Wednesday, December 28, 2011

CETMA cargo bike review

Now that I've been riding the CETMA cargo bike for awhile with and without Oscar, I'll share a full review of it's various pros and cons. I'll try and stick to just reviewing the frame, without getting too much into the components that I chose to put on it.

Besides reviewing the frame, I feel compelled to add a note about the creator of the frame: Lane Kagay. I purchased a small front rack for another bike a few years ago when his racks were one of the few options available. After paying via google checkout, it arrived a while later. I don't remember exactly how long it took, but I do remember that he never sent an email with an ETA or saying that it had been shipped. I was just about to contact him to check on its status when it arrived.

When I was first researching baby-friendly bikes, I contacted Lane to get a quote and it took him 6 months to reply to the initial email (he said it got lost in his inbox among various inquiries). Given this, and my previous experience with his lack of communication, I should have looked elsewhere. Omitting most of the details, I will say that he lacks any kind of professionalism one would expect when paying $2000 for fabricated equipment. There were numerous delays, and Lane always put the blame elsewhere. It ended up taking twice as long (3 months instead of 6 weeks) as it was supposed to and only arrived after I disputed the Paypal charge (which froze his Paypal account and motivated him to get his act together).

The Frame/fork:
The pieces consist of: front fork, rear half of frame (similar to the rear triangle of a regular bike), front half of frame (including cargo area), rear steering column (where handlebars are attached), steering linkage (which goes under cargo area), bolted on super wide kickstand, seatpost shim allowing one to use a standard 27.2mm seatpost, and two steering column clamps (one for front fork, and one for rear steerer tube), cargo platform consisting of plywood covered with weather/slip resistant coating, and eccentric bottom bracket insert.

The installation of the rear steerer tube and associated headset was a little tricky since the tube is too long to use a traditional headset press. After assembling the bike and riding it, I found the steering difficult and found that the inside of the rear headtube had some excess metal from welding that was interfering with the steerer tube turning freely. I had to remove the headset cups and ream the rear headtube which solved the problem (I'm glad I worked at a bike shop at the time).

I also found that the rear dropout spacing was 130mm, which seems an odd choice for a cargo bike. Most people will probably be using heavy duty mountain bike components which use 135mm spacing. Since the rear dropouts are so thick and well braced, it makes installing any hub that is wider than 130mm very difficult. Normally, this wouldn't be such an issue on a steel frame. The rear end could simply be bent slightly to make the spacing appropriate, but the heavy duty reinforcement makes this virtually impossible.

Cargo hauling
I found the cargo area to be one of the more versatile of all the cargo bikes I looked at. There are plenty of attachment points for bungees and straps.

Carrying cargo like this would be a lot more difficult to do with a cargo bike

The cargo platform can be removed and custom pieces attached to the mounting points normally used for attaching the platform. I had planned to make a rack to hold multiple bikes in the cargo area, but ran out of time between the arrival of the bike and the arrival of Oscar.

I have carried adults and other heavy loads on a couple occasions and find the handling to be less than ideal for loads over 150 lbs. It is serviceable, but I would be reluctant to carry that much weight on a regular basis or in areas which require precise maneuvering.

Edit: on at least one occasion, I've forgotten to increase the inflation on my tires when hauling heavy stuff, and this causes some of the poor handling. I have a very high volume 20"x2.3" front tire that I usually keep at 25psi to smooth out rough roads for Oscar, but this inflation is too low for heavier loads.

Other considerations
The only other complaint that causes me consistent irritation is the extremely wide rear end. The frame tubes which brace the rear dropouts flare out considerably, forcing me to use cranks and a bottom bracket that place the pedals extremely far apart (this is called the Q factor or Tread). I realize that this is probably nitpicking to most people, but the pedals are far enough apart to make pedaling uphill noticeably less comfortable than on my other bikes.

