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The Long, Balanced Haul
October 26, 2012 3:01 PM   Subscribe

Cargo bikes, long a mainstay in the Netherlands and emerging as an automotive alternative in the U.S. (via bike-friendly Portland), come in many flavors: Longtails, longjohns, cycle trucks, porteurs, trikes and the traditional Dutch bakfiet. Will a cargo bike transform your life?
posted by Chinese Jet Pilot (73 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite

 
Bakfiets. The singular has an 's.'

English: Bike
Dutch: Fiets

English: Pants
Dutch: Broek

Go figure.
posted by fifthrider at 3:15 PM on October 26, 2012 [8 favorites]


And, incidentally, the answer to your rhetorical question is yes. Very yes. Just having panniers on a touring bike is enough to totally change how you go about your business.
posted by fifthrider at 3:18 PM on October 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


They're a lot more practical in places that are totally flat, like the Netherlands (and almost all of Portland). In my neighborhood in Seattle, I've got a bit of ~20% grade to get up. I've heard, though, that a longtail handles about as well as a regular bike, and when I upgrade eventually I'm certainly going to try one out.

My bike is pretty cargo-ey already; I frequently carry up to 50 pounds, including awkward loads like my dry-cleaning. I'd carry more if I could fit a front basket that didn't make my bike weeble and wobble like a supermarket cart with a bad wheel.

My biggest need, though, is an enclosed drivetrain, which is available with wide gearing only if you have a suitcase of money to spend on a Rohloff or Alfine internal hub (and horizontal dropouts).
posted by Fnarf at 3:19 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's quite a difficult problem. To be useful on the same level as a car, the cargo bike must have a securely locking cargo container, it has to be securely attached (read: welded) to the bike, and you need to be able to really lock the bike to something, too. On top of that, you kind of need it to be cheap for mass adoption, and it can't be too heavy. It's a lot of difficult requirements to match all at once.
posted by Mitrovarr at 3:24 PM on October 26, 2012


This has given me a whimsical desire to have a cargo bike hearse at my funeral.
posted by jaduncan at 3:28 PM on October 26, 2012 [11 favorites]


I'm old, tired and winded. A lifetime of smoking and drinking usually means the bicycle posts go unheeded by me.

But this post got my mental wheels spinning - why hasn't the cargo trike idea been more applied in the motorcycle arena? I think there's an untapped market here.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 3:30 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Previously.
posted by andythebean at 3:35 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


When I was in the Netherlands I saw a ton of parents driving their kids around in bakfietsen that look like the longjohn link. and of course I immediately fell in nerd love with whole families on the spot.
posted by entropone at 3:38 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


why hasn't the cargo trike idea been more applied in the motorcycle arena? I think there's an untapped market here.

Maybe in the US, but it's not untapped everywhere.
posted by stopgap at 3:48 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


This has given me a whimsical desire to have a cargo bike hearse at my funeral.

Then die in Eugene.
posted by Danf at 3:51 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just beat me to it, Danf. Eugene: When Portland just isn't Portlandy enough.
posted by darksasami at 3:52 PM on October 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


darksasami, there are actually several bike hearses in operation down here.

So no waiting.
posted by Danf at 3:54 PM on October 26, 2012


Maybe in the US, but it's not untapped everywhere

Man, why do those Piaggio Apes have to be two-stroke? The emissions on those must be godawful. A regular two-stroke scooter emits as much pollutants as a whole highway full of cars.
posted by Fnarf at 3:56 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I know I'm not the first, by far. But I have been working on plans for my own design of a bike camper for a while now.

Maybe when I'm done I can finally cash in my Portland points for a Timbers ticket. Or at least a scarf, so I can pretend I am a fan.. much like most the rowdies at Timbers games pretend to give a shit about football in general..
posted by mediocre at 3:56 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I also fell in love with these in the Netherlands -- but the damn things cost about as much as a decent second hand car!
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:58 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


the rowdies at Timbers games pretend to give a shit about football in general

Well, to be fair, they've really never seen it played. [ducks, running]
posted by Fnarf at 3:58 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just having panniers on a touring bike is enough to totally change how you go about your business.

