Winther Kangaroo Bike — the one-year review

12 months on

After 12 months in the saddle doing 10-15 miles a day, I can confidently say the Winther Kangaroo bike is something of a curate’s egg, although the good far outweighs the bad.

First, the obvious.

The Kangaroo is definitely designed for transporting one or two children at low speeds in areas with few or no hills, but it is from Denmark, after all.I, on the other hand, live in hilly Scotland, which tends to stretch the Kangaroo’s design envelope.

My 3.2km ride to the village school is downhill for much of the way so it’s possible on some stretches to reach reasonably high speeds without pedalling—in fact, with two boys and myself aboard it coasts a little too well.

Once the bike hits speeds above 20mph, the Kangaroo starts to oscillate around the steering linkage.

Above 25mph it develops an alarming wobble and has a tendency to snake, which could lead to a nasty fall unless you brake soon enough and scrub the speed off.

The brakes—discs front, hub brake rear—are very good on the flat and gentle inclines, but both tend to get hot and fade on the downhill run as I hold the weight of two boys, rider and bike firmly in check.

I find the best method is to use the hub brake until I can smell it then transfer the braking gradually to the front discs.

I then use the discs until they smell before transferring back to the hub brake and then ease off altogether as I enter the village proper.

With a full load, both brakes are required so I have to use one harder than the other, modulating back and forth to prevent too much heat building up.

With just a single boy, no groceries or baggage and myself, the brakes are easily up to the task although the braking distance is considerable.

- – - – -

The uphill ride back home is very, very hard work.

I’m quite fit as I work the croft almost entirely by hand, walk several miles a day, and can ride the Other Half’s touring bike with a child on the back into town and back without breaking a sweat.

The Kangaroo with no load on board is like riding the touring bike with a child aboard.

But add a couple of children and groceries to my 85kg plus the 40kg weight of the Kangaroo, and the effort required to pedal 3.2 kilometres uphill is considerable.

The homeward ride has a rise of 80m but it’s not constant, with two short sections of 1-in-12 and 1-in-16 at either end of a more gentle gradient.

With only seven gears, the Kangaroo is at a disadvantage already but there’s an even bigger problem.

It’s not possible to stand on the pedals and use your weight as well as muscle power. If you do, the Kangaroo rocks alarmingly, the steering wanders madly from left to right, and the handlebars creak and groan.

So, it’s sitting and muscle power alone.

Even that wouldn’t be too bad if it weren’t for the standard seat.It’s a conventional gel-filled seat that would be fine if you weren’t sitting on it with all your weight while your legs did the work.

As a seat that takes all your weight all the time, it’s terrible and can leave me with numb nether regions, a painful lower back and, if I’m not careful, incipient piles.

Ideally, I’d buy another saddle but funds have not yet permitted me that luxury. Instead, I regularly change positions as soon as I start to feel a twinge or a little numb—it does work but isn’t the ideal solution.

- – - – -

There have been a few other issues. Some of the fasteners vibrate loose far too easily and need to be tightened weekly.

Loctite has worked on some, but not on others. Bolts with nyloc nuts or lock washers would have worked better than bolts passing into threaded fittings.

The platform pedals have worn badly in 12 months and no longer have any grip on the pressure points.

Even when they did have grip, they were slippery in slushy or wet conditions.

I’ll probably replace them with pedals with toe half-clips as I can’t afford a pair of specialist shoes.

The steel anti-turn washers that keep the rear wheel in place gradually wear down the drop outs as the frame is made from aluminium.

It’s almost certainly down to riding hard in hilly terrain, but it’s irritating to have to refit the wheel and tighten the chain once a month.

A potential issue is the width of the passenger compartment. I only ever use roads, but if you use cycle paths it may be too wide to pass through some of the barriers and gates.

- – - – -

Now, if this all sounds overwhelmingly negative, it’s not.

A large proportion of our problems are caused by using the Kangaroo outside its intended environment.

Despite that it has still proved very capable as a cargo bike in hilly country in almost all weathers — deep snow will stop it while riding in 30mph plus sidewinds or 40mph plus headwinds is inadviseable. Believe me, I’ve tried!

The remaining problems are mainly niggles that can easily be sorted — money permitting.

Now for the positives.

The Kangaroo is superb as both a child transporter and general-purpose cargo carrier.

