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.
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.
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.