Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Civia Halsted: the Compact Basket Bike

Civia Halsted
Civia is a Minnesota-based manufacturer of transportation and utility bicycles, known for its unisex designs and reasonable price points. I do not see many Civia bikes in New England. But for some time now I've admired the look of their Halsted model and wondered what it was like to ride. Last week I finally got the chance to find out.

Broadway Bicycle School
The Broadway Bicycle School in Cambridge, MA uses one of these as a shop bike, and they allowed me to take it out for a spin. 

Civia Halsted
The Civia Halsted is a modern variation of a classic front load delivery bicycle. It is designed around a standard size (26") rear wheel and a small (20") front wheel, above which sits a frame-mounted platform. This type of construction creates extra space to accommodate a large front load, whilst also positioning the load lower to the ground. 

Civia Halsted
Because the platform is connected to the bicycle's frame rather than the fork or handlebars, it remains independent from steering. This, together with its low placement, is aimed to minimise the front load's impact on the bicycle's handling. 

The front platform ("rack deck") is rated for 50lb of carry capacity. It can be used on its own, or built up as a front crate/basket using modular side panels (as shown in the pictures). The deck and side panels are made of HDPE plastic. The tubes securing the platform to the bicycle's frame are steel, painted to match the bike.

Civia Halsted
The Halsted is available in one size only, and will fit riders between 5'2" and 6'5". The frame features a dropped and moderately sloping top tube. Thanks to the small front wheel, this results in a very manageable standover height for someone of my size (I am 5' 6 1/2"). I did not have to swing my leg over the back of the bike, but was able to step over the top tube after slightly leaning it toward me. 

Civia Halsted
Another feature of the Halsted frame is the possibility for attaching a plaque to advertise one's business. This is nicely integrated, and makes for a fabulous-looking shop bike. 

Civia Halsted
The Halsted's cro-moly frame and fork are TIG-welded in Taiwan. The finishing is smooth and attractive. The straight, unicrown fork is tiny, on account of the small front wheel, and looks good on the bike. The colour pictured is from 2012, and the current one (shown here) looks to be a light periwinkle-gray.  

Civia Halsted
The front wheel is equipped with a disc brake.

Civia Halsted
The rear with a v-brake.

Civia Halsted
The standard drivetrain is 1x9 derailleur gearing, but the semi-horizontal dropouts make it possible to build the frame up with an internally geared hub.

Civia Halsted
The "cockpit" includes a threadless stem, swept-back handlebars, rubberised grips, city brake levers and MTB style shifter.  

Civia Halsted
Fenders, a rear rack or lighting are not standardly included with the bike. A double-legged kickstand is included (though I did not find it especially stable in windy conditions). 

The low bottom bracket is great for toe-down stopping and full leg extension while pedaling. There is no chance of toe overlap with the small front wheel. The components included in the stock build were easy and comfortable to use. 

Considering that the Broadway Bicycle School has been using this bike for over a year and storing it outdoors for large portions of the day, I thought it to be in good condition. Aside from surface rust around some bolts and components (namely the disc brake and rear derailleur), I saw no sign of weather-related damage.

Civia Halsted
My Civia Halsted test ride consisted of cycling down the road to buy groceries, then riding home to drop them off. After this I circled the neighbourhood with the front basket unloaded, before taking pictures and returning the bike to the shop. In total it was about 4 miles, on a cold and windy day. The groceries I carried were distributed between two shopping bags, and included heavy items such as milk, wine, vegetables and a 5lb sack of apples. In addition to this, I carried my camera and laptop bag, as well as a couple of books and some spare clothing. Loading all of these things into the crate, I felt that it could have been made a bit deeper, with the modular panels sturdier (they rattled a bit in motion). But I was nonetheless able to stuff everything in securely, without the use of bungee cords.

