After a long delay, here’s the review of the load-hauling beast: the Hammertruck by RANS. A few items to discuss before we delve into this thing — RANS sent me the bike at the end of January…about two days after I got it I had surgery and was unable to ride it (or any bike) for a month. Then the demands of having a new child kicked in…he’s not ready to travel by bike, so I really had to squeeze in “special trips” by myself on this machine — grocery runs, trips to the post office and other errands one would typically use a cargo bike for. I also found out the hard way that for my purposes, this bike isn’t suited to my daily commute. I rode it to work on the first day I was able to ride and discovered to my dismay that the Hammertruck wouldn’t fit through the door to my building! Seein’ as how there was no way I would lock a $2000 bike — especially one that doesn’t belong to me — outside my building in a fairly high-bike-theft area, I raced home and swapped out bikes for something a little more svelte. Word to the wise; with the cargo platforms deployed, this bike is WIDE.
One other point: throughout the testing period and in this review, there will be inevitable comparisons of the Hammertruck to the U.S. cargobike-industry-leading Xtracycle. I own an Xtra and have ridden a few thousand miles on mine…and can’t help but compare/contrast the two bikes in many respects.
The first thing you might notice is the radical layout of this bike…it uses RANS’s “Crank Forward” positioning to allow for a lower center-of-gravity and the ability for the rider to place both feet on the ground easily when stopped. There is a whole host of benefits claimed by RANS at their site describing the Crank Forward technology.
The Hammertruck frame is constructed of TIG-welded 4130 chromoly and the cargo rack is made of aircraft aluminum tubing. Total weight of the rig with cargo rack assembled is somewhere around 42 lbs., not bad at all. Even though the frame has a lot of extra bracing, I was surprised at how light the entire package was. The cargo rack bolts to “hard points” on the main frame using special fasteners. Those “hard points” serve to stiffen the main frame and there is also a number of bracing tubes to further eliminate any sway in this frame. Even under heavy loads, I was unable to detect any sway…long a gripe among Xtracycle users when hauling cargo. Take a look at some of these bracing tubes (hard points for the cargo rack just behind the seattube cluster and along the midline of the lengthy chainstays):
Here’s another shot — all that bracing makes for a very stable ride with heavy loads:
One of the bracing points may look familiar to some of you…especially those of you who took at look at the “Big Dumb Pug” we featured a few months back. Yep, there’s a “tow truck” assembly on the back of the Hammertruck rack. We can’t claim originality for devising this method of towing a bike — but it’s still an interesting addition to the RANS package (and we’d love to take credit for inspiring them to add it!):
The parts spec on the Hammertruck was quite satisfactory — drivetrain parts consisted of a Truvativ Firex triple crank with outboard GXP bearing cups, SRAM X-7 derailleurs coupled to a 9-speed twist shifter, wide range SRAM (11-32) cassette and a really really long chain. More about that chain in a bit… Because the frame is set up in such a distinctive way — with the seat tube really slack — a “stub seat tube” or boom-tube was added to hold the front derailleur. It looks weird but it is required to get the derailleur into the proper orientation.
Braking was very capably handled by Avid BB7 discs with 160mm rotors front and rear and some of my favorite flatbar levers, the Speed Dial 7. My favorite part of the components was the wheelset, though — 26″ Velocity Cliffhanger rims laced to Velocity cartridge bearing disc hubs and wrapped in Primo Comet tires. The wheelset was strong and smooth and I really fell in love with the tires. I wasn’t familiar with Primo tires, but soon discovered their popularity in high-performance recumbent circles…they are capable of running at high pressure (110 psi) and the file tread is fast-rolling on most hard surfaces. About the only thing I’d change parts-wise on the Hammertruck is that I’d swap out the 160mm rotor for a 203mm rotor on the rear (with the appropriate spacer adapter) — extra braking power is a good thing when you’re hauling 200 lbs. of cargo. Is it needed? Maybe not. I’m just partial to this setup because my Xtra is set up that way, and I’ve come to appreciate that massive stopping power, even with the lesser brakes on my personal machine.
The saddle was something out of the recumbent playbook — a fairly massive “tractor seat” — and I wasn’t sure how, exactly, to set it up. On the RANS website, there are several photos of riders sort of leaning the backs of their butts against a downward-tilted saddle…there’s a quick-release under the saddle to allow for tilt. Well, I tried that and it just felt alien, so I set it up as I would a normal saddle and had no issues. That tractor seat is pretty comfy for long rides, too.
The steering setup is a rather interesting creature, too. There are a couple of proprietary parts involved in connecting the handlebars to the fork steerer, particularly a double-clamped “gooseneck” extender branded with the RANS logo. One clamp holds the headset’s preload, and the other secures the gooseneck to the steerer:
That handlebar is way up in the sky, and the bars have an incredible backsweep to allow for easy reaching. The whole assembly is very chopper-like: hands in the air, the rest of the body kicked way back. To be perfectly frank, it felt a bit weird; overcoming 30+ years of muscle memory on more traditional bikes is not an easy task. And, with so much weight biased toward the rear, the slack headtube angle, and the front wheel seeming so very far away, slow-speed maneuvering was for me rather squirrely, especially with a heavy cargo load on board. Once any amount of speed was gained, the entire platform was rock solid and smooth, with effortless directional changes possible. Something to think about, in any case.