The outside of the crankarms are about 165mm apart (the Q Factor), many frames that can fit wider tires can accommodate a narrow tread of around 150mm. The outside of the frame tubes are about 5 inches apart. There is plenty of clearance for the tire (a 2" wide tire), enough that the frame tubes could me moved in 1/2" on each side and still have room for a 2.3" wide tire. (Update: I have seen more recent Cetma frames where the chainstays are a little closer together, rendering this not as much of an issue).

The mounting points for the rear rack are also a little clumsy. But to be fair, there are very few bikes with disc brakes where the rear rack attaches easily since the caliper is often in the way of the rack strut (there are disc-specific racks that basically have a L-joint to clear the caliper, but this cantilevers the weight away from the mounting point--not ideal). On the other hand, I feel that this being a cargo bike a rear rack would be an obvious accessory and since the frame is custom-made it shouldn't have added that much work to make a rack mount that was more accessible. This is another case where roller or drum brakes would have made things easier since the brakes don't get in the way of the rack struts.

Component considerations:
It can be a little tricky choosing components for a cargo bike. Most bike shops don't have a lot of experience with them and many heavy duty components that come on European cargo bikes aren't available in the United States.

Brakes: For flat terrain the ideal brakes would be roller or drum brakes. They stop consistently in all kinds of weather, they are well sealed from the elements and they don't require a finicky alignment between the frame and the wheel like disc brakes or rim brakes. The downside is they lack the braking power of rim or disc brakes. They would be ok on the smaller front wheel. Since the drum is large relative to the small wheel, the braking power is not as diminished as it would be on a larger diameter wheel.

There is also the matter of the distance from the lever to the caliper. With nearly 8 feet of cable, there is a lot of friction making the lever harder to pull and making a smooth application of increasing braking force impossible. The high performance Larry vs. Harry cargo bikes use hydraulic brakes which eliminate this problem. I opted to forgo this because of the increased cost and maintenance of hydraulic systems.

I use Avid BB7 calipers with 203mm rear rotor and 180mm front rotor. I would not use smaller rotors at all. I started with 160mm rotors and glazed the rear pads from going downhill while the bike was loaded, and the front brake was never very powerful due to cable drag. (Update: hydraulic brakes have become more reliable and more affordable in recent years, hydraulic brakes are a near necessity on cargo bikes now)

There are a couple reasons you might choose a CETMA cargo bike over a bike. The primary reason is the customization. You can use derailleurs for especially hilly areas, disc brakes for tons of stopping power, or you can put custom-made attachments in the cargo area. If it is hilly enough to need derailleurs, you'll probably going to want electric assist as well. Even in mostly-flat DC the small hills can get tiresome quickly.

If you are primarily hauling children around, you'll want rain covers. There are rain covers that are made to fit the bikes. With a CETMA, you would either have to make the box the same dimensions as the bikes (which I did, and it wasn't easy) or you have to have someone custom make rain covers. Blaq designs in Portland can make rain covers to fit any box, and they seem to be an improvement over the design.

I would say that for most people a bike would be the way to go if there is a dealer within a reasonable distance (within driving distance of Seattle, NY, or Portland). Once you factor in things that are included in the bike (box, full chaincase, rear rack, dynamo lights), the CETMA bike is going to cost quite a bit more.

I didn't offer the Larry vs. Harry Bullitt as an alternative when I originally did this review. Partly because the frame is aluminum instead of the steel, the ride position is generally more aggressive (though customizable to some extent) and the cargo area is a bit smaller. Now that there are more Bullitt dealers in the US and more accessories available (with some dealers installing Bionx assists) the Bullitt is a good option for people who don't need the larger cargo area.


I added an electric motor to the front wheel about one year ago. It is a 500W Bafang motor with a 36V 15Ah battery. It makes the bike handle much more like a regular bike. Normally, it takes quite a bit of effort to reach the speed at which the bike handles more like a regular bike. A motor allows me to get to this speed in 2-3 seconds. It makes such an unbelievable difference in how far I am willing to ride and the kind of hills that can be traversed and how tired I am after riding. I would highly recommend investing in an electric motor from the start for most kinds of terrain.