This is so true. I have some awesome rear baskets on my old hybrid and love them to bits. But yeah I live in a flat place with a better climate even than the Netherlands. I daydream about a bakfiets but even if I sold my car to pay for it I wouldn't have quite enough money.
posted by ambrosia at 3:59 PM on October 26, 2012


Well, to be fair..

Heh.. I love how the Timbers have more or less been an embarrassingly bad team since the inception. Even though it gives the pretenders reason to cheer/drink harder because omgunderdawg, I am waiting for the moment it tips the other way like it did with the Blazers. When it goes from "We love our losers" to "BURN THE STADIUM!"
posted by mediocre at 4:03 PM on October 26, 2012


Will a cargo bike transform your life?

Yes. Probably while I'm crossing the street on foot in Amsterdam.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 4:06 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I make do with Wald folding baskets on the rear and a good granny gear on my old hybrid. Changing to North Road handlebars from the drops, and mounting fat slick tires, has made all the difference in the world. I ride to work in a suit and tie quite often. If you change your attitude so that you're not beating the world in an imaginary race, but just ambling along, it's quite practical. My bike weighs a ton, but it's not really an issue.
posted by Fnarf at 4:06 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I use a bakfiets at my job. I'm a gardener. We use it to haul soil, rocks, tools, plants and all sorts of other things. It is fixed gear with a drum brake that is intended more to keep it from moving when it is stopped than for stopping it; although with a load of soil, stopping using the pedals is difficult. It works fairly well - but I'd think twice about it if there were hills.

We have two bikes and they replace two motorized vehicles. Not so bad.
posted by sciencegeek at 4:06 PM on October 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Best I've found in the way of pannier storage are these. Basically, dry-bags with a mounting system- a real lifesaver in a wet climate, in short. Pity they don't ship outside of western Europe.
posted by fifthrider at 4:09 PM on October 26, 2012


To be useful on the same level as a car, the cargo bike must have a securely locking cargo container, it has to be securely attached (read: welded) to the bike, and you need to be able to really lock the bike to something, too

Really? My pickup works great and has a totally open cargo container -- in fact, that's exactly what makes it useful. The cargo bikes look to me like they fit neatly into a few niches -- running errands for things smaller than require a car or truck, hauling a few kids (or on the case of that Portland woman who got featured in an FPP a month or two ago, hauling six or seven kids) around town, and making business deliveries.

There are other things that a car or truck does much better -- hauling larger loads, going longer distances, letting you text your friend while changing stations on the radio and sipping your latte, things like that.

If we priced parking according to the amount it actually costs (read: a phenomenal amount), you'd see an awful lot of people looking for alternative options for short-distance commuting and errand running. But as long as parking is free or cheap and gas is affordable, cargo bikes will remain an affectation, cute and fun but peripheral to the mainstream.
posted by Forktine at 4:12 PM on October 26, 2012


There is a woman who tools around here with, what I guess, is a variation of the longjohn.
She's got a regular car seat strapped to the front, another kid in one of the traditional rear bike seats, and a third kid on one of those tag-along bikes.

She's often wearing a long hippie skirt and peasant blouse, probably made out of hemp.