Let’s talk about cargo capacity: In the photo above, the cargo is two full standard-size storage tubs…which both easily fit into the MASSIVE cargo bags. These things are huge!!! While I’m on my Xtra, I can carry 5 or 6 reasonably full bags of groceries in the cargo bags with a little finagling…but on the Hammertruck I could quite easily carry about twice that amount. The bags are cavernous and heavily-reinforced with good fabric and stout strapping. My favorite feature is that the bags roll up and stow away using some hidden hook-and-loop strips when they’re not needed. Here’s how the bags look when they’re stowed away:
The Hammertruck is rated for 525 lbs. of rider and cargo…and with the bags and generously-sized runners, there is very little that one couldn’t haul aboard this machine. To put it in car terms, an Xtracycle is like an old Datsun pickup — good for hauling but not too easy to load really big items. The Hammertruck, on the other hand, is like a Ford F-250…tailor-made to haul a serious and soul-crushing load of whatever you might want to throw in there. One could easily get carried away loading this badboy; I never got much past 200 lbs, but I was tempted and had room to spare when I did “go big”.
Did I mention that the bags are giant?
(4 feet and 60-ish pounds worth of “house elf” fit easily into the cargo bag, but he ain’t too happy about it)
Earlier on I mentioned the long length of chain that runs this drivetrain. While the wheelbase of the Hammertruck is very similar to an Xtracycle (depending, of course, on the parent bike the Xtra is built upon), the “chainbase” is quite different. Throw in that “crank forward” setup and I’ve got a chainbase of 38″ unsupported inches as opposed to 32″ on my Xtra. The rear derailleur on the Hammertruck just doesn’t have enough spring tension to manage this much chain (nor does ANY derailleur that I can think of), and I was plagued by a persistent and annoying chain skip in all gears. I could have tried to shorten the chain by a few links, but that could compromise the shifting range and I didn’t want to do that — hauling hundreds of pounds of cargo means you’ll need the full range. I’m not sure that would have worked to eliminate the skipping anyway. I noticed that RANS sells idler pulley kits for many of their other bikes, and while I didn’t see one specifically for the Hammertruck, I remember stumbling across a description of an idler setup for this bike. If you go the Hammertruck route, talk to RANS about an idler. You’ll be glad you did.
RANS included a very nice double-legged Pletscher kickstand with the Hammertruck. This is a $100 option when ordering one. Word to the wise: skip it. On a traditional bike, the Pletscher stand is a dream; on the Hammertruck, it’s about useless. There’s so much weight on the back of the bike, and coupled with the wide stance of the runners and wind-catching cargo bags, tiny gusts were sufficient to tip the bike right over. RANS recommends leaning the Hammertruck on one of the runners when loading, and that serves admirably enough for a kickstand. Perhaps a wide-legged double stand like the Rolling Jackass centerstand would be more suitable?
On my maiden cargo-hauling voyage, I loaded up two lawn chairs, my house elf and a big pot of homemade chili and rode over to a potluck dinner. This was a tiny load for the Hammertruck and I almost felt guilty…this thing begs to be loaded down with bags of cement, groceries by the cartload, etc. The bike was a real hit with the rest of the potluckers, though (as was the chili):
Like the Xtracycle, the Hammertruck’s cargo area is covered by a snap-on laminated wooden deck. Unlike the Xtra, the hardware on the Hammertruck’s deck is made of rather flimsy stuff and is held on with small woodscrews rather than a through-bolt. The weight of my passenger on that first cargo ride was enough to pull one of the screws partway out of the deck:
Until there is a better attachment method, I can’t recommend hauling anything heavy or precious aboard the deck of the Hammertruck. Also, since the seatpost is fairly hidden by its slope and by the rest of the cargo rack assembly, auxiliary devices like passenger handlebars (commonly seen on Xtracycle conversions) will take some ingenuity to install aboard this bike.
Overall, the Hammertruck was a joy to ride; comfortable, stable and capable of some amazing load-hauling prowess. I did have some minor issues (the aforementioned chain-skipping problem, the bit of squirrelyness at initial push-off), but none would be considered a deal breaker. I was really surprised at how stiff the frame was under load; I’ve long taken it for granted that sway was the nature of the beast after riding my Xtra for so many miles, but RANS did their homework and applied bracing in all the right places to eliminate that sway. I wouldn’t balk at the price, either…for around $2K, this is truly a car replacement as it can haul just about anything you might need a motor vehicle for (short of a camper trailer or big fishing boat). The parts spec is certainly worthy of a $2000 machine, and the cargo bags alone are really capable. Add the RANS Hammertruck to the growing list of valid cargo bikes options!
To learn more about the RANS Hammertruck, visit the RANS website by clicking here.
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