Tag Archives: MinUte

The underrated Kona MinUte

The same bike, but different

The same bike, but different

Although I have some issues with our original cargo bike, the Kona MinUte, they are mostly along the lines of “this is a good bike that with a little bit more effort could have been a GREAT bike.” If I were a betting person, I would bet that the MinUte is a product that is only really loved by one person at Kona, which as a company seems to focus more on what another family biker once referred to as “the weed market.” I wish this were not the case, but in the meantime, Kona pioneered the first American midtail, and what a great idea that turned out to be.

So I was very disappointed to learn that Kona is discontinuing the MinUte at the end of 2013. I recommend the Yuba Boda Boda to parents looking for an assisted midtail in San Francisco (that’s mostly moms), with the usual caveat about Yuba’s lower-end parts. I recommend the MinUte to parents looking for an UNassisted midtail in San Francisco (that’s mostly dads), with the usual caveats about the MinUte’s historically horrible brakes. There a couple more midtails out there, but to date I have not yet ridden a Kinn Cascade Flyer, so I can’t comment on anything but its smokin’ good looks one way or the other. And the very sturdy Workcycles Fr8 is not appropriate for our hilly neighborhood, plus it is too heavy for bus bike racks on local transit, so it loses one of the key advantages of owning a midtail. On the other hand, if you live somewhere flat, the Fr8 is the only midtail specifically designed to haul three kids, one of whom can be in front, which is delightful.

Although it is not a company that is focused on the kid market, Kona does some things really, really well, and one of them is gearing. The MinUte is geared like a mountain bike, so yes indeed you can haul your 50+ pound kid up really steep grades on this bike. And with an aluminum frame, the weight of the bike isn’t fighting you all the way up those hills. To the best of my knowledge, there is no other cargo bike with the same weight+gearing advantage currently on the market. RIP, MinUte. If you’ve been thinking about getting one, you’d better hustle.

Rosa Parks family with a very stylish 2013 MinUte tricked out for kid-hauling

This very stylish 2013 MinUte belongs to a Rosa Parks family and is completely tricked out for kid-hauling

The things that irritate me about the MinUte would probably be irrelevant if the family cargo biking market hadn’t taken such great leaps in the last few years. Now you can buy a bike that comes with kid-carrying parts designed for the bike. Workcycles, Xtracycle, and Yuba will not let you down on this front, and that makes their bikes inherently more appealing for a parent picking up cargo biking. Getting a MinUte involves some kludging that feels a little old-school now. If you live near our bike shop, Everybody Bikes, or one like it, they’ll do that for you, because they’ve set up so many of these bikes already, but otherwise you’re on your own. Kona does not have a standard set of stoker bars for kids to hang on to, wheel skirts to keep feet from being trapped in the spokes, or pegs for foot rests. If you buy a MinUte from Everybody Bikes they’ll set up you up with all of these things on request, and it will look really good too, but that’s their initiative and not Kona’s.

But we live in a hilly neighborhood near this particular bike shop, so it’s not just us on a MinUte: we have neighbors with MinUtes as well, and one family joins us at Rosa Parks every morning—how cool is that? For parents with one kid or two widely spaced kids, a midtail is probably the best kind of cargo bike. Granted, you don’t really need a cargo bike with only one kid, but it can be handy—I find a midtail less unwieldy than a bike seat with an older child, plus you can carry more non-kid cargo. Matt likes the MinUte’s carrying capacity so much that he plans to keep riding it after our kids are on their own bikes. Assuming, that is, it is not stolen again after Kona stops making them, which would break our hearts.

And as mentioned, most midtails can go on a bus bike rack, or on Amtrak using their standard bike racks. Score! Lifting them up to a bus bike rack is not without its challenges—the MinUte, which is the lightest one I’ve tried to put on a bus, is definitely a lot of work to position, but eh, there are lots of heavy bikes in the world, and in my own personal case, my arms are not the weak link.

This neighbor DIYed a nice kid seat with a wooden back, which is drilled directly into the wooden deck.

