A Guide to Cargo Biking

Cargo bikes gain popularity as families look for minivan alternatives.

Written by:

Because We All Have Stuff to Haul

By Finley Fagan

When Morris Worksman established Worksman Cycles in 1898 he believed that a well-designed cargo bike could replace the horse and wagon. Henry Ford begged to differ, and so King Car all but killed the fledgling cargo bike. The towns, cities and suburbs of North America grew to revolve around and to rely upon the convenience of the automobile; bicycles were relegated to the role of recreational toys, and the culture of cargo cycling didn’t evolve much beyond the paper boy.

But in the late 1990s, almost a century after Worksman Cycles built their first cargo trike in New York City, cargo biking started making a comeback on the streets of North America with hot spots in Portland, Seattle, the Bay Area, New York City and Colorado. From one- and two-wheeled trailers (B.O.B./ Burley) to longtail frame extensions (Xtracycle); the tried and true Dutch box bikes and Danish trikes (Bakfiets, Nihola); longtail bikes (Surly Big Dummy/ Yuba Mundo); and open source DIY cargo bikes (Tom Labonty in Portland) – nowadays there is a cargo hauling option for almost every terrain, use and budget.

So what do we know about this curious breed of cyclist with a fetish for weight? Sales figures indicate that cargo cyclists are split 50 percent female, 50 percent male and that they are more than just couriers and small business owners. Vik Banerjee, the Lazy Randonneur, has noticed two more groups of cargo cyclists: “1) bike geeks who want to ride bikes more” and “2) families and individuals who are trying to be green and not drive … not necessarily bike people in general, but they see cargo bikes as a way to replace car trips.”

Nicole and Anthony Stout are two parents that have taken cargo cycling one step further, recently celebrating their third anniversary of car-free living. So how is “car freedom” going for them and their two young children? “At first we thought we’d have to save up and buy a Prius or something, then we discovered (cargo) bikes do the job nicely. … Living car-free is very healthy for our kids. They see so much more, smell so much more, notice so much more than when they go someplace via car.” But Anthony acknowledges that living car-free in suburban USA has not always been easy. “Like most things, there is a point of diminishing returns. Living 80 percent car-free is VERY doable, going the next 20 percent up to totally car-free requires at least as much effort if not more than the first 80 percent.” But Anthony is quick to add, “There are few experiences that we don’t enjoy more by bike than we did by car.”

For those wanting to get a taste of cargo cycling, the good news is that it is not so different from riding a regular bike. Extra weight makes for slower starts and slower stops, but is not a big deal on flat terrain once you have momentum. For hillier terrain, consider stronger brakes, lower gearing and choose between an electric assist or an extra buff pair of legs. Fatter tires, beefier rims and more spokes will help cushion loads, and extra stability can be achieved by keeping your weight low and balancing it from side to side.

So how will cargo cycling fare in the next century? Will we follow the lead of Copenhagen and Amsterdam whose strong cargo biking culture sees more trips made by bicycles than cars? Time will tell, but right now more and more people are realizing that cargo biking is not just good for the environment, it is healthier, cheaper, more rewarding and more fun.

Cargo Culture Links

Longtail Cargo Bikes

Xtracycle – xtracycle.com

Surly ‘Big Dummy’– surlybikes.com

Yuba ‘Mundo’ – yubaride.com

Kona ‘Ute’ – konaworld.com

Bilenky – bilenky.com

Trailers

B.O.B. Trailers – bobgear.com

Burley Trailers – burley.com

Tony’s Trailers, BC – tonystrailers.com

Box Bikes

WorkCycles: Imported Bakfiets and more – workcycles.com

Metrofiets, Portland – metrofiets.com

Tom’s Cargo Bikes, Portland – tomscargobikes.com

Cargo Business

Soup Cycle, Portland – soupcycle.com

Bike powered coffee roasting and delivery, California – thepepperpeddler.com

Portland Christmas Tree Delivery – treesbybike.com

Birdbath: Baked Deliveries in Manhattan – buildagreenbakery.com

Organic Food Delivery in Saratosa – harvestcycle.com

Cargo Inspiration

Cargo Bike Gallery – cargobikegallery.com

Cargo Bikes in Canada – cargobike.ca

Car-free living on the road to sustainability – longwalktogreen.blogspot.com

Riding the Spine: Alaska to Patagonia off-road on cargo bikes – ridingthespine.com

DIY Open Source Cargo Bikes – tomscargobikes.com/BUILD_YOUR_OWN.php

Cycling Gypsies : dogs on cargo bikes – cyclinggypsies.wordpress.com

7 Comments

  • Jorge

    I’m not a Trek fan, but many people are, and so it may be worth noting that Trek has a cargo bike called the Trek Transport.

  • Thomas Arbs

    I have a feeling the lack of depth mentioned by some of the comments here is owed to confined space in a printed magazine (you remember the things made from dead trees) rather than lack of interest or knowledge on Fin’s behalf. A double-page article can only appetize those who want more, not satisfy those who already know-it-all on the subject!

  • Gabe

    $4750 for the Joe Bike! The workcycles bakfiets cargo bike long is cheaper and better outfitted. Also, little was said about the benefits of transporting kids who are too big for child seats (Weeride, iBert, etc..) and too young for trailer bikes. Cargo bikes are the best choice!

  • ridealot

    I think you guys left out some good bikes that should have been reviewed instead of mentioned in passing in your cargo issue. Especially bikes with enclosed chain cases…A neat guide to buying a cargo bike appears on http://www.chicargobike@blogspot.com.

  • wenzday jane

    Also surprised to see Metro Pedal Power left out completely, especially since our Cargo bikes and pedal-trucks do distribution for Momentum magazine in Boston!

  • Bert

    I was surprised to see Worksman Cycles mention in the article and left out of the list of links. Worksman still builds cargo bikes in a variety of formats.

    http://www.worksman.com/

  • Katie

    Small correction: the Yuba Mundo isn’t a frame extension like the xtra, it’s a fully-integrated long-tail frame like the Big Dummy, Ute, or Trek Transport.

    -a Yuba-riding mama
    http://civilizedconveyance.blogspot.com

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