Kona MinUte on a bus bike rack!

Kona MinUte on a bus bike rack! Who’s your daddy?

One of my complaints about the Kona MinUte has been that it is just a couple of inches too long to fit on a bus bike rack. In the city, and given the way we use the bike, this is a noticeable limitation—my usual strategy when we’ve forgotten a kid’s helmet or have too awkward a load or have a tire low on air is to load my bike onto a bus rack (or in the case of the Brompton, under my seat) and head home that way. This isn’t an option with the MinUte. Or rather, it hasn’t been.

But I had never seen another medium-tail bike so I assumed that this was just the way things were. That is, until I saw this beautiful medium-tail bike on the BikePortland twitter feed. I had no idea who made it; I had to read the logo on the bike: Ahearne. So I wrote to Ahearne Cycles to ask (a) did it fit on a bus bike rack? And (b) was this a model they were producing? Joseph Ahearne wrote back: the answers were yes and no. The bike was custom, a one-off. But it was customized to fit on a bus bike rack. To make it work, the front wheel rotated 180 degrees to shorten the wheel base just enough to fit on the bus rack. That way, the front fork pointed backward instead of forward, shaving 3-4 inches off the length.

Heavy rotation

I thought “Joseph Ahearne is brilliant!” but assumed this had no relevance to the MinUte. That is, until Mission Sunday Streets earlier this month. We were eating donuts on the back deck when another rider bumped into the bike, knocked it over, and spilled my daughter’s milk all over the sidewalk. She was traumatized and he was apologetic, and he kindly bought her a replacement. But I was transfixed, staring at the front wheel, which in the fall had rotated exactly 180 degrees. Could we put it on a bus bike rack just like that custom Ahearne?

It wasn’t until this weekend that we found a bus with a bike rack that would let us fiddle around and see. Last week we realized that the university parks its shuttles, complete with bike racks, in the lot behind my daughter’s preschool on weekends. Matt was game to ride the MinUte (although without any kids on board) up the brutal hill to preschool to try it out—the kids and I walked. When we got there, we flipped the front wheel 180 degrees and tried it out. Bingo! MinUte on a bus rack!

The front wheel doesn’t fully seat in the rack, but the support arm holds it in place above

It is still a tight squeeze. The MinUte has big wheels (700c, or 29”, rather than 26”) and they are already a little larger than the front wheel space allotted on a bus rack—the bottom of the rack has a crosspiece that’s supposed to sit at the back of the front wheel, and the space is a little narrow for such large-diameter wheels. As a result, the front wheel doesn’t fully seat on the bottom of the bus rack. However after some efforts to dislodge the bike (meaning we yanked on it), we concluded that the spring-loaded support arm at the front holds the bike steady nonetheless.  I would trust this setup on a cross-town ride.

Here’s a close-up of the support arm bracing the front wheel, just above the reversed fork.

We’d also been talking about putting a front basket on the front of the MinUte. To get it on a bus rack, this will have to be frame-mounted; a traditional basket mounted to the handlebars and/or the fork would prevent the front wheel from making the full 180 degree rotation needed to load it. So now we have to get a special frame mounted front basket on order to get the front carrying capacity we wanted. This is a price we’re willing to pay.

A mere bagatelle! This is a big deal for us. We can carry two older kids on the back deck of the Kona MinUte (they’re now 3 years and 6.5 years, and our oldest is extremely tall). With the newfound ability to put the bike on a bus rack, we have dramatically extended our range. We can now take them much further than we could ride on this bike by ourselves. (But I should note that we have not put the bike on a moving bus yet. We are taking this one on faith for the time being.)

Another view, because it’s awesome! Admittedly it looks goofy with the handlebars reversed.

There are still some things I’d change about this bike. We’re definitely upgrading the brakes, and the kickstand, although burly, is less stable than we’d like when we put two kids on the deck. A chain guard and dynamo lights would be welcome additions to a bike that Matt uses to commute. And as mentioned, we want a front rack. But these are all changes we can make over time—the only thing we felt was impossible to change was our inability to load it onto a bus. And now we can.

