On the Symbolism of Cargo Bikes

Bakfiets, Somerville MA
Lately I have been spotting more and more cargo bikes and trikes "in the wild" in the Boston Metro area. Bakfiets, Christiania, Nihola, Xtracycle, Yuba Mundo, Gazelle, all sorts of neat models. Interestingly, almost none of them could have been purchased locally, because no local bike shops carry them. This seems to be based on the bizarre notion held by local bike stores and importers/distributors, that Boston would not make a good market for cargo bikes. I have personally heard this rhetoric many times from various members of the bicycle industry: Cargo bikes in Boston? Oh no, there is no market. Terrible place for cycling. Awful drivers, dense car traffic, narrow streets with no room for bike lanes, rude people. It's a good place for fixies and such, but cargo bikes? No way. 

Nihola Cargo Trike, Cambridge MA
But clearly there is a lag between how Boston is perceived by the bicycle industry and what is actually happening here - especially in the lively suburbs (more like boroughs) of Cambridge and Somerville. Beacon Street - a main road that acts as a border between the two - features parade-like processions of cyclists during morning and evening rush hour of almost Copenhagenesque proportions. Women in skirts, men in smart blazers, child seats strapped to rear racks, baskets on the handlebars, enormous panniers, and even - that's right - cargo bikes.

No market for them, eh? I must have seen half a dozen over the past week alone. And since local shops won't sell them, the cargo-bike-starved population of Boston is forced to travel to Portland ME or NYC to shop for them, or else order online, or else attempt to get them direct from the distributor with lots of behind the scenes begging. Odd really.

Xtracycles Radish, Cambridge MA
At this point you might be wondering why I care. In fact, why do I have reviews of cargo bikes here at all (see my test ride reports of the Bakfiets, Larry vs Harry Bullitt, Christiania and the Maderna Cycle Truck)? I don't have children and I don't really have enough stuff to transport on a regular basis to need a dedicated cargo bike. So why the interest?

I think cargo bikes are important in that they indicate how far a city has come in embracing and normalising transportational cycling. They equate cycling with safety and comfort, as opposed to danger and athletic skill. The mere sight of cargo bikes suggests:

"Look, people here must feel comfortable carting around their children by bike!"

"Look, there are people here who even replace their trucks with bikes!"

"Look, it must be okay here for bicycles to take up lots of room on the road!"

And of course when people see signs that something is okay to do because it looks like others do it, they are more likely to consider doing it themselves. So even if they do not need or want a cargo bike per se, they may be more likely to look into cycling with their children, cycling with baggage, cycling on the road, and other aspects of transportational cycling because these ideas are suggested by the mere existence of cargo bikes. 

I suppose a simpler way of saying what I am trying to say might be that cargo bikes are symbolic of a strong, healthy "bike culture." Going with this premise, I am pleased that more of them are popping up in Boston and wish the industry would take note. What about your city?


  1. Yes! I love cargo bikes. We don't have one yet, but plan to get one as soon as we can figure out the best one for us. And that is hard here, with no stores to test ride them from. Although Ferris Wheels in JP has the Yuba Mundo. They used to have an xtracycle too, but I'm not sure if they still do. I'd love to try out a Madsen or a cargo bike with electric assist around here.

  2. My opinion is that the weight weenies still have far too much influence. "Who would want to ride such a heavy bike?" or "I'm not strong enough to ride such a heavy bike."

    As low-volume items, they're also still disproportionately expensive. A Big Dummy "complete", which is basically a stretched mountain bike (plus a few hundred dollars of cargo fittings) costs $1840, no fenders, no lights, no center stand. That's an impediment to sales.

  3. Unexpected after Semi Fail.

    When I got my Xtra 3 1/2 years ago it was mostly life long biker dudes who rode them. Now I'd say women outnumber the men. Just yesterday in a shop that sells them, a woman came in and pretty much wanted to buy it immediately. I asked her if she knew about it. Her reply was not really, but is in the trucking business and intuitively understands long wheelbases.

