I am dain

and these are my thoughts mostly on technology

Finding an affordable electric family cargo bike in London

The problem of staying mobile with two (or more) children

My second little one was one month old just the other day, so we started to talk about some ideas with my wife Ivana how will she be able to stay mobile when I go back to work. She has a hybrid bike now which was converted to electric to help her get around during this last pregnancy, but with the added weight of the motor and battery she won’t be able to also have two children plus all the stuff in the basket on the bike.

The “normal” reaction at this point for most people would be to go and buy a family car, but unless you live in a remote countryside location it only makes sense to drive if you’re disabled or if you’re a conservative politician.

Not for us though, especially after having lived for a while in Amsterdam, where people just get a cargo bike (bakfiets) instead. There are tons of brands to choose from (Bakfiets, Christiania Bikes, De Fietsfabriek, Nihola, Winther, Urban Arrow, WorkCycles, Dolly Bike, Cangoo, Yuba, etc etc and these are just the ones with family friendly models) if you live in an advanced cycling country like The Netherlands or Denmark, but here in the United Kingdom the options are a bit more limited and prices much more inflated – usually the same in pounds as they are in euros.

The bikes come in many different sizes and shapes, but since Ivana’s main concern with her current bike was stability, we instantly ruled the two wheeled versions out. The more solid box tricycles are a bit heavier though and living in Stamford Hill now there’s a bit of a hill to climb to go anywhere, so we also decided that having a trike with electric assist is a must.

An e-trike it is then, but which one?

With these in mind I set out to do some research which took a good few hours so I thought I should share it in case anyone else finds themselves in the same situation.

Unfortunately a lot of these family cargo bikes cost thousands of pounds even without the electric motor, so our shortlist of the “best” is what you can get between £2000-£3000 once you include all the essentials like rain cover tent and so.

There are some cheaper Chinese models, but since we don’t have a garage to protect the trike from the elements (or want to spend loads on maintenance) these wouldn’t be the best invesment on the long term.

So without further ado, here are the top 4 (the titles link to the official web sites). I won’t list detailed specs, but instead write up my impression and what I found out through some research and forum dig.

The best ones in no particular order

Babboe Big-E

Credits: © Babboe

With a starting price of £1899 this is the cheapest of the lot. Babboe frames are designed in The Netherlands and made in China, the electric parts come from Taiwan, the wood is European, the Shimano gears are Japanese, the Magura brakes are German and finally the cargo bikes are assembled in The Netherlands. Some of the earlier models were getting some bad reputation a few years ago, but it seems that the constructions has improved a lot and Babboe now offers an impressive 5 years warranty on the frame of the bikes. I also had the chance to see and ride a 4 years old model which was in fairly good shape given the age and the fact that it was used daily to haul heavy tools.

Quality concerns set aside, actually riding the bike didn’t feel that great. It was a bit difficult to keep it on course in (the admittedly quite bumpy) Bethnal Green Gardens park.

So all in all it didn’t seem to be an awful choice, but make sure to give it a ride before getting one.

Boxer E-shuttle

Credits: © Boxer

Credits: © Boxer

Credits: © Boxer

After a brief stint selling the brand Velo Electrique which were super affordable “upcycled” Chinese bikes (like the Velo Cargo E250 starting at £1455), British designer Jeremy Davies set up a locally made line of bikes under the moniker Boxer cycles. I actually had a good email exchange with him and the passion for quality shined through, which combined with his previous experience designing offshore power systems sounds really convincing.

The Shuttle itself looks really cool with the custom vinyl designs and the specs are also nice, like for example all around hydraulic disc brakes. It also comes with a rain tent which I think is an essential, after which it goes at £2880.

Unfortunately there isn’t a model readily available to be tried in London as of now (the nearest shop with one on hand is Kids and Family Cycles in Dorset), though Jeremy was very accomodating by offering to go out of his way meeting up while doing a delivery near London. If you are any of the London bike shop people reading this, please get at least one in stock for trials!

Babboe Curve-E

Credits: © Peter Lammers and/or Corine Lammers

Credits: © Peter Lammers and/or Corine Lammers

Credits: © Peter Lammers and/or Corine Lammers

Being £300 more than the Big-E, the Curve-E starts at £2199. Looking only at the spec sheets the differences between the two models are minor. Nicer brakes, beefier motor, fancier finish, that’s about it.

