The Kona MinUte, six months later

Maiden voyage of the Kona MinUte + 3

[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.

Not seen in this photo: scuffling over handlebar grips

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.]

In the shop for a brake adjustment. Again.

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.]

Look who’s back in the game

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.

30 Comments

Filed under commuting, family biking, Kona, reviews

30 responses to “The Kona MinUte, six months later

  1. This has me thinking. What is the best toddler seat for that deck? Have you tried the bobike junior on this one (or the yuba)? Nice review (and it is good to be caught back up on some of my blog reading -two weeks+ away).

    • I think the best seat would be the PeaPod III from Xtracycle (basically a Yepp seat modified to match the Xtracycle line). You would have to order the standard UteDeck and then cut it down by a few inches to fit on the MinUte, but then it would drop right in, just like it does on the Ute, Xtracycle FreeRadical or Surly Big Dummy. If you did that it might be a tight squeeze to get a second rider on board, but if your kids are skinny it could work. Put the PeaPod on the back, stoker in front.

      I can’t think of any good reason to put a Bobike Junior on the MinUte or on the Yuba (or really any cargo bike). The Junior is for kids 5+, and by the time they’re that age, they’re just as happy sitting on the deck and holding stoker bars. And mounting it would be a drag, and stoker bars are cheaper anyway. The Junior seems designed for ordinary bikes that only sometimes need to haul kids. But if you wanted a back rest for your stoker, I’ve seen people use folding camp chairs on the deck.

      Nice to have you back!

      • I am trying brainstorm on a toddler/preschool rear seat that doesn’t have legs that get in the way of the cargo bags. That’s the only seat I have seen w/o them and it looks easy to take on and off, which is something else that annoys me about the PS. :)

      • Well, the Junior does have legs and foot-pegs, although they’re slim and might not be in the way of cargo bags. I think some people have removed the legs but I wouldn’t do this myself, even if the seat were resting on the deck, as I don’t think it would be laterally stable (the legs attach to the seat stays and keep it from moving side-to-side). However it is very easy to get on and off, and this is me saying that.

      • Shannon

        With a MinUte, couldn’t you just use a regular Yepp Maxi seat rather than doing the mods to install a PeaPod III? It looks to me like the longer frame would put the cargo bags behind the footrests of the Yepp. I’ve already got the Yepp and the more I read Hum of the City, the more I’m fantasizing about a MinUte!

      • Great question–we never tried this because our daughter at three can now handle holding onto the stoker bars, which is much easier. I can’t think of any reason it wouldn’t work. The MinUte is a fun bike; fast and a great climber. But I’m delighted to see that there are other medium-tail bikes coming out like the Yuba Boda Boda. I think they’re a perfect fit for city people and/or small families.

  2. essbee

    If you get another bike, Dan’s going to start hassling me that your stable is more than twice as big as ours. You’re totally making me look stingy! :) At least, I suppose, I can still come back that your garage is bigger than our entire condo…

  3. thedinks

    Interesting notes on sizing….Do you think the 18″ would fit 5’4″ (on a good day!) gal? I ride an X now, and am looking to move to something a little smaller and lighter. Of course, it would be handy if it could still haul my 8yo son and our baseball gear! Mom’s the coach, after all….

    • I think they told us the 18″ frame fit people 5’3″ to 5’7″ (if I’m remembering right) so: probably. If you get an 18″ frame, please let me know if it fits on a bus bike rack! The 20″ frame was so close; it seems like the 18″ might actually fit.

      • thedinks

        Bus rack would be pretty important here, too, especially without an electric option. Fortunately our LBS is 20 yards to a bus stop. Maybe they’ll let me try it out!

        Your blog has been an invaluable resource, by the way. You seem to have a set of biking needs and parameters similar to mine…and have done a lot of research! I am desperate to replace my aging (and now wobbly) Trek-X, but the replacement needs to “do it all”, from my daily commute and farmers’ market runs, to occasionally needing to give my son a ride. The X handles it all…I’m just tired of hauling around a jiggling mass of long bike!

      • Oh, thank you. I remember trying to find bikes that would work for us and there were so many things I wished I knew. My husband got tired of hearing me babble about all of this so I started writing it all down.

        As far as the bus rack goes, SF Muni lists the maximum wheel base that will fit on a bus rack on their website, and I assume that most local transit agencies have the same information somewhere. And Kona has the wheelbase sizes of the MinUte on their website (45.8″ on the 18″ frame and 46.4″ on the 20″ frame). Personally, like you, I’d still want to check it out myself by trying to put the bike on a bus, but getting the numbers in advance might give a sense of whether it’s worth even trying.

  4. Joe

    Have you tried carrying the little one in a forward facing seat? I think its called a “wee ride” and is designed to be placed over the top tube and is easily removed. I used it on my mtn bike successfully and plan on using it on the MInute I just ordered. This option seemed more practical than a Bakfiets (and much cheaper!) I too was hoping to be able to put it on a city bus rack, was it the longer wheelbase or the non standard frame that caused the trouble? Thanks for sharing your experiences

    • We had a bad experience with the one front child seat we tried. The other issue for us was how to get on the bike with a kid on the back deck and another in front of the seat–can’t step through, can’t swing a leg over the back without roundhousing the kid on the deck–and the stoker bars make swinging a leg over the back almost impossible anyway. But let me know if you make it work! Now that our daughter is three she’s okay on the back deck, and she’s wanted to be there for a while now.