It's an impressive sight. I'd love to chat with her one day about the setup, but she seriously hauls.
posted by madajb at 4:18 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Permanently mounted bucket panniers here: http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/?doc_id=1841

There are loads of these on Instructables; the biggest problem seems to be getting the right buckets. The main supplier has a minimum order. If you don't have a cat, the kitty-litter ones are kind of dumb. I saw one where a guy used two plastic Kingsford Charcoal buckets, which I've never seen in a store.
posted by Fnarf at 4:20 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Saw a local alterna-dad with brand new tattoos and handlebar mustache with one in town. Looked at them online, saw the price and nearly had a stroke. Those things are neat, Those things are freaking overpriced!
posted by couchdive at 4:29 PM on October 26, 2012


They're not really overpriced if you compare them to well-made regular bicycles. If you're remembering the Huffy your dad bought you at Sears in 1981, you're not comparing apples to apples.
posted by Fnarf at 4:34 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have a trailer for my bicycle, and when I do a grocery run that's too big for panniers, I take the trailer. The trailer is a frame with removable bins.

Picture.

I bought this from a local guy but if you're handy with tools, they're pretty easy to make yourself.

A few weeks ago I had to get my father in law over to jumpstart the car because the battery had run down after not being driven for ages.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 4:34 PM on October 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


i_am_joe's_spleen: "I have a trailer for my bicycle, and when I do a grocery run that's too big for panniers, I take the trailer. The trailer is a frame with removable bins. Picture."
Can I buy that penguin hat?
posted by brokkr at 4:43 PM on October 26, 2012


As a fairly recent Portland Oregon to Portland Maine transplant, I totally miss riding year round, and on a flat city.

My kid would freaking LOVE a cargo bike, but barely tolerates the trailer.

We would have bought a cargo bike had we stayed in PDX. Instead we have another goddamn car.
posted by furnace.heart at 4:43 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


The trailer is pretty practical, and if it mounts near the rear axle, very easy to manage with a normal bike. On flat ground, you almost never even notice the load. And the bike is easily converted back to normal. You can make your own or use a store bought kid carrier relatively inexpensively.
posted by 2N2222 at 4:52 PM on October 26, 2012


Bikes At Work makes the best heavy-duty bike trailers I've ever used. I've hauled 400+ lbs on one.
posted by ryanrs at 4:53 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hmm, on further inspection, the Bikes At Work trailers have changed from the tubular truss trailers I used before. I assume the new ones are even better.
posted by ryanrs at 4:56 PM on October 26, 2012


Forktine: My pickup works great and has a totally open cargo container -- in fact, that's exactly what makes it useful.

It's not entirely open! You have the cab. On a bike, you have nothing - you have to carry every item you have (possibly including the mandatory flat repair kit and the lights) into every place you go. It makes combining multiple errands into a single trip difficult, and that's especially bad on a bike, since you need to combine trips as much as possible.

An open cargo container on a bike is still useful but one that can be sealed would be more so. Particularly if you could leave it open if you wanted for large items, but could close it as well.
posted by Mitrovarr at 5:01 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think I'v mentioned that I don't drive. I am close to blind in one eye. I never had the balance necessary for riding a bike. Also my legs did really badly with one of those Surrey bikes, so I wonder if I could manage a cargo bike physically. It's a shame, because given that as acuity girl a camel is NOT in my future, and a car is NOT in my future, a decent cargo bike would be terrific,
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 5:18 PM on October 26, 2012


Mitrovarr: the trailer design that I linked to can be customised to use any large lidded plastic bin. If I cared about it, I'd use a bin with a lid, and fit a padlock.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:18 PM on October 26, 2012


I think I'v mentioned that I don't drive. I am close to blind in one eye. I never had the balance necessary for riding a bike. Also my legs did really badly with one of those Surrey bikes, so I wonder if I could manage a cargo bike physically. It's a shame, because given that as acuity girl a camel is NOT in my future, and a car is NOT in my future, a decent cargo bike would be terrific,

You sound like the ideal candidate for one of those tricycle bikes. There are a bunch of old guys here who cruise around town on old-school tricycles with big cargo baskets at about one mile per hour (the trikes can go faster, but the old guys struggle to maintain speed even downhill). Those are probably the cheapest, but the heavier duty cargo trikes would be able to carry larger loads and even a passenger.