The Halsted's handling felt distinct, but fine, with and without weight in the front basket. Steering did not require special effort, though it had a quality to it that felt particular to this bike. I could definitely feel the weight in the front, but this did not result in any difficulty controlling the bicycle. One thing I noticed, was that I was taking corners wider than normally, but I cannot be sure that this is related to the handling and not to my awareness of the wide front crate. The bike rolled easily uphill and generally felt fun. I also liked being able to keep my eye on my stuff in front of me at all times. In that sense, it was kind of like riding a larger version of my Brompton.

Civia Halsted
I did not see the Halsted's geometry chart until after my test ride. But once I did, I noticed the high-trail front end (trail in the 80s, according to my calculations). Some might consider this unusual for a bike designed to carry so much weight in the front. While I cannot say how the Halsted handles at its maximum carry capacity, with a moderate front load I thought it very ridable. 

When I look at pictures of Civia Halsteds in use, it is apparent that the bikes can also carry substantial weight in the rear. Owners attach rear racks, child seats, even Xtracycle extensions. The Broadway Bicycle School often uses a trailer with theirs.

Still, one major benefit of the small front wheel design, is that it increases the bike's carry capacity while keeping the wheelbase reasonable (1134mm). The overall size of the Halsted is the same as that of a typical city bike, and at 33lb it is manageable to lift and maneuver. The compact basket-bike design is worth considering for those interested in a front-load utility bike. And priced at $1,195 the Civia Halsted is a good value.

Many thanks to the Broadway Bicycle School for the test ride! More pictures of this storied local establishment here.

61 comments:

  1. I think I understand why seemingly everyone likes to keep an eye on their front loads - it isn't secure, bounces a lot over the front axle, and shifts easily. Is anyone concerned about their load jumping off the bike in a pannier on a rear rack?

    I really wanted to like this bike, but ultimately, after riding one, it's versatility and speed are too compromised by the design to warrant anything besides curiosity. And the seat tube angle is way too lax to be able to put any perf down, something you'd want to do with extra weight on board.

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    1. You might have liked it better with a load of girls and beer...

      Spindizzy

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    2. This bike design was originally meant for delivery and repair people who make multiple stops on short routes.

      For that purpose front loading is better than accessing a rear pannier, IMO. Pre-plan the route, load last out on the bottom and work up to first, and quickly grab and deliver making the rounds.

      For personal use a porteur with bag or rack with one of those bungee net coverings would seem the better choice.

      Not familiar with the Civia itself so do not mean any of the above as a reply on the seat tube issue.

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    3. Spin, what situation in life isn't better with beers and girls?

      Soma did some market testing with their front loader at a local university -- kids went wild over it, got rides, rode people around...it's a party bike.  
       
      Apparently no one wants to wear the party hat blowing a streamer whistle thing by themselves.

      Me, I have no problem looking like a clown but can't see doing anything but short hops on it. Plus it's got a kind of crude, cobbled-together quality.  The box is kinda cool but it's HDPE after all.  

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    4. Anyone try the Soma Pickup Artist or Tradesman?

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    5. Oh yeah single tracking on this thing is horrible.

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    6. At the college I attended some frat dude bought a Step Van, tricked out the back with some huge speakers, seats, and refrigeration devices.

      I guess he was popular.

      Certainly possible but hardly practical.

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    7. BTW v you could easily haul that load on your proto-mixte but for the twisting.

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    8. I could carry it on the Brompton for that matter. On the mixte, I haven't noticed any twisting yet, but I'd be worried about the fork under too much weight; it was not meant for a utility bike.

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    9. After all these years we have yet to see a picture of you riding a front loader with all that stuff in it. A sweater doesn't count.

      Y'know, because I'm a contextual kinda guy.

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    10. Guilty. I'll have to hassle Cycler to photograph me riding her new addition. Pretty sure she will have at least 100lb in the front on any given day.

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    11. Not the same, but nice bike.

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    12. I've got one, it works fine for in-town shopping, what it was designed to do. I wouldn't try to tour the Greenway Trail with it, though.

