Cargo Biker Profile: How the Butcher & Bicycles MK1-E helps you lean in to car-light transport.

Thanks for visiting to see how cargo bikes are making families lives better. For some reason trike riders are so willing to share their stories. In the previous biker profile we heard from a mom of three who earned the money for her trike from an in-law challenge. This time I am talking with Ned Savoie of Portsmouth, NH. Ned is the owner of a pretty unique tilting trike called the MK1-E. Let's hear from Ned.




Who: Father and Marketing professional
Location: Porthmouth, NH
Cargo bike: Butchers & Bicycles MK1-E
Bike shop: People's Bicycles




CBL: How did you become interested in cycling as transportation?

Ned: I've loved riding bikes since I was a little kid. It's a freedom for little kids, that first taste of independence. I've never really lost it. When I'm on a bike it makes me smile (at least inside, so I don't look like a complete idiot). I've never been much interested in the spandex racer style of riding, I just wanted to get somewhere and have fun doing it. I don't need to crank out 60 miles by 8am. I've done a lot of mountain biking in the past, and loved it, but it's pretty brutal on your body, and takes a good deal of time. What I like about cycling as transportation is being able to take my kid to school, ride to work, get the groceries, and whatever else needs to get done, and get a fun workout along the way. When I lived in Boston I worked for a while as a bike messenger right after college. It really taught me to anticipate what was going to happen, whether it was a distracted pedestrian, or a person in a parked car who might suddenly open their door.  When I lived in Chicago, it was faster to ride to work than to drive, and no parking fees or tickets. It's just a great way to get around if you live in an area that is well suited for it. The seacoast area of New Hampshire and southern Maine is pretty good from a biking standpoint. It's a little tough because the old roads are narrow, but bike lanes have continued to expand, and you can usually find hidden routes that keep you out of the worst traffic. The other bad part is the dismal state of the roads, especially after a brutal winter. We have a lot of potholes and patches. But it is still worth it to me, even with the problems.

CBL: Are you carlight or carfree?




Ned: That's an interesting question. I love old VW buses, so I have a couple of those, but they are summer-only vehicles and get stored in the winter. My wife has a nice newer car, so we use that when we need to. I keep an older Volvo around in case I need it, but I go weeks without driving it, and am considering ditching it altogether. So I guess that's carlight and carheavy, all at the same time. But I think I could be carfree without much difficulty. I wouldn't have necessarily said that before getting the Butchers and Bicycles MK1E. Today we had 6 inches of snow, and I still rode. With my old Dutch Cargo Bike I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have (but I may have taken a mountain bike instead).

CBL: What was your path to a cargobike and particularly the Butcher & Bicycles brand?



Ned: It was a long, winding path to my current B&B. I worked as a bike messenger long ago, so I was used to a bike bag and did that for many years. Then I got a dog and I picked up a used kids trailer, but the shape of the bottom and the slippery plastic weren't great for her. So I bought a Wike pet trailer, and used that for many years and it was great. In the meantime I had made a few trips to Amsterdam, Copenhagen and other bike-centric areas, and fell in love with the idea of a cargo bike. As luck would have it, a guy in town grew up with Henry from Henry Workcycles, and had brought in 17 bikes on a container. He sold all the bikes, but kept one for himself and one for a demo. After a few years of bugging him, I got him to sell me the demo and I rode that for years, just not in winter. I added another dog, and would actually use the trailer so they could each have a little more room. It was a bit of a site to see the train coming through town. I kept saying I wanted to ride through a full year, but I never did it. About 3 years ago I decided I would do it and have been doing it ever since.  I started a FB page https://www.facebook.com/selfpropelledchallenge/ but have never done much with it.

CBL: What are the advantages over adding a trailer to an existing bike?


Ned: I see a trailer as a solution to a different problem. I actually still have 3 trailers, and plan on keeping them (don't tell my wife). As I mentioned above, it's great for cargo or dogs, but I'm not comfortable with having kids riding in a trailer (at least on a regular basis). And kids love being up front and part of the ride. I guess that's the biggest advantage: Your kids are right in front with you, and you are easily able to keep an eye on them and to converse with them. It just makes me feel more secure as a parent, at least where I ride regularly.

CBL: Why a trike instead of a longjohn or longtail?





Ned: I like the longtail, but didn't know about them during my evolution in biking. I find them interesting, but no real value over other options, and probably some disadvantages.