    The cargo network is strong at schools here: mothers talk to each other and start buying them, figuring the car queue at school is stupid. The top shop for Xtra sales here, besides Xtra itself, has sold about 20 Big Dummies and countless Xtras.

    So yeah, women and cargo bikes as indicator species.

    As I said before, maybe I should move to Boston and open a transpo-specific store on the main Somerville drag.

    We have talked before about the difficulty in either certain shops there to carry cargo bikes or for distributors to be represented there. All I can say to that is: do what you want, but any large city with a bike share program is where you want to be. But don't pick a shop that is going to rep you poorly. Ahem.

    Yeah, you are welcome bike people.

  4. Steven, an indicator species is a species that defines a characteristic of an environment (or niche). In this case, the author is stating that a cargo bike is an indicator (species) of a strong and healthy bike culture.

  5. I agree that cargo bikes in a city could be viewed as a sort of barometer of the transportation/utility cycling culture in the city in question. The people that buy them are definitely early adopters and help propel the concept of bicycles for utility forward in their city amongst both cyclists, motorists, and curious onlookers.

    We have heard all of those excuses before, especially here in Calgary where (contrary to popular belief) it is very hilly, windy, and has earned its "car centric" personality with sprawl, big trucks, and aggressive drivers.

    Even with those (perceived) impediments people are still buying cargo bikes from us and are using them regularly. On top of that, our best selling cargo bikes are our heaviest models too - lighter bikes like Xtracycles and cycletrucks are being outsold by family bikes by a wide margin.

    I agree with "dr2chase" that the weight weenies, aka bike shops 1.0, are choosing to poopoo these bikes and leave it to smaller shops like ours to handle. Fine by us. They can geek out on carbon crap, we'd rather help a family transform their city experience for the better all day long.

  6. Gracious, racer hate has started already.

    Steven, I see your name all over the place and have even seen you in a streetfilms short. Are you completely serious you don't know what the indicator species phenomenon is with respect to women and cyclists?

  7. BikeBike, what models represent "family bikes" to your shop?

  8. Less than 2 grand for a Big Dummy ready to ride, even if fenderlesss, is not bad. How much does a mid-level carbon wonderwagon cost? Well north of that. And a Yuba Mundo is a grand or so. How much is a cheapass new car? A Toyota Yaris starts at over $14,000. It doesn't get much cheaper for something that'll actually run for a while.

    Meanwhile, my daily rider here in LA is 45 years old and going strong. Doesn't carry much cargo--but I just don't buy much, though I have a bike trailer for picking up my inventory a few times a year. If I had room for a Yuba, I'd buy one in a New York minute.

  9. "Unexpected after Semi Fail"

    In a nicely unexpected way, I find that my interests in road cycling and transportation cycling intensify and inform each other, without blending the two together, if that makes sense. I understand a lot more now how "roadie culture" for lack of better words colours what conventional bicycle shops will say to their customers and how that trickles down to stifle a healthy transportation cycling culture. That does not make me like roadcycling any less. But it allows me to clarify my views on the importance of separating the two. Conversely, I also better understand the misinformed and irrational hatred of roadcyclists that some transportational cyclists feel. It's al pretty funny but fascinating stuff.

  10. Steven is being silly. He is super smart (and silly).

  11. Cargo bikes made a splash at Interbike 2010, but were mostly gone from the showroom floor in 2011. Why? Of course mainstream bike business culture loves sport and recreation. That is because, politics aside, that is where the money has been. Cargo bikes are generally a bad investment of a business' typically scarce cash. Add to this the massive costs of shipping, and you have a recipe for zero market penetration. A few companies understand the N. American bike market, and their cargo bikes will grow while others flounder for lack of a sound business model to move these machines.

