed passenger capsules. Besides ferrying children, I think the lonh john is the ideal type of bike for multi-stop deliveries since the loading is a no-brainer, and I have seen a few of these used by mail services in other countries.

The long john bike is something of a rare animal; the path to ownership is probably different from that of a longtail. I mean, with a longtail, it’s like a regular mtb just longer at the back and heavier. Do you own a long john, Bakfiets, filibus, or some other variation? How did you come to choose that bike? Where do think that type of bike excels or suffers?

(This is part 3 of a series. Click here for the beginning).



14 Comments

I love em! I made my own and never imagined how much easier it is to “push” the load than “pull” as in a longtail bike. Mine is a beast (http://flickr.com/photos/ichad/3058662610/) but handles it’s length (9’6”) and girth quite elegantly. My design keeps the load low (2” below the front axle) and is much more stable than weighting the sides of my roomate’s extracycle. Long Johns such as Cetma’s new design eliminate the sluggish tank qualities found in mine and the bakfiets, and are the future of load hauling.

I’m a photographer in Los Angeles and I go to all my photo shoots by bike.  Photography can be very equipment intensive.  When I first started trying to get around I used a BOB trailer and that worked fine for a while. 

Then I used a Burley Flatbed (two-wheel trailer) and that worked much better but wasn’t very maneuverable. 

SO, I tried out the Xtracycle and loved it, but like you say, I had to separate the load to balance. 

It was more efficient to carry my gear in one large case, so I started looking at front loaders.  I considered a Bakfiets but it was too heavy and the shipping was outrageous.  Somehow, I stumbled upon Stephen Bilenky’s site and fell in love.  I put in an order and after a few months it arrived.

It has been a great machine.  I carry all my gear in a single med/large Pelican case and strap lightstands to the front rack.

Here’s some video of it in action:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-82-iF7Lds

For more info or my bike adventures, visit my blog…

http://russroca.blogspot.com

Hi there. just an update on the Long John. It is still being built in Sweden by Monark, who are the owner of the tooling and the name. My company USED is situated in Germany and we distribute Monark in Europe. We persuaded Monark to release the Long John again, after 7 years of inactivity. Monark celebrated 100 years of bike manufacturing in 2008 and the occasion was too good to pass up (I was always trying to convince them to redo it!). Anyway we have Long John’s available with 3- or 5-Speed Hubgears and even with a hydraulic drum brake option that Magura made for us. Because braking is always the problem of this bike, which was designed to carry 100 kilos load plus rider.

I think the big use for the Long John is not to carry kids but to replace the tradesman’s van in the city. It can go almost anywhere and it can carry tools and supplies. It’s also good for sandwich or pizza deliveries. So we find that a lot of urban start-ups choose a Long John over a motorized solution.

Here’s a link to the english details: <a href=“http://www.used-hq.com/used-website/english/news-2008/longjohn-en.html” rel=“nofollow”>http://www.used-hq.com/used-website/english/news-2008/longjohn-en.html</a>

There is also a great Long John site: <a href=“http://www.longjohn.org/” rel=“nofollow”>http://www.longjohn.org/</a> that shows the history and the different variations of the Long John.

If you want to talk to us about the Long John, just check out our blog: <a href=“http://www.used-HQ.com/blog-bob/” rel=“nofollow”>http://www.used-HQ.com/blog-bob/</a>

I haven’t had the pleasure of trying a Long John in any of the various flavors, but they’re definitely on my “short list” of cargo bikes to try.

One other benefit of that long, low cargo area is that these bike can really haul ass.  There are a variety of videos circulating of delivery riders racing through town with pretty substantial loads on board!

There’s an opp here in hillier terrains like Seattle to either stoke or power cargo bikes with electric motors.

Just my €0.02 here:

The name “Short John” has already been widely used to describe the S.C.O. / Monark “baker’s bike” /aka “butcher’s bike” / aka “Truck”, since it shares most of the same parts. Short John is thus not a suitable name for what everybody here refers to as the “Filibus” type bike. Though its likely that somebody built one decades ago Michael Kemper’s Filibus is the first production bike of the “load on top of a linkage steered small front wheel” archteype that know of.

In any case I would definitely not lump the Long John type together with the Filibus type. They’re certainly more different in geometry and layout than, for example: mountain bikes vs. hybrid, or even track bike vs. cruiser for that matter .

About the Long John: The name sticks since so many were built by so many Danish (and one Swedish) firms for 70 years. However the story of it being entirely Danish and “invented” in 1938 is a myth. The Dutch and English also made them back in the day, and I’ll guess there were also examples from other countries as well.

Pashley in England also made the Long Emma and I’ve seen a couple Dutch “Long Johns” such as this Veeno dating from the 20’s or 30’s:
http://www.rijwiel.net/veenon.htm

Just to note, I’ve spent plenty of time on “Long John” type bikes of various makes including the Monark, Bakfiets.nl Cargobike Short & Long, Fietsfabriek, Bullitt and various cheapos from China. More than any other type of bike there are enormous differences in the steering and handling of these bikes, even more so loaded. Try before you buy!

 

I have a couple of bakfietsen. In terms of kid-carrying, they are great for facilitating mid-ride interaction. When we were trailer users, too often we’d be stopping because x item of clothing had come off, y toy had been lost, etc. With the bakfiets, I can reach in and resolve things. Compared to longtails, the upside is that the weatherproofing and babyseat mountings seem to be very well resolved (see the bakfiets.nl news page for the latest built in stroller & seat harness options).

The downsides are that you are stuck with a Dutch city bike, which might not suit your terrain (in terms of gearing and posture), and that you don’t have control over the weighting on the front wheel, making slippy conditions more treacherous. I’ve ridden my bakfietsen in the snow, and didn’t enjoy it. I suspect something like a Madsen would be fine in similar conditions.

@ DrMekon,

Thanks for noting that Bakfiets are not suitable to anywhere there isn’t flat; unless you’ve got it stoked, as shown [in this video](http://bikehugger.com/2008/12/huggacast_74_fall_cargo_ride.htm).

Also, to the name; with the Dutch box bike name having an “s” at the end of it, us stupid, fat, ruined-economy Americans think that’s plural, so we use the singular *Bakfiet* to refer to one, a single type of Bike. We don’t say, *cargos* bike, for example.

Based on the amount of hits in Google on “Bakfiet,” popular usage alone may result in bakfiet becoming the name and only a true Cargonista would add the s.

Maybe it’s time for a manufacture or marketer to start Starbucking this genre with terms like Cargo Venti to refer to a particular type?

I’d like a Tall Longtail please hold the whip on the front.

It hurts my eyes every time I see “bakfiet” and ears each time I hear it. Please stop!

Yeah, one bakfiet, two bakfietsen = one oc, two ox…

Or one bakfiets, two bakfietsen = one ox, two oxen?

I recently did a comparison of the Xtracycle versus the Bakfiets when choosing a cargo bike.

I think the Xtracycle is the best choice if you want an all around bike that can serve as a decent cargo bike. The Bakfiets is better suited to only be used to hawl cargo and people, and I’d recommend having another bike for general riding. The Bakfiets is not that much fun to ride empty (in fact it handles better loaded.)

 

and it ain’t going up any hills . . .

hi
i have had my long haul cargo bike for a year and it has been great.  my daughter has out grown the box and trail a bike so i need to sell it to buy a tandem.  you can see the video on www.catoregon.com.  no accidents, great condition. email me if interested.

my email for the long haul cargo bike for sale is .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
price 2,200

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