Long Term Review: the Bike Friday Haul-a-Day Takes to the Hills
Despite being a fan of theirs for some time, there were many things I never knew about Bike Friday - until, deep into my two months review process, I chanced to discover them through dialogue with the Oregon-based small wheel bike manufacturer. One such piece of trivia, is that the company's co-founder, Alan Scholz, is also the inventor of the Burley Trailer. In one fell swoop, many of my questions about the Haul-a-Day's origins were answered. A trailer and a folding bike designer! No wonder he saw fit to add a cargo hauling model to Bike Friday's lineup. The development of the Haul-a-Day now seemed not only logical, but inevitable. I only marveled that it had not happened sooner.
But the specifics of this bike coming into existence are a rather interesting "it takes a village" story. In 2014 Bike Friday was approached by Shane MacRhodes, founder of Kidical Mass and local Safe Routes to School Coordinator, with the idea of making a versatile bicycle on which his instructors could lead their Safe Routes classes. The design criteria presented an interesting challenge: In addition to being well-balanced and nimble, the bike needed to be able to haul the instructor's personal gear, plus traffic cones and safety gear, with room to carry a tired child and their bike as well, if need be! Of course the bike also needed to fit a wide range of riders, as the Safe Routes instructors varied in height and weight.
After several iterations and glowing reports from the field, Bike Friday decided to offer this machine as a standard production model. This was funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign in late 2014, and the first bikes were delivered in February of 2015 - named the "Haul-a-Day" by a pun-loving customer.
As for their own role in the whole process, Bike Friday almost demurs from taking any credit at all:
"We were surprised to realise that for many situations the Haul-a-Day was a better solution than a trailer for carrying children and things. [Our founder] has been designing and building trailers for decades starting with the Burley child trailer in the 70's. It took customer request for the bike to help him discover this new insight."
This type of customer-driven evolution has always been part of Bike Friday's modus operandi. Nevertheless, the engineering and design that went into this machine on their end are not to be underestimated. In the course of using this bicycle, to say that it outperfomed my expectations would be more than fair.
As I mentioned in my introduction to the Haul-a-Day it was loaned to me specifically to test in a different context from the usual use case scenario of their first wave of customers, which has largely involved short distances, an urban or suburban setting, and the transport of children.
By contrast, my use case scenario involves no heavy-duty or living cargo, but instead long distances, rural settings, challenging terrain and blustery weather conditions. So the focus of this review is not so much the Haul-a-Day's ability to carry impressive amounts of stuff (which has already been well-documented elsewhere), but of its suitability as hilly, long-distance transport.
There is a lot of debate regarding whether a cargo bike - long tail or otherwise - can be a realistic option in such a setting without motor assist. Bike Friday believed their Haul-a-Day model potentially could be. And they wondered whether I would agree.
I had this bicycle on loan for a total of two months (May and June 2016). In the course of this time I used it as I would have used my own cargo bike - riding it whenever its hauling services were required.
Geometry and Specs
To begin with the design and specifications: As some of this has already been covered in my introduction to the Haul-a-Day, if you are interested in the details please read that first, then come back to this post. But to highlight some key points, the Haul-a-Day:
. is a disassemblable, small-wheeled, long-tail cargo bike, with a supplementary frame-mounted front platform
. is rated for loads of 200-250lb
. is adjustable in size (and wheelbase) by means of sliding frame construction
. is designed around 20" wheels with fat tyres
. weighs 33b empty
. can be stored upright in small spaces
. can be taken apart (disassembles into 3 pieces) for travel, shipment, or long term storage
. is suitable for paved and unpaved terrain
. is available with custom paint and components packages
. is priced starting at $1,190 USD
I am sure I'm forgetting something, but that is the gist of it.
The frames are built in-house with a mixture of 4130 cro-moly and DOM tubing, using a combination of brazed and TIG-welded construction.
Some key geometry figures include:
. 73° parallel angles for head tube and seat tube
. 44mm of rake (resulting in 75mm trail)
. bottom bracket height of 268-304mm, depending on sliding frame adjustment
Dimensions of the virtual head tube, seat tube and top tube lengths vary hugely as a result of the bike's adjustability. Depending on setup, the Haul-a-Day is suitable for riders 4'6" - 6'4", which is an uncommonly versatile range.
Hauling: Front Carry
An interesting aspect of the Haul-a-Day's geometry for me is the high-trail front end. As I mentioned in my initial post about this bike, in looking for a suitable basket for the front platform I accidentally overdid it and found this monster of a thing - which, amazingly, not only fit within the space between platform and handlebars, but, filled with all manner of inordinately heavy objects, had no effect on the bicycle's handling what so ever. While it is commonly said that low trail geometry is preferable for carrying front loads, the Haul-a-Day's impreviousness to weight in the front confirms my own experience in this regard - which is that the manner in which the weight is secured, and the height at which the weight sits, play a bigger role in its effect on handling than frame geometry. The Haul-a-Day's frame-mounted front rack design and small front wheel make carrying even significant amounts of weight in the front feel absolutely normal.
