A Cargo Crisis

UPDATE: Since I wrote this post, Babboe have issued a safety warning. Please do read this if you are considering buying a Babboe, especially if you are buying secondhand.

I wrote a review of my Babboe City-E cargo bike last September after using it for almost a year. To save you the bother of reading the whole thing, this was my conclusion:

In conclusion, the Babboe City-E is a great electric cargo bike for those with a limited budget who are looking to carry two children.

Around eight months later I took my daughter into Edinburgh for a birthday treat – by cargo bike of course. On the way home, fortunately on a flat and traffic-free stretch, there was an almighty bang….as the frame snapped in half!

This was really not ideal, to say the least.

I wanted to write about what happened, but I wanted to include how this was dealt with by Babboe (who made the bike) and by Practical Cycles (the shop I bought the bike off), hence not writing about it until now. I am happy to say that I do now have a fully functioning, restored – and reinforced – Babboe cargo bike.

Back to the day when my cargo bike became a prototype folding cargo bike…

The front of my cargo bike – the frame (in two pieces) and the bottom of the box. This is with the bike off the stand.

I had been having issues with the steering for a couple of days. It just felt wrong somehow. The steering on cargo bikes can be slightly loose and this is something I have never found a problem as I just got used to it. But this time it felt really odd and it’s hard to describe how. The bike just wasn’t really steering all that well. I kept checking every bolt and cable and I couldn’t find anything wrong, so I just kept riding it.

On the day in question, riding back from town, it really did just feel wrong and I decided to stop at my local bike shop to see if Graeme could find what the problem was. This decision was rendered null and void by the loud bang of the frame snapping. It really wouldn’t steer now! The break was just where the frame curves up at the front of the box, and the weight of the bike (and my daughter) was now all leaning on the box.

Close up of the break. With the bike on its stand, the gap between the two sides of the break is smaller.

The front of the box with the wood now splintering.

Fortunately we were only four miles from home where Mr Mummysgoneacycle was. He drove out and collected my disgruntled daughter and I pushed my very wonky cargo bike back home. By the time I get there, four miles didn’t seem all that ‘only’ any more, especially as I then had to race back out to collect my son from school, without a cargo bike. The weight of the bike pressing on the box had also splintered the front of the box.

Once the rush of school run, dinner, bathtime, tantrum time, bedtime, absurd requests time, and final bedtime was done I had time to think about this. And I realised how tricky our lives were going to be without the cargo bike. I completely rely on the bike for school pickups and drop-offs, for the various clubs my children go to, and for doing the shopping, and really for everything we do locally.

This was the choice I was now faced with:

  • Drive the school run – we have a car so this is an option. But it is just so stressful, and so slow, and so unpredictable, and so polluting and so many other negative things. I have been using cargo bikes for transporting my children for around five years so the thought of using the car fills me with horror.
  • Walk the school run – our primary school has a bit of an odd catchment area so our house is around a mile and half from the school. With a five year old and a seven year old in tow, this is a forty minute walk on a good day, an hour walk on a bad day, and an endless walk on a very bad day. This is not ideal when nursery starts at 8:35am. It is also not ideal when my youngest only goes to nursery for half days, so that’s three times a day I need to go to the school and back. I am all for kids being active, but that is quite a lot of walking for the little one. It also doesn’t help us to get to swimming and gym lessons after school.
  • Scoot the school run – I tried this once and it really didn’t go well for many of the same reasons as walking. Suffice to say that it took an hour, there was quite a lot of shouting, and I carried at least one scooter for much of that hour.

Fortunately, I did find another option eventually, involving a second-hand tandem. It wasn’t ideal, but it worked most of the time and it was possibly the push I needed to get my eldest to start riding his own bike to school. More on that later…

In the meantime I contacted Practical Cycles and explained what had happened. I have to say that Zaynan at Practical Cycles could not have been more helpful. He acted as go-between with Babboe, passing on their requests for photos of the damage and my descriptions of what happened.

It was 15th May when I first emailed Practical Cycles. There was a fair it of emailing back and forward then I got an email on 22nd May to say that Babboe had agreed to replace the front half of the frame and the box under warranty. It took a few more days before it was agreed that the parts would be shipped to Edinburgh and fitted at a local shop. This was a great relief as Practical Cycles are based in Blackpool and I was dreading the bike having to be collected, taken away and brought back as this would all add to the time it took to get back on the road.

The next problem was how to get my broken bike into the centre of town, five miles away. The answer came in the form of David from Laid Back Bikes. What can I say – there is nothing this man cannot transport by bike! My unhappy cargo bike was loaded onto a bike trailer and towed away…by electric bike!

The one advantage of a snapped frame – it makes the bike easier to take apart to fir on a trailer!

Seriously, there is nothing this man cannot transport by bike!

Joe at The Bicycle Works did a fantastic job of getting my bike back together again..and of looking after it for a week while I disappeared away on holiday.

I was really happy to find that the front of the bike (where it snapped) has been reinforced. I have no idea whether this is a one-off for my replacement front half of a bike, or if this is now standard on the Babboe. I would be interested to know.

I also had my own challenge of carrying a bike by cargo bike when I went to collect it!

The front half of the frame, now reinforced.

Collecting the repaired cargo bike from The Bicycle Works. A bike in a bike!

So, we are back on the road again.

I am having slight trust issues with the bike and I am hyper sensitive to the steering, but I am confident that will pass once the schools go back and I am back to using the bike most days.

On the whole I was pleased with how this was handled by Babboe. All the bike shops involved in dealing with this; Practical Cycles, Laid Back Bikes and The Bicycle Works were great.

But the million dollar question remains – would I recommend the bike to anyone thinking about buying one?

To be honest, I still would. BUT, I would check that it had the extended reinforcement as mine does now. Without that, I don’t think I would buy it.

When your cargo is your kids, you need to be certain that they are safe.



5 Replies to “A Cargo Crisis”

  1. Having snapped 6 Brompton frame front ends and 2 rear ends (plus around 6 rear triangles) I can strongly advise that with a steel frame you take very seriously any squidgy steering and make sure that the front wheel and back wheel are running on the same track. With the rear frames, both with the early pre-reinforcing splay on the Y brace where it is brazed on to the main tube, 2 details 1) the paint coating lifted from the steel 2) the front wheel was rolling almost 1″ offset from the rear wheel, when the bike was being ridden in a straight line.

    The front frame collapses, all but one with the old pre auto-brazed hinge castings the severe change of section & likely HAZ effect around the hand brazing made this an especially weak area. Failure was rapid, totally catastrophic but always at low speed. The ‘new’ frame failure started from a small crack on the seam of the seamed tube, possibly made by the tube bending contractor with the seam in the wrong orientation. Now the main frames use seamless tube do this issue is unlikely to happen again.

    All speaks volumes for steel frames – dirty iron with perlite and hard grain boundaries. Unlike aluminium alloys – weak eutectic Cu-Al mixes – where once a crack gets moving it goes very fast. Hence my preference for steel ‘bars, and cranks.

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