Repairs to the Box Bike

This past weekend, I had to make a quick fix to the Joe Bike Box Bike we bought last year. We’re still very happy with our purchase of a box bike, and for the most part, we’re still happy we bought the Joe Bike version. I wrote a full review of the Joe Bike Box Bike here.

Regular readers will recall that we tore down our garage a couple months ago and are slowly building new one. This means that without a garage, the box bike has been stored outside, and the open elements have really taken a toll on the plywood box. Even when the box was brand new, it never really had much in terms of a protective polyurethane coating to keep it weather tight. After a couple months of being stored outside, the box is really showing some age. One problem we’ve had with the plywood box is that the two seat blocks that support the fold-down seat fell off. They were held on with construction adhesive, and that simply hasn’t held up very well.

Seat supports fell off.

To fix the problem, we stuck them back in place with some new construction adhesive, and tacked them into place with an air nail gun. We used three 18 gauge 3/4″ long brad nails in each seat support. So far so good, and the nails seem to be doing a great job holding the supports in place. Joe Bike should really consider adding this to the construction method in the factory, as it’s about a 200% improvement over adhesive alone.

Pop three 18 gauge 3/4″ brad nails into each seat support.

The only other issue we continue to have with the Joe Box Box Bike is with the very poorly designed seat tube clamp. Despite our best efforts, we simply can not find a way to get the clamp to hold the seat tube tight enough that it isn’t constantly slowly falling down as we ride, at least, short of clamping down on it so tightly that my wife and I can no longer adjust the seat to our preferences without tools. We already clamp it tight enough that my wife is barely able to adjust it herself.

Joe Bike Box Bike: Phase II

Today was a big day for KP, my 11-month-old daughter. She got to ride facing forward in the box bike for the first time. Previously, she would always ride in her car seat, facing backwards, like this:

KP in Box Bike
KP in Box Bike

But today, check out this big kid:

KP Looks to the Future

No car seat, forward facing. Neat, huh?

Turns out, the view from the handlebars isn’t quite as great. I used to be able to directly see her face. Now, I just see the top of her head.

KP's Wind-blown hair.

But now I get to see her turning her head back and forth, checking out the world. I get to watch her hair dancing in the wind. I get to watch her hang her elbow out over the edge of the box, looking casual.

Yes, there will be much evening cycling this summer.

Joe Bike Box Bike Review

KP in box bike
KP in box bike

I’ve owned the Joe Bike Box Bike for about four months now, and I took it out for what will probably be the last ride of the season last night. It’s probably about time to write a formal review. I decided to purchase the Joe Bike Box Bike because it was the cheapest Box Bike I could find, but it still appeared to be a mechanically solid machine. The Joe Box costs about $1700, which is substantially less than the $2800-3200 for a Bullitt Bike or Bakfiets. The other option we considered was Double Dutch bikes, which are generally priced at about $2000.

Joe Bike
Joe Bike

First Reactions –  We bought the bike over the internet sight-unseen, so it was a little bit of a surprise when we saw it for the first time. The bike has a definite homemade look to it. If you fancy yourself a designer, or if sophisticated design is important to you, you’ll be disappointed with the Joe Bike. The Joe Bike places more emphasis on being mechanically sound than on design.

I was initially surprised at the size of the box – it was smaller than I was expecting – the box is just barely big enough to fit a standard car seat. Keep this in mind when comparing with other box bikes out there. Many box bikes are larger (which also makes them harder to steer/balance). Joe Bike offers only one size of box. Some other companies offer both short- and long-box options. The Joe Bike is comparable to the short-box options out there.

The bike handles extremely well. When I test rode the Bullitt, it was wobbly and hard to get used to, which I think is a result of the overall length of the bike. The Joe Bike felt completely natural, and not much different than a standard bicycle, probably a result of being shorter than than the Bullitt.

Brakes – The bike features a Shimano IM-80 roller brake on the rear wheel, and v-brakes on the front wheel. Generally, I would describe the braking power of the Joe Bike as acceptable, but not impressive. I’ve never felt like I didn’t have enough braking power, including on downhills, but the braking power is substantially less impressive than the disc brakes I experienced on the Bullitt Bike. The v-brakes on this bike are generic and low-quality, and contribute very little to the overall braking power of the bike (also, they have a pretty nasty shimmy when applied with a lot of pressure). If the bike has a weak point, it’s the brakes. Still, the brakes are sufficient for everything I’ve done so far.

