08 September 2010

Copenhagenize Tests the Biomega Cargo Bike

Biomega Puma Mopion (10)
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".

Biomega Puma Mopion (13) Biomega Puma Mopion (5)
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.

Biomega Puma Mopion
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.

Biomega Puma Mopion (17) Biomega Puma Mopion (23)
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.

Biomega Puma Mopion (11) Biomega Puma Mopion (20)
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.

Biomega Puma Mopion (16) Biomega Puma Mopion (15)
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.
Biomega Puma Mopion (8)
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.


Anonymous said...

Derailleur gears though? Chain open to the elements? Surely a 7-speed hub would be better. Could it be easily converted?

106193497484508739855 said...

Looks like the next generation of the pizza bike, like this one: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kidelectric/341735710/

Anonymous said...

I heard that the cool pull of Copenhagen is so great that planes flying from "America" to Amsterdam find themselves landing in the Danish capital instead.

See also http://www.politiken.dk/Danske_hær_at_anvende_henholdsvis nederlandsk_cykler

Finally, the other thing really hap-nin thing in Denmark and America is... fabric-coloured bike helmets! Anyone who can explain why gets a free bottle of Tuborg in the limited-edition iconic bottle

Anonymous said...

I heard that the cool pull of Copenhagen is so great that planes flying from "America" to Amsterdam find themselves landing in the Danish capital instead.

See also http://www.politiken.dk/Danske_hær_at_anvende_henholdsvis nederlandsk_cykler

Finally, the other really hap-nin thing in Denmark and America is... fabric-coloured bike helmets! Anyone who can explain why gets a free bottle of Tuborg in the limited-edition iconic bottle

Dwainedibbly said...

Excellent review, excellent photos (bravo, Felix!), excellent writing. Thank you for posting. I was wondering about the higher center of gravity, then I got to the part about "the Felix test".

I have my doubts about derailleur gears as well, especially here in Portland, but otherwise I like this bicycle. My very own "swan-like cycling girl", Mrs Dibbly, likes the bike, too, (but she's Danish, so no surprises there).

There is one question nagging at me, though: how does one manage a cargo bike in the city? Right now my only totally secure bicycle parking is inside my flat and I don't know how this would do in the elevator. Still, it looks much shorter than the Bullitt, right?

Also, Civia look to be coming out with a 20" front wheel cargo bike of some sort. I have only seen the teaser vid that came out a few days ago but I have to wonder how it will compare.

dr2chase said...

@All - a conversion to 7 or 8 speed is easily managed; the Shimano hubs come with various antirotation washers, and have the same Over-Locknut-Dimension as a mountain bike, which seems to be the standard.

It would be interesting to also get a review of a Big Dummy and/or any of the other longtail American cargo bikes. They're less handy for carrying small children, definitely a problem, but the handling (certainly, on the Big Dummy, which is what I ride) is quite nice.

How are these (other) cargo bikes at hopping curbs? The Big D requires a godalmighty heave to get its front end up, but it seems to me that any cargo in the front at all would make it completely impossible.

bob k. said...

it seems to me that the people who designed this bike were not so much coming up with a new design, as just doing their homework. this design is definitely a direct descendant of the great cargobikes made in the USA by Bilenky Cycle Works. see here: http://www.bilenky.com/Photo_Gallery-Cargo_Bikes.html Bilenky has been making fantastic cargo bikes for years in this style. there are lots of people outside of western europe thinking about and making bikes for transportation, i just feel like credit should be given when credit is due.

Green Idea Factory said...

Mikael, would you consider occasionally bringing in a guest reviewer of the fairer sex? All these new Danish bikes seem rather male-oriented (like the lovely Bullitt, without low stepovers and no covered chains) so you could at least wear a medium- to long-length dress or skirt when testing these (perhaps one of your relatives has a kilt in storage?).

Clearly, bikes like this one and heavier/longer ones need an inside space on the street. In the USA, in particular in places like NYC, a lack of such provision will permanently retard uptake of cargo bikes. Fortunately, there are creative and functional solutions for this from Denmark and The Netherlands, amongst other places. With a bit of added technology, they could facilitate sharing of cargo bikes with neighbors.

Green Idea Factory said...

It's so true about the Helmet Countries (Denmark and the USA) and the omitted Netherlands is a creative wasteland when it comes to bicycles available for sale, new designs, systems and both corporate and government marketing.

sarnu said...

My favourite bike for cycling in town is a bilenky cargo bike (www.bilenky.com). It has a similiar design as the Mopion, though the cargo area is somewhat different.
Reading this review reminded me a lot of the handling of my cargo bike.

My kids like to be carried on the platform, too...

Kiwehtin said...

I wasn't very impressed with the bike when I saw stock "D"esign shots on TreeHugger that emphasised the lines of the bike from the side (and reduced the basket to an oh so sculptural line seen from the side as if in 2D.

So, it was nice to read your review with all the solid information rather than the typical design journal fluff. Todd ("Green Idea") does have a point about a woman's/beskirted individual's viewpoint, though.

Kiwehtin said...

Oh, ps-

I forgot to mention my reaction to the name. It just seems rather unfortunate to me that it is so close to the French word morpion "genital lice"...

Not quite the thing to kick-start cargo cycling in the République Une et Indivisible.

philippe said...

What's the (foreseeable) price tag for this ?
Biomega may be "iconics", they are also outrageously expensive.

(And poor choice of name if they intend to market it France, indeed...)

Anneke said...

Hmm, looks good, except (aside from the high metal bar that makes skirts wearing hard, as mentioned above) the lack of a wheel cover over the back wheel. I suspect that one tiny puddle will completely soak your back.

Byron said...

Two headset, two bottom brackets, it's like a production freak bike with a fruit-loops paint job and good you got to ride it. Puma/Biomega lit up the bike/gadget/design blogs with this bike.

Coyot said...

It would be great to have this one to take my baby to walk.

My love, I love you ...

Jacob said...

Biomega also makes shaft driven bikes. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaft-driven_bicycle

I think the bike would look better this way.

When you speak to them again I think you should ask if you could try out their Copenhagen or Amsterdam bike. Have you taken pictures of this kind of bikes before?

And tell to find a company to sell their bikes in Århus :-)

philippe said...

If I'm not mistaken, Mikael did more than take photos of the Amsterdam, he shot a commercial film for Biomega.

Green Idea Factory said...

So, Mikael, DID you do a film for them?

amoeba said...

I can't help thinking that the mopion bike would be a great deal more practical if it had:
a) mudguards
b) chain-case
c) hub gears
d) hub brakes
e) dynamo lights
f) steel frame (if it's serious about load-carrying)

If it's aluminium, it's a more of a fashion accessory.

amoeba said...

Looks like a great idea, but a shame about the implementation, as mentioned previously.

amoeba said...

My concern about Aluminium for bike frames in general and for cargo bikes in particular, is that it inevitably designs-in a limited life.

If the frame is well-designed and loaded within its limits:

As I understand it:
Steel has a distinct fatigue limit and provided cyclic loading doesn't exceed this, steel structures will last indefinitely - many decades of regular heavy use.

Aluminium has no fatigue limit and will fail eventually, even when cyclically loaded very lightly - I suspect a typical user can expect around a decade of regular use – with life substantially reduced by frequent heavy loading.

As a society, we are going to have consider avoiding built-in obsolescence.

Which is safer and more sustainable?