As said above, the cost is high compared to a garage sale bike, but reasonable compared to fancy-pants bikes.
posted by Forktine at 5:27 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


What sorts of things do you carry in a cargo bike that you can't carry in panniers but that wouldn't be more practical to carry in a car?

I mean, basically, my husband wants a cargo bike, we have to maintain at least one car right now, and I just don't see on what occasions a cargo bike would be useful that we wouldn't just take a car anyway. He already can get a week of groceries with his panniers, which is about the largest load we buy regularly, and if we go to the home improvement store we have to drive on divided highways that are VERY bike unfriendly and it seems easier to take lumber home in a car anyway. Is there an in-between load where it's too much for panniers but not worth driving a car you already have in the garage? (I totally see how it's useful if you don't have a car.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:51 PM on October 26, 2012


Take a reasonably regular city bike. Put a frame-mounted or handlebar-mounted front rack on it. Attach a crate to it. Make sure you have a rear carrier installed. Hang a double pannier over it. Maybe get a double kickstand so it's more stable when being loaded.

The result: a non-cargo bike that can haul a lot of stuff very easily. Dutch-style panniers are easy to use and can carry lots of groceries. Meanwhile a front box is very handy for putting a bag or backpack in. Massive bonus points if the front box is an old wooden crate. (I speak from experience here.)
posted by parudox at 5:53 PM on October 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


Eyebrows McGee - They make sense where cycling is simply a better way of getting around, when a car isn't available, or when a bike is just more enjoyable or otherwise preferred. Personally, having more than just panniers on my bike means I can more easily combine trips - going to a store (or multiple) on the way home from work. I don't have to figure out how to stuff the panniers and I don't have to weigh myself down with a heavy backpack. A bike with more cargo capacity means I can do more when I use my bike to get around and leave the car at home, which means I'm more likely to bike in the first place.
posted by parudox at 6:02 PM on October 26, 2012


What sorts of things do you carry in a cargo bike that you can't carry in panniers but that wouldn't be more practical to carry in a car?

Kids. :)
posted by fancyoats at 6:04 PM on October 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


There is a woman who tools around here with, what I guess, is a variation of the longjohn.
She's got a regular car seat strapped to the front, another kid in one of the traditional rear bike seats, and a third kid on one of those tag-along bikes.

She's often wearing a long hippie skirt and peasant blouse, probably made out of hemp.

It's an impressive sight. I'd love to chat with her one day about the setup, but she seriously hauls.


http://www.metafilter.com/119738/My-kids-have-forgotten-what-its-like-to-even-be-in-a-car
posted by mecran01 at 6:09 PM on October 26, 2012


Fnarf writes "the biggest problem seems to be getting the right buckets. The main supplier has a minimum order. If you don't have a cat, the kitty-litter ones are kind of dumb. I saw one where a guy used two plastic Kingsford Charcoal buckets, which I've never seen in a store."

Those size square buckets are also used to ship eggs, mayonnaise, and pickles to restaurants. Some phoning around should be able to net you a couple.

Mitrovarr writes "An open cargo container on a bike is still useful but one that can be sealed would be more so. Particularly if you could leave it open if you wanted for large items, but could close it as well."

Lots of options for example these ActionPackers are lockable and splash proof and fairly light. You'd still need a rack to put it on though.
posted by Mitheral at 6:41 PM on October 26, 2012


Here is a clickable graphic with, I think, most of the cargo bikes available on the market right now. It is in German, but we are graphically literate, so it shouldn't be a problem.

When you click one it takes you to the manufacturers website.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 7:00 PM on October 26, 2012


In Montreal, dépanneurs (corner stores, bodegas) had a long tradition of bicycle delivery – this kind of bike or the one shown in a night-time picture here were used to bring most often a case of beer but also other groceries to people in the neighbourhood. They weren't expensive bakfiets but must have been turned out locally by some enterprising welder. The kind shown in the second photo was a very common sight when I was a kid.
posted by zadcat at 7:18 PM on October 26, 2012


CETMA Cargo Bikes. I own one of their racks and I've been lusting after a cargo bike forever.
posted by monkeymike at 7:22 PM on October 26, 2012


What sorts of things do you carry in a cargo bike that you can't carry in panniers but that wouldn't be more practical to carry in a car?