9 Comments

Filed under cargo, family biking, Kona, Muni, San Francisco

9 responses to “Kona MinUte on a bus bike rack!

  1. LMB

    This totally makes my day!! The ability to put the MinUte on a bus just sold me…genius way to make it happen!

  2. I was just consulting a friend on the MinUte with links to your reviews, and this concept came up. I must share the news! Congrats. Let us all know what upgrades and changes you would make if you were to order it again, as I think this bike has some great options for families.

    • Well, our list of desired changes is not a list of NECESSARY changes, and even we won’t do them all.

      We will definitely upgrade to hydraulic brakes–this is the most important to us, but maybe not to people elsewhere. San Francisco is uniquely hard on brakes. That said other reviewers have complained about the brakes as well, so an upgrade is something to keep in mind, especially if you’re regularly putting two kids on the bike. This would be the most expensive change, although hydraulic brakes are probably overkill outside SF, and you could get better disc brakes for less money. I hope that the 2013 MinUte improves on this front. It’s been enough of an issue for us that Everybody Bikes negotiated us partial refund from Kona towards new brakes, because they’re awesome like that. Now we’re just waiting for those brakes to come into the shop.

      If I rode the bike daily I would put dynamo lights on it; Matt is the primary rider and is on the fence. He has good battery lights for now. Personally I would also add a chainguard for pants protection, maybe the $20 SKS that’s supposed to fit cargo bikes (I spotted one on a Big Dummy). Matt wears an ankle strap.

      We are going to put a front rack on the bike (the frame-mounted one I linked to) so that Matt, who rides this bike to work, can carry a better-looking bag into the office (which can fit in the rear bags now but is awkward there). It will also give us more capacity on grocery trips or when hauling kids’ bikes. This is definitely optional given that there is plenty of room in the rear bags, but you know how it is with cargo bikes. You always want to carry just a little more.

      If we rode frequently with both kids I would probably swap out the existing double kickstand, which is decent, for the wider Hebie that Family Ride has on her Bianchi. I think the MinUte’s is more designed for stuff-as-cargo rather than kids-as-cargo, so it’s not as stable when the kids lean over. It’s okay for now. We will add a detachable front wheel stabilizer to reduce the tipping as well–detachable so the bike can still go on the bus. Oddly a stabilizer is standard on the Ute but not the MinUte, even though both bikes have the attachment points. It’s only about $5 so neglecting this is just our laziness.

      That’s what I can think of right now. The stock saddle and pedals are fine although some people have strong feelings about these things and would swap them out. I think Matt would also vote for an Abus folding lock but that’s not unique to the MinUte. It’s just that it’s a cool lock. And if you really wanted to go crazy, you could BionX the bike. But I’m not sure it’s necessary; the bike is already pretty fast and an amazing climber even fully loaded. It’s rare that I need to use the granny even with both kids on deck, although the eastern approach to Alamo Square gets me every time.

      • One of my concerns was the 300lb weight limit. Another review mentioned the tires being too small for heavy loads (and the brakes). Have you installed a front seat on this bike before? And with having chain rings and not internal hubs (I am assuming, not checking facts here) can you even add a chain guard? I thought you could only do a bash guard? Do you know if there is a 2013 in the works? Who are you, my Kona dealer? : ) thanks!!

      • We haven’t had any issues with the weight limit, but we are not enormously heavy people. I know that our bike shop has taken one out with a large adult rider (well over 6′) and an adult passenger on the back deck–I think it was our bike during the build–so I suspect that 300 lb estimate may be conservative. The stock wheels seem fine to us, but then again we rarely haul the kinds of loads that you do.

        However I wouldn’t suggest this as the best bike for a family with three young kids, unless maybe there was some weird reason that you had to take a cargo bike on a bus every day. I’d be thinking either a Mundo or a box-bike in that scenario. We didn’t ever put a front seat on the MinUte but it could easily handle a Bobike, Yepp or iBert, and they asked us if we wanted to do that. But our daughter was old enough and heavy enough that we wouldn’t have gotten much use out of it by the time we considered it.