My commute home is all flat or uphill and about 5 miles. The motor allows to cut my commute nearly in half, from 45-50 minutes to 30 minutes. In part because I can keep up with traffic downtown and hit multiple green lights in a row, whereas without a motor I would have to stop at nearly every intersection.

After having the motor installed for 16 months and riding the bike for just over 4 years, it was hit by a dump truck while parked. The front wheel was destroyed and the frame buckled just behind the fork rendering it unrideable. I tried contacting Lane of Cetma so I could replace just the front half of the frame, but it has been a few weeks and he hasn't responded. I have moved on to a Yuba Spicy Curry, which I am loving so far.

Friday, November 18, 2011


Oscar as The Incredible Hulk for Holloween...

And holiday picture time at the Dept of Labor...

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Brining & Dining

We don't eat out much here, partly because Oscar goes to bed at 7pm, and partly 'cause we're such awesome cooks that it's hard to justify the expense. But as with the craft fair, it's hard to put a price on inspiration. So when Rebecca's parents were in town for Oscar-sitting privilege, they were generous enough to stay a few extra hours so we could go out to dinner together two days before our anniversary.

After some research, we decided on Corduroy for some new American cuisine (also because it's Oscar's favorite book). We set off from home on our bikes all dressed up. Jefe doesn't get a chance to dress up as much as Rebecca does, so this was a treat in itself.

A quick ride later and we were soon seated. The menu is simple, with an emphasis on seafood starters with a mix of surf and turf mains. The wine list is enormous when it comes to bottles, but a little sparse when it comes to wine by the glass. Luckily, they have a decent selection of half-bottles; something we haven't seen available outside of France. So, one half-bottle for starters (white) and another for mains (red) works out very well for two people.

The reason that this restaurant merits so much background in this post is Rebecca's choice of main course: a roast breast of capon (castrated rooster) with braised Napa cabbage, which was, according to the waitress, brined over night (the rooster, not the cabbage). I've always been a little wary of chicken in restaurants, partly because I've gotten food poisoning from chicken at a disreputable bar/restaurant. Even when the sauce that they put on the meat is interesting, or the sides are interesting, how novel can a chicken breast be?

Pretty novel, it turns out. This rooster breast was falling-apart-tender, could be easily cut with a fork, was oozing juice, and was incredibly delicious by itself. A revelation to be sure.

What did I do as soon as we got home? Tried to figure out the very next dish that would be suitable for home brining. Pork loin chops, of course.

Recipe in hand (or on computer at least), the method was fairly straightforward, and can be done in under 10 minutes (not including storage time of course).

Salt, sugar, bay leaf and chicken glace (homemade chicken stock concentrate, which Rebecca likes to call "Meat Honey") waiting for 1c hot water. Two center cut pork loin chops, and a pumpkin (for the accompanying pumpkin polenta).

Once the hot water is added and solids are dissolved, add ice (1c) to cool liquid to room temp so it doesn't cook the pork. Refrigerate for at least a couple hours (much more with larger cuts or roasts, up to 30 hours).

Nice and juicy in the middle, and still a little pink since the FDA lowered the recommended cooking temp for pork from 160 to 145.

Ta Da...add a little box wine and you're all set...

Update: The pork chops turned out great, but I over-brined some chicken thighs leaving them in the brine overnight. This page provides some more technical directions for brining. I did a whole chicken for 4 hours and it turned out great, and later did some thighs for 20 minutes, and they also turned out great.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Hold Me Closer Crafty Dancer

When the Crafty Bastard Art Fair rolled around we couldn't pass it up. We'd like to think we're pretty handy people, but inspiration can be a little elusive. Perhaps we could find some interesting things that we could make at home to spruce up our new abode.

Needless to say, Oscar was very excited. He's getting bigger and more adept at grabbing (along with lots of other things) and feels he is mature enough for some new toys. Not necessarily for a new skill set, but perhaps some new textures would be in order.

