Review: Kronan Classic City/Cargo Bicycle

Review by Bicycle Fixation

Supplied by
Single-speed version tested.

Think of it as a beach cruiser on steroids--a "Muscle Beach" cruiser, if you will. There's nothing metrosexual about this Eurostyle city bike--it's updated from a Swedish army bicycle of the 1940s, and it would not look at all odd with a carbine scabbarded to its fork. Pure, manly utility: steel and plenty of it; big 650B tires for floating over broken roads, debris, and dirt; fenders to keep the "mud, the blood, and the beer" off your blue jeans; and a rear rack you could strap a keg to. It's 100% at home in the big, bad city: laughs at potholes, sneers at alleys, rolls with the slow grace of someone who knows he's got nothing to fear. If it were a car, it would be a Checker Marathon, staple of the New York City taxi fleets in the 1950s and '60s. It's an old Irish cop of a bicycle, right out of Raymond Chandler. (Ladies, fear not: there's a women's frame available as well, for the shorter and the skirt-clad amongst us)

It does have its limits: hills, for one thing: the base model weighs around 50 pounds, without front rack. (The three-speed would have fared better on hills, of course.) Wind, for another: the bolt-upright seating turns the rider into a drogue chute. Distance, again thanks to the upright seating, which makes it hard to use your legs efficiently. Odd spoke and nipple sizes, which you wouldn't want on a tour.

But none of that matters, because this is a neighborhood bike--what we at Bicycle Fixation call a "three-mile bike." It knows its turf, and cruises it confidently. And it can carry its weight--and more--of anything you can fit onto its capacious racks.

The first day, I was a bit appalled. After all, my regular ride is a fleet little fixie that weighs all of 21 pounds with rack, fenders, and lights. But by the second day, I was getting used to it, and learning to cruise. Day One took me across a broad green lawn--yes, I shouldn't be shortcutting through a park, I know--and on the two-inch-plus 650B balloon tires, I could hardly tell that the surface had changed from asphalt to grass. Also, the Kronan's very weight made locking up more relaxed--if it wasn't too nasty a situation, I just put the Kryptonite through rear wheel and frame, knowing that this was one bike no one could pick up and toss into the back of a getaway truck. (I wouldn't do that downtown, though, where anything goes away, if unsecured.)

You don't dart away from lights or try to beat the cars across town. relax! You float along on your own steel-and-rubber cloud, enjoying the sights of the day. You ride, you don't race.

And you carry stuff!

The included rear rack is broad and long--fully 7 inches (18cm) wide and 18 inches (46cm) front to back, with numerous cross braces, and not one but two rat-trap style spring clips. One spring clip is more than firm enough to hold a long-shackle Kryptonite Evolution over any bump. We asked for the optional front rack as well, which is frame-mounted and measures 12.5 inches (32cm) deep by 16.5 inches (42cm) wide. On Day Two we strapped a decent-sized carton of books up front and carried it three miles to the Goodwill dropoff; the load had no significant effect on the handling. The front rack's stated load limit is 15kg, or a little over 33 pounds, but from the looks of it, it could maybe do better. The rear rack looks as if it could easily carry a passenger--I have myself ridden as a passenger on a friend's Dutch roadster in Amsterdam--and, in fact, it did, numerous times during this test.

I do wish, however, that Kronan had made a provision for the bottom hooks of standard touring panniers; there is no way to install them on the stock rack.

Day Two also saw some minor hills, which were easier than I had feared, and a brisk breeze at evening, which did have a noticeable effect on the Kronan's progress.

The Kronan is well-appointed, with an excellent Shimano coaster brake in back and a surprisingly indifferent SRAM drum brake up front. At first the feebleness of the front brake worried me, but then I realized that the bike will never go fast enough for that to be an issue.

The kickstand seems too slender for its length, but held the bike steady while I fought the bungee net around the box of books; it then held the bike and its load solidly while I finished up with some other business. In fact, it worked well with considerably bigger loads later on.

A generic-looking bottle generator powers a front lamp (incandescent, not LED, unfortunately), while the battery-powered rear lamp, which does use an LED, is one of the most elegant I have ever seen, and works quite well. It includes a sturdy wire frame to protect it from the bumps that city bikes continually suffer in elevators, trains, and bike racks. Furthermore, the taillight has a setting wherein it will turn itself on if it is dark and the bike is moving--very handy.

The tires are Rubenas, from Czech Republic, and look to be copies of the famous Col de la Vie from Japan; oddly enough, the model that is on the bike is not on the company's English-language website. Probably an OEM deal; in any case it rolls easily and sticks well, and wasn't squirrelly in puddles.

And the clever bell is one of the nicest I've seen, bearing the Kronan crest and making a sweet but distinctive tring sound when you spin it with your thumb.

There's also a chainguard, which worked fine with some floppy old nylon trousers I wore specifically so they would show if it didn't. What didn't work so fine was the included tire pump, which rides in an elegant steel cigar case attached under the rack. It's designed to work with the Woods/Dunlop tire valves, and I can sincerely recommend neither pump nor valves. Fortunately, Kronan USA plans to sell future units with Schraeder valved inner tubes.

Day Four saw the rear rack put through its paces. (I let the bike rest on Day Three.) I'd mentioned earlier that it looked sturdy enough to carry passenger, Dutch-style: well, I took myself up on the challenge! Gina put a bit of foam in a towel she then folded to match the shape of the rack and safety-pinned all together, making an impromptu pillion seat. So we threw a satchel with lock and patch kit on the front rack, put 123 pounds (56kg) of Wife sidesaddle on the rack, and headed off to a fancy restaurant about two miles away on Third Street for a date.

