The Bilenky, 300 miles later…

Well, I’ve been riding my Bilenky every day since I got it and have put on at least 300 miles on it. Enough, I think to write a review of its performance on the short term.

Two quotes run through my head when I ride the bike. First, “Nothing Gold Can Stay” by Robert Frost. Second, a quote from the article on Large Fella on a Bike in the latest Rivendell Reader. He was recalling what a music teacher once told him, “We honor our instruments through use.” The bike is so pretty I don’t want to scratch the paint. However, it’s meant to be “well loved.”

Needless to say, I’ve already taken a few chunks of paint out of it so it’s getting used. However, it does hurt a little to see the pretty bits of orange flake off.

Out of the box, the Bilenky isn’t going to carry a whole lot (unless what you’re carrying happens to be larger than the dimensions of the front rack). This is where something like the Xtracycle shines with it’s bags, which I think are some of the most well-designed pieces of carrying luggage ever invented. In the pics above, I’ve used some electrical tape and old tubes to help cover the paint, but to also create a more tacky surface for loads on the rack.

In this pic, I’ve wrapped some 2 foot wide marine safety netting around the rack. It goes around the rack about four times and acts as a soft bottom sling. This stuff is actually pretty cool. Very light weight, sturdy and I can adjust the tension of the surface by either making the wrap really tight or loose. I can also slip things in between the layers. Granted, this wouldn’t carry a fistful of nickles, but for everything else it works great. I’m working on creating a new sling made out of Cordura with adjustable cam straps so it doesn’t look like Spiderman pooped on the front of my bike.

Here’s a shot of my tripod and a canvas wrap containing a lightstand, umbrella and softbox. They are a bit longer than the rack and perfectly under the sling.

On top of that goes my Pelican case, all of it held together with some nice strong tie-downs.

The view from the cockpit when the bars are turned. Notice you can’t see the front wheel at all.

Handling:
The first question I get asked is, “Is it weird riding that thing?” Yes. Like any new bike, the handling characteristics are unfamiliar. I can say, however, after 300 miles it’s second nature. It steers more like a Cadillac than a Porsche. I find it is better to lean into turns than to twist the handlebars. It is a little disconcerting at first to turn the bars and not see a front wheel turn. You realize how much of a visual indicator the front wheel is for your steering.

When unloaded, the front feels a little light and squirrelly. Once you get a load on front, the steering gets dampened and its a joy to ride. You feel like a ship’s captain.

Climbing:
My biggest concern about the bike was that I wouldn’t be able to stand while climbing. I have found that this is not the case. Granted, I was wobbly the first week, but now I can climb sitting or standing without a problem. It’s actually easier than with the Xtracycle in some ways because the load on the Bilenky is always centered. With the Xtra, I found that I had to get the rear bags relatively evenly loaded to be able to climb well while standing.

Why the Bilenky over an Xtracycle, Bakfiets, Long John?
I prefer the Bilenky over the Xtracycle because there is no flex. The “boom tube” on the Bilenky is huge and really inspires confidence as to carrying large and heavy loads. The Xtracycle wins in terms of the bags, but with some ingenuity the Bilenky can be modified with bags or a sling. I also find that I also like being able to watch my gear while riding. After doing standing climbs on both the Xtra and Bilenky, I prefer the Bilenky again for the lack of flex and also the fact that the load is always centered.

Compared to a Bakfiets and LongJohn, I prefer the Bilenky for many reasons. One of them is weight. I think my Bilenky weighs in at about 45lbs. A Bakfiets with a box is about 90lbs. Not sure about the Long John, but I am almost positive it’s more than 45lbs. The Bilenky is also made to take a derailleur system (or can be customized to whatever you want). The Bakfiets is limited to an 8spd internal. Most Long Johns are 3spd. I think the biggest advantage of the Bilenky is the ride geometry. My setup is relatively upright but not Dutch upright and also allows me to stretch out by changing hand positioning. The Bakfiets and Long John, from what I have seen and read are pretty upright and can be a bit cramped.