In fact, I liked being able to load up that huge front basket so much, that I eventually had to remove it from the front platform, so as to force myself to rely more on rear carry - which is, after all, what this bicycle was designed for. And in response to my question whether Bike Friday would ever consider a front-load bakfiets model? Unfortunately it's not on their list of priorities just yet!
Hauling: Rear Carry
As mentioned already, my cargo carry requirements are not exactly epic. To quote from an earlier post, the sort of thing I'd normally haul on a cargo bike includes
...everything from groceries - in quantities that would overwhelm an ordinary bicycle - to, perhaps more crucially, things such as bicycle parts, art supplies, hardware store purchases, unusually shaped parcels, light pieces of furniture, and other objects that are not so much heavy as they are long or awkwardly shaped. And while it would not be impossible to secure some of these items to an ordinary bicycle and ride with them gingerly, the cargo bike makes it a much easier and less precarious process, and saves multiple trips...
To start with the large and awkwardly shaped objects, in the course of my testing the Haul-a-Day these have included partially assembled bicycles, large picture frames, pieces of furniture (chair, coffee table), a step-ladder, some long-handled mops, et cetera. While carrying such things on the small-wheeled Haul-a-Day makes for an entertaining spectacle, from the cyclist's standpoint it is a non-event. Such objects fit easily into the long, expandable, hammock-like side bags, and secure tightly with the help of the built-in adjustable straps (no additional bungee cords necessary). And as they're not especially heavy, just bulky, their weight wasn't really enough to make any impact on the Haul-a-Day's handling or speed.
In short, nothing to report here, other than the fact that such objects can be carried with the same easy abandon on the Haul-a-Day as on other long-tail Xtracycle-style systems.
Considerably more noticeable was carrying a bunch of individually unremarkable objets that added up to a lot of weight. I described the experience in detail here, but to summarise: loading the rear with 50kg of weight had a tangible effect on the bicycle's speed and handling.
The bike felt noticeably slower to accelerate on flats (although, once up to speed, it could keep rolling along fairly zippily), and required considerably lower gears to push uphill. I realised soon enough, that when using this bike heavily loaded I needed to factor in for longer travel times.
But the most challenging aspect of riding it up steep gradients in a heavily-loaded state, was that the front end would start to "wander," at times dramatically. This took me some time to get used to! But once I did, it too was manageable.
Starting on a steep hill is not something I often need to do in the course of my commutes (rural area = no stop lights!), unless I deliberately stop the bike for some reason. But on occasion it does happen, and so with the Haul-a-Day I did it deliberately a few times just to see how it would go. Admittedly, getting the heavily loaded bike rolling from a dead stop on a steep gradient took some nerve. The front-end weaving was in full effect, and I just basically had to convince myself to keep pushing until the bike felt stable. Which I did. And it did.
None of this is at all unusual or surprising when it comes to carrying this much weight, all concentrated in the rear of a bike. And the Haul-a-Day is not immune to such effects.
Although I often also make shorter trips through the day, my typical commutes are 7-12 miles in distance, each way, over rolling hills, with some fairly steep gradients thrown in.
On my request, the Haul-a-Day I received to test was set up with upright handlebars - to give it the comfort of a casual utility bike, but with a wide 3x8 gear range, including a sub-1:1 gear ratio. In this configuration the Haul-a-Day performed on par with some of the faster, lighter, and more nimble utility bikes I have tried. It wasn't unusually fast compared to a typical upright bike. But, despite its long size and small wheels, it wasn't any slower either. Unless I rode it loaded up with a great deal of weight, I basically would not know I was riding a cargo bike. This, in combination with its smooth and cushy ride quality over rough roads, made for an exceedingly pleasant and relaxing ride through the rural countryside.
And as far as the rate of swallowing miles, I got the distinct feeling, that the limiting factor was not the Haul-a-Day's cargo-bikeness, but its upright position. Had I requested to set this bike up with drop bars, I suspect my experience would have been considerably different.
At no time was this feeling stronger than during windy conditions. I have whined about this before, but basically this year has been the windiest year since my move to Ireland, with winds of over 20mph all through the day not being uncommon. Over the winter this became such a frequent occurrence, that I simply wasn't able to commute on an upright bike at all for a couple of months. And even though such days became less frequent by the time I received the bike in May, they still happened occasionally. And, lovely as it was, the Haul-a-Day set up with upright handlebars was not immune to the wind, the ride quickly turning from a pleasant glide to a snail-paced torture session whenever the wind would pick up.