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  2. The bike shop that is part of the company I work for has one of these, it's really something. It seems all responsible and mature but will carry stuff you have no business stacking on a bike and is sporty enough to be fun to bomb around on empty. I've seen the guys load it down with a whole parties worth of beer AND two people. Simultaneously. It's sort of a bad influence.

    It's most outstanding characteristic from my point of view though is the reality warping effect it has when you turn the bars and the load and platform momentarily appear to veer off in the other direction. It makes me giggle every time I ride it. It's a little like my swing bike except it's only messing with you and not actively trying to kill/injure you.

    Spindizzy

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  3. Basically a modernised incarnation of a traditional English Butchers/Bakers delivery bike.

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  4. Oh wow! I totally saw you taking The photos at Broadway bike and that parking lot. I was "Portaging" a cold infant or I would stopped for a quick "I love your work!" Cheers from a visitor to Inman Square!

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    1. Thanks, and hi! I think I remember seeing you. Not too many cyclists out that afternoon.

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  5. Maybe a trail expert can chime in.

    Not sure trail is as critical on a bike such as this where the rack attaches to the frame rather than the fork.

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    1. Henry? Are you there? Help us out here. Other frontloaders are being designed for trail at 20-30mm yet this one rides well with over 80mm. Perplexing to say the least.

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    2. FWIW not all front loaders are made with low trail; even among the original British delivery bikes, the front end geo is all over the place. Different opinions on this all around.

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    3. According to Jan Heine, if you carry anything more than 2.5 kilos (of what I don't know) on a bike with trail that high, it will immediately burst into flames like one of Spinal Tap's drummers.

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    4. " if you carry anything more than 2.5 kilos (of what I don't know)..."

      Of burning firewood, I imagine.

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    5. I believe the high trail would give it a lot of low speed stability. The weight up front doesn't play in to things as it would with a "regular" bike because it's not attached to the fork-wheel flop isn't affected.

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  6. Having just made a porteur rack, I can really see the attraction of a front rack separate from the wheel. But it doesn't seem like the sort of thing possible with any sort of caliper brake. Every bike I've seen has either drum(Workcycles) or discs like the Halsted. Has anyone come across a way to do a rack like this on a bike with calipers?

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    1. Freestyle bike type cable arrangement down through the steerer. Not the absolute ideal but can be made to get the job done. Used to be called the "Potts Mod" after the legendary early BMX Mech/Inventor Steve Potts.

      Spindizzy

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    2. I built a frame mounted front rack for my bicycle with calipers having made an earlier version for a drum braked bike. I allowed clearance for the caliper to move under the rack and used a v-brake noodle to allow the cable to flex as it moves under the rack. It works perfectly well. http://simonland.blogspot.com.au/2011/06/new-bicycle.html?m=1

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  7. Velouria, all things considered do you like the bike or not? Would you purchase it for yourself, why or why not?

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    1. Not sure how to answer this. There are so many useful bikes out there these days, that the relevant question is really "who would this be good for?" as opposed to "do I want it for myself?"

      The Civia Halsted offers a solution that is somewhere between a full fledged cargo bike and a regular city bike, which I do not feel I need. But those who do need it, would benefit from the design.

      The handling of the Halsted is a matter of taste I think. I found the bike ridable, but particular. I would need to ride it a bunch more to decide whether I actually enjoy that particularity.

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  8. Thanks for taking the time to review the Halstad. I have one and use it for trips to the grocery store. It can carry all manner of groceries with ease. As per your evaluation, the bike does land somewhere between a full cargo bike and a regular bike with a basket. I did test ride a Bullitt cargo bike but found it too long and the capacity was more than I needed.

    Instead of the box on your test bike, I bolted a 9 inch high Wald basket to the plastic base. The basket surrounds the groceries better and offers less wind resistance when empty. I also installed double sided Shimano PD-A530 pedals so that I can clip in or use regular shoes. The bar grips that came with my bike have an extended oval shape which provides more of a platform for my hands than just round grips.