Sitting on the bike and riding around a bit the difference starts to shine through, even though the actual model we tried was a standard one without electric motor, it handled better and felt nicer to ride than the Big-E. Despite my initial skepticism towards Babboe, riding on this new model made me a convert so we ordered one right after trying it.

Expect a follow-up post in a few months!

Christiania Light “Green power”

Credits: © Christiania

I haven’t done too much research on this particular bike, but looking at the Dutch electric bike specialist Juizz it seemed to be the next cheapest option up from the Babboes and Christiania one of the “classic” cargo bike brands made in Denmark, so definitely one to try and look into.

So how do I try and decide?

We were really lucky to have found an open day nearby in Bethnal Green. The two chaps from BikeWorks were really friendly and helpful, answering a lot of our questions. So the fact that BikeWorks is actually

  1. a really cool social enterprise supporting and teaching people from disadvantaged backgrounds,
  2. the place where we got Ivana’s current bike which was a great buy and still going strong,
  3. they throw in a free rain tent (worth £120) if you order your Babboe at the trial event,

made me get the bike through them right then and there.

But anyway, it’s very difficult to decide purely from specs and reviews whether for example you prefer indirect or direct steering (Babboes are former, Shuttle and Christiania the latter), so make absolutely sure that you try at least a couple of different brands and models.

As well as BikeWorks, another good place to go and check bikes out at is London Green Cycles, which is a shop next to Regent’s Park with a big selection. Slightly annoyingly though they don’t have prices for any of the electric models on their website, if you’re the owner reading this please do put them up there.

If you want to do some further research yourself, the German website Nutzrad has a massive catalogue of different bikes which is a good starting point.

Or if you’re in Hackney / East London, drop me a message and come around to try ours in a couple of weeks :)

Indiewebify yourself

The web should be open and it needs you

I recently spotted a reference about the Indie Web Camp somewhere – most likely on Twitter – and reading a bit about it I was immediately sold on the idea and principles.

The core principle is to take the control back from silos, or the walled gardens of the Web and make it personal and open again. Which is all very well and something I agree with, but I just didn’t really know what are the small, incremental actions I can take to get there.

The Semantic web, microformats and taking content back have been in the back of my mind, but reading standard drafts or mulling about what’s the point of a social network without people never sounded like good starting points.

Now it’s easy to get started

So it was very refreshing to see simple to do and practical guides to get my personal website and blog up to speed with a couple of simple class names and missing metadata additions. What I found particularly useful and fun to get started with is the Indiemark checklist and easy to use validators on IndieWebify.me for things like the rel=me links to other web profiles, home page h-card indenty and h-entry markup for blog posts.

So far I got everything in mark 1 done which was fairly easy with my static, Jekyll / Octopress based website mostly just by adding some classes to existing markup and restructuring it here and there, but level 2 has some more challenging requirements, especially with creating some nice automatic way to cross-post notes to Twitter. I’ll update this post once I have these figured out, I’ll either need to find or create some small libraries to help with this.

But why bother?

Cluetrain’s New Clues give some answers which are much nicer formulated than how I could put it:

(77). Non-neutral applications built on top of the neutral Net are becoming as inescapable as the pull of a black hole.

(78). If Facebook is your experience of the Net, then you’ve strapped on goggles from a company with a fiduciary responsibility to keep you from ever taking the goggles off.

(79). Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple are all in the goggles business. The biggest truth their goggles obscure: These companies want to hold us the way black holes hold light.

(80). These corporate singularities are dangerous not because they are evil. Many of them in fact engage in quite remarkably civic behavior. They should be applauded for that.

(81). But they benefit from the gravity of sociality: The “network effect” is that thing where lots of people use something because lots of people use it.

(82). Where there aren’t competitive alternatives, we need to be hypervigilant to remind these Titans of the Valley of the webby values that first inspired them.

(83). And then we need to honor the sound we make when any of us bravely pulls away from them. It’s something between the noise of a rocket leaving the launchpad and the rip of Velcro as you undo a too-tight garment.

Worths reading the rest of the points too if you care about the Web in any way!

Containerise everything

Why you should stop installing development environment locally

This is a placeholder post for my talk about containers / Docker from re:develop conference 2015 conference in Bournemouth. I’ll eventually write up the main points in a proper blog post form, but for now have a look at the embedded slides and video recording.




Make sure to also have a look at the companion repository on Github, which shows how to set up a Node based development environment with Docker. Of course it would work with anything else which runs on Linux, but this simple working example should give you a good starting point.