A couple cases of beer.

Take a reasonably regular city bike. Put a frame-mounted or handlebar-mounted front rack on it. Attach a crate to it. Make sure you have a rear carrier installed. Hang a double pannier over it. Maybe get a double kickstand so it's more stable when being loaded.


That's what I do now, using a 3 speed Worksman. But really, it isn't as easy to carry a full load as with a trailer. Any significant load in the handlebar basket and the whole thing is a bear to handle. The nice thing about the trailer is that it's virtually "transparent" to the rider, even when significantly loaded.

I did run a Raleigh Twenty with a crate on the rear for a few years. It was a little better, as the weight was lower and behind.
posted by 2N2222 at 7:51 PM on October 26, 2012


I love my cargo bike. Now that my kids are old enough to ride their own bikes, I never have to drive in nice weather unless I'm going more than a couple miles, and if I'm running errands without them, I can go even farther, faster. But I'm priveleged to have been able to choose the city and neighborhood I live in partly because of it's bikeability. And I confess, I'm likely to drive if there's a chance of rain and I'm not nearly Minnesotan enough to ride in snow. Still, it's changed my life measurably to be able to load up a week's worth of food for a family of four on my bike half the year.
posted by padraigin at 9:11 PM on October 26, 2012


I live in San Jose, I would own a bike for about a month before it would get ripped off, so I don't see it being worth the price.

That and the thing where I usually commute about 30-40 miles a day, to at least three different destinations. So no, I'm not seeing it.
posted by happyroach at 10:05 PM on October 26, 2012


I commuted in San Jose thirty years ago. Bascom Avenue at 1:00 AM. Only cyclist over the age of eight on any road. Trying to persuade the people at the Wendy's drive-through that I was a "vehicle" and should be allowed to order (the inside was closed). The last time I was there, a couple of years ago, the place was COMPLETELY OVERRUN with bikes -- it was some kind of Critical Mass ride, with literally a thousand bikes or more filling Hamilton Avenue. That was...different.
posted by Fnarf at 10:13 PM on October 26, 2012


Best I've found in the way of pannier storage are these. Basically, dry-bags with a mounting system- a real lifesaver in a wet climate, in short. Pity they don't ship outside of western Europe.

Aren't those basically the same as Ortlieb Back Roller panniers, which can be bought everywhere?
posted by cmonkey at 10:16 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


What sorts of things do you carry in a cargo bike that you can't carry in panniers but that wouldn't be more practical to carry in a car?

Bulk groceries. I buy staples like onions, rice, flour, and potatoes no less than 5kg at a time. I have very nice large Ortleib panniers that can carry a lot of groceries, but it's easier to use the trailer than have over-full, over-heavy panniers.

Similarly, a 40litre sack of compost, a 25kg sack of cement, other kinds of gardening supplies are easily transported in a bike trailer but don't require a car.

I only resort to the car when I'm really short on time or the dimensions of the thing to be moved make it hazardous.

So I guess the sweet spot for trailers and cargo bikes is compact heavy things.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:19 PM on October 26, 2012


A photo I took in Taiwan of one of the ubiquitous motorized tricycles (in this case, used for hauling garbage and recycling). A Google Images search for 三轮车A Chinese dealer in motorized tricycles.
posted by jiawen at 11:37 PM on October 26, 2012


Fnarf writes "Trying to persuade the people at the Wendy's drive-through that I was a "vehicle" and should be allowed to order (the inside was closed)."

None of the drive thrus here will service bikes; a real pain when as you mentioned the main restaurant is closed.

