Bakfiets vs Butchers and Bicycles cargo bikes

Bakfiets vs Butchers and Bicycles cargo bikes

I rode the kids to school in Busby today for the first time since March this year. Since then I’ve been cycling Harald each day. Here’s a photo of Busby followed by a photo of Harald so everyone knows what I’m talking about when I say Busby and Harald.






Busby got sick in March and spent several months in the bike hospital. By the time I got him back I was in the habit of riding Harald each day. Today I tried Busby again and having had a lot of experience with both bikes now I think I can make a good comparison. Which bike is better? Busby is far better on so many levels. Let me explain why.

Harald is lighter and the suspension is much better but apart from those two things, Busby is much more comfortable to ride. Somehow the geometry of Harald is all wrong. For starters, my leg is still bent even when the pedal is nearest the ground. “Raise the seat”, you say? But if I did that I wouldn’t be able to touch the ground when I’m stationary. On Busby my leg extends straight with each pedal cycle but I can still put my feet on the ground when I’m stopped without having to get off the bike. I don’t really know why this is but the Dutch know how to design bikes is all I can say.

The handlebars on Harald are too far away from the seat. I end up riding slightly hunched over the handlebars. On Busby I could sit comfortably upright with a straight back. I understand that leaning forwards over the handlebars adds to the aerodynamics but I’m not in a race. I just want to get my family from A to B at a leisurely pace and in comfort.

Busby has a step-through frame. When I first started riding Harald I missed this and frequently banged my leg on the crossbar as you have to physically throw your leg over the bike before you can start peddling. On Busby there’s a seamless flow between walking and cycling and I used to be able to go from walk to cycle or cycle to walk without stopping and in the smallest of movements. It was a very graceful transition and very useful in a city with few cycle paths and lots of cycling on and off pavements.

I’m in two minds whether to complain about the next thing on my list but it’s probably worth mentioning also: the Gates Carbon Drive. Harald has a very nifty carbon belt in place of the chain. It doesn’t require any oiling and lasts much longer. It’s also lighter. However there is a downside – long skirts and dresses can get caught in it because it’s exposed. Here’s a pic:


Busby on the other hand had an old-fashioned chain but it was fully enclosed so I could wear long flowing skirts and never once had any problems. Maybe the carbon drive comes with a guard also? I’m not sure.


My next complaint is the seat. I realise a seat can be fairly easily changed but when you spend over £3000 on a bike you don’t want to have to go out and buy another seat for it. I got a jelly seat for Harald but it’s still not great because the problem isn’t the softness but the dimensions of the seat. When women sit on a bicycle the weight should be taken by the sit bones in the pelvis and not a woman’s private parts. Men can push their private parts out of the way but women cannot do that and the vulva is not designed to support a woman’s weight. Furthermore when women sit the sit bones in the pelvis are further apart than when a man is sitting. This is why narrow men’s bicycles seats are not suitable for women.

I discovered a new bicycle shop in Aberdeen today – Holburn Cycles – and I showed them Harald. They took one look at me sitting on the bike and said it was all wrong and that I would end up with sore knees. The sad truth is I *do* have sore knees. I never had sore knees with Busby. Thankfully they seem to think they will be able to make some bespoke changes to Harald to improve the geometry. I’ve booked in him and have my fingers crossed. But part of me wonders whether I’m wasting more money on a bike which will never be comfortable to ride.

28 responses to “Bakfiets vs Butchers and Bicycles cargo bikes”

  1. Well, I have started riding a bike now, so I am fascinated by this post. The reaching the floor thing interested me, because on a normal bike you aren’t supposed to reach the floor. I had always got round this by leaning over to stop and start, but after realising that this wasn’t the most stable, I had to learn how to start and stop using the “push down on the pedal and hoist yourself into the seat” method. The first time I tried this, I was psyching myself up on a quiet lane for 40 minutes before I realised I was too tense and stressed and went home again. Anyway, I can start and stop now, but it made me wonder how you did this on Harald/Busby. The touching the floor geometry seems a good feature when you have cargo. Such a shame not to have this on Harald.
    An enclosed chain is a good feature.
    I was also surprised to find the seat on my second hand bike much more comfortable than it looks. It is hard and narrow. But there is something about the way it is curved that means I can balance mainly on my seat and not have friction against my vulva.
    My bike is in for service at the moment. Squeaky brakes. Jury is out on the bike service shop. I am not sure if they always suck their teeth and moan about the parts the bike has on it, or whether they just do that with women, or whether they just do that with second hand bikes that didn’t cost a couple of thousand pounds out of their own shop. Sometimes driving a car and riding a bike aren’t that different from each other.

    • … because on a normal bike you aren’t supposed to reach the floor.