This neighbor DIYed a nice kid seat with a wooden back, which is drilled directly into the wooden deck.

When we got the replacement MinUte, we learned that Kona had not ignored all of the issues that came up with the first year’s model. The MinUte now has a much nicer centerstand than before, only a fraction narrower than the best-in-class Ursus Jumbo at half the price. Kona now allows you to swap out the standard wooden deck for a plastic deck with holes predrilled to hold a Yepp seat. I’ve been told that the standard brakes are better. The bags are still not so great, but hey, they are included in the price of the bike, so it’s hard to complain too loudly about that. Again, it’s really more a good thing that could have been great.

We will miss being able to tell people where they can buy a MinUte like ours—although the Bullitt gets the most attention, all our bikes are kid-haulers, and as a result they all get noticed. I wish Kona were willing to jump into the family market wholeheartedly. The MinUte fills a niche for families in hilly cities and I’m not sure there’s another bike out there yet that can do the same thing. But Kona is discontinuing the MinUte, so I will have to hope there is something new in the works.


Filed under commuting, family biking, Kona, Xtracycle, Yuba, Yuba Boda Boda

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.


Filed under commuting, family biking, Kona, reviews

These are the ways we ride to school

First day of first grade

We have found that our son’s elementary school contains an embarrassment of riches (for the record, this is an under-enrolled Title I public school in San Francisco, not the usual candidate for perceived awesomeness, a complete sleeper of a school). These riches extended, we learned this year, to a range of bicycle commute strategies with kids.

Bicycle commuting to school in San Francisco is not like it is in other locales. Kids enrolled in lower grades can’t usually ride on their own, due to traffic and hills and distance; this is a citywide school, and some families are coming from quite far away. Moreover, the after-school programs at our school are mostly off-site, and students take the bus from the school, meaning that there’s no way to take a kid’s bike along after school lets out. Finally, we haven’t yet had bike racks installed at the school (we’re on the list) so there’s no place to leave a bike even if kids could ride. The teachers who ride bring their bikes into the school building, but this isn’t something that would work for a bunch of kids.

So typically we all have to ride with the kids with us somehow, and as I’ve mentioned before, city people rarely use trailers (they ride below the sight line of cars, tip on uneven pavement, don’t fit in the bike lane, etc. etc.) That means kids on our bikes. It is more challenging than the run-of-the-mill bicycle commute to school, but it’s worth it. We are often ad hoc, but we are ready to roll. Herewith, a morning’s worth of photos; an incomplete list of the ways we ride to school.

School bike #1: Bike Friday triple tandem

#1 (and by far the coolest):  Bike Friday triple tandem. Our PTA treasurer and his partner ride this bike with their daughters, who are in kindergarten and 2nd grade. They say it is the best way to commute with two kids to school in the city, and I believe them. It is easier for their dad, who is about 6’ tall, to captain, than it is for their mom, who is more like 5’4”. She reports that she needs help on the hills from the girls and she needs to concentrate while riding. The girls have to synchronize their pedaling with the parent who’s captaining; this is, I am told, not necessary on all tandems, but it is necessary on the Bike Friday [update: not exactly true; my brother-in-law wrote to tell me that any tandem could be retrofitted to have freewheel cranks that let one rider stop pedaling]. Our kids desperately want a triple tandem.

How they afforded it: They used to ride the girls to school on a tricked-out Kona Ute, which they bought and modified by hand while their youngest was still in preschool. They sold the Ute to finance the tandem, which they got for about 1/3 the list price by buying it used on eBay after searching for a used triple tandem for some time. The seller, based in LA, was unwilling to ship it, but they had a cousin in LA they visit regularly. He picked it up, and on their next visit, they took it home with them. The Bike Friday packs up in a suitcase!

How they store it: Bike storage is no joke in San Francisco. The girls’ aunt lives on the same block they do and has extra storage space, so they keep the big bikes at her place (they also have an adult tandem that they found used for free and had their bike shop fix up).