We dug around in his closet until we found some suitably warm clothes for the cold, windy, rainy ride to Adams Morgan.

Oscar bundled up for October's rainy, windy weather in DC

I'm not sure whose idea it was to have an outdoor craft fair in October, perhaps they are from Raleigh as well (like Rebecca). But there were plenty of people none the less.

Oscar was well protected on the way there...

There were plenty of interesting vendors and lots of baby friendly stuff for sale. We decided not to get any clothes since we have plenty already and he is growing too fast to wear anything for very long. There were some especially cute baby toys and stuffed animals.

Diane Koss' "Cutesy But Not Cutesy" booth was our favorite:

It even matches the color scheme of all the paintings that everyone did for him.

We didn't buy anything (yet), but we'll check out her Etsy store and find something for Oscar.

On the way home, we stopped by Whole Foods for fancy pork chops and box wine.

Having done some research, Whole Foods has the best selection of box wine in the District.

Box wine is much better than it used to be, with advances in material and packaging technology, wine can taste good and stay fresh in a bag-in-a-box for a few weeks. That means higher end winemakers are opting for the much less expensive bag/box packaging for mid-priced wines. Yeah for us!!!

Available for the equivalent of $5/bottle.

When we got home, it was just about time for Oscar's book/bath/massage bedtime routine. I think the bath is his favorite part, he's so excited, he has to do a dance when he gets out...

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


I never thought I'd be able to say "Yeah, I know what an earthquake feels like, I lived in Illinois."

Soon after it hit (and Rebecca and I verified the other was ok), Oscar and I headed off to Whole Foods to pick up some seafood for Paella. We also hung out on the Whole Foods terrace so Oscar could have a snack.

Seafood in hand, we headed home. Within a block, at 14th St., it was apparent something was up. Traffic was backed up in the southbound lanes as far as I could see.

No matter, we were taking side streets. Some of the major streets were difficult to cross because the traffic lights were broken. In some cases, the sensors were broken, so they just stayed green for one direction of traffic. Or (and this is common here), one direction was blinking red (=stop sign) and the other direction was blinking yellow (=yield sign). This is extremely confusing, everywhere else I've been, it blinks red in both directions when there is a malfunction. The people who see a blinking red, assume the other direction is also seeing blinking red, and lots of honking and near misses ensue. To add to the confusion, the direction with the blinking yellow is often the lesser of the two streets.

By the time we reached 1st and P st NW, even the side streets were clogged. A drive behind me helpfully offered "Use the sidewalk, you shouldn't be riding with a baby in this shit." So, I did. And combined with a few alleyways, was able to get home quickly.

Most buildings downtown were evacuated, and it was little surreal for Rebecca watching so many people in business dress just standing around.

The Metro was still running, but only at 15 mph while they did inspections and the buses were stuck in the traffic snarl. So what did people do to get home? Ride a bike. Here's a snapshot of the Capital Bikeshare system 2 hours after the quake (taken from TheWashCycle).

All the gray markers near downtown are empty bikeshare stations.
Apparently, many of the people who left work early chose to take bikes instead of the metro or buses. Rebecca could see a near-constant stream of them out her window after her building was un-evacuated.

By the time Rebecca took the bus home a few hours after the quake, the buses were running in a timely manner again.

This morning, lots of government offices were closed, but we didn't know that. She went to work early (so she could leave early) and the office was locked. After coming home and making a few calls, it turned out that employees had the option of taking a leave day (she hasn't accrued any yet) or telecommuting (she doesn't have the right software on her computer yet). So she ended going back to the office where there were a handful of people working.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

One ride

The baby bike outfitted for an afternoon downtown, stroller and raincover strapped to the side. Diaper bag pannier on the left and misc pannier on the right.

We went on a downtown shopping trip yesterday and decided to take Oscar along. He expressed interested in the children's department of Zara. The clothes are a little big for him now, but he wants something to look forward to when he's outgrown some of his second-hand 80's era clothes.

