Photo by Kamil Bialous
I started using a cargo bike when my roommate let me borrow hers for some errands. I had been stuffing incongruous things: bread, hand-tools, potting soil, into a swollen backpack, acting as if it was bottomless. It wasn’t, and the seams burst one day, my possessions erupting all over the street.
I started with short jaunts to the store to fetch feed for my chickens. Initially it was a little awkward. The thing felt as long as a canoe, and its center of gravity was low. Pushing off took some getting used to, but once I got my balance and figured out the gearing, I was fine. Since then, I’ve hauled away curbside furniture and carried plants from a local nursery, as well as trekking my roommate’s daughter to the grocery store and back.
I’ve noticed that they’re becoming more ubiquitous: I see longtails parked outside co-ops or with kids straddling the platform on the back. I sometimes get stuck behind a B-Line, an urban cargo bike delivery service, crossing the Hawthorne Bridge. I get coffee at a farmers market at the specially-designed mobile cafe-bike operated by Trailhead Roasters, which was custom designed by Portland bike-builder Metrofiets.
A New Transport Trend
Cargo bikes are becoming a quiet sensation in North America, transforming our ability to use bikes as our main mode of transportation.
Jay Townley, a bicycle industry analyst, is tracking this trend. He said that cargo bikes offer a wide variety of uses: from industries hauling loads, to individual entrepreneurs incorporating them into their businesses and people who use them for practical everyday purposes, such as transporting kids and groceries.
“They give you extra carrying capacity, whether for getting to the market, to daily chores or your kids to school,” Townley said.
A cargo bike is any bike specifically designed to carry a load, be it small, large, heavy or light. Sometimes they can be as simple as a bike with a heavier-duty front rack, a smaller front wheel to reduce the center of gravity and a large range of lower gears to help the rider up hills. Other times it can be a custom built frame with built-in accessories, such as an electric motor, to suite the specific commercial or personal needs of the cyclist, such as transporting as much as 800 pounds (363 kilograms). Since their invention, cargo bikes have come to encompass a wide variety of styles and uses. And they’re starting to pop up all across North America.
A Light Hauling History
Cargo bikes originated in Holland in the 19th century and were used by tradesmen looking to deliver their wares in an age before automobiles. Milkmen delivered milk with them. Bakers delivered bread. The most common type of cargo bike in Holland and Scandinavia was the bakfietsen (which translated from Dutch means “box bike”), which was typically a cargo trike with a box mounted on either the front or back, between two parallel wheels. Another style, the “Long John,” which has an elongated frame and a box sitting low at the front of the bike, became ubiquitous in Europe and quickly grew in popularity elsewhere.