Climbing with the Bakfiets

With the warm weather we have the top down and are getting used to our trips into town. The Bak gets plenty of attention on the road and at many of our stops in town. “How does it do on the hills?” is a question I’m often asked.

The answers usually turn into a long conversation (typically one sided) and often ends with the questioning party leaving with glazed over eyes. I try to keep it short and non-cyclist friendly – but some days I can’t help myself as I spread the good word of getting about by bike, discussing the pros of having a bike ready to go for all weather, and digressing into gear ratios and how many ‘speeds’ you truly need to ride about for ‘everyday’ cycling.

The question is a good one – as the town center of Burlington, Church Street, is mid-way up a fairly steep (to most cyclists and non-cyclists alike) hill. There are a fair amount of commuters in Burlington – so hills are no stranger to the 2 wheeled crowd – but it seems the purely ‘recreational’ cyclists and the non-cyclists have the hardest time picturing getting everywhere in town by bike.

Marching up from the lake front on foot is work – pedaling a loaded Bak that comes in about 130 – 150 – 175 pounds (+ pilot!) depending on cargo is also work. Straight up College to the hospital (where we’ve ridden to pick up prescriptions) is a 287 foot climb over 1.63 miles. Fast walkers usually keep up with us – and the traffic signals are a blessing (rest!) and a curse (break in our momentum!). Our typical day into town is about a 6 mile cruise using either the lake front bike path or a combination of streets. Once in town we climb up from the lake to our destinations – typically the Church Street area, City Market, and the Library. We rarely head straight up College – instead choosing a round about way that adds 1/2 mile to the trip – but cuts down on the gradient as we create our own switchbacks, one city block at a time.

Last week we extended our range and traveled to the in-laws for dinner. We were out all day doing our errands and enjoying the sun, the grass, and the blue skies. Timing our arrival for dinner we climbed up to the Dorset St. area of South Burlington. When I’ve done the trip solo I can pick a route of about 10 miles door to door. We stretched that to 14 to stay away from crowded and congested roads during the evening Friday rush. We meandered our way along the lake front, then a short crossing of some heavily traveled commercial areas, back to a bike path that winds its way up, up, up, and finally onto some quiet(er) neighborhood roads high atop Dorset St.

We started down on the lake and ended a bit higher than where these last two pictures were snapped. According to an online mapping and topo website the real climbing starts at Swift St. and is 260 feet in 3.28 miles – about 79 feet per mile – to the top of Dorset. If we map from the lake it is 5.15 miles and the climbing registers at 320 feet.

It is work, for sure. The geometry and balance of the Bak do not reward you for struggling up a hill. Leaning forward puts you at odds with the geometry of the frame – and standing up is out of the question. The only way I’ve been able to climb on the Bak is to gear down and spin. (or grind, depending on how steep it gets…)

I have the gearing set up with a 38t front ring (standard) and a 22t rear cog. With the Nexus 8 speed rear hub this gives me a low gear of 23.4 inches – which is as low as I can get without changing the chain rings and the cranks. So far we haven’t found a road too steep – I’ve been able to sit back and spin up everything we’ve encountered in town. I can spin out on the flats and downhills with ease – the high gear is only 71.8 inches – but with the cargo bike I’d rather have the lows than the highs.

So, “How does it do on the hills?”

The bike does just fine – its the engine that could use some work…!

The reward for the 28+ mile day was a wonderful dinner with family – and a sunset view of the ADKs on our drop back to the lake.

3 Responses to “Climbing with the Bakfiets”

  1. DrMekon says:

    Good work. The only hill I go up regularly is a 1 in 40. Is that a hill?

  2. Joseph says:

    so you’re bakfiets owner. i saw the bike parked at the farmer market a while back and i was floored to see one in burlington. nice to see a local blog, keep it up!

  3. Anonymous says:

    As I live in WV, whose terrain is not unlike Vermont’s, I’ve been hesitant to get a bak. Perhaps you can advise me.

    What do you think of the idea of putting a Schlumpf on the front chainring with an 8-gear hub on the back, or swopping the 8-gear hub for a Rolhoff 14-gear hub, or even a NuVinci?

    Are the breaks on the bak adiquate for descending long, steep hills?