|An unusual Nihola that was pictured on the French Nihola site.|
|Its hard to photograph a hill, but this was a good one.|
|Climbing out of a valley on route from Hønefoss to Oslo.|
So I should talk about how braking works on a Nihola. The rear is either a coaster brake (foot brake) or a v-brake, but could in theory also be a different type of hub-mounted drum such as a roller brake (grease-filled drum from Shimano). I estimate that there is zero possibility of a disc in the rear, the lack of mounts being a prominent problem, but also the shape of the frame appears incompatible, which is a shame because all the most interesting gear hubs are available with disc mounts. Discs aren't perfect, but I'd take a disc over a rim brake on the rear wheel of a cargo bike.
Now, the rear brake doesn't necessarily need to be strong. Ideally it is easy to modulate, to use whatever traction is available. Foot brakes are not known for being strong, but are more than strong enough to skid the back tire on clean pavement (presuming no weight on the rear rack). The reason that strength is not a problem is because of the significant forward weight transfer under hard braking, especially when weight is concentrated in the box, and also especially on downhill slopes. This all is to say, the rear brake is generally of little use for quick stops. This effect is more significant on a Nihola than a regular bike.
Regrettably, the brakes in front are also of little use for quick stops. They are always 7cm Sturmey-Archer drums, a type of non-greased drum with a replaceable brake shoe. One single-pull 4-finger lever pulls to a splitter which seeks to distribute force evenly between the left and right, or perhaps it just seeks to keep the cables to each side the same length. There is, anyway, a splitter which has the potential to allow more cable to be pulled on one side than the other (this pulling is not smooth in my experience) and which has the potential to keep the cables to the front brakes roughly the same length. It seems to me that the observable strength of the front brakes is usually mismatched if any particular strength can be observed at all, so the splitter is not an effective way to balance braking power.
The brakes, freshly adjusted, are strong enough that on flat ground, with an empty Nihola, I need to brace myself against the handlebar when doing a 100% stop. Some exertion is required, but certainly no danger of going over the bars unless I could somehow brake without having my hands on them, and certainly no possibility of lifting the back tire off the ground. Gradual and smooth is the idea. This is mostly fine at reasonable speeds and on flat ground, but hills are more problematic. By about 10% slope, I get the impression that the brakes are mostly there to prevent speed from increasing. Stopping requires planning ahead. The steeper the slope, the more planning ahead is required. The brakes are sufficient to hold the trike in place to over 25%, which I suppose is evidence that stopping is possible at such a slope, but this will require the rear brake to be used without much skidding. A skidding rear tire is not being very helpful.
Skidding the front tires is not easy to do. The easiest way is to brake hard when turning sharp corners at speed. Often, because the strength of the front brakes is likely imbalanced, this is possible turning one way and not the other. About the only other time I've managed is when one brake arm is seized up, apparently causing the other brake to gain strength, which can skid a tire on gravel. Load in the box makes skidding a lot harder.
|The view on a day tour.|
Squeaking from the front brakes can be a major irritant, but can also be entirely nonexistant. Its difficult for me to figure out what causes the squeaking or how it can be fixed. Simply using the brakes more will only silence the squeaks until the brakes cool down again, and cleaning seems to have only a short-term effect, but sometimes the passage of time (or the change of weather) seems to change the squeaking situation. I got though months of snow and melting this winter with perfectly quiet and predictable brake behavior for no reason I can see, although there was some squeaking a week or two after I tightened up front brake cables in the summer. Squeaking is often associated with strong braking performance, but not always. There is a possibility that getting the brakes very hot encourages squeaking the next time (next day) they are used. Mysterious.
|The center adjuster with its rubber cover pulled up.|
|The splitter, just a round thing that the brake cable is looped over. Note center cable at the top.|
|An exposed brake, with the brake arm visible to the right.|
|A wrench being used to hold the brake arm fully engaged while the cable on the other side is fastened.|
I've noticed that Sturmey Archer makes a 9cm drum that almost fits on a Nihola, as far as I can tell from photos. Certainly the Nihola company could make it fit with a small alteration to the piece of metal that is tasked with anchoring the top of the brake's back plate and the fender. I imagine the 9cm drum would be stronger for the same cable tension, longer lasting, slower to heat, and make for a stiffer wheel (the front wheels have a hard life).
Anyway the brakes on a Nihola are probably the weakest link for 'ambitious' owners.