Consider buying a cargo bike or having your road bike converted. Cargo bikes let you haul kids, groceries, pets, and even large items without paying a cent for gas.
Photo credit: grrsh
Think about your New Years' resolutions. In a typical year, you might have listed getting fit, saving money, squeezing in more quality family time, and even going greener as worthy goals. If so, a cargo bike may actually help you scratch all those items off your list.
Although dusting off the road bike hanging in your garage is an admirable idea, a cargo bike is a more viable alternative to a car than the average bicycle. Regular road bikes can be used to haul groceries and small gear with the help of bike trailers or panniers (side bags), but a cargo bike is better-equipped to handle the extra weight.
Cargo bikes are bicycles or tricycles designed to hold extra weight. Extended in the front or back, cargo bikes usually sport boxes, baskets or flat platforms for hauling cargo. Trikes can accommodate large cargo boxes but aren't as agile, especially around corners. Some recent cargo tricycle designs incorporate tilt-steering systems for better handling.
You can still make use of a road bike while getting the benefits of a cargo bike, however. Ross Evans of Xtracycle devised a "longtail" kit to extend the frame of a road bike. This attachment gives your road bike the extra room and capacity to perform the functions of a cargo bike.
Whether you go with a new cargo bike or trick out your old road bike, the benefits are the same. Cargo bikes allow you to shop, zip around town doing errands, take your kids to school or your dog to the vet, and even haul large items on some models.
In fact, cargo bikes are ideal for small businesses. From restaurant deliveries to hauling tools to job sites, replacing just one vehicle with a cargo bike provides big transportation savings. Although a new cargo bike can cost as much as 3000 USD, the absence of gas and other vehicle expenses makes for a quick return on investment. Having a road bike converted to a cargo bike is significantly cheaper, and some DIY types have made the switch for $20 or less.
Since cargo bikes are still pretty unusual in most parts of the U.S. and many other parts of the world, they make great attention-getters for your business. A sign on the side of a cargo bike is probably going to garner a lot more interest than one on the side of a van. And your company's eco-friendly mode of transportation will win points with some potential customers.
Individuals riding cargo bikes can benefit from the extra attention as well. A cargo bike is a great conversation-starter, so you just might make new friends. Even if you don't, your cargo bike may inspire someone else to ditch her daily car commute in favor of a fun-filled ride in the fresh air.
Your kids are sure to benefit as well. They'll be entertained by the sights and sounds whizzing by, and thrilled by the novelty of getting around in something other than an SUV. Fresh air and exercise will become second-nature, even to kids who normally spend way too much time in front of a computer or TV.
While many American children are in danger of becoming couch potatoes, some European countries have embraced bicycles for many years. Cargo bikes are popular in the bicycle-centric Dutch culture, so it isn't surprising that some of the more popular cargo bike brands are Netherlands- based. Bakfiets is one such well-known company, and its name is based on the words for "bucket" or "box" (bak) and "bicycle" (fiets).
Although the U.S. is decidedly less bicycle-oriented than the Netherlands, some bike-friendly cities boast innovative cargo bike designers and enthusiasts. San Francisco, Portland and Seattle pose a challenge not found in Amsterdam — abundant hills. The minds behind U.S. companies Xtracycle, Metrofiets, Onya Cycles and Frances Cycles to constantly re-engineer cargo bike design to adapt to the more varied topography of the American west coast.
The cargo bike continues to evolve into a safe, easily maneuvered vehicle that can handle tough terrain. With the enthusiastic support of bike aficionados, the popularity of cargo bikes seems likely to grow. With more cargo bike companies and customers to buy their wares, prices are sure to come down.
In some cities, cargo bike lovers can join groups on long, leisurely rides that end in a delicious meal or drinks at a pub or winery. If you're lucky enough to live in such a bike-friendly city, consider meeting up with a growing group of devotees. If not, maybe you could start a cargo bike revolution in your town.
"Make" magazine; "Cargo Bike Power;" Joshua Hart; October 2010