Saturday, May 14, 2011

Hand Trucks. (or, how I manage to travel in the city with all of my stuff - without a car)

When I moved to New York City from Chicago in April of 2006, I did so with my trusty Subaru Impreza mini-wagon. I loved that car. It was small enough to fit into tight spots, but big enough on the inside to hold a ton of stuff.

By August (a mere 4 months later), I had realized that it was financially unfeasible for me to own a car. I had already gotten two or three parking tickets, my insurance premium had nearly doubled (from what I was paying in Chicago), and I was still paying off the car. It was something like $500 a month, all together. And given that the majority of the driving I was doing was just moving the car from one side of the street to the other a couple of times a week, it just didn't make any sense.

A couple of craigslist posts and a week or two later, and I was able to sell the car, essentially handing over the payments to the new owner. Nice and simple.

Of course, that put me into a new category - someone who has a lot of stuff, but doesn't have a the means to move it around. At the time, it made a lot of sense: I wasn't playing the drums actively (all of that stuff was actually in a storage unit, anyway), and I was working at Apple on the night shift, full time. So it's not like I had a ton of stuff to carry around.

But as I settled into becoming a New Yorker, I started to get back into playing music, and it wasn't too much longer before I decided that I wanted to become a professional photographer. And you know what that means, right? Of course. All professionals must have tons and tons of gear. It's a simple matter of fact. So how the hell was I supposed to carry around my drums and/or camera and lighting gear around? Big backpacks were a definite help, but what if I needed MORE? You guessed it: hand trucks.

I've had a folding hand truck of some sort for quite some time; I actually kept it in the trunk of my car back in the day. The first one I got was one of these: a Ruxxac fold flat cart, with an extended toe plate (that's what they call the bottom part of the cart, where your stuff sits). This cart is great. It's light weight (only a few pounds), and it really does fold down to be like, 2" thick. I actually still have it, and use it from time to time, depending on the situation.

The downsides to this old guy are that it's starting to get a little "loose" in its old age (it's over 10 years old, at this point, so I don't think it really owes me anything), and it takes about 15 seconds to set up. I know, that sounds ridiculous, but believe it or not, the modern day incarnation of this design has been vastly improved, and can be set up in like, 5 seconds. And when you're standing out in the rain at 3am, trying to break down your cart so you can get it into the back of a cab, every second counts. More on that later.

Once I started getting busier with playing the drums here in NYC, I found myself needing to solve the problem of getting my stuff around with the least amount of effort and expense possible. Sure, I could use a Zipcar or take a taxi, but those options are a bit pricey and sometimes just impractical. Catching a cab in Bushwick was next to impossible, anyway.

So the Ruxxac is a great cart for hauling around a bass drum case (ranging in size from about 18x18x18 up to 26x20x20 or so), along with another bag sitting on top of it. It could also handle a nice stack of small photo cases, like the Lightware MultiFormat case I use for my lights, the Pelican case for my camera, and a couple of older Domke satchels, filled with other odds and ends. I'll generally bungee a stand bag to the back, as well.

Sometimes, however, the Ruxxac is a little too much of a cart for the job. It's a little bulky to carry around folded up (I'm too short to just hold it by its handle; it hits the ground as I walk), and again, it's slower to set up and break down. So I was shopping around one day and came across this little guy: the Magna Cart. It looks bigger than it really is in the pictures. This cart is essentially the same as the Ruxxac, but it's about 20% smaller. It also has some nice features that let you set it up and break it down with just one hand (and a foot) in like, 5 seconds.

This cart is great for smaller, more compact loads. Like, a stack of 2 or 3 photo cases, or just one big fat stand bag, bungeed to the handle. It can't handle much more than 100 pounds, though, so you can't get too crazy with it.

There's only one shortcoming that I can speak of with this cart: the handle is a bit too fragile. The handle is made of (I'm guessing) aluminum squared tubing, and the design is such that the top section telescopes into the bottom section. Just like the built-in pull handles found on most wheeled luggage these days. There's a nifty lock/release bar just under the main grip at the top of the handle, which is usable with a single hand (just pull up on it, and you can adjust the length of the handle; easy).

So let's say you're walking down the street with your Magna Cart, and everything is swell. You're pulling it behind you, and uh-oh - the cart gets stuck on a bump or a large crack in the sidewalk. You weren't pulling that aggressively, and the cart slips out of your hand. Because of the angle that you were pulling it behind you, the cart doesn't land back on its base plate (or toe plate), it instead tips forward, and ends up landing on the handle. Depending on the load and how you've got it secured, this can put too much stress on the thin aluminum tubes that make up the handle - causing them to bend. I've dropped mine in this fashion maybe 3 times, and I can tell that it's only got maybe one or two more drops left in it before the handle gets bent enough to become unable to properly extend and retract. Fortunately, I've been able to muscle it back into a usable shape, but again, it's not really constructed that strongly, and I think it's days are numbered.

That all said, I think it's a fine cart. Especially for the price; I think I spend about $35 on mine. My Ruxxac cart cost closer to $100, I think. But I bought it from Calumet Photo in Chicago, and they aren't exactly known for the their rock-bottom pricing.

The next cart I got was my favorite. I say "was" because, unfortunately, I managed to misplace it while moving this winter. I picked up a Wesco Maxi Mover from Adorama, and it was great. It had the speed and convenience of the Magna Cart, plus the capacity and larger toe plate of the Ruxxac. I've decided to wait until the Ruxxac completely dies on me to replace it, however.

Why? Because I'm crazy, and I figured if I was gonna spend money on yet another hand truck, I should get something that could hold even more stuff, and be easier to move around. I'm sure you've all seen the kind of cart I'm talking about. I used to see photocopier repair guys with these things all the time. They're made of steel, and have this nifty little feature - a second set of smaller wheels with a little "kickstand" that supports the cart at the optimum 45ยบ angle you'd hold it at when pushing or pulling it.

I did some more shopping and research, and decided that this one would be the best compromise as far as cost, size, and capacity were concerned: The Clipper 880. A bit more expensive, yes. But - this thing can hold a TON of stuff, and it feels really solid. And man, that little rear wheel thingie kicks ass. It's really nice to be able to just let the cart sit there, ready to roll, without having to "knock it over" into position any time I get moving again after coming to a stop. Which, given my current living situation (in a neighborhood where there are lots of trains nearby, but they're all a good 5-10 minute walk away) happens a lot.

I've only had the Clipper for a few weeks, so I can't really speak to its durability just yet, but so far, it's been a real champ. Another nice feature is that when you flip the helper wheels back up, they let you use a pair of metal rails that make sliding the cart up or down stairs relatively painless (down is obviously way easier than up).

My only knock on the design is that the helper wheels don't seem to lock into place when they're not being used. I might keep a small bungee cord on hand to keep it secured for situations where I won't need it (or if I've got a lot of stairs to deal with).

So that's my take on hand trucks. Gotta love 'em!




No comments:

Post a Comment