  12. Believe me, my least favorite shop in the area is a roadie shop that sponsors a pro team. In that respect I understand what the haters are talking about, but many don't understand that bikes are a business and need to sell product. Also misunderstood is the quota shops are forced to endure from Specialized or Trek. That puts a lot of pressure on the owner. Once down this road, when a new market opens up like transpo cycling, the shop is hard-pressed to take them on board because of all sorts of baggage, but the appearance of cargo bikes on the floor does something to take away the cache of the carbon. Perhaps you had the same feeling early on wrt to lovely vs. cargo bikes.

    So my point is to not hate the shop for trying to stay afloat. If your market is too small to support multiple shops or genres, then that is truly too bad. Unless you open your own or move. Boston, clearly, is a large enough market.

  13. I think you will see more "cargo bikes", including trikes, as areas cater more to retirement communities. I've seen a few trikes at grocery stores recently, usually ridden by older folks.

  14. The only time I've seen these they've been ridden by academics.

  15. A few months ago I saw a Christiania cargo bike here in Baltimore. It made me absurdly happy. But it's the only one I've seen. We do, however, have a fair amount of trikes, especially the "Schwinn Meridian" which is sold at Target. I've seen at least three different Meridians in my neighborhood alone. I've also seen a handful of children on trail-a-bikes with their dads. Cycling is definitely catching on here but it's still very male. :(

    1. I live in Baltimore, I have a 4 y/o that I use my Yuba Mundo to take all over the city
      p/u and drop off from pre school, haul laundry to my massage office, I grocery shop etc. etc. I don't think this is a fad

  16. Historically, New England has been a seedbed for forward thinking. The Militia was made up of people from varying backgrounds. Together they banded together for a cause that was bigger than themselves.

  17. The only time I've seen these they've been ridden by academics.

    How could you tell? Did you know them?

  18. They must have been grading papers or editing lecture notes while cycling? Only shows how stable these cargo bikes are!

  19. Somervillain -- I did not know them but I did stop to talk to them and as it happened all three were academics. Two in New England and one in the Midwest. I don't see many of these, which is why I had to stop and talk with these pioneer riders :)

  20. "The only time I've seen these they've been ridden by academics.

    How could you tell? Did you know them?"

    They were caught being pedantic with elbow patches.

  21. I am now told that the 1st bike in the post may indeed belong to academics. Though I cannot be sure it is their specific bike.

  22. I'm sure someone on a cargo bike in my town would be shot. No, first they would be mistaken for someone with a wheelbarrow, then shot.
    If they were riding an old "bike truck" they would be arrested for stealing it from the coal-oil plant.
    You guys up north get all the interesting bikes.

  23. Sounds like the Boston area is ripe for an enterprising soul or souls to open a utility/cargo specific bike shop.

    Velouria, have you worked retail before? ;-)

  24. I've been riding and selling the Yuba Mundo year round in Hartford, CT for the past couple of years. I was the first Yuba dealer in New England and the uptake was definitely a bit slow, but interest definitely continues to build. The fun part is people who still assume I'm the only one and say, "I saw you" or "I saw your bike parked by (someplace I never went)" and I know which customer they saw. I look forward to the day when I can't keep track of everyone.

  25. I see only the one cargo bike in my area and that is underneath me, otherwise outer Sydney is pretty quiet on that front.

  26. Even though we have no kids (and plan to keep it that way), it always puts a smile on my face to see a cargo bike full of kids, or some other arrangement of child-carrying.

    On my bike move, a friend brought a Yubo Mundo for which her husband had built large wooden boxes on each side, padded on the bottom and big enough for a baby's car seat. She brought the bike (and baby) to my move-by-bike, and the baby was on one side....and my pet rat was on the other! (Pippin the Elderly Rat was in her travel cage.)

  27. I agree with "they indicate how far a city has come in embracing and normalising transportational cycling". Nicely written.

    Look back at your previous post. Maybe there is the answer?

