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The Bike Friday Haul-A-Day Elite: Hauler of Dragons

Earlier this summer, Bike Friday released a completely overhauled version of its much beloved Haul-a-Day cargo bike. For the past two months, Brigitte has been riding the lighter, stiffer Haul-a-Day Elite as an alternative to car travel. Read the story on how the Haul-a-Day updated Brigitte’s family.

The Bike Friday Haul-A-Day Elite: Hauler of Dragons

A number of years ago, when our two kids were born, our family lived in Toyko. It is an incredible city, with great public transportation, and very easy to navigate and get around on foot—which is what I did. But it’s also a cycling city—at train stations you would see bike parking lots, where commuters would lock up their bikes before boarding the busy trains. Much to my surprise, e-bikes were also very common. It was a surprise because the popularity of e-bikes hadn’t really taken off in Canada yet—I had never seen so many on the streets. Even more awe-inspiring were the Mamachari bikes: these were e-bikes the mothers rode around, with multiple child-seats attached. (The name comes from the words “mama” and “chariot”, smashed together in true Japanese fashion). I used to marvel at the mothers whizzing around town on their Mamachari bikes, sometimes carrying up to three kids. Just as I was feeling brave enough to try out one of the coveted bikes—a candy-coloured dream ride—we left Japan and moved back to Canada.

In early 2020 we moved to Victoria, BC, with our two small children. Not long after moving here, we bought a house in Esquimalt—an older suburb, not far from the city center. Victoria is a great place to live, but—compared to the last three cities we lived in—it is not a walkable city. In the last three years I have come to rely more and more on my car: to take the kids to and from school, to buy groceries, to get to activities and playdates. Driving (which I had always loved for the adventures it brought us on) has become a tedious chore—a frustrating and expensive part of daily life, not to mention its environmental impact and the guilt that comes with it. I want to live a more active life, and a more responsible one as well. I decided something had to change.

We have a few friends with different cargo bikes, but after Barry had a chance to try out Bike Friday’s All-Packa and really enjoyed the ride, we thought it would be a good idea to try out the Haul-a-Day. The good people at Bike Friday were kind enough to send us one of the new bikes—the Haul-a-Day Elite—and I think this sugar-plum purple bike has changed my life.

Arrival & Assembly

The bike showed up in three boxes, well-packed and protected. Barry put it together without much trouble: the back kid rack bolt holes didn’t line up to the frame perfectly during installation, but it all worked once tightened; and the front plate required two sets of hands to get bolted on. Otherwise it was a fairly smooth assembly. Ordering the bike is a custom build process, and the folks at Bike Friday helped us work through the process to build the best possible bike for our family.

We opted for the front-hub drive e-assist (vs. the mid-assist), and also the Kenda U-Rad 2.125" tires, as a best option for both in-city and off-road biking. We chose the Packalope split bikepacking bars; we added on the whole kid-hauling package (and the lovelies at Bike Friday threw in some great side bags for us as well, handy and necessary for school backpacks on commuting trips); and finally, we chose the front plate rather than the basket, just to give ourselves a bit of flexibility with deciding what would work best for us in different stages of use.

There are some really cute details, like the toe shaped tips of the diamond-plated sheet metal footrests—as well as helpful elements, like ties showing which way the boards go on. We also had to swap out the stem for the shorter one (which they were kind enough to send us) for my reach.

As Barry builds, I watch it all come together, excited to try something new and different. It doesn’t take me long to fall for this new bike: I love the quirkiness and the character of this traveling machine. She needs a name, and I decide to call her my Purple Phoenix.

The Ride

My first trip on the Haul-a-Day is childless, for the sake of getting used to the feel of the bike. This is especially important, I feel, when you have dragons for babies. Ours are not easy-going kids—they are full-on, and on All. The. Time… I need to feel prepared on my new ride before adding the weight in the back. Our maiden voyage is from our house to their school—some city roads, and some city bike paths. I immediately notice the rattle from the footrests going over bumps, especially when I ride over the trestle bridge—but this cling-clang sort of fades into the background as I settle into a smooth ride. The electric assist really buzzes—especially when turned up high. At first I feel self-conscious about this: I’m not sure how audible this sound is to the public; but it doesn’t take long for me to get used to the sound. As I sail up one of our urban bike paths, buzzing like a bee in and around other cyclists, I really feel like I am part of something meaningful—a welcome change from the feeling one gets when stuck in traffic en route to drop off the kids.