School bike #2: Surly Big Dummy

#2: Surly Big Dummy. Our friend Shirley takes her girls (1st grade and 2nd grade) to school on the deck of her Big Dummy. While they’re in school, she takes the Dummy out to do errands. I have talked about the Dummy before. It is a fun bike.

How they afforded it: They have a car that was in a horrible accident and needs several thousand dollars in repairs. Last year, they decided to skip the repairs and drive it until it failed and buy a Big Dummy (plus another bike to come) with the money they saved. When the car dies, they will be car-free.

How they store it: “It’s a problem.” They have a very small garage space with their rental apartment and squeeze the bike alongside (I presume that they don’t care about the finish of the car as it’s effectively totaled). When the car finally dies and is hauled away, however, they’ll have a very generous bike stable.

School bike #3: Giant + spare saddle on the top tube

#3: Giant with a spare saddle. One of the kindergarten dads has bolted a spare saddle to the top tube of his bike. He puts his daughter on board and takes her to school that way. When I talked with him about it, he said that although his method was totally inappropriate for long rides, their commute to school is a gradual descent over about 10 blocks and so he just coasts slowly the whole way, then drops her off, pops off the spare saddle and commutes to work.

How they afforded it: He had a spare saddle lying around anyway: this modification was free. If you had to buy one, I don’t know, $10-$20?

How they store it: No extra storage needs; it’s just a normal bike with a saddle on the top tube!

School bike #4: Kona MinUte

#4: Kona MinUte: I’ve written about our MinUte before. We ride our son to school on the back deck; we added stoker bars and some foot-pegs. This is a great bike and a flexible set-up.

How we afforded it: We bought bikes in lieu of a second car we’d been saving to buy (thank goodness).

How we store it: The MinUte isn’t much longer than a normal bike and thus has no real storage issues; Matt keeps it in a shared cubicle at his office, for example. But at home we are rich in space suitable only for bicycle storage thanks to a vituperative 50-year grudge match between the university (we live in university housing) and the local neighborhood association that prevents the partially-conditioned basement under our building, which the university was legally obligated to make ADA-accessible, from being used for a more practical purpose such as housing, or, for that matter, parking more cars.

School bike #5: Breezer Uptown 8 with Bobike Junior

#5: Breezer Uptown 8 with Bobike Junior. I haven’t written much about riding with the Bobike Junior before, as it usually makes more sense for Matt to ride our son to school on the MinUte. But with his recent injury, I’ve been handling the daily trip to school, while Matt walks our daughter to preschool then takes the N-Judah to work.

The Bobike Junior takes some getting used to, as the seat rides high, which makes the bike more tippy. It felt unstable at first. But as I’ve gotten used to it, I’ve come to love this seat. My son rides very close to me, almost as close as a backpack, and I like that when we start the ride, he hugs me from behind. It is easy to have a conversation with him because he is so close. I can turn to talk with him at stoplights and he comments on the ride, encouraging me to go faster downhill (I’m cautious; I don’t have disc brakes). It is a bit of a hassle to fit a pannier underneath this seat, and once it’s on, it encroaches a little on his foot pegs. Nonetheless, I will happily ride with my son on the Junior until he won’t tolerate it anymore.

That said, I have a suspicion that this seat might be less appealing to a shorter rider. I am 5’7.5” (to be painfully precise) and that is apparently tall enough that I can handle loads put higher on the bike without much trouble. When our friends with the triple tandem had their Kona Ute, they report that the mom had trouble handling the bike with the girls up so high on the back; she is ~3-4 inches shorter than I am. I’ve noticed that shorter people often mention they prefer to keep the load down lower, but on the other hand, there is a metronome effect. The lower loads are more stable, but if you lose control, it is a nightmare righting the bike again. The higher loads are less stable, but if you lose control, it is much less trouble righting the bike again (assuming you are tall enough). I find that I like the ease of righting the bike given that my kids bounce around a little, but some people prefer just the opposite. This is not something I’ve seen discussed much but I suspect it may be part of the reason people have strong opinions about the Xtracycle/Yuba lines (lower loads) versus the Ute and regular bikes with child seats (higher loads).