I quickly realised, therefore, that if I wanted a cargo bike I could ride every day no matter what the condition, while continuing to live in the northwest of Ireland (the windiest part of the country!), it would have to be set up with drop bars.
My biggest fear of disappointment with the Haul-a-Day was in terms of how it would climb. In practice, however, this proved to be a non-issue. When loaded with the fairly modest amount of weight I would typically carry on the bike, it was almost disappointingly easy to tackle the 14%+ grades I encounter in the course of my transport cycling. The gearing the bicycle came with felt more than sufficient. I never felt the need to stand out of the saddle. And I did not find myself wishing for motor assist.
On the several occasions when I carried a truly heavy load at the rear, the bicycle did lose its momentum much easier at any hint of an incline and required considerably lower gears to propel up long hills comfortably. Even then, however, I never experienced "running out of gears" to the point where I had to walk, stand up, or even feel sufficiently strained to curse at the bike half-heartedly. As mentioned already, the front-end weaving uphill of the heavily loaded bike did take me some getting used to. But get used to it I did, and it eventually just became part of its personality.
As a cyclist already accustomed to long distance, hilly commutes - I found the Bike Friday Haul-a-Day, loaded with up to 50kg of weight, to be quite manageable. It was reassuring to learn that a cargo bike exists that is very much compatible with my requirements without requiring e-assist. However, should I ever decide to order a Haul-a-Day for myself, I believe it would be a must to set it up with drop bars, owing to the wind factor.
Aside from the aspects of performance covered above, I enjoyed the way the Haul-a-Day handled in terms of its maneuverability, especially in combination with the way it rolled over unpaved terrain. Despite being a long tail cargo bike, the small wheeled Haul-a-Day rode like a nimble, maneuverable machine, taking tight corners easily and feeing "unfellably" stable, even for someone with comparatively poor balance skills, such as myself.
Another thing I cannot praise enough, is this bicycle's luxurious ride quality. Having only tried one other Bike Friday before, which was the One Way Tikit, I can say that the Haul-a-Day is a completely different animal. And I don't think this is due to the fat tyres alone. It is likely that the extended frame and the more rearward location of the back wheel, provides additional dampening benefits. Whatever combination of factors is responsible for it, they definitely got the cush factor spot on with this model, which makes it a pleasure to ride over roads of any quality and texture.
I have covered this in my initial post about the bike, but an important thing I would be remiss not to revisit, is fit. Because the Haul-a-Day's handlebars, seatpost and frame are adjustable, the fit can be dialed in just so. I was able to get very comfortable on this bike without compromise, which is atypical of my usual experience with both cargo bikes and small wheeled bikes (my one complaint about my Brompton is the fit.)
The small-wheel "unitube" construction also means the Haul-a-Day has an exceptionally low stepover, making it convenient to mount and dismount regardless of what I am wearing and how high my cargo sits at the rear. This too was greatly appreciated, adding to the bicycle's overall accessibility.
There are those who hate sensing any amount of frame flex on a cargo bike, and believe that, ideally, the bike should feel very stiff, even under heavy loads. If you belong to this category, you might find that the Haul-a-Day flexes more than you like when loaded to 50% capacity or more. Me, I'll take a bit of flex rather than ride a bike that feels "overbuilt" or "dead." Basically, I have a high tolerance for frame flex if it does not feel as if it saps my energy. And the Haul-a-Day's flex, when I felt it at all, was well within my range of acceptable.
The Fun Factor!
Finally, it needs to be said that, despite its ability to carry serious cargo, the Haul-a-Day also simply felt like a fun bike to mess around on - whether to race over grassy fields full of rabbit holes, or to steer though the woods. In that respect alone it is certainly the most enjoyable cargo bike I have tried to date. The half or dozen or so others who've tried it while the bike was in my position had a blast riding it as well, commenting on how much "easier" the bike was to ride than they had expected.
Comparisons to the Xtracycle Radish (RIP)
Since this review is ultimately an outcome of my lamenting the discontinuation of the Xtracycle Radish, it seems only fair to comment on how the two compare. The Haul-a-Day in fact feels very similar to the way I remember the Radish: particularly in its speed, rear-carry capacity, "unfellable" stability, and nimble handling. However, the Haul-a-Day also has several additional features that appeal to me. Specifically, these are:
. ultra-low stepover
. greater maneuverability owing to the small wheels
. adjustable fit of the frame
. compact size and comparatively light weight
. frame-mounted front carrier
Were I in the market for a new cargo bike today, I would choose the Haul-a-Day, even if the Radish model was still available.