    I know that I would consider an Xtracycle but only with an electric assist motor. Otherwise it would be pointless on those hills in my area. I wrote about it a bit here: http://bostonbybike.blogspot.com/2011/11/5km-challenge.html

  28. I use a Larry vs Harry Bullit here in San Diego and get lots of admiring comments. For me it's a fast utility machine that pushes the bikes as toys view out the window... it's like a pedal-pickup truck.
    I also like to us step-through tricylces to further show motorists/everyone that bicycling isn't just for sport - though it's still fun.

  29. Sadly,I have yet to see anything remotely resembling a cargo bike here (and I've been here for 5 or so months) =\

    Disabled Cyclist

  30. Why don't people simply use trailers? Trailers are cheap, practical, and enable almost any bicycle to become a cargo bike (on those relatively infrequent occasions when capacity is called for). Are cargo bicycles really superior, or is the rise of the cargo bike simply another consumer fad?

  31. I believe shops around here do sell them, but I have never seen one in use. Just not very practical in a hilly area. See a number of lightly-used ones on Craigslist, though...

  32. In Paris (the one in France...), cargo bikes are pretty uncommon. You may see some two wheelers (bakfietsen mostly, a few bullts and the occasional Kona Ute or Yuba) though. Trikes are virtualy unknown.
    Probably because Paris is not that flat, in the first place, and because those bikes are very expensive and difficult to park safely overnight (ie, not in the street).

  33. A very good sign indeed :)

    A few months ago we went into to town and came across a street fest on Somerville Ave. The first thing to interest us was seeing a Billit cargo bike and a few other types of cargo bikes.

    It has been a long time coming in Boston for the cargo scene. I built my fist one [ANT #2] in May 2001. Redbones shortly after bought 2 for delivery. The local shop that serviced them really hated my bikes and hated working on them [you have to lift them up into a work stand]. They told me how much they sucked and that they were a horrible design :(....but the Rib Riders at Redbones loved them :) This is one example how the local bike shop scene was not into cargo bikes.

    As for local sales to individuals I only made one. Most people wanted Bakfiets style cargo bikes and I was unable to build those [mine was a copy of the Kempher Filibus]. I was also full of orders for standard Roadsters, so that is where I went.

    Around 2009? Dutchbike Somerville opened and I was all excited about that and I called them to welcome them to town. They were selling Bakfiets style bikes and others, but unfortunately they burned every bridge with there distributors and can no longer sell those bikes :(

    Henry at Workcycle would love to have a new Dutchbike shop to open in Boston.

  34. Aaron - The trailer vs cargo bike thing is discussed at length, inevitably, in every single cargo bike review or mention. It simply depends on what each person is comfortable with. Just because trailers work for some, does not mean they work for others. Likewise just because a product is not useful to some of us personally, does not mean it is a fad. Remember there are drivers who use the same reasoning to insist that bicycles are a fad.

  35. Random stuff:

    Anyone in the Boston area that wants to test ride a 20" Big Dummy (your min height is probably 5'9", I am 6'0", you could easily be 6'4"), mine is available, I live near Belmont WheelWorks. For a longtail, mine is probably both worst-case (weight, narrow bars) and best-case (gear -- has lights, dynohub, IGH, fenders, stoker bars, upright bars up high, center stand, partial chaincase). It's easy to get a lighter longtail.

    Hills: There's a family in the Arlington flats with a home-made electric-assist cargo bike. http://www.flickr.com/photos/32419497@N05/6047644621/in/set-72157627319567727/ Motor-hub on a 20" front wheel gives the mom enough torque to haul a pair of kids up to the watertower. The assist, of course, adds weight, and without stokemonkey gearing the top assisted speed is somewhere around 15mph. A bigger wheel would give you less torque, but assist at higher speeds.