That’s it for now. I’ll write another review when I break a 1000 miles.


16 Comments

  1. Adam Alpern May 7, 2008 2:38 pm 

    Thanks for the writeup – I’ve gotten *really* interested in the Bilenky Cargo bike recently. I currently have a Kogswell Porteur, which is like a gateway drug for cargo bikes :-)

    Which frame size is that? Are the rails removable? They look like they might be, and from seeing photos of other Bilenky cargos on the web, I see that some are raised on U-shaped struts like yours, and others go straight out flat, a little lower down. Is that an option?

  2. Ghost Rider May 7, 2008 3:00 pm 

    The Bilenky looks best when you have a specific load (dimensional or weight-based) in mind, and the rack gets built around that load. Don’t get me wrong…I love the bike and I love the concept, but without “MacGyver” skills like you’ve displayed , the versatility is a bit compromised.

    Glad to hear that it gets more stable with a bigger load…it IS a darn nice-looking machine.

  3. russ roca May 7, 2008 3:47 pm 

    Adam…the rails are removable…yes, they come in a straight version and one with a curve. I requested the curved one because I knew that my load my go over the headset on the fork.

    If you’re lucky to live close to a frame builder, you could probably have him/her fashion a custom rack with more rails, a bottom , etc.,

    The Bilenky definitely handles compact dense loads better than the Xtracycle (think 24 inch CTR monitor…or Pelican case full of gear). The Xtracycle however is more easily stuffed with stuff due to the bags. It also handles really long loads well.

    For the most part, the Bilenky can carry what I need for photography, though I’m holding on to the Xtra for odd sized loads.

  4. Adam Alpern May 7, 2008 4:26 pm 

    Yeah, I was thinking that the possibilities for custom racks are endless. Like this one with a platform, or this one with a box. Orange, too!

    My Kogswell also has the same property of getting more stable when you load it up. Unloaded it could be called either “twitchy” or “responsive”, depending on your preference, and then with weight added it becomes totally smooth and steady.

    Pretty sweet. I hope to upgrade to one of these some day.

  5. Aidan May 7, 2008 6:41 pm 

    “I find it is better to lean into turns than to twist the handlebars.” Maybe I’m just a damn roadie, but isn’t that how all bikes steer best?

  6. Aidan May 7, 2008 6:43 pm 

    Oh. Fine looking ride indeed, but a box on the Bilenky might not be a good idea with 100lbs of kids, unlike the Bakfeits, I’m guessing. Have you loaded that much?

  7. russ roca May 7, 2008 7:13 pm 

    Aidan…regarding the handlebars….I don’t know if you have ever ridden a bike with 20 inch wheels in the front, but the handling is considerably livelier than something with 26in or 700c. I use to own a Bike Friday, and going back and forth between my bikes would screw me up sometimes since the 20 inch wheels on the Friday always seemed more sensitive…uh…I suppose leaning is the best way to steer…i don’t know, I’m not a roadie and I didn’t consciously try to lean my bikes to turn until now…

    The Bakfiets is designed to carry kids over relatively flat terrain. That is its core competency. The Bilenky is more of a cargo bike (non child), a cousin of the filibus bike and cycle truck.

    Could you put a kid on the Bilenky? Sure. Is that it’s best use? Probably not. Can it carry a crapload of camera equipment everyday over distances of 20-50 miles (without the additional 45lbs of frame and box of the Bakfiets). You bet.

    I guess I should be more clear. The Bilenky like the Xtracycle and the Bakfiets have their particular strengths and uses. For my particular use, the Bilenky really excels.

    If my main cargo were kids and I lived in an area that was pretty flat, and I didn’t mind the compact cockpit and I didn’t mind the 8spd internal hub, then I’d go for the Bakfiets.

  8. Johnny May 8, 2008 5:13 am 

    “You feel like a ship’s captain. ”
    :^)

  9. VegHead May 8, 2008 2:01 pm 

    Looks like you may cause some accidents with this bike…from people turning their heads and saying, “WTF?”