The front compartment can take up to a 100kg load, while the rear rack takes another 25kg.

It can easily carry two children, their rucksacks and several bags of groceries in the front plus a loaded pannier or two on the back, and still be propelled by a moderately fit rider on the flat.

When faced with my homeward journey, the load needs to be lighter or the rider fitter but it’s still doable.

The only hill I haven’t been able to tackle with the bike loaded is the one that descends behind the croft. It rises 60m in 500m — 1 in 8.33.

I’d like to be able to climb that hill as it’s the road to the feed merchant. It would be useful to load up four 25kg bags of chicken feed and cycle the 4km miles home, but without some sort of motorised assistance I don’t think it can be done.

- – - – -

The boys love the forward seating and weather protection as they have a panoramic view to the front and sides through the plastic windows.

The hammock seats, with seat belts, are very comfortable while the front suspension smooths out all but the worst bumps.

The Kangaroo is easily seen by most drivers, although we have had to add extra reflectors and reflective tape so that we are seen to be seen. (It became quite clear after last year’s accident that the emphasis was on cyclists to prove they were extremely visible to even the most vision impaired driver.)

Handling and steering up to 20mph is very good and, as I said earlier, the brakes are well up to stopping the heavily laden trike up to that speed. Above that, more care and a lot of anticipation are needed.

The “parking brake” is a velcro strap that holds the front brake lever down and is of little use on its own.

However, the Kangaroo also has a frame lock, which is useless as a security device but makes a very effective parking brake.

If you use the frame lock and the velcro strap together, then the bike can be confidently left parked on a slope with the children on board. I’d never use the velcro strap alone.

A push-down stabiliser on the front works well to stop the Kangaroo tipping forward when children hop in and out, especially when they jump out. (No matter how often you say no, they’ll still do it so the stabiliser is essential.)

- – - – -

The build quality of the Kangaroo is superb, the paint is very tough and all the weather-proofing washes clean easily.

Passengers in the front compartment are very safe and secure.

The compartment has a very substantial sub-frame under the impact-resistant plastic body, while the hoops that carry the hood are also very strong and form an effective roll cage.

The strength and integrity of the design shone through when I was hit by a Ford Transit last year.

The plastic shell was scuffed but popped back into shape while the sub-frame and hoops held their shape despite a 40mph impact from the right, followed by a rollover onto to one side.

It is essential that the seatbelts are used and that passengers wear helmets for maximum safety, but I’m confident that if I’d had one of the boys in the bike at the time, then they would have been shaken but unhurt.

My views on the integrity and safety of the design were born out when Danish newspaper 24timer tested five of the most popular cargo bikes last year.

It gave the Kangaroo five stars and described it as “the Volvo of the bike lanes“.

Some people have gasped at the price — £2,000 once top-notch lights were fitted — but in my view that’s a fair price to pay for a well-engineered, robust and safe bike with, in the main, a very high level of specification.

While we do have third-party insurance and maintenance costs , it’s much, much cheaper to run than the Land Rover Discovery 300TDi it replaced and it’s much more environmentally friendly.

After a year, I’ve concluded that if you’re crazy enough to ride a Winther Kangaroo on the hills, then you’re going to need to keep the load down, become exceptionally fit, or fit an electric motor.

As the boys insist on getting bigger by the week and an electric motor is beyond our pockets, it looks like I’ll have to increase my fitness to match their growth.

And before anyone asks if I’m on commission, no, I’m not trying to peddle the Kangaroo Bike!

If you’re more sane than I and ride the Kangaroo in its intended environment on the flat, then it is the choice for carrying children and cargo on a daily basis.

Worn-down pedals

The pedals lost their grip after 10 months, and will probably be replaced by ones with half-clips.

Rear tyre is wearing faster

The Nokian Ultra Tour 47-406 front tyres are still in good shape with plenty of tread, despite doing about 3,300 miles in 12 months. The AlexRims (406×24) have also held up well.

Rear tyre is wearing faster

The rear tyre, a Nokian Ultra Tour 47-550 on an Alex Rims 559×24, is wearing faster, but is still useable. All three tyres have been puncture-free despite being ridden over rough and broken surfaces, over sharp stones, and through rubbish on village streets.

It’s not much use as a lock

The frame lock that passes through the rear wheel is ineffectual as a security device, but it does work well as a parking brake.

