Well, we started this week with an ultra high-end racing bike concept and we're going to end up with something entirely different... or at least the opposite end of the bicycle spectrum. The spirit of the Oregon Manifest lives on in Ben Wilson's Donkybike, which lives up to the challenge to design and build the ultimate modern utility bike. While we've highlighted some of Wilson's left-field bicycleprojects in the past, his latest effort is aimed squarely at the mass market, and with any luck, it might just catch on. The ultra-rugged vehicle combines the best aspects of a BMX and a Dutch cargo bike, and while the integrated lock might not be quite enough to stand up to wily NYC bike thieves, the overengineered rack, internally-geared three-speed hub and overall versatility make for an entirely practical and affordable set of wheels.
Wilson took some time out of his increasingly busy schedule to share the story behind the Donky Bike.
Core77: According to the website, the idea for the Donkybike dates back to 2006 or so. How did the Donky Bike come about?
Ben Wilson: Yes, that's right, the idea arose in 2006—I had recently gotten a dog and could no longer ride to my studio, so I needed a bike that would allow me to safely take the dog on my bike. Around the same time, I met the partner in Donky Bike through mutual friends—he had recently spent a weekend in Amsterdam and was excited by the bike culture and especially the load capacity of the bikes. I have a history of bike design so we thought lets try and make an affordable cargo bike, and the Donky story began.
The cargo bike, of course, has been around for nearly as long as the bicycle itself, but cycling has grown increasingly popular (both in the U.S. and the U.K.) even in the past few years... did seeing more cyclists on the streets motivate you to bring the Donky Bike into production?
As soon as we had made the first mock up prototype and saw how useful the bike could be we were very dedicated to take the product to market, but I agree that cycling is more popular, especially in urban areas, and just seems to have increased at an incredible rate so really pushed us on to make it happen.
Absolutely! That was really one of the biggest challenges to make it accessible; by no means are we the first cargo bike company—there are lots of great bikes out there and as you said, ever since the bicycle was designed, there have been work bikes—however, due to normally the small scale of production, prices are normally on the high side. For us, it was super important to make the price as accessible as possible to make the Donky a viable choice when considering a new bike.
The truss-like design evokes the iconic Moulton bike. What is the advantage of this unconventional style of frame?
It gives strength whilst also allowing a relatively lowish step-through top tube, which makes it easier to get on and off the bike, especially when it's laden with goods.
What's the weight of the complete Donkybike? And what is the maximum recommended payload?
It's quite heavy, approximately 20kg [˜40lbs]; however we have up-spec'ed all of the gauge of steel for the frame, as one of our other goals was that in years to come we would love to see Donky Bikes all over England, the way you see tough old butchers bikes still around. BUILT TOUGH AND GOOD TO GO! We have personally tested up to 80kg on either end (160kg total)—another important factor was to achieve a geometry that felt good both on a fully loaded and unloaded vehicle. Thus, the load is attached directly to the frame both back and front with removable racks, independent from the steering.
What does the future hold for the Donky Bike? I know you've hinted at accessories, which seem like a natural fit...
Yes that's right—we are developing a ladder/surfboard/picture/large-flat-awkward objects rack! We're also working on child seat attachments so two children can ride front and back on one bike, a people rack for adults, etc... just trying to get the bike out there at the moment and let people know that it's available. In fact, I just talked to some one whose MOT [U.K. auto certification] runs out next month, so he's been testriding a bike and he says he won't bother getting a new car but a Donky instead!