      Where did you hear this? It’s not right. On a racing bike you’re not supposed to reach the floor but on sit-up-and-beg bikes you should be able to comfortably put your feet on the ground without having to get off the bike. It sounds like you need a bike like the Omafiets –

      On both Harald and Busby I can put my feet on the ground without getting off the bike. That’s how it should be. Except that with Harald it’s not designed this way and so the seat is too low.

      I hope your bike doesn’t need any new parts! I think it’s just a matter of finding a good bike shop. I used to have a terrific bike shop in York – they knew everything about my bike and I didn’t even buy it from them. Up here I’ve been running into all sort of problems. One fellow didn’t even seem to be able to tell the difference between a bike and a trike.

      • I don’t know much about the sit up type of bikes, I tend to think of bikes being either road or mountain (mine is a mountain). I did have to buy a new seat post to get my feet to reach the bottom of the pedals. I think I must have unusually short legs. Someone I know recommended a local bike mechanic who works out of her backyard. I might try her next time. The shop said I needed new brake pads, rear derailleur and chain. I’ve accepted the quote but I’ve had cheaper services on my car 😦

      • Mountain and road bikes are not great for cycling around town. Mountain bikes are for people who want to ride on dirt tracks. Road bikes are for people who want to race. You want a city bike, or urban/commuter bike. Most bike shops should have something like that. The problem with mountain bikes is they don’t usually have mud guards and in wet weather you will end up with a trail of mud all the way your back because the wheels will flick it. These are the kind of bikes I mean:

      • There’s too much traffic here for me to face cycling around town :-(. My bike is mainly for riding for fun on bridleways and unsurfaced tracks, as there are plenty of those nearby. There is just one road journey to the next village that I will do, where I push the bike out of the worst congestion and then get onto a cycle path. At that point I do wish I had a faster bike. A bike for both occasions would be my dream (some very lovely looking examples on your link) but I can’t justify either the expense or the space they would take up in the hall.

      • I really love the look of the Specialized Carbon Elite on that page. I never understood people at work having obsessive bike conversations before, but now I do.

      • Rachel,
        The reason why you can effectively extend your legs on the Bakfiets and not on the other thing is clear to me. It’s very basic ‘bike science’. Primarily it’s likely to simply be because the Bakfiets has a much shallower seat tube angle. If you think of seats on bikes being located on a circle or radius drawn around the bottom bracket (crank axle) when looking at the bike side-on, a shallower angle seat tube (and seat post) will mean that your hips are closer to the ground when your pedal stroke is at full extension. This is why the old Raleighs, all the ‘Dutch’ bikes (and similar Indian and Chinese bikes) and lots of the early mountain bikes are so easy to pedal up hills even when you are sitting more or less bolt upright. They were designed to target ‘hit several birds with one stone’ – keep the weight off your hands, allow an uptight position so you could see what was happening around you and at least touch your feet on the ground while also(!) keeping your body sufficiently flexed to allow your big gluteus and thigh muscles to do what they are supposed to do – get you up hills! This was well understood ‘in the old days’ but seems to be largely ignored in modern bicycle design. If I was buying a ‘work’ bike I’d always go for one with a shallower seat angle (69 – 71 degrees). As I said, this is the most likely explanation. You may also want to compared the crank lengths of the 2 bikes as shorter cranks on the white trike would not be helping things! Fundamentally, I would guess that whoever sold you the trike did not ensure it fitted you!
        Your analysis of the seat issue is quite correct, although I’d say that the distinctions between mens and womens seating needs are far more pronounced on ‘lean forward’ bikes – refers and mountain bikes. On a work bike most riders – male or female – will benefit from a wide sprung seat. Brooks make an excellent one – B62 I think. Vero Orange make an excellent clone which you should be able to find in Aberdeen somewhere. The Bullitts are an interesting design. Personally I think trikes are very much a compromise. I would not call them a ‘bike’ – they are unwieldy and awkward to ride any distance and the traditional centre-pivot Danish ones are downright dangerous on Hills. You do know that there’s only one hill in Denmark don’t you!
        I lived in Aberdeen when I was 12 in in 1965 – great place. Have they changed the curtains in this new century (it’s the ‘Aberdeen joke’!)? They sell had the fishing boats and fish market then. Before oil!
        I have a few ‘cargo’ bikes including a Big Dummy and 2 of the original Adelaide Longbikes. My favourite is an old Kemper Filibus – IMHO it’s the best ‘front loader’ design ever (best I can afford anyway)!
        best wishes,
        Sam (portadbug,org)

      • I have never heard of the Kemper Filibus and I thought I knew all the cargo bikes. Nice bike!

        I didn’t know trikes were not good in hilly cities until I got my own. Aberdeen isn’t that hilly but there are enough hills for me to find the trike unstable. The problem is that if I didn’t get the Butchers & Bicycles trick then I’m not sure what else I’d get. It’s the only one that fits older children and mostly it’s quite fun to ride. I very nearly got the Urban Arrow – if their rain tent had been slightly higher I probably would have got it instead.