How we afforded it, how we store it: See above, blah blah, didn’t get a planned second car, it’s a normal-length bike so no atypical storage concerns, but we have tons of bicycle storage space as a side effect of a long-running town-gown battle.

These are some of the ways we ride to school. And this explains, I imagine, why our kids are begging to get a bike as obscure as a triple tandem.


Filed under Bobike, Breezer, cargo, commuting, family biking, Kona, San Francisco

Our first bike: The Kona MinUte

[February 2012: I have updated our experience with the MinUte here. And also here.]

So, a longtail: even though Matt wasn’t thrilled about the downsides he didn’t have any better ideas. We were getting him the first bike because I had the university shuttle taking me almost door to door, but most longtails seemed to be adjustable enough for two riders if it came to that, and all of them could carry two kids. At that point the only experience we had with longtails was some fellow school parents who liked their Ute. My brother-in-law, a former bike mechanic and bike messenger and our go-to person for all things bike-related, said that he liked Konas and was in fact, commuting on one. He didn’t like the Radish for reasons that I still don’t know enough about bikes to understand or even repeat, and didn’t like the Xtracycle because of what is apparently referred to as “flex” which is a concept I don’t really understand either. Plus he knew that we didn’t have any kind of handiness around bikes or a donor bike, which are apparently good things to have if you want to set up an Xtracycle. Nobody I asked knew anything about the Mundo or Big Dummy (I have since met someone who does know something about the Big Dummy and apparently that bike is awesome, with a price to match).  So I went online to look up Kona dealers and the closest one was the local bike shop that my brother-in-law had been raving about and urging us to visit since we got back from Europe. Okey dokey then, we’d check out the Kona Ute. While I was on the Kona site I figured I’d look up the price of the Ute (although I already knew it was definitely going to be cheaper than the second car we’d grudgingly been saving up for). Under the list of commuter bikes was something I’d never seen before, new for 2012: the MinUte.

Looking at the MinUte online, it was like someone had designed a bike just for us—a longtail with a normal bike’s footprint. Despite that the back deck was only 4” shorter than the Xtracycle deck, which meant plenty of room for the kids. It came stock with two giant bags, and they sat back behind where our son would sit. It had fenders to keep off road crap and mountain bike gears to grind up hills. The limited complaints about its big brother, the Ute, in reviews centered on the aluminum frame and limited cargo capacity (plus some complaints that it wasn’t Xtracycle-like enough that I assume make sense to people who know something about such things). But with our hill problem the lighter weight of an aluminum bike was appealing. Given that we had no desire to haul much more than a kid or two and some groceries, being unable to haul a surfboard, lumber, or 900 bananas wasn’t a big issue for us. Sure, it would be great if the bike came tricked out for commuting with wired lights, a chain guard, and internal gears, but Matt felt that the price, pretty competitive for a cargo bike, more than made up for wrapping up his pants leg on the way to work, and he was thrilled that he wouldn’t have to park it on the street. We are anything but adventurous as a rule but this brand-new bike (a medium tail?) seemed like the bike for us.

We went to Everybody Bikes (a fantastic shop for know-nothings like us despite its high hipster quotient) to check out the bike only to discover that it wasn’t available yet. But the shop did have a Kona Ute and some other bikes to try for size, and Matt liked them. They would be happy to stick on stoker bars and foot pegs for our son when the bike arrived, and our son, for his part, couldn’t wait to try it. Now all that we had to do was wait, and pray that it came in time to solve our soccer pickup problem.

I have since learned that nothing that involves getting a bike ever happens on time (unless you buy something in stock right there off the floor). I still resent this, but I have learned to accept it. If like me, you are new to the world of biking, you might as well know in advance. Your bike will arrive late, and some non-critical parts will probably arrive even later.

