Madsen Cargo Bike Ownership After 15 Months

We have now owned our Madsen 271kg/Cargo Bucket Bicycle for well over a year.  We have used it for over 750 miles (1,200 km) with kids and/or other cargo in multiple situations, although mostly for commuting.  We have used it in the heat of the summer and the cold of late fall in southern New England.  We have traversed over and under bridges both old and new, through tunnels, over railroad tracks, within a farm's vegetable picking areas and associated dirt roads, on gravel roads and sidewalks, over the Connecticut river, on remote roads and busy city streets, to bike shops, to schools and various playgrounds and parks, in a 4th of July parade, to a winter holiday town-wide event, over many miles of unknown (to us) rail trails, and to several community shops.  We shared the road with huge trucks as well as young children just learning how to ride on a bike path, with trikes, tandem and electric bikes, with skateboarders and roller bladers.  We've hauled pets and people, two kids and three adults at once at night (including the main pedal person), we've had children sleeping and awake.  We've had days of riding over 25 miles, many miles well into the darkness of the evening, including stops in town for dinner and ice cream.  We haven't had any flat tires or major breakdowns, just a few chain drops.  We've had no major animal incidents, although we did see a lot of wildlife including deer, chipmunks, bats, mice, snakes, and turkey to name a few.

We have traveled with the bike on top of our car.  Well, to be more specific, with the bike attached to the top of the car and us inside the car.  We took the bike partially apart and put it on top of our car on a Thule tandem bike rack, transporting it almost a hundred miles north for a parade.  Our 4th of July post mentions this in some detail.  There we reassembled and decorated it for the parade.  Dis-assembly & assembly only required us to take off the front wheel, the front fender, and the bucket.  The bucket was taken off only because it helped the car's aerodynamics and to reduce drag at highway speeds.  It now takes a total of about 5-10 minutes tops to put the bike on or take the bike off the car.  Wherever we went, we got a lot of interest in the bike, and continue to do so.

In terms of modifications to the bike, we installed a bell, a bike computer, a seat cable lock, a phone holder, a rear-view mirror,  a new bolt for the cargo bucket (to make it quicker & easier to take on/off), an additional washer for the rear axle to minimize chain rubbing in high gear and a spacer for the front stem to raise it up a little (a bike shop installed these for us), some ergonomic (Ergon GP1) grips, the larger Madsen-included 44 front chain ring, and a Madsen front rack.  We also use a front headlamp and 2 tail lights when riding at night.  We don't keep the lights on the bike all the time, since we don't ride at night that often. We do bring a little road kit with us holding a few emergency items (lights including headlamp, duct tape, first aid kit, gloves, pump, tools, etc).  We've changed the rear brake pads once to a higher quality, longer lasting set.

The ergonomic grips are probably our favorite accessory.  The front rack is, in our opinion, an almost required accessory if we want even just a little more capacity.  We don't use it every time, but it makes a big difference when we need it.  It is amazingly strong since it is bolted right to the frame.  It is like having a roof rack with a box on top of your car when everything doesn't quite fit, but it can also provide a place for a lightweight person to sit on a short trip.  The seat cable lock was added since it is easy for someone to unfasten the quick-release seat post and take it.  It is loose enough to allow adjusting the seat height for different riders.  The computer is nice to help track our rides - we use the trip odometer and speedometer the most.  The mirror is an inexpensive safety item that we find helpful in traffic.  The bell could be louder but fits well behind the front reflector.  The phone holder is nice for listening to music and recorded programs, but it also provides access to all the things a smartphone enables us to do in 2013, like having a GPS and text-messaging engine available at our fingertips.  I'm not sure if the laws have caught up with texting and biking yet, but I'm sure one could be found liable for distracted bicycling if causing an accident. Less likely on a sparsely populated bike path.

Before front rack and grips, with computer, bell, mirror, new chain ring.

Most frequent comments we hear:
  • I've never seen a bike like that.
  • Wow, that's a handy vehicle to have.
  • We have a bike trailer, but that's so much better!
  • That's awesome, I love it!

Most frequently asked questions:

Q: Did you custom build it?
A: No, it came this way directly from Madsen (pointing to name on bike to show proper spelling).  It was shipped directly to us.  We did make some minor modifications and added some accessories.

Q: Is it hard to pedal?  Any problems riding it?
A: That depends on how much you are hauling, but in general it is only a little harder than a typical mountain bike.  It is a little heavier and longer, like a limousine, so you need to plan ahead in tight areas when you want to turn around. Need to watch out over curbs too, as the rear fender or rear chain cog can touch the ground if you're not careful.  Its a little longer, wider, and lower than most bikes, but most of the time you wouldn't know it.

Q: That's a interesting design.  How does that bucket fit on there?
A: Its bolted on with 3 bolts and fits over the frame in a safe, sturdy way.  It is based on a long-tail bike with a custom bucket made by the company.  The bucket can hold an amazing amount of weight over the 20" (51 cm) rear wheel.  Its a very intelligent use of space, and designed well in that regard.  That bucket is what makes it different than all other cargo bikes, and frankly I think its brilliant.