      The long wheelbase is what kept our (20″ frame) MinUte from fitting on a bus rack. The 18″ frame has a wheelbase that’s ~1″ shorter and might fit–I’m not sure which size you got, but if it’s the 18″ and it fits, please let me know. (Our bike shop is curious too.)

  5. Impact Productions

    Very enjoyable. Especially as a grandparent…

  6. I want to thank you for the posts on this bike and on family riding in general. I bought the 2012 model of the bike today and I’m really excited. Your posts helped me gain the confidence to take the plunge.

  7. Lisa

    Hi, I just purchased a Kona Minute and had real difficulty finding a child seat for my 48 pound 3 year old! She is at the weight limit for nearly every baby seat out there. Wanted a safety strap and seat back as I don’t quite trust her not to topple off… I wanted to let you and your readers know that Yepp has come out with a new seat, the Yepp Junior, which is rated up to 70-something lbs! Fitted nicely to my Minute with the same hardware as the Yepp Maxi but the bike shop guy did have to cut a small chunk out of my gorgeous new deck. Worth it, though! I’m loving the Minute and being able to haul my heavy girl and the groceries! The panniers slot in beautifully. It handles so well, I find, and as you say, hills are strangely easy. Thanks so much for your blog; it was invaluable during my bike research phase!

    Lisa
    Ex-pat in
    Melbourne, Australia

    • Fantastic news about the new Yepp Junior! I had no idea. Clearly it’s time to write an update about child seats.

      • Lisa

        Well, it was a case of being in the right place in the right time. I actually called the Yepp & Bobike importer here in Australia to ask something about the Bobike (which I knew could handle my toddler’s weight) and he said “as a matter of fact, we’ve just unpacked a shipment of a new seat, the Yepp Junior!”) I couldn’t quite believe my luck. Yesterday was my first day riding around with it on the Kona and do believe I could be the very first person in Australia to have one, which is exciting! You can see what they look like in Google Images but they are not on many (any?) websites yet.

  8. Lisa

    Oops, I meant to ask you about the wheel stabiliser you mention – are they readily available? Is it a Kona product or just a generic item? And it stops the front wheel from flopping while on kick-stand? (Sorry, I couldn’t quite grasp it.) Thanks!

    • They should be available from any shop that has Kona parts–they’re standard on the Kona Ute and can be clipped onto a MinUte. I think ours cost $5 and took less than a minute to install. Our bike shop was mystified that they weren’t already on the MinUtes. They do stop the front wheel from flopping; it’s a strong spring attaching the wheel to the frame. It’s stretchy enough that it doesn’t affect the steering. I’ll try to remember to take a picture this evening and post it.

      • Lisa

        Awesome, thanks so much, I will inquire asap. The “flop” is rather annoying (and presumably compromises stability while bike is on kickstand).

  9. This interests me, still deciding on a cargo bike (or not). Researching the 2013 Kona Minute it seems they have better brakes — one criticism I noticed folks had. The Surly Big Dummy may be better, some say, but it’s price way higher. Xtracycle now coming out with an electric cargo bike, EasyRider, but with a $3,250+ price tag….seems a bit high, you can get a 125cc new moped for that (and get 80 mpg). But that’s not a bike…humm…so now I’m thinking get the 2013 Minute and add electric later if desired; that might be my final pick.
    Good luck on the child seats, et. al. — as a retired grandparent I just want to haul groceries. All the things you young Mom’s do is amazing! Hard to remember having that type of energy.

    • There are also two new midtails hitting the market this fall, Yuba’s Boda Boda and the Kinn Cascade Flyer. Just to make things more confusing! Like the MinUte, both these bikes can fit on a bus rack.

  10. Cool. I’ll checked them out. I also ‘appreciate’ your ‘fitting on a bus rack’ info — That’s something I would not have thought of till it was too late (i.e. way out of town and looking for a nice ride back). Being able to put the bike on a bus rack, which I’ve done with regular bike, sure does open up more options and certainly a nice ‘safety net.’ Write on.

  11. Soren

    I’m sorry to hear your bike was stolen in november. Hate it when that happens. Bikes are stolen here (Copenhagen) all the time unfortunately, no matter what locks you use :-( I had a bike stolen once when I had parked it outside my work building…. and thats a police station!!!!
    Anyway I was wondering if you have bought another Kona MinUte or did you go for a different kind of bike?
    I guess Kona has read your tales about the bike here as well as it seems they have put a wheel stabilizer on their 2013 model. No brake upgrade I believe.
    But can you recommend this bike for a person who is looking for a bike to use as a daily commuter with and without hauling stuff around (have no kids so not transporing chrildren) and as well as a touring bike. Plan on going many miles this summer in Denmark. I have no car so this would be my transportation around town all the time no matter the weather.

    Thank you for this site :-)

    Best regards

    Soren

  12. Chris

    Hi, I am temped by the MinUte, which stoker bars/stem do you use?
    Cheers
    Chris

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