Hub gears cope well with mud, salt and grime

The down side of the SRAM S7 hub gear is that I run out of gears on steep gradients, but on the plus side I have few worries about road grime clogging them up. I ride year-round in all weathers so in the seven days between cleaning the bike picks up a lot of dirt, grit, salt and slush (which often freezes on the bike), none of which has been a problem for the gears or brakes.

Light mounts are 10mm too short

The two front light mounts are about 10mm too short, even with compact Lumicycle lamps. It makes fitting lights a fiddly job, and leaves them butting up against the fabric — not a good idea when using hot halogen lamps.

Good seats, plus a roll cage

The boys, aged five and eight, find the seats very comfortable while seat belts provide an element of safety. The hoops supporting the hood also serve as a roll cage—there’s a brace across the back—for additional protection. There’s space behind the seats for luggage, plus four removeable bags for tools, odds and ends or, in our case, the battery for the lights. There’s another pocket on the outside rear of the passenger compartment, which is useful for snacks and maps for the rider.

Tekno brakes are very good

The Tektro Gemini hydraulic disc brakes inspire confidence and do an excellent job on all but the steepest slopes with the heaviest load. Even then, they still cope if you’re careful. The only downside is that the UK distributor only sells the brake service kit to authorised dealers and the nearest is an hour’s drive away. It’s supposedly so you don’t invalidate your warranty, but as the manual says the brakes are user serviceable and gives instructions that doesn’t wash.

38 Responses to “Winther Kangaroo Bike — the one-year review”

  1. Disc brakes

    Can you get a higher temp rated pad then you might have less brake fade on long descents as pad compound can make a huge difference to brake performance

    gearing

    if the gearing is generally too high have you thought about dropping a few teeth on your front gearwheel to drop overall gearing.

    • Malinka Antonia Liv Madsen Reply 25 July, 2011 at 12:29

      In Denmark where I am living an 8 year old would ride his or her own bike. A five year old would bring a small bike into the cargo area, and ride some of the distance by themself. Maybe You should adopt the Danish way of raising children who can easily bike as well as an adult in any weater from seven years of age unless they are disabled…;)

      Good Luck with your biking family…;)

      Regards Malinka

  2. I’m looking into brake pads at the moment as they need servicing.

    I’ve looked at dropping the overall gearing or investing in a Schlumpf Mountain Drive, but it’s a cost and philosophy issue.

    I’ve enjoyed riding fixies in the past and find it quite enjoyable to tackle gradients in as high a gear as I can.

    Until the accident, I’d got to the point where I could get the fully laden bike to the top of the 1-in-12 slope in second and was about to try it in third. Having lost fitness over my eight weeks of convalescence, I’m back in first at the top but today I got to within eight metres or so in second. (Full details of gearing to come BTW.)

    It’s cheaper, more fun and very challenging to tackle steep slopes in higher and higher gears. It’s probably also a little crazy…

  3. I just like the first pic of you and your little passengers!

  4. AbrasiveScotsman Reply 30 January, 2008 at 20:51

    Sounds like that saddle is a pain.

    Being a recumbenteer myself you can probably guess what I’m going to say next but:

    Perhaps one of these:
    http://www.ice.hpv.co.uk/trikes/q.htm

    plus one of these

    http://www.croozer.co.uk/croozer_kid.html

    would achieve the same thing with less discomfort.

    The ICE Q can be geared very low, and I suspect the 2 items together cost about the same or less than the kangaroo. The trike is about £1500 and the trailer is about £300.

    Bum pain drove me off uprights altogether.

  5. I have considered recumbents with trailers, but I like the compactness of the tadpole trike on narrow, winding country roads. I also like having the boys in front so we can talk as we ride. We often spot things to chat about, or to stop and look at, and the front passenger arrangement really suits our style.

    Having said that, I did spot a recumbent tadpole trike in London a couple of years back that had two child seats behind the rider. It was beautifully built. I later saw a photo of a very similar bike with a cargo box instead of the child seats so I suspect one was based on the other.

    I’ve just tried to find either using Google, but no luck. The cargo recumbent had an orange fibreglass or plastic cargo box with rounded edges and a lid, while the whole thing looked professionally built. The child-carrying version was a really dark blue and also looked professionally built.

    I did find one similar bike, but it’s definitely not either of the ones I’m thinking of. I’ll try another Google search later.