It's supposedly for the cyclist's safety for which there might be a small grain of truth but they'll serve motorcyclists. However even when I was working a late night window I figured it more about the robbery risk. A person driving a car is unlikely to try to climb through the window. I've often wondered how big your bike would have to get before they'd serve you. Maybe a quadracycle could get you service.
posted by Mitheral at 1:08 AM on October 27, 2012


Have any of my fellow NL-living Mefites seen any longtails? I have seen every configuration of bike imaginable here, but never a longtail.
posted by digitalprimate at 1:55 AM on October 27, 2012


OK, just took a look at several Dutch biking fora, and the consensus seems to be that the longtail is a hideous and impractical interloper. There may have been a tinge of national pride in those posts....
posted by digitalprimate at 2:05 AM on October 27, 2012


What sorts of things do you carry in a cargo bike that you can't carry in panniers but that wouldn't be more practical to carry in a car?

A fully kitted out bike repair shop that can go where the bike broke down (Dutch).

More generally, quick home deliveries, the weekly shopping, 2 to 4 children, everything that's not too big that needs to go to and from places it's hard to get into with a car. Amsterdam with its narrow streets and canals and shit is ideal for it.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:06 AM on October 27, 2012


To be useful on the same level as a car

My pickup works great and has a totally open cargo container

we have to drive on divided highways that are VERY bike unfriendly

Etc. I hope everyone sees that this is basically the I-already-have-a-car/truck/tank and I-already-live-in-an-auto-designed-community and I-have-already-factored-in-the-financials-of-auto-based-living (including registration and insurance) objection. "Why would I change when I've already..."

The appeal and application of cargo bikes is actually more for the increasing percentage of Americans who do NOT already own a car/have a driver's license, and indeed who may live in one of the many cities in which it is easier every year to NOT own a car and to ride a bike to more and more places. Then it becomes a proposition of I-do-not-own-a-truck, so how-do-I-get-my-paint-home.

cargo bikes will remain an affectation, cute and fun but peripheral to the mainstream

Who said cargo bikes were trying to be the mainstream? If you think bikes are unimportant, and never build infrastructure for bikes or encourage bike shopping or commuting or whatever (something even communities that have great recreational cycling facilities can suffer from), then nobody will ever bike. If instead you consider that we have 1 in 8 American trips are taken by bike, and that adds up to 10 million households, who are underserved ... well, then you can accept the status quo or you can fight it.

It's the same with alternative energy like solar or wind. People say it will never replace oil or coal, usually with the qualifier "completely", as if that's the only measure for another source of energy -- to be the one single overriding choice. But why can't we build our infrastructure around more choices, indeed around people themselves choosing multiple things within their own sphere?
posted by dhartung at 2:27 AM on October 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


I miss my cargo bike. When my kids grew out of it, I lent it to a cousin with small children, because I felt I could manage easily with my city bike + my almost never used old car. But where I live, the car was impractical, except for longer trips, and at least once a week, I need to transport something big and/or heavy, like books or tools or food for a larger gathering.
I called my cousin because I knew they had bought a new car, and they live in a more suburban situation than me, but she told me she uses the cargo-bike every single day. It's just so much simpler and cheaper to use than driving for a lot of daily tasks.
posted by mumimor at 2:37 AM on October 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also (and then I swear I'll stop commenting) in Holland I've seen several disabled people who have these special bike + wheelchair set ups where they can park, detach the bike part, then proceed into, e.g., the grocery store, in the wheelchair. Quite handy, mobility wise. No idea what they are called, though.
posted by digitalprimate at 2:46 AM on October 27, 2012


I live in The Netherlands and have never seen a longtail bicycle, but it wouldn't surprise me to learn that people resisted buying them because they were unfamiliar. I see bakfiets everywhere at all times. Those things are outrageously expensive, but then again I see some city bikes in the shops going for €1200. For a single speed bicycle that weighs, from the looks of it, more than I do.

