- by David Halfpenny
- Published: 4 February 2011
The Zigo Leader is…well, it’s a little difficult to describe. My kids called it the “pram-bike” and I guess that’s as good a description as any. For cargo bike enthusiasts, it is kind of like the bakfiet style bikes but with three wheels and a pram instead of two wheels and a big box on the front; for the well traveled it looks like a Indonesian becak or cycle rickshaw; for the lay person, however, it’s a pram-bike.
The Zigo Leader is a multi-purpose “transport system” in that it combines a stand alone pram with a stand alone bike that can be coupled to create a wonderfully convenient way to transport children. The Zigo Leader that I trialled (the X2) is capable of carrying two small children or one slightly larger one, up to a combined weight limit of 35 kg. I used it to carry (at various times): cargo; a rambunctious 18 month old boy; and a much spoiled 5 year old daughter (much to the consternation of her older sisters who were too big to ride in it). I rode the Zigo Leader to the shops, to school and along the bike paths near our home over a period of six weeks and gave it a thorough testing. Because the Zigo Leader is marketed as three products in one, I have reviewed each incarnation of it separately in order to provide complete coverage.
The Zigo Child Pod
The Zigo Child Pod, as a pram, ranks along side other high end pram brands that the cycling parent may be familiar with, such as Chariot. The pram can be used “as is” in four wheel mode, in three wheeled “jogger” mode and also in bike trailer mode, both with the addition of appropriate attachments.
The standard pram configuration is smooth to operate and is well constructed with plenty of room inside for one or two small children. There are five point safety harnesses, internal pockets on each side for toys or bottles, and a large pocket on the rear for holding everything else. The pram has a number of tie down covers as part of the “environmental control system” which allows to you cover the interior with a mesh or with a light plastic screen. If conditions worsen there is a custom full plastic cover available that is sure to keep junior dry, though that doesn’t help mum or dad at all.
Controlling the pram is easy with a comfortable height adjustable bar at the rear which has a lockable hand brake in the center that can be used to engage the sturdy drum brakes on the rear wheels. The pram is available in available in red, blue or green and in models to carry one child or two children sitting side by side.
While I’m not an expert on the ins and outs of prams, we have used a few over the course of four children and the Zigo served our every need perfectly. The only problem I had with the pram was its size. It was difficult to navigate doorways and narrowly spaced bollards on pathways. As noted before, I was using the X2 model designed to carry two children and I suspect I would have the same problems using any pram designed to carry two kids side by side. Getting the Zigo into the back of the car was also a little difficult. While it does fold down to some extent, it takes up a considerable amount of space and requires a station wagon or 4WD to transport. Again, if I were reviewing a standard twin pram I would likely be making the same comment.
The Zigo Child Pod functions wonderfully by itself, but it is designed to be used in combination with the Zigo bike. The pram design must be making some sort of impact in the baby market, however, since the Zigo people will shortly be releasing the pram as a non-bike-attachable stand-alone called the Mango.
The Zigo Bike
The bike component of the Zigo package reminds me of the classic small wheeled bikes of the 70s, such as the Raleigh Twenty. The aluminium U-frame is distinctive with an enormously long head tube (which couples with the pram part of the Zigo), sprung and padded saddle, swept back handlebars and 20 inch wheels. The bike is well outfitted with quality brand name components and a Nexus 7-speed internal hub (a 3 speed hub option is available, but is less practical for Australian conditions).
The bike is designed to suit a wide variety of people; it can be ridden by someone of my height (191 cm), by my wife (168 cm) and my 9 year old daughter (153 cm). The brake levers can be adjusted for even very small hands and the handlebar height can be changed by rearranging the headset spacers. The drive system is partially enclosed with a chain guard and gear selection is done via a twist grip with the right hand.
I rode the bike on several commutes (22km quite hilly round trips) and initially I didn’t enjoy it much. The seat was too springy, the swept back bars made my shoulders ache and the pedals were too small. I rode with two front panniers on the rear rack (full sized panniers simply won’t fit) and managed to kick them off more than a dozen times during my trip. I also couldn’t generate anywhere near my normal commuting speeds, only hitting the mid 20s in the best gear with some rapid, unsustainable spinning. On the positive side, the gearing allowed me to easily handle even very steep hills and the relatively long wheel base made for great handling at low speeds.
I don’t want to be unfair to the bike, however, because it grew on me. Firstly, I zip-tied a shopping basket to the rear rack and it instantly solved my cargo problems. Secondly, I set aside my machismo, sat upright and rode the bike at a nice steady pace. My initial annoyance diminished and I began to enjoy the experience. If I was going to have a bike like this, just for myself, I would change the handlebars to something less swept, change the saddle to something less springy and change to peddles with a bigger platform. If I was just riding it as a bike, and never as an part of the “pram-bike”, I would also change the chain ring, the rear cog or both to get a little bit of extra speed. Basically, I would customise the bike to be comfortable for me and change the parts that I would consider changing on any bike that I bought.