Q: Is it a Dutch company that makes these?
A: No, it is an American company out of Utah.  However, the Dutch would probably love these bikes.  They have a long tradition of hauling things with bakfiets or freight bicycles.

Most frequent information given out:
  • Madsen (out of Utah) makes these bikes, we didn't build it ourselves.  
  • It has 2 bench seats with seat belts for 4 kids!
  • It can hold 600 pounds (271 kg) in the back!  That's almost four 150 pound (68 kg) people, if you can fit them in there.
  • We like it better than other cargo bikes because it feels like a regular bike, just a little heavier.  
  • Other cargo bikes with the kids up front aren't as efficient or maneuverable, and those with the kids in their own seats (similar to a tandem) don't give you as much cargo capacity.  This is the best of both worlds.
  • The kids ride in it to school and back, and we usually stop to pick up groceries or farm produce on the way home.
  • Someday we want to add an electric motor, but so far this works great for us. 
  • Go to the Madsen Cycles website.  You can learn all about it.

Here are some of our current Pros and Cons.  Having this bicycle and using it regularly for over a year helps us get a better picture of our investment.  I've listed Pros and Cons before, but this is an update of some notable things to mention.

  • The kids enjoy talking and waving to people on the bike path as they are free to look around and interact with their environment in a unique way that most forms of transport restrict.  The speeds at which people pass each other or ride near each other allow for some fun conversations that could be as long as you like, depending on your fitness level and desire to interact.
  • It is super convenient and easy to get the kids in and out of, easier than car seats.
  • Plenty of cargo capacity for our needs, which often includes extra kids and groceries.
  • Feels like a regular bike with a little more weight in the back.  One doesn't feel like one's carrying a huge cargo until one looks back at the kids and groceries.
  • Good maneuverability in traffic and in city environments.
  • Good for longer trips where we need more efficiency than typical cargo bikes, some of which have 3 wheels and may be better for city life.  We typically average 12 to 14 miles (19 to 23 km) a day when commuting, more for special events.
  • Good customer service (Jared Madsen called me directly to help me install the front rack).
  • The front wheel lock is very convenient.  We use it often when we need to run in somewhere for only a few minutes.
  • The seat is very comfortable for longer rides.
  • Frequently used to replace short car trips under 15 miles (24 km).
  • Stable at speed, strong steel construction.
  • Larger chain ring (44 tooth) works well for higher speeds.
  • A unique vehicle that draws a lot of attention (this could be a pro or con at times!)
  • The kids love it, particularly down hills!

Cons (not all bad or specific to Madsen):
  • The gearing and shifting could be a little better, as we've had our chain fall off and the chain rub in places (which have mostly been remedied).  This isn't the worst thing in the world, since the design of having a long chain (on a long-tail) makes it inherently prone to some adjustment issues.  Physics are working against this design element due to having a super-long chain, gears, a chain guard, and a bucket over all of it.  However, one doesn't want to have to worry about a chain falling off or rubbing against something, which has happened to us.
  • As with any bike and traveling with cargo, there is worry about theft when parking/locking up a bike in certain locations, particularly when loaded up with gear and nobody is around to watch the bike.  A way for us to secure our gear and/or hide it in the bucket would be nice, such as having the waterproof soft cover that has been advertised but not yet available, along with something like a Pacsafe bag protector to secure gear in the bucket.
  • The Madsen kg271 may be a little expensive, but that depends on what you compare it to.  It is more expensive than a bicycle and trailer, which isn't even close to the same functionality or elegance.  They are cheaper than most of their cargo bike peers.  They often go on sale later in the year which makes them an incredible value compared with other cargo bikes.
  • The rubber on the pedals that we received partially came off within the first couple hundred miles, a very minor issue.
  • The 20 inch (51 cm) wheel in the back isn't as efficient when there is little weight in the bucket.  If a 26" (66 cm) wheel were in the back, there would be a lot less physical storage capacity but it would be a quicker and more efficient bicycle.  I'm glad it has the 20" (51 cm) wheel, as I don't think it could work any other way and do what it does.  
  • Kids moving around can effect the stability of the ride, particularly when they unexpectedly reach out for something.  They like to touch plants along the bike path, which is both a pro (for the kids) and a management con (for the pedaling adult).  Kid management is a bit of an issue, but that's probably true with most bikes where kids are not confined (as opposed to a trailer, where they can't go anywhere or reach out easily).
  • Installing the front rack was difficult at first, but easier once I understood the installation process.  Detailed installation instructions and possibly including a special tool for the installation may have been helpful.  I may have paid a little more for that.  Overall, it was slightly more work than it should have been.
  • I am guessing the market in cargo bicycles isn't as big in the USA as it might be in Europe.  Since Madsen is a fairly small company, new accessories or widespread product changes may take a little longer to come to market than expected.  I find I need to work on my patience in this regard.  I hope it will be worth the wait and that Madsen will continue to grow and innovate.
Although there seem to be more Cons than Pros here, I strongly believe that the Pros outweigh the Cons by a wide margin.