    A 16% grade would be pretty darn awful; at a certain point, you might just want to get off and push. I did this once, after an IGH failed after buying a load of groceries. Brakes are also an issue with a slope like that. One problem you run into with IGHs is maximum input torque; there is a limit to how low you can go. Only way around that is to run a smaller wheel (e.g., 20-inch), otherwise you have to do it with derailers.

    Steepest grade I know of around here is Snake Hill Road: http://www.bikely.com/maps/bike-path/snake-hill-road

    The stokemonkey, is currently not for sale because of parts cost problems.

    The people at Wheelworks are well aware of cargo bikes, and a few of them like mine a whole lot. They stock what sells. They're also plenty aware of what happens in Somerville, on account of Ace Wheelworks (same store) near Porter Square. The two stores stock different stuff because of different customers. I am pretty darn sure that if they see a useful uptick in demand for cargo bikes, especially longtails, one of their guys would ask me a bunch of questions.

    Harris appears to be familiar with xtracycle conversions, but I asked once why they don't stock any big bikes, and they pointed to their basement storage area and the (tight) stairs down to it. Clearly, they need a skinny, tall, dumbwaiter.

  36. The trailer vs cargo bike thing is discussed at length, inevitably, in every single cargo bike review or mention. It simply depends on what each person is comfortable with.

    I'm in the trailer camp. I enjoy the modularity that trailers provide. I can ride my zippy lightweight city bike most of the time, and if I need to carry a bulky load, it takes me 30 seconds to hitch the trailer.

    To get at Antbike's comment, I don't know if it's fair to describe DBC's relationship with distributors that way. Distributors of imported things, especially things with specialized parts, can be a nuisance to the retailer. For example, I remember DBC commenting to me that many of the Dutch bakfiets they received were missing parts right out of the box, and the distributor would often take months to send the missing parts-- or wouldn't send them at all. That meant not being able to sell the bikes until the parts arrived, or scrambling to find an alternative way to correct the defect. I also heard stories of routine warranty reimbursement refusals by the distributor, causing unfair repair costs that DBC had to bear. So yeah, I can see how that may have led to bridges to be burnt, but at least there's a context behind it.

  37. I have the only (to my knowledge) box bike here in Nashville, and I think you are right - it indicates the lack of bike culture.
    The other indicator I like is how many dynamo lights there are - they are so practical for 'round the clock biking that any city with a lot of 'round the clock transport bikers would have them.
    I have seen one Xtracycle and there might be another out there.
    One thing we do have is a star celeb transpo bike blogger: Trisha from LGRAB!

  38. I ride an Xtracycle and and have also used trailers behind conventional bikes, and it's been nice to have a choice from time to time, but it's generally either/or. The load does feel, or course, more "connected" to the Xtra.

    I like the cush ride of longbikes, even when I don't need the carrying capacity. It's almost like riding a tandem by your lonesome.

    Should mention that some degree of fitness is required to pedal a fully loaded longbike. I am fit, but have been pushed to the limit on hills when riding loaded.

  39. I've been seeing more and more cargo bikes here in Burlington, VT. Two go to my boys' school regularly with children on the back. (I think they're Xtracycles.) Others are hauling packages. Yes, there definitley is a proliferation of cargo bikes.

  40. As far as I know, my sweet sweet wife and I are the only ones in the town we recently moved to that have cargo bikes. We have 7 and have started a fun little project to get more folks walking/biking/being a part of the community. So far this has included starting a bicycle delivery service for 2$ anywhere in town and spending a couple hours a day filling our bikes up with litter. We've caused a bit of a stir and local businesses are jumping in to help now! It's been quite fun - you can see our funky bikes and photos of loaded hauled at http://litterpatrol.wordpress.com and http://deliverydude.wordpress.com. These are mostly photos- more info/words are on our facebook page. Nice site, thanks for spreading bicycle cheer!