One fun thing I discovered the hard way: almost all bikes here use a Dunlop valve instead of the infinitely superior Schrader valve. So even though there's a Schrader valve on every single motorized vehicle in the country, you need a different pump (or an adapter) to fill your bicycle tires. Or your fietsbanden as they say.
posted by 1adam12 at 2:51 AM on October 27, 2012


Re cargobikes: here's somebody who restored an old Dutch bike that was used to transport milk churns. And here's an old picture of the daily reality. Those churns are 40 kg each when full btw. So that amounts to 160 kg (350 lb) all in all on the bike.
That weblog is filled with old cargobikes that are being lovingly restored; for instance with cross frames (for short people) or tipping bakfietsen as used by street cleaners.
posted by joost de vries at 4:25 AM on October 27, 2012


I live in Minneapolis and see XtraCycles (long-tail bikes) several times a week. I'm not sure I'd consider them mainstream exactly, but they're also not rare.

Imagine you take public transit to work and don't own a car. And you need to pick up toilet paper. Have you ever tried to carry the smallest package of toilet paper (24 rolls) on a regular bike? It sucks. Minneapolis is a small city and has 50,000 people who don't have access to a car. As long as toilet paper comes in 24-packs, there's going to be a healthy market for cargo bikes.
posted by miyabo at 6:40 AM on October 27, 2012


If instead you consider that we have 1 in 8 American trips are taken by bike, and that adds up to 10 million households, who are underserved

It's more like one in 100 trips that are taken by bike in the US.
The good news is that the share of all trips made by bicycle is up 25 percent since 2001, to one percent. The bad news is that even short trips are still dominated by privately owned vehicles, a category of vehicle that does not include bikes. Half of all trips are three miles or less, but fewer than 2 percent of those trips are made by bicycle, while 72 percent of them are driven. (citation)
I think bicycles are great, and totally covet a cargo bike and might buy one within the next few years. But I'm also under no delusions that, barring serious infrastructural changes, cargo bicycles will represent anything other than a hobby or affectation for the vast majority of Americans.
posted by Forktine at 6:47 AM on October 27, 2012


infinitely superior Schrader valve

Uh, no. Schrader valves are a terrible choice for a bicycle tire, because they are much more difficult to hand-pump. You have to supply pressure not just to fill the tire but to overcome the spring-loaded valve, and to make matters much worse, it's almost impossible to fit a Schrader pump without losing a large quantity of air. Auto tires require a large quantity of air, even though their pressures are very low, so Schrader works for them, but a bike, with much less volume but at a much higher pressure, Presta (or Dunlop) is the only way to go.

You shouldn't be blowing up your bike tires at the gas station anyways; you stand a large risk of blowing out your tire. Use a floor pump if you're at home, a frame pump if you're on the road.

the smallest package of toilet paper (24 rolls)

Every store in town carries Scott toilet paper (by a wide margin the best kind) in single paper-wrapped rolls. All that ultra-soft stuff is (a) ecologically damaging because of the long fibers and (b) gross, because of the high risk of pushing your fingers through. Even if you disagree, every grocery in town carries four- and eight-packs as well. And on my "regular" bike, with a rack and rear baskets, I could easily carry a 24-pack of toilet paper, AND a couple of days of groceries, AND my dry cleaning. Even in the rain. What you need is a cargo net.
posted by Fnarf at 9:09 AM on October 27, 2012


(b) gross, because of the high risk of pushing your fingers through.

Perhaps you would be interested in Kevlar toilet paper.
posted by zippy at 9:56 AM on October 27, 2012


Sorry, that was a germanium and silicon knockoff. Here's the real deal.
posted by zippy at 9:59 AM on October 27, 2012


It's more like one in 100 trips that are taken by bike in the US.

Sorry, I was using a bike/ped trip stat, not a bike-only stat. It wasn't the ideal stat for my point.