Frame – The frame feels solid and the paint looks nice. There is noticeable flex in the frame, but I haven’t experienced any problems or found it to be too distracting. The linking mechanism connecting the handlebars with the front wheel is solid and reliable. The rear rack is solid and will handle significant loads. Unfortunately, due to the oversized seat tube, the seat has continually slipped down over time, and no amount of tightening-it-down seems to be able to counteract this. The step-through frame geometry (compared to the Bullitt with a top-tube) is both good and bad. It’s easier to get on and off the bike, but a top tube would definitely make it easier to hold the bike up while stopped.

Gears – The Shimano Redband 8-speed internal gear hub is solid and performs exactly how you would expect it to. The front chainring is geared low enough that overall the bike is geared extremely low (and appropriate). I haven’t experienced any problems with the gearing or drive train.

Box – The box itself is nicely constructed out of plywood, but definitely has a homemade look to it. It looks like it could have used an extra coat of polyurethane for extra weather protection, but it looks nice and functions well.

The final word – I’ve had a ton of fun riding around on the Joe Bike. It handles well, and it’s done exactly what I was hoping it would do. My daughter loves it (a.k.a. she falls asleep instantly in it), and I’m looking forward to many wonderful hours of fun on it. If you’re looking for a great bike for recreational purposes, then this is your bike. If you’re looking for a bike to use for business purposes, if you’re contemplating going totally car-free and using this as your primary transportation, or if you plan on having to carry items (e.g. groceries) in addition to a kid in the box, you may want to consider spending the extra $1,500 for a more advanced model.

First Weekend with a Box Bike

After a long wait, I am happy to announce that Mel and I are now the proud owners of a the 2011 Box Bike from Joe Bike. For those of you who don’t know, “box bike” is a generic term for a type of cargo bike that has a large box between the handlebars and the front wheel.

Joe Bike Box Bike
Joe Bike Box Bike

Mel and I decided to buy a box bike specifically to be able to carry our new daughter KP around with us while we bike in a way that we hope will make cycling as fun for KP as it is for us. We hope that the box bike will allow KP to enjoy the fun of feeling the wind in her hair (meaning, in the future when she has hair…).

Joe Bike Box Bike Panda
Joe Bike Box Bike Panda

For now, since KP is way too little to use the built-in seat in the box, we’ve found a way to attach a spare car seat into the box. We’ve placed a few layers of foam in the bottom of the box, and attached a nylon strap that we use to keep the car seat firmly attached in place. The box is just barely big enough to fit a standard car seat.

As I think any owner of a box bike will tell you, the best part of using a box bike to carry around kids is that the the kids are positioned right in front of you where you can easily keep an eye on what they’re up to. Here’s my view from the saddle:

KP in Box Bike
KP in Box Bike

Like riding in a car, KP tends to fall asleep instantly once the box bike starts moving.

Since I’m sure more than one person out there is wondering about it, yes, we have considered whether KP is too young for this kind of thing. Yes, we’re taking it easy, going very slowly at first, and taking great care to avoid major bumps in the road. No, we don’t really have any idea of how bumpy is too bumpy for a kid at any age, let alone an infant. But for now, we’re comfortable with our approach.

Box bikes have distinct drawbacks as well, which I’m sure I’ll talk more about later. Over the next couple weeks, I’m sure I’ll have more to say about box bikes in general, our experiences, and this particular model. Stay tuned for that, if you’re interested.

In the mean time, what do you think of box bikes in general? Would you ever buy one? Why or why not? Wanna come test ride mine?

[UPDATE: A full review of my experience with this bike is here.]

Bullitt Bike Test Ride

Well the number of days remaining until there’s a new addition to our family is quickly dwindling. We haven’t really started getting ready yet, so we decided it was about time we started making some formal arrangements for Kung Pao.  You know, buying necessary supplies and stuff.

Obviously, our first stop was at Calhoun Cycle, where we took the LarryVsHarry Bullitt bike out on a test ride.

Bullitt Bike Reuben
Bullitt Bike Reuben
Bullitt Bike Mel
Bullitt Bike Mel

Honestly, not to get all daddy-blogger on you or anything, but can’t you just imagine a little Kung Pao swaddled into a car carrier and strapped into a custom-built box on the front of the Bullitt?

Yea. I can too.

The bike itself felt really solid. It has higher end components than any bike I’m currently riding, so that’s a plus.  It took a little getting used to the longer wheelbase on this bike.  We almost crashed a few times, but I’m sure you’d get used to it pretty quickly. We tried riding it in a loaded situation (by one of us sitting on the platform while the other was riding), and it still performed pretty well. We’re still going to test ride a one of these weekends to see how it handles. Mostly, we’re still just trying to figure out if we can justify the $3k price tag.

[UPDATE: since writing this post, we’ve purchased Joe Box Box Bike. A full review of my experience with this bike is here.]