Hot cha. Something that can hold both the boys, just in time-- they were outgrowing the trailer, and the 5 year old needs to be taken to day camp this summer, and the topeak kiddie seat is out of the question.
Today was the big first shakedown cruise beyond our own block. The course and cargo: 16 miles r/t, with one kid in the bucket on the way, and two on the way back.
Some beachside riding, and a 35mph tertiary thoroughfare-- a third option between the towns after I-95 and US-1.
One good sized hill, once the home of a cold war nike missile radar site.
I am well used to long commutes, often carrying one of the kids. I'm not a sidewalk rider, and bought the Madsen over an Xtracycle upgrade chiefly because I wanted the buckled security of the bucket rather than trusting my absent minded nose-in-a-book five year old to hang onto a stoker bar for 16 miles.
The new Madsen did at least as well in traffic as my former kid carrying setup, a Dahon 26" folder, taken off the train and to daycare. And the Madsen carries both of the guys! I would not, however, load the Madsen up to its four tot capacity and run it in any sort of real traffic. Two kids is a manageable amount of weight and wiggling for an experienced rider. Four kids might happen down on the boardwalk at the beach, but not on New Haven Avenue!
So I should talk about the bike, too.
First, it is certainly a heavy bicycle, all Hi-ten steel and built to last. It is balanced well and easy to pedal, push, and maneuver, but trying to lift the back end around by the seat is tough-- I can't get the back end off the ground more than an inch or so to swing it round
The tube that runs from the bottom of the seat tube to the rear wheel is a serious oval beam-o-steel. Nothing felt flexy or squirrely. The hills were negotiable. I didn't really even need the lowest gears until the last hill up to my home, after a full hour on the bike. Mostly I found myself in 4th-8th gears.
First gear made noise-- my first thought was "spokes!" but I think that it is a matter of the chain hitting the chain guard when on the largest cog. I wonder if I can get the thing up onto my workstand to check it out...
The buckle straps are something like three inches wide, and supple enough to be comfortable cinched around the kiddoes. They're arranged for 2+2 seating, and I quickly found it convenient to use all four buckles, two per kid. Note that the heavier kid or a solo rider is best placed rear-facing for better handling.
Construction is solid and inexpensive, but nowhere do I see cheap corners cut as with my also Chinese made Schwinn Tango Tandem. That tandem has cheapo seatposts and clamps that eat into the steel of the seatposts, among other issues. The Madsen, on the other hand, has clearly inexpensive components and fittings. This amounts to an overall impression of economy on close inspection, but nowhere are there any glaring disappointments.
One of my concerns with construction was that the chain runs over a piece of steel covered in velcro rather than a tension wheel doodad. I'm sure that this velcro will wear over time. This seems to be a simple design fix for the problem of the long chainline. I have nothing against a simple cheap design fix-- there have to be some reasons that this bike is as affordable as it is. I raised the money for it by trading in one of my folders and selling off some stuff on Craigslist.
The only thing I do not like about the bike is how low to the ground the derailler and chain are. The derailler cage is low enough to drag in the grass of my benignly neglected front lawn.
Negotiating curbs with that could prove problematic. I don't know if a shorter cage derailleur might be fitted and still be able to take on the substantial gearing range of the SRAM 8 speed setup. I will ask my LBS about this possibility. (I was lucky enough to be able to purchase the bike from my shop.) I don't think that any internal hubs could withstand the loading involved with the Madsen.
The SRAM X-5 8 speed trigger setup worked fine, even fully loaded and shifting actively to deal with terrain, traffic signals, and my cautious-but-assertive-VC-tinged riding style. I think that the access to the upshifter under the larger downshift lever isn't the best, but I got used to it quickly. You kind of have to reach under the other shifter in a bit of a funky way. My hands are very long fingered (only ever met one soul with larger hands then mine) so YMMV for better or worse.
Tires/Saddle/Grips : All not up to the needs of someone who's going to be putting 20 loaded miles/day on the bike. All fine if you are going to ride it around the neighborhood or down to get ice cream.
The ride was a pleasure and a challenge, just what I'm looking for in a bicycle. The challenges were only due to hills. The pleasure covered everything else. Most importantly, perhaps, the bike handled well and tracked well.
Braking has been panned in other reviews that I've seen, and I can see why. But when I would squeeze the levers harder, I found more braking power there. As a double bass player, I have strong hands though-- a slighter rider might not have the same umph to put into the brakes. Nonetheless, the braking power is there to be had.
Fit: I'm 6'4" with extra long arms, and with the adjustable stem totally forward and flat and the seat post raised and the saddle back, I was good to go. The BB is high on the bike, so the fully extended seatpost left me stretching to get a toe down at the lights-- even compared to my 66cm Panasonic. It's particularly noticeable with a wiggling and leaning load in the back. I'm not sure how this would affect shorter riders, but there is always the simple solution of coming down off the saddle at stoplights. But I have too much of a commuter-bred impulse to be fast off the line at the lights, so it's tippy toe for me.
I'll probably switch to a flat bar to get a little more extension and a more comfortable angle for my grip. I'm definitely not comfortable sitting up "comfort" bike/hybrid-style.
I think that my requirements for the bike's performance may be above those of the average buyer due to the distances over which I plan to regularly use the bike. Or maybe I'm a lot less hard core than I think, who knows. But even with those requirements, I'm very happy with the bike. I threw an inexpensive computer on and it looks like I averaged 12.9 miles per hour on the Madsen today, which is fast enough to be practical for my lifestyle. It took on the long loaded in-traffic ride just great, and has me looking forward to the next.
My suggestions to Madsen would include a lower BB and a derailleur with a shorter cage.
Choosing a utility bike solution takes a lot of thought, especially when kids are a part of the equation. The Madsen is certainly going to work for us, in our budget and covering our needs.
Next step: convincing my wife to replace a few drives with it!