  41. Here in my neck of the woods of St. Louis I've yet to see any of these, but I suspect they exist. We still idolize the car too much. One phenomenon however is more older folks using bikes for errands and even transportation, and I think that suggests a lot about a city embracing and normalizing cycling. One does not think of 'danger or athletic skills' when watching these folks take to the road on the way to the grocery store. It's cool! Cargo bikes would be cool too though.

  42. Rather than whether the roads are narrow, there are hills, or the traffic is dense I think the type of housing and storage facilities that people have access to is probably more important as to whether people buy a cargo bike or not - and I guess looking at your pictures, I'm refering to the box bikes rather than the long tails. I live in London UK, and in my particular area, housing is mostly flats, terraced victorian houses (no side or rear access) or victorian houses converted into flats. I can't think of many people I know who'd be able to easily get a cargo bike into/out of their home without it totally blocking their front door. I have a narrow hallway - room for a regular bike but not a Christiania, which is what I'd really want to get rather than compromise on a long tail or such like. I'd have loved to have one this year to get the Christmas tree home. It's my first (unintentional) car free year and it's the first thing that I could honestly say apart from the need to transport dogs and the odd child, I could really have done with a cargo bike for. Well apart from when I go grocery shopping and totally overestimate the amount that will fit in my panniers and end up walking my bike home with bags hanging from the handlebars too. Oh I do need a cargo bike!

    1. Yes indoor storage in London is a problem. One thing to remember, Cargo bikes are designed to live permanently on the street. I have an 80 year old Bakfiets and a 40 year old Long-John parked outside my front door, both still going strong. Yes there is a chance someone could steal them but I have the same risk with a car. Point number two, cargo bikes are built to carry loads. Buy a huge heavy chain to lock it up and sling it in the box when you go for a ride. I never notice the weight, something I couldn't do on my mountain bike.

  43. Absolutely: kids on bikes, cargobikes, old folks on bikes, women on bikes, anybody on a practical bike, proper cycling infrastructure... all indicators of a healthy cycling culture.

    The red bakfiets is a Workcycles Cargobike, BTW. Not a particularly important distinction since both Bakfiets.nl and Workcycles Cargobike are made side by side with different parts in the same little factory in NL.

    Doing my best to remain professionally tactful I'll wholeheartedly support your comments about DBC in Somerville burning bridges. He had the vision and balls to be our first importer in the US. It's unfortunate it had to go so sour. For a real character assessment look up the review somebody put on Yelp.

    And yes, we would really like to have a good, service oriented dealer in the Boston area!

  44. I've always thought a cargo-bike-sharing program would be a great thing in most cities. I'm like you, I don't have a big enough need to actually own one. But I would certainly rent one from time to time!

  45. Velouria, I think that to a large extent bicycles are a fad, largely driven by market forces. Bicycling has become another sector for unnecessary consumption. Yes, there are a few of us who have become dedicated bicycle commuters on bicycles that we ride for many thousands of miles before considering another, that replace drive trains and other components and keep the rest, that go in for practical accessories and use them until they fall apart --- and that, yes, use a trailer not because it's more fun but because it gets the job done with minimal resources. But I think, as a group, we live by those same economic habits in all areas of our lives, not just cycling.

    For most others --- not everyone else, mind you, just most --- I think that cycling is a fad, a life phase, a hobby. It's not as if people in, say, NYC need a bicycle; many residents have gotten around the city via subway and bus for decades without cars. But right now it's cool to ride. In other cities that do require bicycles, many 20- and 30-somethings who do the bike thing now will move to the suburbs and do the car thing with kids. Not all, just most. And you might say, well, let's make the suburban infrastructure better. Sure, let's. But we can already choose to live closer to where we work and get groceries. The infrastructure is already there in that sense; it merely requires compromising on house size or cost. For me, commuting is a high priority along with living reasonably, so I willingly bought a townhouse for a relatively high price; friends and colleagues who regularly say how much they'd love to ride to work have chosen to live out in the 'burbs in big ol' houses with driving commutes, which indicates their priorities more than what they say. In the end, we already have the choice.