    The handling is different because when riding you can't see the front wheel and the steering is responsive because there is not any weight attached to the front fork to slow your turning reactions.

    The bike is very good for its intended purpose.

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    1. Good to hear from an owner of this bike!

      Just want to note: It's unlikely that my impression of the handling was based on the front wheel being covered up by the basket; I am quite used to that and have ridden a variety of bikes with that setup - including the Brompton I arrived on.

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  9. I've never understood (or have been convinced) why the frame doesn't have rear disc brake tabs. I would like that build possibility available, but maybe there's a pricepoint/marketing issue at play.

    Also, I generally prefer the weight, the freight, at the back of the bike, not front, real world.

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    1. it really doesn't need disc brake in rear... in the same way most mid-range cars in the 80s/90s had a disc/drum set-up.
      (as a halsted owner, i can tell you) the back end feels really light, both while (front) loaded, and even moreso while empty, so all a disc brake is going to do is lock the tire up sooner... sure, you *could* put a disc on it, but it would gain you nothing.

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  10. I agree that this thing needs disc tabs in the back. It's 2013; the days of "mullet bikes" are long over.

    I also agree that the trail issue is totally different on a frame-mounted front load, as the primary benefit of low-trail with frontloaders has to do with steering.

    I've seen the expensive Ahearne version, the blatant knock-off Soma version, various vintage Schwinn, CWC, etc cycletrucks, and this thing. Overall, I like the cycletruck concept. The best thing about this is, b/c Civia is another faux-company owned by QBP in Minnesota and operating out of Taiwan (like Surly and All City and Salsa and probably more to come in the future), I could get one at the local bike shop. Otherwise, this thing isn't very appealing, due to the low-weight payload, goofy brake set-up, skanky under-built design, and lack of size options (inexcusable at this pricepoint, but totally common for cycletrucks in general.) Plus, it just doesn't speak to me like the others do...

    Ultimately, I decided to buy a retired pizza delivery cycletruck: a Worksman Low Gravity Bike, from craigslist. I'm in the process of customizing it/adding signs, etc. It weighs a ton, has weird super-steep angles and a fairly short cockpit, and it's a very primitive machine in general. It's fun to ride but definitely abnormal. But, the price was right and it has "the look". Plus, it can haul over a hundred pounds up front, and more (once I add additional baskets) out back.
    I'm hoping it'll suit me well for taking handmade soap to the farmer's market this spring/summer....
    -rob

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    1. "the days of "mullet bikes" are long over"

      Haha oh gosh, thanks for that : )

      I do not know why they did the disc brake in front and v in back. But I have a contact at Civia now, so I'll ask.

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    2. Cost.

      Vast majority of braking done up front, weight is there already.

      Vees are good enough in the back.

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    3. I once rolled an Indian pedal Rickshaw at a fundraiser for some Mennonite Missionaries and was subsequently invited to buy it, I declined. If memory serves it only had a fixed gear to provide "braking".

      Now I wish I had scraped up the money cuz it would TOTALLY be the Queen truckster once pimped out with a couch, minibar, teak loadbay and a nice awning...

      Spindizzy

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    4. I don't know what happened to my earlier post, but "cost" is no longer such an issue in the disc versus vee arguments. BB5s are cheap. For a company like QBP, the extra few bucks per bike spent on a rear disc would be made up by the increased sales. A lot of ppl are turned off by mismatched brakes.

      Besides, I think it's pretty likely that there's a warehouse in Minnesota that's got stacks of 2011 short-pull BB5s that they'll be hard-pressed to sell otherwise.

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    5. Don't forget you have to have a disc-specific wheel and rotor, adding cost as well.

      Also reduced compatibility with generic 26 wheels.

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    6. Good point re: the rear wheel, mostly b/c it is a 700c for some reason.

      So, let me revise my assertion: the Halsted will need a rear disc AND a 26" rear wheel in order to make sufficient sense.