I love the longjohn (or as I call it, bakfiets or Dutch Cargo Bike. That's more out of ignorance of the term longjohn). I love the unique look of a bakfiets. I love having the kids and the cargo out front. I love the way people want to talk about it, and the interest in it. I was very close to ordering another bike from Henry. REALLY close. I had priced out a couple of different versions, but I wasn't completely sold. With my earlier bakfiets, I was mostly unhappy with the braking (ineffective roller brakes), and the geometry of the bike (made my knees feel like they were going to explode on the smallest hills). The "cockpit" of the bike was tiny, as well, so for me (6'1", 220lbs), my knees were close to bashing the handlebars. 

And honestly, I had never considered a trike until I saw the Butcher. They were typically lame, poor handling at speed, clunky. My 82 year old mother rides one. I was closer to buying something like the Rhoades bike (https://www.rhoadescar.com/ ) but it was a bit too much of a novelty for me. When I was growing up, we had a PPVhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/People_Powered_Vehicle which was absolutely awesome (until we wrecked it.... oops). For a kid, it represented freedom. But it was a pig to ride, to a certain degree, and I figured the Rhoades would be similar in how it rode (I didn't want the recumbent/seated feel). It didn't have the vibe I wanted. So what changed my opinion of trikes? When I saw the Butcher, I was blown away. It was fast. It was sexy. It hauled a ton of cargo. It handled like a two wheeler. It was the coolest cargo bike I had ever seen. Hell, it was the coolest bike I had ever seen. And I never thought I would have one, honestly.

CBL: What was the process like to acquire the trike?




Ned: Surprisingly easy. (Well, except for the spouse. That took the most work.) There are only 3 dealers in the US right now (as of 2016) and I was lucky enough that Peoples Bicycle is in the Hudson River Valley, about 90 minutes out of New York City, about 220 miles from me. They are really committed to getting the MK1's into the hands of customers, and offer free delivery up to 200 miles. The other 2 dealers are in Portland, OR and in San Francisco, CA.

CBL: The tilt steering looks amazing. Does it live up to promotional videos?


Ned: Yes. Yes, yes and yes. The tilt system is awesome. I can't say enough good things about it. It makes the bike ride incredibly well. The only thing that takes a little getting used to is there is a preset limit to how much lean is available. From what Jon at Peoples Bike tells me, he believes they restricted it for liability reasons (so the bike can't fall over). Not sure if that is true or not. The drawback is that if you come into a turn at high speed, you can't continue to lean past a certain point, when normally you would. It's a bit disconcerting the first few times you hit the limit, but you get used to predicting it. Now I actually like to play with it, hitting the limit and holding it there (it has the feeling of kicking you back upright the first few times it happens). So my only wish is that the amount of lean was adjustable. That being said, I haven't looked closely at the design to know whether I could adjust this myself with a bit of tinkering. But it certainly isn't a big deal.

CBL: How easy is it to handle the B&B (stops, starts, turns)?



Ned: They all feel very natural, once you get over the initial shock of how the bike handles (it handles like a bike, and not a trike, so if you expect it to be stable at a stop, you are going to feel like you are going to fall over). Jon from Peoples Bike had good advice: "Just get up to speed quickly and it will feel natural." He's right, it handles great at speed, but it's a little tippy at very low speeds. You know, like a bike!

Tonight I had my hardest stop, with my 4 year old in the front. A car blew through an intersection, and I nailed the brakes. It stopped on a dime. I was seriously surprised on how well, and how quickly, it stopped. No weird pulling (which you might expect from a trike) and I've never had the feeling the brakes would ever be a problem. They've been great, and I've put 1000 miles on the bike so far in 6 (winter) months.

Starts are pretty easy because of the Bosch motor and the NuVinci hub which allows shifts while stopped. It's actually easier than a loaded Bakfiets.

I describe turns a bit above (at least their limitations) but really, it turns beautifully. Leans great and feels really good at speed.

CBL: Are there any significant changes to the riding dynamics change when it is loaded?




Ned: As with any bike that's loaded, it's a bit different, but there's nothing unexpected or unpredictable. In fact, it's probably the most stable bike I've ridden while loaded. I've had adults in the front (it's rated for 110kg/220lbs) and ridden with 150 pounds of kids, and no problems. When parked, the legs make it extremely stable. Kids can jump all over it, and it won't move. You do have to be careful when you push it off the stand if you have a lot of weight as it will make the rear end light, but you learn to expect it. But it feels great when it's loaded (almost better as the bumps get smoothed out by the extra weight). 