Luckily for us, although All Bike Orders Are Late, we only had to do one soccer pickup before it arrived, which we managed with car share. That sucked. But the MinUte arrived. It was missing some non-critical parts. The cargo bags were apparently stuck on a slow boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The (aftermarket) foot pegs were no longer in production. But the bike was there and it looked good, and the stoker bars swooped up at the perfect spot for a six-year-old. Matt was ready to take it for a spin: he pronounced it awesome.

Her punches are surprisingly ferocious

Our son was jumping up and down to get on and ride once Matt felt comfortable on the bike. Of course we had to pry our two-year-old daughter off the back deck, where she was already attempting to jump up and down while insisting that she be allowed to ride, because we should have just named her “Danger” and spared everyone the bother of having to figure it out. Our son climbed on board and decided it wasn’t so great after all: the bike was wobbly, it was scary. We bucked him up with memories of biking in Copenhagen, even though he wailed that he wanted to ride on the Bobike Maxi again (a seat he had since outgrown). Matt said he’d ride slowly. They took off and DISASTER. Without footpegs or panniers to block the spokes, our son’s foot, clinging to the bike as tightly as possible in fear, went directly into the spokes, cutting and bruising his ankle. Maybe those missing parts weren’t so non-critical after all. We felt like idiots.

So the first attempt to ride the MinUte ended with our son weeping in pain and fear and howling that he never wanted to go near a bike again. Matt rode home to get the minivan and we went home that way, feeling completely defeated.

We had about three days before the next soccer pickup to convince our son to try the bike again. The bike shop’s mortified owners called to say that they’d found the discontinued foot-pegs on Ebay for us, but it would be a couple of weeks before they arrived. No one had a clue when the bags would arrive. In the meantime we needed some motivation and we needed something to keep his feet out of the spokes.

Motivation came from massive amounts of screen time. We set up a slide show on Matt’s computer made up of shots of them riding in Copenhagen, which helped, but what helped even more was a movie from Car Free Days, showing their son jumping on and off the back deck of an Xtracycle. I could not be more grateful that they posted that movie; we must have watched it 100 times that afternoon. Our son thought it was the coolest thing ever. Something to keep his feet out of the pegs came after he went to bed. I kludged together the world’s most ghetto panniers; a piece of kraft paper folded to make two pockets, held together with duct tape (as noted: not handy).  He could put his feet in the pockets to prevent them going into the spokes until the real footpegs and bags arrived.

The MinUte kludged out with our ghetto duct tape panniers

The next morning we walked the bike down to Golden Gate Park—flat! no cars!—to try riding again. After a day of unrelenting motivational efforts our son was not totally repelled by the idea. We spent the walk talking up the safety features of the duct tape panniers.  (Because he is six this did not meet with the ridicule it deserved.) At the park, faced with the prospect of actually getting on the bike, he decided it wasn’t such a good idea after all. With much prompting, he finally tried it, feet firmly planted in the new duct tape pannier pockets, but immediately wailed that he wanted to get off. Matt lost patience and rode off anyway, leaving us with a dopplered, “NOOO!!!!!!!!” A few hundred feet later, our son was cheering and shouting that he loved riding the new bike. Success! Since then he’s been impossible to extricate from that bike. He is as proud as royalty riding it into school and wrote up his story of learning to ride it for a school project. His teacher assumed that it was fictional, given that everyone else in the class wrote about their superpowers (e.g. flying, invisibility). He now wants his own bike, which we’d previously assumed was months if not years away.

So is the MinUte everything we’d hoped for? Yes and no.