The complaints I have managed to accumulate in my two months with this bicycle are mostly minor. But in the interest of fairness, here they are:
This may seem like an odd thing to bring up, but I found the carry platforms too shiny. The polished metal used is highly reflective, especially in direct sunlight, which soon began to irritate my light-sensitive eyes. This became a problem especially with the front platform once I removed the basket - since I had no choice but to look at it as I cycled. Had this been my personal bike, I would have to keep that platform covered with some sort of cloth at all times, or else replace it with a wooden one.
In terms of aesthetics, I am not a fan of the standard selection of colours. The colours, despite their friendly names, are all rather harsh, industrial shades that bring to mind a selection of electrical tape in a hardware store, or road safety signage. Together with the geometrical truss-like construction of the Haul-a-Day's frame, they give the bike an overly technical, utilitarian look. Which is fantastic if you like that sort of thing. But for those of us who prefer bicycles with a softer, cuddlier, more muted aesthetic, the only way to go is custom colour (and twine, lots of twine!) - which is possible, but costs more and involves a longer wait.
While I understand this aesthetic might be a deliberate reference to the Haul-a-Day being a practical work machine, I daresay injecting it with a little romance wouldn't hurt.
But perhaps a more serious point to raise, is that the Haul-a-Day did not strike me as optimised for prolonged outdoor storage in harsh environments. While I kept the bicycle indoors overnight, the nature of my lifestyle and work rhythm means I am often out all day in the elements. And when I'm out all day, the bike is out with me - leaning against a fence here, locked to a gate there, as I go about my day. In short, the Haul-a-Day spent quite a bit of its time with me outdoors, being left for hours at a time in humid, salty air conditions, not infrequently under lashing rain. And after two months of this, hints of surface rust began to creep up here and there. I wonder in retrospect whether I should have treated the Haul-a-Day more like a roadbike than a bullet-proof utility bike.
Aside from these things, it is truly difficult to think of issues that are inherent to the Haul-a-Day model, as opposed to the specific configuration I chose. As mentioned already, the upright handlebars were (rather predictably, to be fair) not ideal for windy conditions, but the bike can be easily configured with drop bars. Likewise, on my personal bike I think I'd prefer v-brakes, compact gearing, and a different style of shifters (not a fan of the twist shifter) - which are easy changes to request, and I believe are available as standard options.
Speaking of options. While the Haul-a-Day is available in several standard colour and build configurations, they can also basically do any custom build you want, within reason. There is so much variety in fact, that I have received a few reader requests to spec this bike as I'd have it built for myself, just to see what that would do to the almost too good to be true "starting at $1,190 USD" price tag. So I asked Bike Friday to indulge me in this exercise, and they graciously complied.
My requested build specs:
. custom colour
. double-legged kickstand
. drop handlebars
. SRAM Apex drivetrain with compact double and sub 1:1 gearing
. front platform
. rear cargo bags
. rear side supports
. dynohub front wheel
. front and rear dynamo lighting
As of June 2016 the price for this hypothetical build was estimated at $2,340.50.
The estimate assumes custom built wheels with a Shimano Alfine DH-S501 dynamo hub, and B&M Lumotec IQ Fly Senso Plus/ Secula Plus dynamo lighting. It certainly increases the "starting at" standard build pricetag. However, considering what is included, I believe it is quite reasonable for a "performance" cargo bike with quality dynamo lighting.
Typical lead time for a build is currently 6 weeks. On occasion there is also an inventory of stock bikes available which have a turnaround of 2-3 weeks.
Since my move to Ireland, I have managed to survive 3 years without a cargo bike. Nevertheless, when the time came to send the Haul-a-Day back, I began to suddenly panic and wonder how I would ever make do without it. It's funny, how having a cargo bike around can actually change the way we do stuff - from the way we structure shopping trips, to the extent to which we rely on deliveries vs pick things up ourselves. Now that the Haul-a-Day has been gone for over a month, I am again weaned off cargo-bike-reliance (hah!) and can think with a clear head as to whether, and when, I would like to own one again. It is not realistic this year, but something to consider down the road for sure. And after my experience with the Bike Friday Haul-a-Day, I have no doubt that it would do the job splendidly, no matter the terrain and distance.
The Bike Friday Haul-a-Day is far from a compromise between a cargo bike and a small wheeled bike. It is not even the best of both worlds, but, rather, more than the sum of its parts - with a degree of versatility, accessibility, and performance that goes above and beyond what either category typically offers.
With profuse thanks to Bike Friday for this opportunity (it is a huge pain in the longtail to ship bicycles from the US and back, but they persevered!), I shall bring this lengthy review to a close. Nevertheless, I am sure there is all sorts of crucial information I've missed. If you have specific questions, please ask in the comments - and thank you, as always, for reading!