Last week, while the Biomega team were living the high life at Eurobike, I wandered into their office and borrowed a copy of their new cargo bike for PUMA. First impression? "Cool!" Second impression (because I had to carry it down the stairs): "Light!"
When you're used to riding two-wheeled cargo bikes there wasn't any wobbly 50 metres of drama in setting off. I had the afternoon free so I just zipped around the centre of Copenhagen in the sunshine. When you don't really give a shit about specs and tech details, test-riding bikes is a fine, aesthetic experience. You just ride around, speeding up, slowing down, looking at way the sunlight falls on the harbour, following the progress of the swan-like cycling girl crossing the bridge in the other direction, sighing happily, etc. It's the best way to figure out if the new bicycle beneath you is "all that" or that. If the machine distracts - negatively - you can follow the swan-like progress of a cycling girl or the light dancing on the harbour - it ain't "all that".
This bike is, indeed, "all that". And this was just a prototype. There are only three of them in existence which is an instant cool factor. It's an advanced prototype so the bike that will hit the streets next spring is not far off the one under my ass. I headed up over Knippels Bridge and passed some other Copenhageners on bikes. Another cyclist was tailgating me in the passing lane so I sped up to get out of his way. To my surprise I flew up and over the bridge without any effort, leaving the tailgater behind. So. Acceleration? Top points. The handling wasn't something I even thought about until day three of borrowing the bike. It was completely natural and virtually identical to a regular bicycle. So that's nice.
The basket is an interesting angle of the design. Simple lines and elegant slope, I rode around with a football bouncing around in it and never lost the ball. Not a standard test-ride feature, I know, but these daily life details are important, too. My only critique of the design is about this basket. I bought a can of Coke on one of the days and had nowhere to put it. It was too small to sit on the bars of the basket so I had to stick it in my back pocket for the ride home. I thought about other stuff that I may find myself transporting here and there and many small objects wouldn't work. Bags of groceries, a crate of beer, a bag - sure. But I missed - in my personal experience - a bottom to the rack.
The rear end of a kid is, fortunately, wider than a can of soft drink. The all-important Copenhagen test is whether or not you can transport your offspring on a bike and the Beijing (the original name was Mopion - named for a tropical islet in the Caribbean by the way) - certainly lived up to my kid cargo needs. Sure, I put a blanket down for Lulu-Sophia and Felix sat on his backpack, but they loved the ride. Even with 25 kg of Felix, the handling wasn't affected in any great way. I had wondered about the higher centre of gravity, compared to other cargo bikes, but there was nothing to write home about. I could still follow swan-like cycling girl progress with a kid on the rack, so to speak.
I've spoken to many people here in Copenhagen about my everyday cargo bike, the Bullitt from Larry vs Harry and it is generally regarded as being incredibly cool, but I often hear people say that they don't have kids or don't have stuff they need to transport, so while they love the bike, they don't always need one.
I can't see the Beijing competing directly with the impressive armada of cargo bikes in use throughout this city. I can't transport two kids and groceries on this puppy. But without actually having any clue what Biomega was thinking when designing this bike, I can see it appealing to a whole new demographics. The young urban professional who wants a cooler than cool ride with a few more practical advantages than a back rack. The cycle tourist pedalling happily about foreign countrysides with all the gear that cycle touring entails. Bike messengers with just a bit more to carry than documents. One-kid families in cities or towns. There is definately a market for this bicycle.
The Beijing was originally planned to be a part of a co-branding deal between PUMA and Biomega but now Biomega is just launching it themselves.
I can't ignore the symbolic and iconic value of the Beijing. Biomega have once again produced an urban icon. If you think about modern bicycle design [re-thinking the bicycle as opposed to just making bicycles lighter and faster] there are two places where exciting things are happening. One is Denmark, with the proud design tradition. The other is America with her army of micro-bikesmiths all sweating away over their welding tools con amore as they try to make the humble bicycle just a little bit nicer and cooler.
When I write about bicycle brands over Cycle Chic I always consider the head-turner factor. Riding a bicycle that turns peoples heads on the street is always just as cool as wearing a jacket or shoes that people notice. Regular people, not your friend at the cycling club who knows all about bicycles. The Beijing has a fantastic head-turning factor. Very similar to when I ride on my Bullitt. The strangest people noticed the bicycle. Elderly ladies, five year olds, young women, old men, you name it. You get noticed on the Beijing. In urban life I'd rather get noticed for riding a wicked cool bicycle than having the latest iPad.
I was waiting for a friend outside of the Central Train Station last Monday when a group of young Japanese walked past. Two of them stopped dead in their tracks upon seeing the bike. They politely asked if they could take a photo. They noticed the PUMA logo and I explained that it was Biomega who made it for PUMA. They had already figured it out. The shape of the tubing was 'iconic' said the one so it was instantly recognizable. They took me up on the offer of taking it for a ride with wide grins and they loved it.
How cool is that? Design crossing borders, creating icons but also dialogue.
I've noticed, however, that the greatest accolades are harvested outside Felix's school and at football practice. (He took the above photo, by the way)
The Beijing - like the Bullitt - drew the attention of a very important group. The 5-8 year olds. Seriously. If 5-8 year olds - in Denmark - notice a bicycle for being different it's amazing. When you hear them all say, "THAT is a cool bicycle! See dad/mum!", you know you're on to something good.