    • Squeaky brakes on a bike is a notoriously difficult problem to solve! The issue can appear and disappear without apparent cause. Happily it doesn’t affect the functionality of the brakes at all.

      Bike shops in general are faced with people buying cheap bikes on the internet but being unable to maintain them, which means they get lots of requests for repairs, but no longer make much money out of selling bikes. Parts on really cheap bikes are genuinely more difficult to maintain, they’re not just whinging.

      It’s not uncommon to find shops have a waiting list for repairs/service and will refuse even to look at a bike unless they’ve sold it themselves.

      Repairing bike is not a lucrative business, but with the resurgence of cycling there are lots of companies springing up specifically for repairs – they’ll pick your bike up then return it. Might be worth looking for one locally.

      • My bike is a Specialized, with I think fairly standard branded components from what I can see of it. (Although this shop stocks mainly Trek.) They just didn’t seem to approve of the combination of mods the last person had put on it. I think you’re right that with the overheads of a shop etc, it might be a business model much more suited for a home business.

  2. About Dutch bikes being designed right. This is probably because you have fairly Dutch proportions! On my Batavus, my feet can’t touch the ground without getting off the bike. Dutch bikes are built for Dutch proportions, which at 5’3″ is a bit of an issue for me. That said they’re also built to last a lifetime…..

  3. I think I told you I switched from a mountain bike to a single speed this year – during the first week on it, I managed to very neatly cut the bottom from a pair of walking trousers while riding the single speed, because it has an exposed chain and sprockets. Sad to hear you’re having so many problems with the new bike though.

    • Oh no! Are you still riding the same bike with an exposed chain? Commuting bikes ought to cover the chain because commuting = going to work and you don’t want to have to wear specialist cycling clothing to work.

  4. Whenever I travel to the Netherlands, I love just sitting at a street cafe watching people cycling past. Dutch cycling is an entirely different activity to the cycling we have here in London. Here, most people are on fast road bikes, wearing lycra and haring along as though they’re sprinting for the finish line in a fiercely competed stage of the Tour de France. In Holland, cycling is a gentle thing, and both the bikes and the people are quite different.

    I remember seeing an old lady in Amsterdam, who had developed the perfect technique to minimize the effort required to get over the frequent hump-backed canal bridges. She cycled just fast enough to get the bike about three-quarters of the way up the bridge, then seamlessly transitioned to walking, for the final few steps to the crest of the bridge, then back onto the bike to roll down the other side and have enough momentum to make it to the next bridge with only gentle pedaling.

    Your post reminded me of that. Of course, you need a step-through frame to be able to make that seamless transition between walking and riding. Good on you for encouraging Dutch-style cycling in the UK. We could do with more of it in London!

    • Yes indeed – a seamless, graceful transition between walking and cycling is a work of art but easy to do on a bike with a step-through frame. I occasionally had people comment with astonished awe when I did it but it was really very easy and all city bikes should have this feature. The bike becomes an extension of walking with overlap between the two.

  5. I have a nasty suspicion it’s impossible to write this without descending into mansplaining, so apologies in advance, but I’ll try!

    Seat Height/ Ability to Put Foot Down
    To be comfortable pedalling, at the bottom of the pedal stroke, your leg should be almost straight. This means, inevitably, that it is *impossible* to both pedal comfortably and put your foot down flat, on any bike. Different bikes do have different geometry; the bottom line is that the height of the pedal above the ground defines how difficult or not it is. Mountain bikes are designed to have a lot of ground clearance, to avoid hitting rocks, for instance. Your bikes look almost identical from a ground clearance perspective by eye; you could measure the distance from the bottom of the pedal to the ground which would tell you if there’s a real difference or not. It might be that your other issues with the bike make you feel it’s different even if it’s not really. You might be able to make a small difference by fitting longer cranks, but that would likely be very expensive, only reduce the issue by a few mm and maybe scrunch your leg up uncomfortably at the top.

    Riding position
    It’s actually surprisingly easy to adjust this, and by a lot. Depending on the bike (and yours is very unusual, obviously) it should be fairly easy to move the bars up, down back or forward, and also move the saddle backwards and forwards. It should be possible to exactly replicate your bakefiets riding position without spending much money (perhaps a different stem). I’m sure this can be sorted.

    Belt drive guard
    They do exist though I’ve no personal experience of them. See for a pic for instance. I’d suggest contacting the original bike manufacturer to see if they can recommend one.

    Saddles are very personal and there is no simple correlation to more expensive = more comfortable. I loathe big “comfy” saddles but can ride all day on a hard thin saddle. Other people take the exact opposite point of view. Why not swap with the Bakefiets saddle (or buy another the same)?

    Good luck sorting out the issues.

