[Update: Our Kona MinUte was stolen from a rack at Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco on November 16, 2012.]
When we bought the MinUte, it did a lot of what we wanted, but not everything we wanted. Most importantly, it seemed to be a one-person bike. Only Matt could ride it. We had hoped for a bike that I could use to take our son to school when he was away. Eventually that spot was filled by the Breezer Uptown + Bobike Junior.
With hindsight, it was odd that I couldn’t ride his bike. I am only 1.5 inches shorter than Matt is (5’7.5″ v. 5’9″), and both of us have successfully ridden bikes owned by people far shorter and taller than each other, respectively. But the seat on the MinUte simply couldn’t be lowered to a point where I could reach the pedals. Once again my brother-in-law resolved the problem. When we were complaining about it on a ride with him, he looked at the bike, and noted that the seat wouldn’t lower because the shim holding the stoker bars onto the seat post was too long; it extended way beyond the height of the stoker attachment and blocked the seat from moving. “You just need to have the shim cut down,” he said. I have never doubted that we are mechanically inept, but still.
Our other issue with the MinUte was that our daughter couldn’t safely ride on the back without a child seat, and this model was new enough that installing one using the Xtracycle accessories would have required a lot of tinkering. But she recently turned three, and as other parents have noted, this is an age when many kids start being able to understand the need to hold on. She had also indicated in no uncertain terms that she wanted to try riding the MinUte deck, jumping proudly off staircase landings onto it before we developed the good sense to move the bike far, far away from anyplace above ground level.
So while Matt’s injured calf was keeping him off the bike anyway, we took the MinUte over to Everybody Bikes to ask them to cut down the shim. “Oh, sure,” they said. They’d had no idea we’d ever want to adjust the seat height for me. “Of course you could ride it.” It turns out that the stoker bars take up a lot of room on the seat post regardless, and even lowered all the way to the stoker attachment, the seat was a bit higher than I’d prefer while carrying kids. I like to be able to get a foot flat on the ground even while I’m on the seat, and I’m happy to give up pedaling power for that extra bit of safety. But even though the seat was higher than I wanted, after that adjustment I rode the MinUte all the way home solo. No problem. Okay, then.
Matt was headed on a two-week trip to Atlanta and Miami, and that seemed like the perfect time to try riding with both kids. So the next day I rode both kids down to the farmer’s market. I still wasn’t totally comfortable on the bike, but they thought it was an awesome ride, and aside from a brief scuffle over the handlebar grips, they enjoyed each other’s company. Matt griped that he didn’t have a bike anymore, “Mommy has all the bikes.” I assumed that that was the injury talking, as he had had no prior plans to check the bike through on his tour of the U.S. Southeast.
My kids got sick while he was away, and a kid who won’t get off the toilet, put on shoes or take off pajamas is not a kid who will or should ride a bike. And there were a couple of days I had meetings across town where the only possibility of even arriving late after dropping off the kids meant I had to drive the car. But I did, eventually, haul both kids on the MinUte to my son’s school, then my daughter solo back to her preschool. It was awesome.
The MinUte rides like a normal bike even with almost 100 pounds of kids and their gear on the back deck. I only felt the extra weight when I was turning corners; it turns out you need way, way more turning radius than usual with that kind of load. To my astonishment, I did not feel it much on the hills. On the way up to Alamo Square with both kids on the back I didn’t even need to drop to first gear. This bike likes to climb. I wouldn’t have needed to drop to first gear on the way back up with only one kid, either, if someone who shall remain nameless hadn’t decided to take off a mitten and throw it into the middle of the road, which required some backtracking.
This raises another point worth mentioning: riding with a three-year-old, at least MY three-year-old, on the deck instead of a child seat is not all sunshine and roses. With her brother behind her to catch flung mittens and otherwise impose basic safety precautions, I was willing to ride at something approaching normal speeds. Once we dropped him off I was riding very slowly indeed. One of her preschool teachers is a big fan of superheroes and as a result we and random strangers have been hearing a lot of speeches along the lines of, “I’m NOT a little girl! I’m an AMAZON PRINCESS! I’m WONDER WOMAN!” I’ll admit that this is a little rude at times but it’s also so totally righteous I pretty much let it slide. Anyway, Amazon princesses apparently see no need to sit down while riding and strongly prefer to hot dog it while heading up or down hills. Whereas I had no desire to return to the Emergency Department for the third time in a month, and spent most of the ride saying, “You need to sit down. Sit down, please. I’m not starting the bike again until you sit down.”
[Aside: I’ve noticed that superheroes, with the notable exception of Batman, are not big on driving. Admittedly they don’t ride bicycles either, but still, as role models go, it could be worse.]
And this brings up a more serious issue. BikeRadar recently reviewed the MinUte, and although they were basically positive, they noted that the disc brakes that come with the bike are kind of junky, and we agree. They have failed on Matt once, with our son on the back, and now he has them adjusted monthly, and they always need it. He wants new hydraulic brakes way more than he wants an electric assist. If we’d known this in advance we would have asked for an upgrade on the brakes before we first picked up the bike. As cargo bikes go the MinUte is pretty inexpensive even with this extra cost. Still it bugs me that any cargo bike would come standard with crappy brakes. Maybe it would be less of an issue for people who weren’t dealing with the kinds of hills that we are. I wouldn’t know.
While we were having new brakes installed, we also would have gotten a wheel stabilizer for the front wheel (the little spring that keeps the front wheel from flopping). These are very inexpensive, but although they come standard on the Kona Ute, one was not included on the MinUte even though there are hookups. The bike is a little too tippy with kids on the back when the front wheel can swing around. Yeah, it’s fallen over. The kids are fine. We’re getting a wheel stabilizer.
The MinUte can really haul; it’s not up to the loads of a regular cargo bike, but we live in the city and we’re not making Costco runs or moving furniture. It can certainly carry a week’s worth of groceries plus a kid or two. It makes it harder to get up the hill home, but that’s why that first gear is so low.
But maybe you’re not up for that kind of trip. Can you put it on a bus bike rack instead? No, you cannot. Matt tried for over 10 minutes to get it on the university shuttle bus rack, infuriating two dozen medical students in the process, and failed. It’s short enough to fit in a shared office cubicle but it’s still a longtail, and that means it’s too long to ride the bus. [UPDATE: We were wrong! Yes, you can put it on a bus bike rack. But it's complicated. I posted an update explaining here.]
Matt has mixed feelings about the panniers. On the one hand they fit the bike perfectly, are totally waterproof, fold up beautifully when empty, and hold unbelievable amounts of stuff when full (and the kids’ legs just dangle over them). On the other hand, there’s no shoulder strap to carry them if you want to take them off the bike and they don’t look particularly professional when he brings them into the office. The tubes on the rear rack are thick enough that normal panniers won’t fit unless you can modify them somehow. Last week we saw a Ute outfitted with Xtracycle freeloaders, however, and I eyeballed while we were parked next to it that they’d fit on the MinUte as well.
Overall, six months after we bought, the MinUte is doing more than we had thought it could. And even though I only ride it while he’s away, Matt is so possessive of this bike that he thinks we should get a second one.