nihola panda

I finally took a Nihola trike for a test ride and thought I would share my impressions.

Nihola is a cargo bike company based in Denmark. Nihola trikes, like Christiania trikes, are popular among parents there, as well as businesspeople who want to haul stuff, advertise stuff, or otherwise use a bike commercially.

Like the Christiania, Nihola trikes have a well-designed rain canopy, and have design amenities specifically aimed at carrying one or two kids in the cargo box: the rain canopy, a sturdy bench, seatbelts, and a carriage design that maximizes head and legroom.

Unlike most cargo trikes, the Nihola uses a steering linkage system. Most cargo trikes steer by using the box as the steering mechanism: the front wheels are on the box, and you steer by rotating the box on a pivot — the headset — which is positioned underneath the box, near the center. This sounds crude but can be quite sophisticated and well-engineered (as in the Christiania, with its inverse-angled floating headset, and hydraulic steering damper).

Nihola eschews the turning-box method, instead using a front steering linkage system, just like a car. The steering comprises tie rods and individual wheel pivots, and uses a design known as Ackermann steering geometry. Along with being extremely cool and fun to draw on a napkin, this steering mechanism is smooth and responsive. It also theoretically will wear less on the tires, since they are each turning exactly along the outside of their own individual arcs. I hope you’re geeking out on this as much as I am.

There is another advantage to a steering mechanism independent of the box, and that is that since the box is not changing position, the cabling can run more cleanly and predictably. On the Christiania, the brake cables for front and rear, as well as the shifter cable, all come from the handlebars, which are attached to the box. Thus, the cables need to be routed in such a way that they are long enough to clear the box when it’s being turned, but not so long or dangly that they get caught on the operator’s feet while pedaling. On the Nihola, the cables stay clamped to the frame tubes, as on any normal single bike. This is much tidier, and would be a great advantage to home or shop mechanics servicing the bikes, and presumably would reduce cable and housing wear.

Anyway, about that test ride. I was one of the many people at Clever Cycles’ winter party in January. I’d wanted to test a Nihola for a while, so I asked to take one for a spin and Todd quickly rolled one out onto the street for me. I took the trike for a spin round the usual Clever Cycles test route: down 9th a couple blocks, over to 10th, up to Clay and back. Shifting, pedaling, and braking were all blissfully smooth and clean. I kept reminding myself that this was a brand-spanking-new bike in very good adjustment, but even so, it is clearly very well designed so that the mechanic aspects all work well. All three of the brakes are drum brakes, and the gearing is an internal 8-speed hub with a grip shifter. In another departure from traditional trike design, the Nihola uses a regular city-style handlebar instead of the “shopping-cart” crossbar found on most cargo trikes (including the Christiania, although our Christiania has been modified to use a normal handlebar).

When I returned from that first spin, Todd told me I should try it with a load and gamely donated himself as the cargo. We did another circuit, with him pointing out various aspects. He asserted, correctly, that because the steering is independent of the weight in the box, the handling (i.e. how easy it is to steer) does not change as the weight of the load in the box changes. That’s pretty neat, as we say in the bike industry. The trike rode great with an adult-sized load.

That’s me at the pedals, and Clever Cycles owner Todd Fahrner showing me how the trike handles under load. Thanks Shetha for the photo.

We came back from that round, and no sooner had Todd exited the trike than a young fellow, just off his dad’s Xtracycle, asked if he could go for a ride. I said sure, and took him around the block, too. Again, it exhibited smooth and intuitive handling with the load in question.

My conclusion at the end of this test ride was that the Nihola is an extremely well-designed cargo bike. The biggest downside it has, especially compared to the Christiania, is the relatively small cargo box. In the weeks since I tried the Nihola, I always note how full our (very large) Christiania cargo box gets when we go to the supermarket, or to a friend’s house. In many cases, we can barely fit Anastasia in there amidst the provisions (especially now that she’s a bit fussy about legroom . . . ). Now, we’re pretty heavy travellers, which is why a cargo bike appeals to us to begin with, but it would be a serious problem if I couldn’t go get a full load of groceries, case of wine, bundle of TP, etc, with Anastasia in the seat. So for our purposes, a Christiania is the superior choice. Also, the handling differences between the Christiania and the Nihola are, in our case, somewhat mitigated by the alterations we’ve done to our Christiania trike.

A disadvantage that both trikes have is that they do not come equipped with a generator light system, and there’s no simple way to install a hub generator (theoretically you’d want to install one hub generator on each of the front wheels, which would be wonderful but expensive). We have a sidewall generator on our Christiania, and the same would work on the Nihola, but it’s far from ideal.

In a nutshell: The Nihola is an extremely high quality trike, with excellent handling and smooth mechanical function, as well as serious cargo capacity. I only took the trike on a short test ride, but I tried it out with a variety of cargo and it shone under all conditions. You’ve noticed that I constantly compare the Nihola trike to the Christiania trike; this is because we own a Christiania trike and I have a lot of experience using it, so there’s plenty to compare it to. Also, they’re both popular in Copenhagen, and available at Clevercycles, so the comparison is perhaps apt. (To read more about our Christiania trike please see this post.)

If you are looking for a solid, durable cargo trike, either the Christiania or the Nihola will serve you very well. The Nihola features extremely high performance, but lacks the cargo space of the Christiania. The Nihola would be great for taking a kid or two to and from school; or, from the commercial standpoint, for using as a delivery vehicle for small packages or repeat trips (such as pizza or other food delivery). From my family’s perspective, the Christiania is the ideal choice, but the fact that there is a choice is a blessing in itself. No matter what, if you have serious interest in these machines, you owe it to yourself to give them a test ride.

Nihola cargo trike
Click here for product information on the manufacturer’s website; Clever Cycles also has a very informative page about the trike on their web site.
List price: US$3,399.00
Where to buy: Clever Cycles. Are they available anywhere else in North America? Please let me know.