    • VTG, don’t worry, you’re not mansplaining but I disagree with this:

      This means, inevitably, that it is *impossible* to both pedal comfortably and put your foot down flat, on any bike.

      Have you ever ridden a Dutch granny bike? I think it works because the pedals are not directly beneath the seat. They’re slightly forward of the seat so it’s possible to extend the leg when pedaling *and* put your feet on the ground without getting off the bike.

      Cyclists in Britain are predominantly men with mountain or racing bikes and so I think people here just don’t understand that there’s a whole other type of cycling out there. I read that the Dutch granny bike was actually copied from old Victorian bikes made in England. (see here).

      The Dutch cycle industry grew rapidly from the 1890s onwards. Since by then it was the British who had the strongest and best-developed market in bike design, Dutch framemakers either copied them or imported them from England. In 1895, 85 per cent of all bikes bought in the Netherlands were from Britain; the vestiges of that influence can still be seen in the solid, gentlemanly shape of a traditional Dutch bike even now.

      If there were more of this type of bike – which is very easy for a newcomer to cycling to ride – then it might encourage more people to cycle. Denise’s comment above made me realise how much the bike shops and the predominantly young men selling bikes in them are failing to adequately address the needs of 50% of the population. To quote Denise again:

      I had to learn how to start and stop using the “push down on the pedal and hoist yourself into the seat” method.

      This is just not necessary on a Dutch granny bike. It’s terrible that people who have done very little cycling are told this is what they need to learn to do when in reality there’s a lot of overlap between walking cycling when you’re on a proper commuting bike. You can easily transition between the two without ever stopping. I did it all the time on Busby.

      As for the saddle, I agree that price is not relevant. But shops ought to give customers a choice of a man’s or a woman’s saddle when they buy the bike. It’s frankly dreadful for the female anatomy to put your entire weight on your vagina for hours on end. That’s not what vaginas were designed to do.

      • Ah, OK, so I guess yes, if the seat tube is angled back that far, that would make a difference.

        Is there a significant difference in seat tube angles between the bikes? They *look* very similar.

        You can move your bike towards that geometry by putting your seat all the way back, and further still by getting a layback seatpost eg

      • Yes, there is a difference in the angle on both bikes. It’s not hugely noticeable unless they’re right next to each other. The cranks are also shorter on Harald but the bike shop seemed to think it would be fairly easy to change them to longer ones. I do feel like the seat should be further back from the pedals instead of directly above. I’ve been riding the bike everyday since March and it still feels wrong so it’s not a matter of just getting used to it.

  6. Hi Rachel, I left a (rather poorly typed) comment above without reading down. Now that I have I see that you have understood the fundamental influence of seat tube angle and seat position (or ‘set back’) on the issue of getting adequate leg extension while also getting your feet to the ground (which, despite what people tell you IS an important aspect of ‘bike fit’ on a ‘work’ bike!) Especially when carrying children. As you have said, you can shift the saddle back on its rails as far as it will go to get more ‘set back’. You can also buy a proper ‘set back’ seat post. Kalloy make a good quality and very cheap one with 25mm setback which may help. Once you’ve sorted out your saddle position for as much setback as possible I’d try to sort out your leg extension. At maximum stroke you should have about a 15 degree angle at your knee (with the front part of your foot on the pedal). Just a slight bend is what you want. With your seat at the height required for this leg extension, if you still can’t at least tip-toe touch the ground then your seat is too high which means your cranks are too short (OR the trike is too big for you)! I agree with you – when you spend thousands on a bike (trike) you shouldn’t have to deal with these issues – they should have been sorted out in the shop! Apologies if this sounds like ‘mansplaining’ or whatever the term is – not what I intend at all. There is just so much ignorance of how bikes work these days – stuff that any 10 y.o would have understood earlier last century!
    Good luck,

    • Hi Sam!

      Thanks so much for your comments. I took my bike last week to a special bike shop that can make bespoke bikes. They took some measurements of leg length and knee angles with me sitting on the bike and they’ve ordered me a new seat which can be moved further back to increase the angle, and also some new handlebars that curve around like on Dutch bikes. I’m going to trial these two change first and if necessary, we’ll try changing the cranks next. They are shorter than on the bakfiets and I have always found the turning circle a bit strange.

      I will definitely post a full review about the changes.

  7. Another comment Rachel (sorry – can’t help it), looking at the pic of you sitting on your ‘Butchers & Bicycles’ trike, I note that it seems to have hardly any bottom-bracket ‘drop’. That is, the crank axle appears more or less level with the rear axle with the chain-stays more or less horizontal! If that rear wheel is a 26″ then your bottom-bracket will definitely be high – maybe too high for your feel to touch the ground! It would be interesting to compare BB heights between your 2 bikes – the distances from the 2 crank axles to the ground. I bet the Bakfiets is much lower!

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