It was sunny and 83 degrees, so Oscar got in his Car Seat of Adventure outfitted with appropriate sun blocking gear: a hat to keep the sun out of his eyes when the cover doesn't cut it, and a towel over his legs.

We ride a few blocks and hop onto the R street bike lane.

Our first stop is The Bike Rack at 14th and Q NW, which is one the few bike shops that still has DC Bike Maps. Yeah! A few people out front and one of the mechanics admired the baby toting bike, but were really just checking out Oscar's unstoppable cuteness.

Then we're off to downtown for some shopping. While Rebecca is trying on some clothes Oscar checks out the surround mirrors at one of the clothing stores.

Once he starts getting a little cranky, Jefe and Oscar head over to a Starbucks two blocks away so Oscar can get swaddled and take a nap.

Once he wakes up, it's off to Zara. Oscar does a quick tour of the children's department and then heads up the street to Cowgirl Creamery to try and find some fancy cheese for mom and dad. Oscar forgot his wallet and wasn't able to get any cheese. Luckily, we've still got some in the fridge from our last trip to the DuPont Circle farmer's market.

Next, it's dinner at McCormick & Schmick's. Oscar starts getting cranky again. So he's gets swaddled on the bench of a nearby booth and rocked to sleep by Jefe while he (Jefe) gets fed his calamari appetizer by Rebecca. Oscar sleeps through the rest of the meal, and wakes in time go back in the Car Seat of Adventure for the ride home.

We take E street to Capitol to First street NE, to L street back to the Met Branch trail. We get home just in time to Skype with Bob and Kristi. Another eventful day in the District.

The Met Branch Trail just south of R street.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

We're back

A lot has happened in recent months, but if you're reading this, you probably know that. So I'll just stick to the most recent stuff.

We're pretty settled in our new apartment. There are still a few things laying around on the floor waiting for a nice place to be put. But all the boxes are unpacked and we've got a sort-of routine going.

You really just want to hear about Oscar...

Now that he's 3 months old he's started sleeping a little more regularly, with a little help from his parents. In the past few weeks his daytime naps have usually only lasted 45 minutes, which is one REM/non-REM sleep cycle. Now, instead of letting him wake up, we're trying to immediately put him back to sleep for a second cycle. Since this practice is only a day or two old, he's needs a little help to extend the sleep to the second cycle (rocking, pacifier, etc.).

We're trying to do something similar for his nighttime sleeps, extending them from two hours to four hours by immediately putting him back to sleep instead of feeding him. We know he doesn't have a problem sleeping for four hours because he often does it during his first sleep at night and when we have fed him after a 2 hour sleep he doesn't eat very much and generally falls asleep mid-feed.

Since this is called "A ride a day"

Yes, we've been riding our bikes. Oscar's baby transport bike is working out well. He's seems to like it most of the time and will even fall asleep will riding if he's tired. I put extra fat tires (Schwalbe Big Apples) at low pressure (15 psi) to help smooth out the bumps.

The bike is giving me (Jefe) a serious workout, my legs have been sore for the past few days. When pedaling a 90 lb bike, even moderate hills and bike-path on-ramps get the heart going. And carrying a car seat, baby, pannier, and diaper bag up two flights of stairs in 90+ degree weather is nice cool-down after riding for 20 minutes.

We've visited the Dupont Circle farmer's market, where we picked up aged sheep and goat cheese along with some vegetables.

And the reason we're all here...

Rebecca's job at the Dept. of Labor Office of Communications started on Monday. Everyone is nice to work with and she has already been given some interesting projects that will allow her to use her skills in interesting ways. I'm not sure how much I'm allowed to write about. Getting almost any job requires security clearance, and every building downtown has metal detectors and sometimes surly security ("Put your belt back on here...'cause I said so.") But the whole goal of the Rebecca's department is to tell people about all the workplace hazards that can be easily avoided, so more publicity should be welcome (and compensated...).