  10. russ roca May 10, 2008 5:57 pm 

    Hmm…the Filibus looks cool…I think they share similar design elements but for me, I prefer the Bilenky. The one in the link looks like it would do well with moderate loads on a flat area….what’s nice about the Bilenky is the boom tube is super thick and it uses a standard triangulated design which seems to resist flexing….it also has more gears, unlike the internal hub on the Filibus…don’t get me wrong, nothing against internal gears, but those seem limiting…had I the $$$$ I would have thrown a Rolhoff on mine since it provides a pretty good gear range…

  11. Longjohnian May 11, 2008 5:39 am 

    Comparing Bilenky and Long John is a little bit like oranges and apples. The (traditional) Long John was build to carry HEAVY loads. It has an extreme low center of gravity. It easily transports a washing machine. Or six crates of beer.

    The Long John was created in Denmark. Denmark has only few hills and no mountains. The same goes for the Netherlands.
    This is the reason why neither the Long John nor the Bakfiets Cargobike do have derailler gears. In their home countries you simply don´t need a lot of gears. A gear hub with three or five gears is absolutely sufficient, it doesn´t need service, and (very important) you can shift while standing at the traffic light. Very comfortable, especially with a 100kg load in front of you.

    There are Long Johns in Denmark which are over 60 years old and still in service. These are true workbikes!

    The Bilenky is a nice and worthy bike, no doubt. But it´s an entirely different league…

  12. Scott Mizée May 31, 2008 8:31 am 

    Great article. Thanks for posting. I have not experienced riding one of these yet, although I have put hundreds of miles on a Bakfiets.nl cargo bike over the last couple of years. I’ll have to find one here in Portland so I can experience it first hand.

    I am intrigued by the lower weight of the Bilenky. However, I’m not sure why your article instantly jumps to the conclusion that because the Bilenky can take a derailler it has superier gearing. Can you explain that a bit more please?

    Also, I just read Longjohnian’s post above and I have to agree on several points. Being able to shit down to first gear while stopped at a light is priceless. Thanks again!

  13. RussRoca May 31, 2008 9:11 am 

    Scott…for me, a dérailleur offers a greater gear range that is also more customizable by changing cassettes or chainrings. 8 speed internal hubs have a limited range…you can set up the gearing for the low end, but then you lose the top…or vise versa.

    I have seen 8speeds set up with a double chainring in the front to give a set of high and low gears…but at that point you could have purchased a derailleur system for much less.

    I think being able to shift while stopped is a nice feature but for me it’s not a deal breaker.

    Furthermore, I’ve taken the Bilenky on loaded tours. To my knowledge, there is only one internally geared hub recommended for loaded touring..the Rolhoff which is $$$$. If I were to somehow jam the Nexus while on tour, I would have to build a new wheel….

    http://www.russrocaphoto.com/gwbr2008/

  14. Adam Alpern June 12, 2008 12:28 am 

    Let me add another point to the internal gear v. derailleur debate — I have the Nexus 8 speed on my Kogswell Porteur, which, while it obviously has a much lower cargo capacity than the Bilenky, I still regularly load up with 20-50 lbs of stuff.

    I’ve got about 2,500 miles on it so far, almost entirely in San Francisco. The range of the 8-speed hub is fine – in fact, I rarely use the entire range, but range isn’t really the issue for my riding. What I really, really want is closer gearing. It wouldn’t be an issue if I lived in a flat place, like Chicago, or the Netherlands, but it seems I’m never in the right gear on hills – always either too low or too high, and my knees don’t like the big jumps.

    For that reason, I might someday switch it to derailleur gearing.

  15. Ghost Rider June 12, 2008 3:47 am 

    That’s the same thing I discovered with Nexus…while I am a huge fan of internal gearing and the Nexus system in particular, I never felt like the gears I could choose from it were “just right”. Sure, I could tinker with chainring or cog swaps, but that’s still a bit of a gamble.

    I wish the Rohloff 14-speed “Speedhub” wasn’t so expensive! That one’s got even gearing in 13% steps…yum.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *