Urban Velo

Soma Tradesman Cargo Bike Review

somacargo-1

It’s a certain lifestyle or business that necessitates a cargo bike, where carrying around more than most would consider possible by bicycle is commonplace, and not something usual racks and bags can handle. Front loading cargo bikes are the next logical step from a large front basket, with delivery bikes featuring welded-in frame-mounted racks popular throughout the first half of the 20th century. The Schwinn Cycle Truck produced from 1939-1967 defined the short wheelbase, small front wheel cargo bike, with the Soma Tradesman being a modern take on the classic arrangement.

Cargo bikes are many times limited by their very carrying capacity — many urban dwellings just can’t handle a long wheelbase bike for one reason or another. The basic design of the Tradesman with mismatched 20” front and 26” rear wheels moves the cargo lower for stability while maintaining a close to mountain bike length 1115 mm wheelbase. The welded-in rack doesn’t flop around like fork mounted racks do. The stock 14.5” x 20” rack is plenty large, but narrower than the bars. You can get this bike up porch stairs and through doorways with just a bit more effort than any other 37 lb bicycle, making it a viable cargo bike for tight urban housing.

somacargo-2The chromoly steel Tradesman has disc brake mounts front and rear and fits a “standard” mountain drivetrain (no provisions for internal gears or single speeds), with my review bike setup with Avid BB7s and a SRAM 3×7 setup. Rack and fender eyelets on the frame and fork maximize your weather and cargo capabilities, and a welded in kickstand plate means a fancy double-legged kickstand will hold the bike very securely. The tabs for the front rack are sturdy, and easy as any to fit to a custom cargo container. Perhaps the only finishing touches I’d add would be tabs for a chaincase and custom toptube sign. The one size fits most frame seems to work for people in the mid-five-foot to just over six-foot range, as long as one can clear the 30.5” standover requirement. A definite plus for multiple-rider households.

soma_tradesman_v2_2_800-370x300The Tradesman more or less handles like a regular bike thanks to the steering geometry. Rather than a sluggish turning long wheelbase cargo bike, you can carve through traffic and narrow sidewalks much the same as more regulation bicycles. The rack being welded to the frame keeps the weight from shifting back and forth with every steering motion, keep the load centered and the front wheel steering underneath the rack rather than with it. The rack is supported by a pair of tubes that start at the seattube and extend past the headtube, providing a solid platform for carrying.

somacargo-3 One quirk of the handling is that I experienced front wheel shimmy no matter the load. Even with the rack unloaded riding no-hands wasn’t possible for long as the bars oscillated out of control. Put 75 lbs of cargo on the front and the bike is nearly unrideable as the wheel fights back and forth—that was a harrowing ride back from the big box store. The handling is likely a consequence of load being relatively high (even with the small front wheel it sits 24” off the ground) and cantilevered over the front wheel. All great for some aspects of handling, but any flex or instability in the system is felt through the path of least resistance, the handlebars. This might be the problem bicycle steering damper solutions were looking for. Keep your loads manageable and your hands on the bars.

The Tradesman excels at bulky (if not overly heavy) loads, with a large Wald delivery basket up front I was able to load up with most anything I could imagine carrying home on two wheels. Groceries, packages, copy boxes, party supplies, my backpack – it’s handy to have a cargo bike around. Throw it in and go. The bike is well balanced, enough that the bike doesn’t want to tip forward when being loaded, or when hitting a curb cut when riding. Riding the Tradesman around town opened up a new realm of what was possible to bring home without a car, helping to minimize my auto use. Quell the steering shimmy and I’d be a full convert to the cycle truck way for anything aside from construction runs.

The Tradesman is available as a frameset in either black or sparkle orange (including front rack) for $700, with a complete build as pictured estimated at $1400. www.somafab.com

2 Comments

  1. Christopher YangJanuary 17, 2014 at 3:50 pm

    Did you do any climbing? I live in a hilly neighborhood and was curious how it would climb under load.

  2. Brian ThompsonFebruary 14, 2014 at 10:10 pm

    I have ridden a Worksman LGB for 19 years. The LGB looks like the Schwinn cycle truck and this Soma Tradesman. The Worksman has none of the handlebar shimmy at any weight in the basket, up to 100 lbs once. The Worksman has a wonderful stand that gets more stable as you load the basket. Finally, the Worksman is major heavy which is not a problem if you live in a flat area or don’t have to lift it for stairs ect.

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