        The SKS Chainboard is special–it works on front derailleur bikes like MinUtes, Yubas, Dummies, etc. And apparently it’s a bear to install, but for me it would be worth it. I think you can order it direct from Amazon, admittedly at a premium.

        Your “local” Kona dealer is Company Bicycle in Charleston; the next closest are in Ohio. I have no idea about a 2013 MinUte; I was guessing that based on the decent press the bike has gotten that there would be more of them made.

      • Thank you again. I haven’t heard about the SKS Chainboard. Our local dealer is a guy in a garage with spare parts. I went in a couple of months ago, excited, then greatly disappointed. I think the nearest legitimate dealer is in Columbus OH (3hrs up) and that’s where I test rode the Yuba :)

        The family I have in mind (Rachel) has three children, but their eldest is 8 and can ride alone, but she wants the option to carry him (does a trail a bike fit?). Their daughter is 6 but very heavy and the 4 yo is 30lbs. She likes the small footprint idea of the MinUte and doesn’t need bus access, but would like the option (don’t we all?).

      • Trailer-bikes: We are going to put the new-to-us Roland on the MinUte once we order a spare cotter, but it’s not the easiest trailer-bike to find to say the least (yet another post to write, they keep piling up). And eventually I imagine that Clever Cycles will stock the Follow Me Tandem again, which would also work. And I read that Car Free With Kids got their shop to do a special rear rack on their bakfiets so they could add a Burley Piccolo to it. We were investigating how to do that with the MinUte before we got the Roland–the bike shop was willing to give it a go so my guess is that it is possible, if you are handy and patient or know someone who is. But you might lose a few inches on the rear deck, and with larger/older kids that could be a tight squeeze.

        With 2 kids on deck + 1 kid on trailer-bike an electric assist would be a good idea, both for the help pedaling and to get more weight down and in front (if you mounted the battery inside the frame). For the same reason I’d put any accompanying cargo on a front rack. Personally with kids of those ages and weights I’d be in the market for a tandem or a full cargo bike as they’re designed to take the weight of three kids and then some, but I understand that a huge bike like that can feel intimidating. We feel like we have massive garage space (and by SF standards we do) but the loaner Mundo completely dominated it and was a tight squeeze in and out the door. But I never had any problems riding around with my kids plus a friend on that bike. The MinUte is more suited to city families like us who are trying to squeeze cargo into spaces that were really designed with bike messengers in mind–in SF the only people we know with three kids had twins the second time around, so I’m not the best resource on biking with three. It’s rare to even see a trailer here; they’re too wide and too low so you can’t get through traffic, cars don’t notice them, etc.

        If size is an issue there’s always the Brompton; IT Chair in front for the youngest plus a trailer-bike for the middle one, although the oldest would have to roam free. But no bus problems!

        I am so sorry that you don’t have more dealers locally because I”m sure test-riding would be a big help. We are spoiled for choices here so I can get huffy and scorn local bike shops that are hostile to kids (and for my money there are too many of those). It would be so hard to have to take a road trip to test ride a bike. Also, ironic. All that said, your own pre-Mundo experience proves that you can make biking with multiple kids work even without a cargo bike. I think there’s actually a lot to be said for kludging along with whatever bikes+trailers are around for a while so there’s less guesswork about what you really want when you decide to get something dedicated.

  3. D. Stevens

    If you come across a Kona MinUte, buy it. Of all the 2 dozen bikes I’ve had over the years, this bike is the most comfortable, ulilitarian, and is just plain fun to ride. However, on the 2012 model, the Promax disc brakes are garbage. Replace them with Avid BB7’s immediately. AND replace the tippy centre stand with a Ursus Jumbo centre stand which, when deployed, is almost 18″ wide. The Ursus stand will absolutely not allow the bike to topple over if only one pannier is loaded up. The panniers are a great size and are rugged. The rims are in fact double-wall and the 700×35 tires have flat protection!

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