Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The best hand truck I've ever used...

As I've written in the past, I'm a pretty heavy user of hand trucks and carts. I'm pretty rough on them, and I've been putting my carts through a bit more use since moving back in December. While my new apartment is very subway friendly - I'm within 5-10 minutes of the A/C/E, F, 2/3, and 4/5, and all of the stations are handicap accessible (which means they've got elevators) - I still have to walk a decent distance to get to any of them.

This is why I decided to upgrade (or so I thought) to the Clipper 880. It had that nice little rear wheel "kickstand" feature, which would minimize the effort that I'd need to put into moving the cart. Instead of having to both hold it up and push or pull it, it would hold itself up, and I'd just need to worry about the pushing or pulling.

For the first few trips out, the Clipper was fine. But after about two weeks, the retractable handle began to get bent out of shape. It got so bad that I couldn't fully collapse it down all the way. I've seen this happen to similar carts, and it makes sense; it's just a bad design. I just didn't expect it to happen to my cart so soon. But that didn't render the cart completely useless; I could live with storing it with the handle half-extended.

The real hassle was with the rear wheel assembly. First of all, the wheels are a little too small and crappy. I've had the cart for less than 2 months, and the wheels are already falling apart, and are a bit noisy. Secondly, the way the rear wheels flip down and prop up the cart is very weak. There isn't any sort of locking or retaining system in place, and if you take a particularly big bump, the cart can actually bounce out of the little kickstand, and you're suddenly left holding all of the weight of the cart - which, if you're not expecting, can be a bit dangerous.

The final straw, however, was that the wheel assembly also doubled as stair guides. If you need to tackle a couple of stairs, or a particularly tall curb for example, you could flip up the rear wheels, and then use the metal guide rails to pull the cart up, kind of like a sled. The problem is that the assembly has a hard time staying in place. So as soon as you pull it up the first stair, it flips back down again, putting you in an awkward position, trying to kick the assembly back up into place so you can glide up the next stair.

After dealing with this three or four times - at the end of a long day, carrying a ton of crap, of course - this just got to be too big of a pain to deal with.

Enter the Gruv Gear V-Cart Solo. I stumbled across this cart when it was first announced, probably about a year ago, and thought that it looked really cool, but at $300, it just seemed to be a bit too rich for my blood. Bear in mind, this was before I had moved, and my dependency on hand carts had grown to what it is today.

My friend Claude had mentioned that he'd been hearing really good things about these carts from some musician folks that he knew, and he even went so far as to get in touch with the guys that make the carts to see about getting some kind of a deal on them. Unfortunately for me, I had forgotten about this, and decided to just go ahead and make the purchase on my own via their website.

It took a little over a week to arrive, but it came just in time for a weekend's worth of gigs, and I was very excited to give it a try.

The first thing I noticed about the cart is that it is quite a bit bigger and more substantial than any of the others I've owned in the past. The thing weighs a good 25 pounds, and it is very solid. The next thing I found was that the simple fold-up hinge-based design of the handle was vastly superior to the telescoping design of the Clipper cart.

My old Ruxxac flat-folding cart (still in use) has a similar design, but its locking mechanism is made of plastic, which, on occasion, will pop out of place under stress.

The V-Cart uses an elegantly simple notched metal pivot point (one on each side), which is then secured by easy to operate plastic-handled bolts. You simply loosen the bolts, then squeeze the handle in a bit, and you can rotate it into either of its two positions easily. There is a little bit of play and flex in the joint, but not enough to make it feel like it's going to give out under stress.

The V-Cart's answer to the rear wheel assembly is also far superior. They went so far as to make the assembly the same length as the whole cart, and it is held in position via a very simple and secure locking slider. When the rear wheels are not in use, the assembly is kept in place by a velcro cable-tie, which is quick and easy to fasten and unfasten. As soon as you undo the velcro, the rear wheels slide down into place, and it just takes a little nudge to lock the support into the first position. If you want to use the second position - more of a 60º angle than a 45º angle - just pull the locking pin (which has a nice, big, spring loaded handle), and it slides right into place.

Having the rear wheels that much further back has two benefits. First, it gives the cart a bigger footprint on the ground, which translates into greater stability. Secondly, it allows the cart to be configured into a miniature horizontal platform cart, not unlike the ones that you might encounter at a storage unit facility. This configuration could be very useful for larger, heavier items, like two big speaker cabinets, or two Tenba air cases (the kinds that are used for Mac Pros and monitors).

For its maiden voyage, I took the cart out with my "medium sized" drumset, which travels in two pieces. One SKB hard case (18" x 16" size), and one large backpack filled with hardware. The whole load probably weighs a around 200 pounds, I'd guess. When I loaded it onto the V-Cart, it felt very secure and comfy - despite the fact that this was a big plastic case on steel tubing. To be safe, I did use a pair of Gruv Gear's slick-looking flat bungee cords to secure the case to the cart. I then set the pack on top of the SKB case, and gave the cart a tilt back onto its rear wheels. No creaking, no wobbling - it felt really solid, and almost perfectly balanced.

What really blew me away was the fact that once I got onto the street, the cart seemed to practically drive itself. I'm serious. I have no idea how they managed this, but the way the wheels behave when under stress is really impressive. There was very little friction, and when rolling down hills, I had to really hold on for fear of the thing getting away from me. With other carts, the weight of the load always seemed to put enough pressure on the cart to keep it from moving very fast. That's simply not the case with this cart.

As soon as I got into the train station - no joke - a couple of guitarists approached me to ask me about the cart. I told them where I got it (pointing to the logo on the side of the cart), and they seemed really psyched about it. Our chat was cut short by the arrival of my train, but sure enough, as soon as I arrived at the gig, I got another two or three compliments from my fellow bandmates and other musicians about how much they liked the look of the cart. I let them push it around, and everyone was as impressed as I was with how fluidly the cart handled.

So here I am, having rambled on for 1400 words about hand trucks again.

I'll wrap up by saying this: I wish I had gotten this thing sooner. Great job, Gruv Gear. This is my new favorite hand truck, bar none.

Gruv Gear also has a bunch of other nice-looking products on their site, including a lighter-weight version of this cart, a nifty-looking expansion kit for the V-Cart (giving it twice the length when in platform mode), and some potentially cool-looking bags, as well.

I look forward to seeing how this cart performs in the long haul. Hah.