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  11. I'm curious what it's like to climb a hill with a load in a cycle truck. How is it different from a loaded touring bike? Does the trail favor a slower pace to help you get up to speed, without the flopping associated with a fork mount?

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    1. The load didn't flop on the mild incline I did but why would it - it's independent (mostly) from steering input. More accurately the load's response is dampened, the relationship isn't 1:1.

      As I mentioned the sta becomes more and more a hindrance the steeper you go. Those with exceptionally long femurs might find a sitting spin doable but I didn't with any efficiency. Forget out of the saddle climbing.

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    2. A good touring bike is balanced front to rear and works in all road and some offroad terrain. The Halsted, a percentage of that.

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    3. I climb out of the saddle with my Halstad. I have to do so every time I come back from the store.

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    4. I rode the Halsted up a mild hill (5% grade maybe), and having weight on the front did not seem to affect handling.

      The Halsted does handle differently at slow speed than, say, my Brompton (which has the weight attached in the same cycle-truck manner, but is low trail). But this difference is there even without any weight on the front.

      As far as touring bikes, are you asking about having bags in the front specifically, like handlebar bags and front low rider panniers? The main difference is the frame-mounted vs fork/bars mounted distinction and the resulting impact on steering.

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    5. Bikesea, yeah it's possible but I couldn't get enough hip angle to drive the pedals - bars too close. Eh all bodies and styles are different, the frame fit not optimal but that's all they had, further underscoring a potential issue with fit for this particular bike and bikes of this ilk that have limited size runs.

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    6. Donald, the intended use of the Civia is so different from that of a loaded tour bike, comparisons would be quite ineffectual.

      The ideal paved road touring bike should securely hold luggage in place during long stretches of riding. Provided the rider has planned well and does not experience mechanical issues, a typical touring day sees the rider going 40 to 70 miles and only accessing luggage to retrieve the occasional snack, camera or smartphone.

      The Civia is based on a design meant to take a lot of stuff short distances often making frequent stops to either get more or drop off stuff. Apart from the small businesses the cycle truck was originally designed to service, a Halsted might in fact be a good choice for people who tend to shop multiple speciality stores. Taking panniers off and on a tour bike multiple times in short runs is a hassle. Leaving the panniers on the bike while in the store can make it hard to access the bike lock rack.

      Of course nowadays many people in the U.S. - especially in the suburbs and communities that do not favor speciality retail - tend to do all their grocery, staple, and even clothing shopping at one big box retail store. A tour bike may well be the better option.

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  12. Excellent ! You're back. Nice review of a nice bike

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  13. I am curious how this bike compares to the Worksman Low Gravity Bikes. The Worksman bikes are available in single speed and 3-speed hub variants, are made here in the U.S., and are still cheaper than the Civia Halsted.

    Worksman cycles are built to withstand some heavy abuse (believe me, I've seen it firsthand), so it's not an issue of durability, as one might expect if you were to compare the Halsted with a department store bike...

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    1. The Worksman is great, but it weighs about twice as much, and features a lot of components that typical cyclists currently despise (OPC,110mm rear spacing, 13/16" quill, steel fenders... the stuff I kinda dig). Also, fwiw, stock Worksman saddles and pedals are of the lowest quality imaginable. I recently bought a Worksman LGB, and I dig it, but the geo/riding experience must be further removed from the typical modern bike experience than that of this Civia (which, i must add, I have never ridden).

      In short, it's lighter, more versatile, hauls less, and offers less nostalgia appeal. Despite similarities, I highly doubt that customers really consider these bikes competitors...

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  14. Low trail, schmo trail.

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  15. I think the bike would be a blast for medium hauling, exercise, moderate commute in levelish (gentle climbs) if it had igh and disc brakes front and back.

    But I am not bicycle company executive.

    Didn't Civia use to offer frames only as an alternative to its complete builds?

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    1. They did concurrent with the first generation.

      The current model features a revised geo, no frame-only option listed. Must be demand-related.

