Sometimes it seems like everything relating to bicycles has already been invented and refined, and that the only changes are incremental. There’s one big exception t: cargo these days: cargo bikes, which are mostly kid-carrying bikes. Most of the cargo bikes we see now didn’t exist even five years ago. Their emergence has opened up a lot of opportunity to invent new products to make these bikes as useful as they can be. That’s right: at the moment, any schmoe can come up with a new product for the cargobike industry, and that new product stands a good chance of being wildly appreciated. For the growing number of cargobike enthusiasts who geek out over these things, this post is for you.
We invented a unique rain and sun canopy in 2009, first for our Boxbike as shown above. Why did people like it? It was sturdy, big, roomy, and covered your hands, keeping them warm and dry. Unlike all the previous canopies, there was no barrier between you and your kids, and it was a lot easier to have a conversation with them too. They even served as an airfoil, so you’d find yourself moving along a little faster with it on. We developed a screen version for people in sunny climes, too. The ShuttleBug was the most advanced kid-carrying bike ever made; we designed and made a batch of them starting in 2010. One of its features was a steel cabin that, unlike other longjohns, was both easily removable and integral to the frame, adding some beneficial stiffness. The steel cabin was covered in messenger bag fabric loaded with pockets, soft seats, and better safety straps.
Actually having these cabin skins made was a pain. After working with a few different fabric people, we settled on Blaq Design, a couple of guys who had just moved here from Ohio, because they did the best work and had the highly unusual characteristic of getting things done when promised. We had them make some large number of our rain canopies, as well. When we were done making bikes, we gave our design Blaq. When customers with CETMA bikes, genuine Bakfietsen, the Bullitt, and similar bikes approached us to see if we could apply our design to their bikes, we sent them directly to Blaq. We get inquiries all the time from people who want these canopies, so take note: please go directly to Blaq because otherwise we’ll just charge you for our role as the middle man, and we really don’t want to be the middle man. More importantly, you really don’t want us to be the middle man.
Now then. Here’s a history of the damn thing.
We unveiled this canopy design in the fall of 2009 for the Family Biking Day event in Portland (below) that was somehow, in some way, we think, related to Oregon Manifest, though the fog of memory only thickens with time. You can’t tell by the photo, but actually hundreds of people came out on a really, really crappy day to look at all the bikes. We recorded over 60 test rides in about 3 hours. Five of us stood around drinking coffee and eating pizza. Jonathan Maus of BikePortland showed up and we offered him a slice, but all he seemed interested in was taking some photos and asking questions. Then he rode his kids around on a couple of our bikes just like everybody else. At one point he rode with 4 kids.The point is, we designed this canopy because the existing ones left a lot to be desired and actually ended up discouraging people from using the bikes year-round. Which, in turn, discouraged us. So we figured out what we wanted a rain canopy to do. We wanted open air in the rear instead of completely enclosing the kids, for both obvious and inobvious reasons: better airflow inside the box, no fogging, no muffled conversations, easier access while in motion. We wanted easier loading and unloading, without the need to remove the canopy. We wanted stitched-in reflective striping. We wanted higher-quality materials that didn’t rip or leak. We wanted an open, tall rear that would fit over the handlebars, keeping your hands warm and dry. The shape itself cheats the wind and makes you go faster with the canopy on than off, although really strong crosswinds can interfere. Finally, we wanted these things to be made in Portland.
After some prototyping, here are a couple of examples. The first is for our wooden Boxbike box, once we started making them in Portland. Earlier and later versions had a cross-brace that kept the middle front from sagging, but it’s missing from this one. Most do use either one or two strips of sail batten (Waagmeester’s first line of business: making sails!), which work great.
Below is a canopy either Waagmeester or Blaq made (can’t remember) for one of our first fabric-on-cromoly cabins. The poles mounted to the front of the box are positioned and tensioned just-so to make the canopy lift gently open. With too much tension, the poles will catapult the rainfly open and the feeling you get then is similar to the feeling of scaring a dozen pheasant into simultaneous flight from an Iowa field, which is both a thrilling and scary sort of sensation. We did not want that. With too little tension, the whole thing will sag and the fly will not lift at all when you release the hooks (or snaps) in the rear. We did not want that either. That would be lame. Here’s what we ended up with:
We worked with a few different fabric folks before alighting on Blaq around the end of 2010, who were actually still in the process of moving to Portland from Ohio when we corralled them into making stuff for us. No, literally: they were unloading their van at the same building where we were bending, mitering, and welding ShuttleBug frames, and they quite literally put down their boxes to come have a look. Blaq ended up also making the skins to fit around most of our cromoly ShuttleBug cabins, which you can see below. And they made the hammock seats, cushions, pockets, and safety harnesses that made the ShuttleBug the mostly highly regarded bike of its kind in the world. Most importantly, it was all super convenient because all we had to do was drop off the cabin frames and the raw bike frames with them down the hall, like 20 feet away.
Below, a Big Dummy ferrying a completed ShuttleBug cabin and canopy from Blaq back to our retail store. At least a couple of drivers along the way assumed we had kids riding up there, and they voiced their concern. Noted. Do not ride kids as shown!
And here’s what it looks like when it’s all together. Different ShuttleBug, but same idea.
We’ve also had customers in climates where the sun shines directly onto your skin! Imagine that…at least try, anyway. Like in Colorado and New Mexico, but also apparently it gets really hot in the southern US too. For them we’ve had the same design but with mesh instead of vinyl windows. Blaq has been working on a convertible version so you can have the same canopy serve for either rain or sun. That will be nice.
Below: The latest adaptation: for a Eugene-made CETMA cargo bike. A customer brought us a CETMA frameset and wanted us to build him a wheelset and to get him a bunch of parts. He also asked us to fix him up with our woodworker, who then adapted our box for the CETMA frame, and with Blaq, who adapted our rain canopy to fit the box. We don’t have photos of the Metrofiets, Larry vs Harry, or Workcycles versions, but they do look good. It’s all about evolution.