I ride most of the way to the kids’ school with the e-assist on the lowest setting, and am surprised at how the e-assist really makes the ride pleasant, but still gives me the activity level I need and want. And importantly, I get to school on time! Victoria is not a flat city, and it’s also subject to a pleasant ocean breeze—not so pleasant when you are riding against it on a bike. I commend all the folks who regularly ride all over without e-assist; there is literally no way I would be able to cart around kids or cargo without. *It must be noted that this bike offers e-assist: it is certainly not one of the souped-up food delivery e-bikes I used to see in NYC, and from my understanding, the power being provided is not equal to that of the Tern bike my friend has—but it definitely has been enough for me to comfortably commute with both an 8-year-old and a 6-year-old in tow.

My kids are thrilled to see me at pick-up with the Purple Phoenix, and are eager to hop on the back for our ride home. Getting dragons on-and-off requires support from the grown-up rider—I do have to hold the bike steady, as the kick-stand doesn’t feel quite as solid, steady and balanced as some of the other bike stands I have seen. Up they climb, and we are off—following my friend on her dragon-fruit fuschia Tern, who shows me the best route when traveling with littles.

With the weight of the kids, I immediately notice the quieter ride—no rattle from the footrests in the back, just the calming buzz of the electric assist. It doesn’t take too long for me to adjust to the weight in the back, and as long as I remind them they need to help with the balance, we are gold.

The smaller wheels keep your center of gravity low, which presumably makes the whole endeavor a bit easier. I will attest to this fact, and say that the learning curve is quite manageable: my comfort level rises quickly, in line with our increasing distance. Being new to e-bikes, there is some overlap in the concepts of power assist and gears, and this takes some getting used to; it isn’t a passive riding experience. But with some learning, I develop a sense of rhythm, and there is a sort of dance between the two: changing gears as needed and supplementing with power assist. With 100+ lbs of two dragons riding on the rear, starting from a stop requires a boost for balance; and as I ride up and down hills, there is a balance between gear shifts and powering up.

The Packalope bars take some getting used to, and at first I have a hard time understanding how they are supposed to be useful. However, once I move my bell to a more suitable position, I eventually figure them out. Although I don’t use them much in the city (too much stop and starts, I need to feel closer to the brakes), I did get the hang of enjoying a different position while on the bike paths, and am grateful for them now. I also can imagine how they’d be more enjoyable when off-roading with the rig.

My dragons are laughing and chatting the whole way. Not only does this bike haul dragons, but it also tames them.

The Purple Phoenix gets us home in what amounts to ten minutes more than our drive usually takes—or equal to the time it takes when there is traffic. By far the best part is hearing the kids get along for the whole ride—with the wind at their backs and the sun on their skin, my dragons are laughing and chatting the whole way. Not only does this bike haul dragons, but it also tames them. I get a rush of energy from the ride, and arrive home for the evening with a welcome mood-boost, able to conquer the chaos of dinner and bedtime.

Wrapping Up

There are some tweaks I’d like to make to the bike. First, there is no holder for my water bottle. I’ve solved this by keeping it inside a side bag. (Which, as an aside, we did not hook up properly.) Second, the front plate should be a matte metal, rather than polished. I found myself riding on a sunny day without my sunglasses on, and when my gaze was not upwards, the reflection could be blinding. My solution so far has been to cover the plate with a blue bandana, and for now that’s doing the trick. The last thing is that the battery pack and converter are very exposed. I know that some bikes have these contained, which would make me more at ease locking up the bike.

Despite the tweaks I’d like to make, we have been 100 percent hooked since our first ride. The kids prefer the Haul-a-Day to the car, and so do I. Whenever we can, we take the bike for our commutes. This mythical bird on two wheels has altered our daily grind. We love this bike, and can’t wait for the adventures that await. The Haul-a-Day has brought a welcome transformation to our household, and I will be forever grateful for the arrival of our very own Purple Phoenix.

Note: since we got the bike in early summer, our very-tall-eight-year-old has grown quite a bit, and recently started riding his own bike for our commutes, rather than on the Haul-a-Day. Although the bike could handle both kids, I am personally relieved to be hauling only one small dragon. I only wish we had bought one of these magical commuters earlier, and had more time with both kids on it.

The Haul-a-Day Elite starts at $1995 USD. Get it here.

✓ Pros
Small wheels make for more agile city cargo bike
E-assist makes the hauling manageable
Lightweight bike, with lots of options when designing your build
✕ Cons
Power of the engine still requires rider to work at riding
Glare from front plate
Could use a better seat and kickstand
No Water Bottle holder
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