44 tooth chain ring (supplied with bike, a nice upgrade for us).  Pedals with loose rubber.

Accessories We Are Hoping to Add Next Year - If Time and Our Bike Budget Allows
  • A passenger rain cover for the bucket, so the kids can be warmer and drier when it rains or gets coldI might need to make one myself, as we've been waiting for this to be available for a while.
  • An electric motor, if possible, for the rear wheel to decrease the effort required on longer rides.  This will increase our range and allow us to more easily visit our friends further up the bike path.  Good ones are expensive though, so we might be waiting a while to justify the purchase.
  • A louder bell.
  • A slightly better way to install the phone mount - it is currently just strapped securely to the middle of the handlebars.
  • Any new accessory that Madsen makes available.

How to Improve the Bike as It Comes From the Factory
(this is assuming that the newer models of the Madsen kg271 have not already addressed these issues).
  •  Although it might be a bit of a challenge due to the physics involved, we would recommend investing in the gearing components to make them a little more robust and easier to adjust over the long-term.
  • Add a mount for a tail light on the top-rear of the bucket, and a loop/mount for one on the top-rear of the passenger rain cover when it becomes available.  It would be really cool if these worked like real brake lights too, but that might be too much to ask.
  • Allow for a higher handlebar position for taller riders.
  • Fit the bike rack better to the bike (we think this was fixed in the newer version).
  • Make the bolt holding the center part of the bucket easier to take off and put on
  • Pedals without an issue with the rubber (very minor).
  • Integrated seat lock (these seats are extremely comfortable, yet easy to take).

Overall, this has been a fantastic bike that has worked well for us with only some minor issues.  It isn't easy making an innovative, extremely functional, quality bike that will pass the test of time at a reasonable cost for the masses.  We hope to hang onto this bike for a long time.  It seems to be a great investment thus far.  I continue to be optimistic about this bike and the future of the company that makes them.


Anonymous said...

I am looking at a Madsen or an Xtracycle. I have two boys an infant and a 2 year old. I like the Madsen because it is nice for their younger years, old would you say is too old for them to ride in the back? I feel they could grow into the Xtracycle where the Madsen they would grow out of it quickly. thanks, Jeannie

Family Bicycling said...

The answer to this question depends on a number of factors. Some of these include the size (height/width) of your kids, their combined weight, your physical bicycling ability, the terrain/traffic, how good they are at sitting together nicely, your experience with the bike, etc. Although I'm not completely familiar with the various Xtracycle configurations, if you have 4 kids, I don't know how you could get them all on an Xtracycle, while you have 4 seat belts in the Madsen! If you seat 2 or 3 kids in the Madsen at a time (this allows for room to carry other stuff) I would think that they could easily be 50 to 60 pounds each, and 1 or 2 or them could probably be 70 to 80 pounds. Something that I cannot talk from experience (or recommend), but in theory, you could strap a child (car) seat on the Madsen's front rack, to make 5 passengers. Ideally, I think the Madsen is ideal for kids aged 2-8, with some flexibility in that range in the upper and lower end, depending on the factors mentioned earlier. It has a lot of room. Also remember that the Madsen has a 271kg (~600 pound) carrying capacity, and is geared appropriately. When the kids outgrow the Madsen, they are probably ready for their own bikes, if they haven't already been riding on their own. One can easily tote 1 or 2 adults in a Madsen, so one's definition of too old may not exist for this bike. An Xtracycle is probably more limited since (I think) you could only add seats that are suitable for children, and they don't have the flexibility to move around very much or change their seating location. I hope that helps.

Anonymous said...

It definitely helps. We bought the Madsen! We had two little friends over yesterday who were begging for a ride....cannot wait for this summer! Thank you! Jeannie

R Cullinan said...

Hi. Nice write up. We found a used Madsen recently and have been using it for a few weeks. Ours was upgraded to a high-pressure wider rear tire by the prior owner and that is working really well. It rides well, especially when loaded with kids and stuff. We also changed out the handgrips to a better design. Our local area is fairly flat so the gearing is fine. It is actually very surprising how easy it is to push the bike, despite the weight of the bike and cargo. Overall, we're pleased.

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Unknown said...

We had our Madsen for 5 years until recently it was stolen from our garage. As family we did a lot with this bike....

Anonymous said...

Have you ever seen someone use a Madsen without the bucket (extensively not just once or twice)? My child is old enough for a longtail but they are tougher to find on the secondary market and I think I could source a Madsen but then I have to think about how well it would retrofit for an older child's seat and/or Xtracycle style conversion.

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