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    2. Pretty sure they still offer framesets. I do not see the MSRP on their website, but it is listed as $599 here (for frame + fork + front rack and modular deck/crate).

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    3. Thanks, but I can't find that Civia/QBP *currently* offers any framesets at the Civia website itself. They used to, my bad for letting it slip by a couple years ago. That doesn't mean there aren't some old "strays" out there, as you point out.Thank you for the tip, I would be interested in building one to my liking.

      At this time I am a demand of one, I understand all that, but arrgh!

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  16. The company I worked for used the Civia for 2-3 months before the frame cracked where the front rack attaches to the headtube. We were using it to haul 40lb loads for 6 hours a day with frequent parking. While it was technically within Civia's recommended weight limits, it was clearly not the right bike for the job: handling was noodly with load, parking was problematic, and the brake cables over the basket got tangled in the load.

    While your review mentions the kickstand in passing. I think it is a major failing of the bike. If it is unstable in windy conditions, imagine parking on a slight incline or with uneven loads.

    Rectifying this would require switching to an IGH and using a much wider kickstand like those found on the Workcycles or mounting a kickstand to the front rack/fork like the Worksman.

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    1. Thanks Jeff, that is useful feedback.

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    2. If one had followed the Civia blog when this was being proto-ed one might have seen this coming.

      But what do I know.

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  17. I've owned and ridden daily a Halsted now for 3 months, after 3 years of Kona Ute ownership.

    Here are my thoughts:
    1. It's a "fun" bike to ride around the city - the novelty seating position (seat tube angle, laid back 'bars) makes me ride differently. I'm happier riding more slowly on this - don't feel the need to keep up with traffic. It's quite relaxing. Which also means it's not very good if you are in a hurry or need to stand up to go uphill. As others have mentioned above, it's kind of fun watching the platform not move while you turn.
    2. The stock saddle is a JOKE. The absolute worst saddle I've ever ridden on. I swapped it out for an old torn-up entry level Velo saddle from the '90s. I haven't figured out whether to go with a sculptured, real "saddle" like a Brooks, or whether to go with a cushioned "seat" like I used to have on the Ute, but I do know that that spring PoS that came on it is absolutely not suited to this bike and it's laid-back riding position. Trying out a used Brooks next week.
    3. The paint chips very easily. I have more chips on this in 3 months of gentle use than I did in 3 hard years of Ute riding.
    4. I have a rack with Topeak kid's seat on the back. Works fine.
    5. This bike is not nearly as practical/capable as a longtail like the Kona Ute. I like to carry a wide range of loads on my bikes, and the Halsted is much more limited in what it can carry. I strongly suspected this before making the change, so don't shed any tears for me. The longtail allowed me to carry several rolls of fabric plus bags, plus boxes, plus the kids seat all at once... the Halsted would allow me one small roll of fabric and one-two small boxes or bags with the kid's seat at one time. I could carry 6 full grocery bags in the panniers on the Ute alone... on the Halsted, I'd struggle with more than two. If I were only carry boxes of a certain size, the Halsted might make more sense, but nine times out of ten, the longtail would make more sense. The front deck is rated for 40lb - I've probably had 50-60lb in boxes on it and it's been fine. Handling remains very stable and the bike always feels planted.
    6. Just since people keep talking about it above, the bike absolutely does not need a rear disc brake. If you think it looks pretty and/or insist on matchy-matchy, sure, then it does. In the real world though, it does not. When empty, the back end feels very, very light, and all a disc would do would encourage locking up the wheel sooner. Perversely, it feels more weight-balanced when front-loaded, but more than ever, that's when you want more braking power in front, which is what the front disc provides. Incidentally, I haven't ever felt like I'm going to do an endo or even lock up the front wheel under heavy front braking.

    In summary, if I were choosing a new bike now, I'd go with a longtail every time.

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    1. also, the pedals are super crappy efforts you'd expect to find on a roadmaster beach cruiser, so factor some new pedals into your purchase price too.

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