CBL: What is the feel and range like with the electric assist?


Ned: The electric assist is great. It actually makes you feel bionic, as it responds to your input. I typically run on "tour" which is the 2nd setting (it goes eco, tour, sport and turbo). It allows me to easily cruise at 15 to 20 mph, but more importantly, takes the pain out of the hills, especially with a loaded bike. My knees used to feel like they were going to explode on hills on the bakfiets. With this bike, I still feel like I'm getting a workout, but I don't feel the pain in my knees. My range is about 25 miles on "tour". I typically do about 10 to 15 miles, and sometimes up to 20, and I haven't had a problem. I usually go 2 or 3 days between recharge.

CBL: Tell me about typical errands you accomplish with your trike.


Ned: I do everything on the bike (I know how much of a blowhard that makes me sound like but I'm really trying to use this exclusively...). I get my son to and from school, including all the normal kid stuff. I do the grocery shopping, and with a rear rack and panniers, I can take my son and get a week of groceries. Today I went to the hardware store and hauled a bunch of stuff back. I actually have an old trailer I'm planning on modifying for bigger things, but haven't gotten around to it yet.

CBL: Where and how do you store your cargo bike?


Ned: I'm lucky that I have a garage, and I store it there. At work it sits in the parking lot, but I don't leave it overnight, even though it is not a high crime area. With my old cargo bike I did leave it out overnight, both at home and at work (but not every day). I had a couple of instances at work where people messed with it. Once, you could tell someone tried to ride it and dumped it. No serious harm, but banged up the box a bit and put some scrapes on it. Another time I had left the rain cover on the box and someone slit it with a knife for no apparent reason. But mostly I don't leave it out because I don't want any wear and tear or vandalism that I don't personally do myself (or my 4 year old).

CBL: How many bags of groceries can you put in the Butcher?




Ned: How many do you have? I've had 150 lbs. of groceries in it, I've had it loaded with everything I needed, and it was only half full. The bigger trick is when you have kids and cargo. I have a rear rack (an Axiom Streamliner Disc which I really like the build and quality of) with Ortlieb panniers that can hold all of my son's school stuff (lunch box, backpack, etc.). The panniers hold my daily stuff as well.

CBL: Are there any downsides to riding this cargo trike? (Learning curve, quirks, etc.)


Ned: A few. First, you are a double wide, and you have to remember it and how much space you take up in a bike lane. I didn't think it would be much worse than the bakfiets, but it is because the bakfiets has 2 points of contact and even though you are about the same width, you have to worry about the 3 different wheels. Second, you can't go up small curb cuts like you can with a bike. You need to find a driveway or a crosswalk if you want to get off the road. Not a big deal, but it is a change from a bike. Lastly, and this is the one that surprised me the most, is the fact that you have 3 points of contact. With a bike, if you see a pothole, you can go around it with both wheels. With the Butcher, you have to plan how you are going to miss it with 3 wheels. If you span it with the 2 wheels, there's a good chance you are going to drill it with the rear wheel and you will feel it. But surprisingly, I've had it out in the woods (my son is in a school that spends a lot of the day outside in the forest) and I can roll over roots because the front wheels span them and just lighten the rear wheel as I go over it. It works way better than I ever thought.

CBL: Any parting advice or encouragement to a would be cargo biker?


Ned: I started out slowly. Any way you want to start is great. If you want a cargo bike (as opposed to using a trailer) try to find a place you can try some out. That's not always easy. Even if you see someone with a cargo bike, stop them and talk to them about it. I would bet they'll talk your ear off, and probably offer a test ride. Think about what you need. If you want to go full time, I would suggest you challenge yourself. Start with a week with no car. Then go to a month. I wish I had done that because I went for a year, and it took me a few years to actually do that. But don't feel like you have to go exclusive. Just choose to bike more, and have fun doing it.

I hope to do my own review of the B&B MK1 as soon as I find one Southern California. Hopefully this insight into Ned's cargo biking life gives you some ideas and inspiration to fuel your everyday cycling adventures. 

Would this trike change your view of what's possible by bike?