Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Christiania Trike Trial

Now that Gem is starting to show signs of outgrowing the Bobike Mini (which will relegate her to the back on a Copilot or Bobike Maxi) and our return to the US is approaching, I've finally started to think seriously in investing in a Christiania trike. Our test ride a few weekends back and my conversation with the one of the founders (not to mention ongoing discussions with Andrea at Velorution) have also been pushing me in this direction. It was finally a new colleague of Andrea's at the Marylebone summer fair who gave me the idea to hire one out and see how we like it. Which is what we've done!

I picked up a reasonably basic trike this afternoon at Velorution and rode it home. Today is Wednesday, and I'm planning on keeping it until Monday. That will give me lots of chances for runs to Waitrose with or without Gem, plus one and a half school runs (since I'l return it after drop-off Monday). The weather looks like it will cooperate as well, with no rain and temperatures in the high sixties predicted.

The Trike

This is a pretty basic model, but it does have some good features & more deluxe bits. On the more basic side, it has a three-speed Shimano hub gear with coaster brake - fine, but really only for very flat terrain. The seat is also a bit basic, a padded, springy affair. The nylon bench seat for little passengers seems to work well enough, and there's nice (but unsecured) space underneath for stowing this and that. The safety belt is a single belt, which is okay for a child Gem's age, but not much younger. I'd go with a three-point harness on mine. The other obvious upgrade is the bright red colour, which I think Gem likes very much indeed!

The Ride

This takes a bit of getting used to. When I had my first try-out, Andrea warned me to lean into turns to avoid flipping over, which turned out to be good advice! I've managed to avoid any incidents on the road as well.

At almost a metre across, it's a bit of a wide load, but that isn't really noticeable since the load is out front. As much as I've ridden with my trailer (about the same width), I still have close calls every once in a while - no such problems here.

Perhaps the biggest difference from a normal bike is that it's articulated in the middle. The handlebar is a continuous length across the back of the box, and steering moves the entire front end. This means that it's veryresponsive and easy to turn in a tight circle, but this can be disconcerting at first. I expected going round corners to be different, but what I didn't expect was the subltle back-and-forth movement as I pedal. And still, not a big deal, it's just a bit disconcerting at first. It all feels quite stable most of the time, but going over bumps at speed can be a hair-raising experience that I've now learned to avoid.

Another interesting foible has to do with the upright stance of the trike. Sitting on three wheels, it's always dead upright. So leaning round corners means that you lean, the bike does not. And when on a road that slopes off towards the curb, the bike rides at an angle. This is one of those things you never think about while riding on two wheels - you just stay upright even if the road is banked a bit.

I don't mean to be too negative here - it really is a nice bike to ride; it feels very solid and well-made. It's clear that a lot of thought has gone into refining the design. It does take more work than riding a normal bike, but I stopped thinking about that once I decided not to try to keep up a normal pace.

The Christiania in Use

As I've said, it just takes some getting used to. One person who didn't need any time at all to become comfortable with the Christiania is Gemma. She had a great time during our brief try-out in Regents Park, and she was as excited as could be when she saw that I'd brought this one home. (Think squeals and arms flailing.)

We had a brief foray to the playground yesterday - Kim walked and we biked a longer route. I removed the "bugatti" soft top to give her a good view all around, and back up at me. This is one of the nicest things about it. I've always thought it was wonderful that she had such a good view from the Bobike Mini and dreaded relegating her to the back of the bike. Her position on the bench of the trike gives her a great view, and she's still close enough that we can hear one another talk.

Apart from the novelty of it ("I'm riding a funny bike!"), she also really loves the space and the freedom. It wasn't long yesterday before she discovered her bag of food under the seat... She set it out on the seat beside her, unzipped the top, and went rifling through. Sure, I wouldn't want that to happen every time, but just having it there I think made her feel as though the space was her own. As much as we both love the Bobike Mini, after not too long she could become restless: "I'm stuck!" Giving her room to move and stuff to hold is a definite plus. Also, the strap seatbelt gives her some freedom of lateral movement as well. (Though I had a real tough time getting the seatbelt to stay tense; it was something going on with the buckle. I ended up tying a knot in the belt to solve the problem.)

Another thing I noticed straight away was that, instead of feeling like I'm being edged off the road constantly, on the Christiania it seems that drivers give me much more space. I think the road presence of the thing makes me more confident about taking my lane, and it also makes drivers keep their distance.

More posts to come...

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