Courtesy of Liz Canning
The Birth of the US Cargo Bike Boom
Like many of you, I’ve ridden, raced and loved (LOVED) bikes for long enough that I did not expect to be surprised - for my life to be transformed, yet again - by a bike. I never saw myself pedaling twins all over Marin, CA in an electriﬁed Portland-built bakﬁets, let alone directing a crowdsourced documentary on the cargo bike movement in the US. I’d seen some longtails here and there and I’d heard of e-assists but I was a roadie snob: a single girl commuting on carbon ﬁber, necessities on my back, light as a feather and free as the wind.
Eventually, however, I married, bought a house on a long steep hill, and bore adorable boy/ girl twins. I stuffed Stormy and Rocko into a double bike trailer and suffered through the climb home until I was actually afraid I might not be able to keep the bike upright over that 22% pitch near the top. By this time the kids made it clear they were done, too. The trailer was too small, too low, and behind all the action. I resorted to the car, driving instead up and down that long steep hill, but I missed my bike-centric life. I began to wonder if there existed a bike that could bring that life back to me - and to my kids.
My initial forays online uncovered the bloggers. Everywhere I looked, folks were documenting how their cargo bikes had changed their lives. Then there were the forums, galleries, advice sites and bike builders. All over the Internet and seemingly throughout the country, the excitement about these bikes was palpable. Cargo bike lovers were head over heels and eagerly sharing their passion for this amazing tool as it evolves in affordability, accessibility and transformative power. I fell in love with this community instantly - even before the arrival of our dazzling Joe Bike ShuttleBug months later.
Whereas the trailer seemed to make the kids feel a bit like luggage, in the ShuttleBug they are my copilots! We sail down our hill together, around every switchback, feeling safe, secure, magical. As we cruise through town, people on sidewalks and in cars smile, wave, and laugh. The kids chant “Go, Mama, go!” or “Mommy, catch that car!” The bike is a revelation, but it was not until a year later, after we added a throttle-activated Ezee electric hub motor to the front wheel of our ShuttleBug, that the true signiﬁcance became clear. By now I was sold on the safety, comfort and fun that our new bike offered; I had no idea that a little thing called e-assist would blow my mind and convince me that the US is headed for a cargo bike revolution!
Pre-electriﬁcation, going anywhere with our typical load of three well-fed people, their lunches, a camera bag, and two balance bikes was a major commitment of energy and time. Marin is a vast and spread-out county and many favorite activities are 5-10 hilly miles away - not a quick ride carrying 100 pounds. And of course even the shortest trips concluded with a painful, sweaty and somewhat stressful climb home. With 1100 watts or so at my disposal - when needed - there is no hesitation and no excuse! I can go most anywhere anytime without using the car, and get as much (or as little) exercise as I want. Beyond the school commute, we go on twenty-mile adventures without worrying about travel time, extra weight or plain old exhaustion. I feel safer knowing I can accelerate quickly if necessary, and love the way the motor can give us immediate momentum pulling away from a stop sign or light.