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Friday, December 09, 2011

The Huckleberry Cycle Truck

The "cycle truck" is a style of cargo bike that has a large front basket or platform that is attached to the frame, not the front forks, so the payload does not affect the steering. The payload area generally sits lower than a normal front basket would. And to accommodate the larger and lower front payload area, cycle trucks usually have a small 20" wheel at the front, while the rear is usually a 26" wheel. The low payload, frame-mounted platform, and small front wheel offers stability for cargo loads up to 100 pounds.

Cycle Trucks have been around for a long time. In Europe, cycle trucks are known as "butcher bikes" or "short johns" and are part of the greater cargo bike mix. In the United States, it was one of the few (if not only) two-wheeled cargo bike styles that were produced during the middle part of the 20th Century. Schwinn produced a highly collectible one from 1939-1968 while Worksman, the last "old-school" domestic bike manufacturer, still produces a cycle truck, the "Low Gravity", in pretty much the same way that they did in 1950.
A beautiful example of a restored 1964 Schwinn Cycle Truck. Courtesy Cricket Press.

Transportational cycling has taken off in the last decade, and the idea of a cargo bike has finally caught on in the U.S. While this means the selection of different cargo bike styles like the long john, bakfiets, Christiana trikes, Xtracycles, and what-have-you have exploded, the selection of cycle trucks is still pretty sparse. As I mentioned above, Worksman still makes a cycle truck with a base price about $550, the cheapest you can buy one new. Going up from there, Civia has introduced their Halsted model which retails at around $1100, while local frame-builder Ahearne has his own version that starts at $2750 fully-built ($1750 for frameset) and A.N.T. out in the Boston area has a cycle truck that starts at $3,000 and can go all the way up to $7,000.

For someone like me who already owns a Worksman but who might like a more modern, more lightweight, and more nimble version, the pickings were slim. The Civia Halsted was the only mid-range model, but I'm not that thrilled by its look, nor the fact that it's derailleur-geared. Derailleurs are fine for most purposes, but a heavily laden cargo-bike is better in my opinion with an internally-geared hub, allowing one to downshift several gears at a dead stop if needed. While the Ahearne and A.N.T. versions are beautiful, their pricing is out of my reach for the indefinite future.

Then Huckleberry came along.

Last week, when I went to retrieve my Worksman cycle truck, detailed in the post The Cycle Truck is Back! On the way home I stopped by Oregon Bike Shop to get the bike checked out. There at the shop was a Huckleberry cycle truck on display. Huckleberry is a local frame-builder and Oregon Bike Shop is one of the few shops to carry his cycle truck. 

The look of the Huckleberry is closer to an old Schwinn or Worksman than the other modern versions. The classic American mid-century look is something that appeals to me with a bike like this. But the most interesting aspects to the Huckleberry is the deliberate simplicity and the amount of thought that has gone into the overall design. The payload area is a simple platform that another cargo box can go into, like a recycling tub. The front wheel uses a disc brake, and the cable from brake to lever runs internally through the stem, allowing the front wheel to do a 360 without getting caught up in cables. The rear wheel has a new Sturmey-Archer two-speed kickback hub with coaster brake. This means there is no need for cables to go to the rear wheel.

Looks is one thing. But how does it ride? I couldn't resist taking a test ride to find out.

I spun around the neighborhood for a little bit. The two-speed kickback works thusly: the hub starts in low gear, kick back a little to go into high gear (38% increase), and then kick back harder to engage the coaster brake. After braking the hub automatically goes back to low gear. It took a little bit to get used to it, but when I did, it felt natural. Two gears seems like it would be okay for mostly level terrain, however, if more hills were involved, I can see wanting something more like a three, seven, or eight speed hub. This would mar the clean, cable-free look of the bike, though.

As for handling, it did fine. I tried a couple tight-radius turns to see how it did, and it felt good. Of course, I tested the bike with no front load, so I don't know how the bike would feel or handle with a load. But the man behind Huckleberry says he's done extensive riding with an 80 pound (35 kg) load in front. 

I have a few minor quibbles with the bike (it would be nicer to have more gears, and dynamo powered lighting would be awesome), but I can't argue with the price: $1100 for a full bike! This puts it at the same price as a Civia, but unlike the Halsted the Huckleberry is built in the U.S. I say that's quite a good deal. Now I'll have to save up my pennies to get one!


  1. It'd be ridiculously overly-complicated, but the two speed duomatic hub could be combined with an internally geared bottom bracket such as the MountainDrive to give four gears without any cables to the back of the bike (the bottom bracket gears are switched by kicking a button on the end of the bottom bracket spindle). I'm not sure if anyone has been extravagant enough to try combining such an expensive component with a two-speed rear hub yet.

  2. Dr. C--Interesting. I think if I were to get this bike, I would just opt for a hub with more gears and not worry about the cables. I'd also want to get a dynamo front hub, though I don't know if I'd want to get one of the S-A ones with a drum brake or stick with the disc brake. What's your opinion on drum front brake vs. disc front brake?

  3. I hadn't come across cycle trucks in my limited reading on cargo bikes, but I like this idea. After reading your post I found this over on Oldbike:

    BTW, I didn't get a chance to meet you when you were in Edmonton but I've been following your blog since.

  4. Keith--Thanks! There is more info on Cycle Trucks and the like here:

    And another Bicycling Keith from Edmonton? My head is about to explode! Thankfully Keith Raving Bike Fiend is currently in my living room, so there is currently only one Bicycling Keith from Edmonton in Edmonton.


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