But I'm also under no delusions that, barring serious infrastructural changes, cargo bicycles will represent anything other than a hobby or affectation for the vast majority of Americans.

I'm really unclear on why you're making this point so emphatically, particularly the loaded choice of words "hobby or affectation". I mean, is not the Hummer the ultimate in affectations? This hasn't been a thread where car-lovers or truck-drivers have been lambasted, so why the defensiveness?

There are many things in our society that are only used by a few people. Do they all need to be cut down to size lest they aspire to the "mainstream"? Is being mainstream the only measure of utility? Are all choices that are not mainstream to be safely ignored? Is that an open-minded attitude or one that is simply solipsism? Again, why that attitude, here? Because all I could choose to just say "So what?" and I don't know what you would reply to such a retort.
posted by dhartung at 1:04 PM on October 27, 2012


This hasn't been a thread where car-lovers or truck-drivers have been lambasted, so why the defensiveness?

Either you are misreading me, or I am communicating poorly, or both. I bicycle (and as I said above, I have strongly covetous feelings towards cargo bikes); I'm as far from an anti-bicycle person as there can be.

That isn't at all contradictory with saying that as things stand now (which is in many ways a shitty situation) cargo bicycles indeed fall into the category of a very cool and fun hobby or lifestyle accessory. Their practicality is limited by the way we have created an almost entirely automobile-centered infrastructure.

Seriously, I think we are in total or almost-total agreement here, right? Would you disagree with any of: a) it would be better if our infrastructure provided all users, not just car drivers, with high quality, safe, and convenient transportation options; b) bicycles and cargo bikes are ideal for city and small town (ie anything at least medium density) transportation and can be easily combined with well-designed and -funded public transit for longer trips; and c) the tremendous subsidies we provide to car driving creates all kinds of negative effects (like sprawl) that make options like bicycles more difficult, less safe, and less convenient for many people?

So I'll apologize for any confusion inadvertently caused by my choices of words, and hopefully we can agree to raise a beer together in honor of the cargo bicycle, long may it roll.
posted by Forktine at 1:32 PM on October 27, 2012


This blog is on my RSS: http://www.bakfiets-en-meer.nl/ It has some great posts on transporting kiddies.

Those who are commenting that cargo bikes are expensive, seem to be underestimating the true cost of motoring.

I drive a small-mid, very economical car, with less than average annual miles in the UK. I spend £2000 per year on petrol/tax/repairs and insurance and my car is depreciating at £500 per year.
So cost of a car for me is £2500 per year (YMMV).

Cargo bikes are £800 to 1800 new. And robust as hell, provided they kept indoor and given domestic (rather than commercial use), they're likely to hold their value for years. Lets estimate I sell after 5 years at half the original price.
That's around £80 -£180 a year.
Pretty good.

I could buy second hand, VGC, good qualty cargo bike at around £800, and sell it 5 years later at around ...£700 having, spent a couple of hundred to maintain it.
So, I'm estimating £60 per year, thats, the cost of 1 tank of petrol, I'm pretty confident I could save that in car costs each year.
Suddenly I'm wondering why I don't have one in my stable already, parked next to the tandem.
Drew
posted by Drew Glass at 3:12 PM on October 27, 2012


Atomic Zombie has plans for making your own cargo bike.
posted by mecran01 at 3:18 PM on October 27, 2012


I am in serious lust over bakfietsen, and am saving my pennies for a CETMA, especially now they've moved to Venice. Good bye, delivery charge!

Right now, I tow my almost-3-year-old behind me in a Chariot, which works for hauling her but is crap for hauling her *and* groceries. Plus, setting the whole thing up takes time. I'd love to leave the bike locked in our back yard, drop her in, and go.
posted by RakDaddy at 5:24 PM on October 27, 2012


I've had an xtracycle for four years. Love it. Always more things to make it do.
posted by drowsy at 5:32 PM on October 27, 2012


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