While not wonderful over mid-range commuting distances, the Zigo as a “one bike suits most” vehicle is perfect for short distance travel. I found it quite comfortable for trips of 5 km or so and given that my kid’s school, a train station, two ferry terminals and five shopping centers are within 5km of my house, this is as far as I would need to go for my non-work needs. Knowing that my wife and daughter could ride it as well has made me seriously think about adding a bike like this to the family stable.
The Zigo Leader
When you look at the bike part of the Zigo, you’ll notice a very long head tube with a knob on the top of it as well as a bulky square clamp on the down tube. Likewise, if you look at the pram from behind you’ll see a silver tube attached to the frame of the pram and extending to the axle. It’s with these parts that the magic of the system happens.
The first step is to remove the front wheel of the bike by detaching the cantilever brake cable and releasing the quick release skewer. The front wheel can be stored in a pouch beneath the pram. The head tube of the bike goes over the tube on rear of the pram while the fork dropouts connect to a steering rod attached to the pram’s axle. You connect the clamp from the bike around the frame of the pram, tighten the knob on top of the head tube, retract and secure the front wheels of the pram and you’ve got the Zigo Leader. According to the Zigo website, this can be done in 30 seconds. I found it took a little longer than that and if I didn’t get the ordering correct the whole thing became quite difficult to juggle. This interface is the one place where the engineering doesn’t meet my expectations, but the results of the minor hassle are more than worth it.
When combined the two rear pram wheels and the rear bike wheel create a long and sturdy tricycle. The pram is as easy to use in this configuration as it is in stand alone mode, and the bike is even simpler to operate – this may seem counter intuitive to most cyclists but think about it: the bike isn’t going to fall over. That is the key to this machine.
Because the Zigo Leader is such an unfamiliar concept to most Australians, it is better understood by comparing it to two other common child transport solutions – the rear rack mounted seat and the trailer. I have and use both of these and prefer the Zigo to either of them by a long way.
When I use a rack mounted seat I find that it’s much harder to get on and off of a normal diamond frame bike, that there is very little freedom of movement for the child, that the high load I’m carrying makes riding tricky and that it’s hard to get the child in and out of the seat while balancing the bike. The Zigo Leader has none of these problems: the step through frame makes getting on and off the bike easy; the load is low, in front of you and balanced between two wheels; the pram like enclosure gives the child the ability to play with toys, eat, drink and so on; and because it’s a tricycle, you don’t need to lean it up against anything to stop it falling over while inserting or extracting your cargo. You can stop the bike, talk to your child, hand them something and resume your journey without your feet ever touching the ground.
While I find the bike trailer to be the best of the conventional solutions, the main drawbacks for me are the drag I feel when pulling the trailer (particularly up hill) and not being able to easily see the trailer behind me, both for navigation around obstacles and to watch the kids. Going up hills on the Zigo Leader is a dream – the bike is like a tug boat, designed to push heavy things. Because you’re riding a tricycle you don’t need worry about losing your balance and you can put all of your energy into moving the load. Because of the low gearing you don’t need a lot of effort, if you’re willing to sacrifice speed of course. Being able to see your child while riding is also wonderful. I found I could talk to my son, hear him call out when he saw things he wanted to stop and have a look at and I could also make sure he wasn’t throwing things out of the pram (one of his favourite tricks).
While I believe the Zigo Leader is the best of the child transport solutions I have tried, riding it has its own unique quirks. Turning when fully loaded takes some getting used to – it’s a trike, not a bike, and the balance is completely different. In addition, with the front wheels on either side of the pram, the turning circle is very large, but ninety degree turns are quite easy achieved. Turning any sharper than this is tricky, but because you can jump on and off the bike so easily you can get off, lift the bike at the seat, pivot it about the front wheels, point it in the direction you want to go and set off again quite quickly. Going up and down driveways can also be a bit worrying if you don’t hit them head on. It should go without saying that it is best to do any sort of cornering at low speed.
Typically I wouldn’t recommend a product to anyone unless I would purchase it myself. In my current situation, with only one very young child left in our horde, I won’t be buying one – but it was a very close decision (if only I had a dollar for every time someone stared at the Zigo Leader, made a comment or asked me a question about it). If I had access to the Zigo Leader when our family started, or even just a few years ago, then I’m quite sure this would be our second “car”.
The style and practical functionality of the Zigo Leader is hard to describe; modern cycling has become divorced from utility and most of us no longer have a frame of reference to work within. I suspect this is why I am not seeing hundreds of bikes like this everyday. The Zigo Leader is perfect for families with one or two small children who don’t have to travel far for their daily needs. For short trips to the store, day care or coffee shop there is really no reason not to have a vehicle like this.
The Zigo is available in Australia through Zigo Australia.