  6. Thanks for your review which I read with interest, being in a vaguely similar position. I live in north wales with strong westerlies most of the time, with three kids to transport to school – after much thought I went for a tandem with a good quality chariot trailer behind. So far so good. Power input from 8 year old on the back of the tandem isn’t too good though! Downhill most of the way in and then the hard slog uphill home. Don’t manage it every day by bike (9 miles each way) just a couple of times week. But that’s a start. Its the time it takes that means i can’t do it every day. Kids love it and it’s seen as “cool” by the other kids, which helps. Maybe one day more will travel by bike….

  7. If it were mine I’d have a go at removing the corrosion evident on the rear dropout (picture with comments about SRAM hub). Looks like the paint has been chipped off the frame….

  8. That’s salt and grit from the roads. It all washed off when I cleaned the bike on Thursday.

  9. We have a Croozer. Good value tho’ they are, we often use a WeeRide instead, as having the little’un out back is so unsociable. Plus, you can’t easily see what mischief they are up to. When they discover they can kick open the mesh cover and drop stuff out, the difference in opinion as to whether is a hilarious game or naughty can spoil the journey.

    We found this site because we’re looking to upgrade to a Kangaroo. I guess that sums up where we’re at on the relative merits, notwithstanding the fact the Ice are lovely trikes. Oh the hours I’ve wasted lusting after an XXL…

  10. I hope you don’t mind, but I linked to the websites for the trailer, seat and trike you mentioned so people who don’t know can see them.

    I’m very pleased with the Kangaroo, especially as it’s push to the limits. If you’re in easier terrain it would be an excellent choice.

  11. AbrasiveScotsman Reply 20 March, 2008 at 20:48

    I assume that is just a single chainring on the front since you have the hub gear. Perhaps you could change out that and move all of your gears down a bit for the hills?

    I’d been putting off tinkering with my gears for months, but I finally lowered the gearing on my recumbent from 23″ bottom gear to an 18.6″, and I’m blown away by how much better it is on the hills. Those Dutch don’t know how to gear a bike for hills, they’ve never seen a proper one! (My recumbent is Dutch BTW).

    I’ve caused myself some chain tension issues by doing this, that I will resolve by changing the other rings on the triple and then shortening the chain. This shouldn’t happen to you if it’s only a single chainring though.

    Chainrings are nice and cheap too, although you do need some special tools to tinker with them. The only really unusual one is a crank puller, which removes the crank once you unscrew the nut.

  12. As a grandparent, not parent, can I put in word of warning about pedalling hard in a relatively high gear. We healthy-living types have a much better chance of avoiding heart attacks and cancer, and hence living long enough to get knee wear-out problems. This a serious bugbear, affecting mobility on foot and bike, and it’s well worth accepting a little inconvenience when in your prime to avoid/mitigate/delay the problem. The best known ideas are using short cranks (avoiding unfavourable knee angles) and really low gears, especially where you can’t stand on the pedals. Thanks for a great review.

  13. I looked at this (great!) review when deciding the type of trike for transporting my kids but went for a Christiania as they had a local (Australian) importer. I hear what you say about hills though so after tinkering with the chain rings to lower the gears a little bit I just went out and got a Schlumpf Mountain Drive. I can highly recommend it. I now don’t worry about hills – just takes a while to go up them but I am never in a hurry and you make up time on the downhills!

  14. I’ve had a few emails from people who were horrified by the price of the Kangaroo, an issue that also came up on the AmityMama forum.

    There are a couple of points to bear in mind.

    First, the Kangaroo can genuinely substitute for a car in many circumstances. How much car would you get for £1800? (That’s US$3500, Aus$3,700.) And how much would the running costs of that car be over a year? The bike is insured and needs to be serviced every six months, but those costs are negligible compared to the cost of a car.

    Second, the Kangaroo is built to very high standards from high-grade aluminium and quality components. Yes, there are cheap cargo bikes but I’ve read reviews in which owners describe components breaking or failing—not something I’d like to happen when transporting children. You get what you pay for.

    Third, if cost is all a prospective owner is concerned about, then perhaps the cheapest option is simply to walk everywhere!

  15. Fantastic review…..I Just wondered whether the cabin area is truly waterproof…….

    My trailer always leaks in the rain – and the children get wet. This is one of my main reasons for wanting to change to possibly the kangaroo.

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