Saturday, August 10, 2013

As a Commuter

A winter commute near Copenhagen, before moving to Oslo.

A Nihola can reach a pretty decent speed on level ground.  I find 20-25km/hr to be sustainable for long distances, which is plenty fast enough in my world that top speed is not the limiting factor on commute time.  When my wife and I first got a Nihola we didn't see how anyone could go nearly that fast, this due to the way balance felt, but once we adjusted to the way a trike needs to be ridden it was no longer a problem.  So while in the beginning balance was my limiting factor, now strength is my limiting factor.

Also, while commuting strenuously on the Nihola with the SRAM P5, I find my knees become sore.  I believe this is due to the rather large steps between gear ratios, combined with the effort of moving the trike.  On mostly level ground 5th is a bit too fast and 4th is significantly too slow.  The SRAM P5 lovely hub, but a poor choice for trying to set cargo bike speed records.  I don't believe that I have the knee problem on our Nexus 8 Nihola, which puts 7th and 8th gears close together, and right where I need them.  (Without going totally off into a discussion on gearing, I should say that both trikes have a 24t rear sprocket and 38t front, lower than the "factory" ratio.)

So, how hard is a Nihola to pedal when its empty?  I'll start with some numbers.  On flat stretches, I mainly use 5th gear on the SRAM P5, giving 64 gear-inches with my sprockets.  On my commuting bike on the same sections, I use 6th gear on a Nexus 7, giving 70 gear-inches with my sprockets.  I pedal at similar rates on both machines, but work a bit harder on the Nihola.  Anyway using this I estimate my Nihola speed on flat ground is 90% of my bike speed.  Of course this isn't any racing bike: 28"-37mm puncture-resistant tires, nearly straight bar, Nexus 7 hub, full fenders, rack, cargo basket, dynamo lights, 16kg, dirty, various rattles...  So you could say I'm not fast on any bike, but not really slow on a Nihola either.

The amount of load seems to make little difference on level ground, but it makes more difference if the front tire pressure is low.  When there is unfavorable wind the Nihola drags more, but actually nowhere near as badly as I had feared before I tried it.  (But taking down the rain cover is important to minimize the drag.)  Up hills, the weight of the machine (32kg is the official figure) naturally slows a person down, but again its not catastrophic.  How about loaded, up hill and against a headwind?  Well, you'll be thankful you don't need to worry about balance.

The riding geometry is somewhat upright, but not overwhelmingly so, in my judgement.  Less upright than WorkCycles Cargobike, unless my eyes are playing tricks.  More upright than a Bullitt, but I'm sure that surprises no one.  Since moving to Oslo I have become a big fan of placing both hands in the middle of the handle bar, which I believe improves my body position and is helpful when pedaling hard.  I find this is more natural than doing the same on a bike, where doing such a thing harms my balance.

I find that a Nihola can be a comfortable commuter, but the road surface should be in decent condition and there should not be too many abrupt corners.

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