NO: Matt got the larger frame size (20”), and it turns out that it is too large for me to ride. My brother-in-law says that this is a design decision and the frame could easily be modified by Kona to be more adjustable for people of varying heights; whatever the reason, this is a one-person bike in our household. We also had hoped that our daughter could ride on the back deck with our son. This was unrealistic; although there’s plenty of room, she is too young and too adventurous for that to be safe unless she’s strapped into a child seat. The can-do folks at Everybody Bikes could probably figure out a way to convert one of the Xtracycle UteDecks to a MinUte deck (the MinUte deck is 24”, while the Ute’s is 31” and the Xtracycle’s is 28”) and use it to mount a seat for her behind our son, and we might still do that. But if the kids were 4 and 6 instead of 2 and 6, both of them could ride on the deck without adding seats. As expected, this bike isn’t grab-and-go as a commuter; Matt needed lights and he has to strap up his pants. He works in an office with a dress code and no shower, so on days when everyone’s in a suit for foreign visitors, it’s easier to take the train. I think that this would be true for any bike though. The cargo bags, which arrived two months later, lack a shoulder strap so they’re hard to carry around once off the bike. We had initially thought that we’d both get MinUtes, but we now feel that doesn’t make sense given our kids’ ages and our daughter’s need for a child seat.

MAYBE: We are not sure if it will fit on the bus rack, although I suppose it’s a good sign that we haven’t yet had to try. Standard bus racks apparently fit bikes with a wheelbase of up to 46” (I had to look this up) and his frame’s wheelbase is…  46.4” (the 18” MinUte frame’s wheelbase is about an inch shorter). I’ve been told that people have squeezed recumbent bikes with 47-48” wheelbases on Muni racks, though, so, possible? Further updates as events warrant.

All parts on board (it’s not cold, but my son likes looking like a ninja)

YES: There is a lot to love about this bike. Matt has no problem taking the hills with our son on the back and with cargo. Granted, for the first week he came home drenched with sweat every day even after taking the elevator (which doesn’t cover the whole hill). But it’s gotten easier; he now only rarely takes the elevator and doesn’t always need a shower, and we live at the top of a really steep hill (veloroutes says 16% if you take the direct route), a situation that has led to my classifying any city in the world other than La Paz, Bolivia, as “flat.” And as promised, the MinUte is basically the length of a normal bike—my bike is ~68” front to back and the MinUte is ~73”. It fits in the elevator (barely) and it fits in Matt’s cubicle. Matt enjoys riding it to work and finds it pretty nimble, although it’s definitely heavy. He gets a lot of envy and questions from other dads with Trail-a-bikes riding on Market Street, one of the more challenging parts of his route to the Financial District, who say that the bike+trail-a-bike is often frighteningly unstable and that hauling an extra bike length in back is limiting, especially after dropping off the kid. Based on that feedback alone we’re glad we didn’t go with that option (or for that matter, with a trailer). With the foot-pegs and stoker bars the bike looks made for two riders, but when our son’s not on board the bike looks like a heavy-duty commuter; no need to add a child seat. After our son’s drop-off Matt can use the back deck to carry more stuff, not that there’s ever been any need for that given that the bags hold a ton already. When we’re riding together even a single bag swallows everything from extra jackets and clothing to both U-locks to whatever we buy while we’re out, and he can grab things without getting off the bike; it has the capacity of a trailer without any of the hassles involved in hauling a trailer in the city. Our son can easily ride the back deck until middle school if he wants to, and his sister can ride there once he’s an independent rider.

The MinUte isn’t the bike for everyone—I doubt you could fit two child seats on the deck—but we like it very much. I’m sure that it can carry less than a standard longtail, but it holds plenty for a small urban family, and it’s much more adaptable because it fits in small spaces like Matt’s cubicle. For new bikers like us, it’s been a nice entrée into cargo/family biking, precisely because it’s short enough that it’s possible to take it everywhere a normal bike could go. The thought of getting a big bike as our first bike was kind of scary. It is also easy to carry a kid (maybe two) and cargo without having to figure out how to add accessories like a trailer, another thing that felt kind of scary. And it is definitely a conversation starter, particularly with our son on board. Family biking is still enough of an oddity in San Francisco that even at events with valet bike parking, where it’s safe to say you’ll see a lot of bicycle diversity, people are always asking us about our bikes and where we got them. This bike was so much fun for Matt and our son that my daughter and I grew jealous. One day a couple weeks after they’d started riding, my son leaned over at dinner, patted my hand, and said, “It’s okay, mommy. You can get your own bike soon.”


Filed under cargo, commuting, family biking, Kona, reviews, San Francisco