Once I got used to it, the bike handled quite well, exhibiting only the mildest squirreliness despite the extravagant (and beautiful) load. And I suspect most of that squirreliness came from the big, low-pressure tires. Considering the burden, it was not a problem. On the way back, we stopped at the Third Street Farmers Market for a variety of produce, including a small watermelon, and stuffed it all under the cargo net in front before heading home. Gina was charmed!

On Day Five we headed back to the Farmers Market, again riding two-up, and had a wonderful little ride. Despite the lack of a lower attachment point for pannier hooks (the Kronan really seems designed to carry boxes), the bike should be an excellent shopper and hauler.

For the next few days, the Kronan loafed through minor errands--coffeehouse, Mom's, and Farmers Market. This is its core mission, after all! But after a bit of light duty, I treated it to a long multi-modal expedition that really tested its mettle. (And metal, I suppose!) We went downtown, then to South Pasadena, then back to downtown, then to Mom's, thence home.

How does a "three-mile bike" complete a trip comprising over forty miles?

Well, any city bike worth its welds should be compatible with trains and subways, so we enlisted LA's ever-improving Metro Rail service to get us past the hilly parts.

Gina's View

How cute! was my first impression of the Kronan. I don't know why I thought it cute, it just was, and I was not alone in the conclusion. A few days later when I had a chance to take it out for a ride, cute was the first word that came to my neighbor, Melissa, and to a complete stranger walking by. Jet black, classically styled, simple-looking, approachable, friendly and substantial. It reminded me a little of Sewell's Black Beauty, and I felt safe in its presence.

This is fun! was my second impression. I was riding on the back of the Kronan, arms around Rick's waist as he pedaled through the warm summer evening. I was side saddle on the rear rack (which we covered with a bit of cloth and padding). The bike was as steady as a cast iron chair and bore my weight effortlessly. Much of the jarring delivered by LA's aging streets was absorbed by the cushy tires.

Oof! was my third impression. The Kronan's big and doesn't presently come in sizes. It has a smooth, substantial-feeling ride that was appealing, but it took some effort to keep it going. This was especially true when the headlight was engaged. But most of all it was hard to park. It leaned heavily against me, the front end flopping leadenly. And moving the tail laterally a few inches, something I take for granted on my other bikes, was a chore.

As it happens, it's just a little over three miles to the nearest Red Line stop (though one should show up in our own neighborhood in a few short years). Down the elevator we went, the Kronan and I, and onto a waiting train, where we snuggled up into one of the newly-cleared bike zones that you find at one end of each car. The Kronan's kickstand made this all a bit easier, though I still had to steady it during starts and stops.

Once downtown, we rode about a mile and a half to the sewing factory office that produces Bicycle Fixation's knickers, jerseys, hats, and shorts. We also broker the production of Velo-Retro's replica race musettes, and were to deliver a batch to Chuck Schmidt this afternoon. So we strapped a box with 300 musettes in it onto the Kronan's front rack and rode another couple of miles to Union Station, where we boarded a Gold Line train to South Pasadena.

The Gold Line light rail trains are considerably smaller than the Red Line's subway cars, but the Kronan still fit in gracefully. Twenty minutes later we were at the Mission Station, where we met Chuck for a cuppa and then followed him home (he'd ridden his Della Santa track bike) to drop off the goods.

Now, I'd been planning to take the Gold Line back downtown, but decided that, since it was a slight downhill all the way, I'd ride the Kronan the nine miles back, and did, coasting serenely along Figueroa Boulevard and stopping at Flying Pigeon LA to show it to Josef, who is nuts for cargo bikes. He couldn't stop smiling after a spin on the Swedish beast! After a spot of jawboning, I merged back into Figueroa's traffic and rode the rest of the way downtown to my wool merchant's shop.

There, I picked up 71 yards of really nice dark olive gabardine for Classic Wool Knickers and loaded all fifty pounds of it on the front rack...sideways. Five feet wide!

Swept the sidewalk clear of pedestrians till I could find a driveway....

Although this load was 15 pounds over the official limit for the front rack, both rack and bike handled it just fine.

After another subway ride to Wilshire and Western and a detour to Mom's house to check her mail, I finally got home.

Since then I've used it to transport more boxes from Mom's house to Goodwill, and to carry Gina to an art gallery and then a restaurant over on Melrose

The Kronan performed every task to spec. It may take an American a few days to adjust to a bike that is not meant to be sporty, but once you do, you find that it is immensely useful, charming in its relaxed way, and even romantic. Although not suited for hills and long distances, it is perfect for utility travel in almost any real city or town, where housing isn't more than a couple of miles from stores, restaurants, parks, offices, and other facilities.

It would even play well in San Francisco, most of which--the Avenues, Cole and Noe Valleys, the Embarcadero, and so forth--is not too hilly for the Kronan. (And note that there is a three-speed version of this bike as well.) Chicago, Philly, New York, New Orleans, St. Louis, Sacramento, Davis, Denver, SLC, all of Florida...just about anywhere that you can draw a three-mile circle from your home and find food, goods, and entertainment is a good home for the Kronan.

Even hot, hilly, and sprawled-out Los Angeles has plenty of neighborhoods where the Kronan would shine: Hancock Park (where I saw one in the wild), Downtown, Hollywood south of Sunset, parts of the Valley, Pasadena, and so on.

The clincher: it's one-third the price of a comparable Dutch-style bike with similar weight and features. And the Kronan offers that wonderful front rack for a relative pittance; I can't recommend it enough.

Besides, your sweetheart will love you for it.
Models available, with pricing for 2009:

Update, 2014: Please note that there is no longer a US website, nor an English version of their national site.

Review by Richard Risemberg and Gina Morey; photos by Gina Morey