    I'm not being cynical, I don't think, merely realistic. Bicycles have a "green" aura about them that companies are willing to exploit, so consumers need to be smarter. To me, a cargo bike stands out as the ultimate in consumption: a specialized and unnecessary vehicle that is typically not a replacement for a worn out bike but an addition to a gleaming stable and that typically will see just hundreds of miles over its lifetime. A trailer is the opposite: an accessory that extends the capabilities of one's existing bicycle with minimal resources. Sexy? No. But it gets the job done with minimal consumption.

    1. This is a rather harsh view.

      Anyway, my husband and I moved out of the city to hilly suburbs. We each had a Dutch bike, and I'd used mine frequently for grocery hauling (until moving to his apartment meant having the grocery store across the street.) Now we are in the suburbs but bike more frequently than ever and traded a car for a pedal assisted bakfiets (trike.) I'm pregnant and we can't wait to continue cycling as a family. The trike allows for properly mounting a car seat, so I will not have to wait months or a year before cycling with the baby. With the assist I can even be sure to make it up the hills. I wouldn't feel as secure with a trailer with a kid behind me, would lose several great features, and the additional weight would make things quite difficult with our topography, a fifty lb omafiets, and cargo.

  46. "He had the vision and balls..."
    I'll perhaps give you one of those, having read yelp.

    Speaking which, a little man pedestrian tried to provoke me into running into him recently. Not sure he would've been so brave had I been riding a bakfiets. So there's that for big bikes.

  47. I just started noticing "Dutch-style" cargo bikes here in Minneapolis this Summer. I probably spotted around 3 or 4 of them, but I don't know enough about them to recognize the brand. They all looked somewhat similar to the red bike pictured in this post. Most of the bikes I saw were carrying children but one person had loaded one up with shopping items.

    Because Surly is considered "local", we see a lot of Big Dummy bikes here (also because they are pretty decent to ride in the winter - from what I hear) and a not insignificant number of xtra cycles. I'm not sure if a local shop has started stocking cargo bikes, but it wouldn't surprise me. With more and more people choosing to commute via bike here, it seems natural that the varieties of bicycles you spot on a day-to-day basis will become more apparent.

    I could see Minneapolis as being a decent market for the cargo bike. The city is very flat, fairly small, doesn't have an overwhelming amount of traffic and, for the most part, the bike lanes seem equipped to safely allow for wider cargo bikes to use them freely. The question is how will they manage on the ice?? :)

  48. I will support the behind scene asking for sure. Thankfully there was someone to ask.

    I agree wholeheartedly that the cargo bike is a scene of good things. I have seen a few here and there brookline and once in newton.

    Also V answered the cargo vs trailer well-but I thought I'd add my cargo owner answer as well.
    For me the trailer was a failure and cargo trike won over b/c
    1. I'm 5 foot and had no prior cycling experience really.
    2. My kids hated sitting so close to each other and feeling closed in 3.the trailer was hugely dirty from being folded in the garage and was not easy to clean- kids hated it
    4. The idea of hooking a trailer up when I want to do heavy duty shopping vs pulling out my bike ready to go seemed like a silly hassle.
    5. I prefer 3 wheels to 2 for heavy loads
    6. trailers only work for up to 2 small kids. I currently have an 8 and 5 yr old and I get begged for rides from an additional 9 and 6 yr old.
    7. I Adore my trike and will be riding it for a long time to come.

    basically each person needs an individualized option. The more choices the better. Aaron asked why one would prefer a cargo bike over a trailer and I just wanted to list 7 reasons I did. I have many many more though. :-)

    for more thoughts check this video out which pretty much kinda makes me cry happy tears when I see it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aVjFq0Yni0I

    Viva the cargo bike.

  49. Aaron said "In other cities that do require bicycles, many 20- and 30-somethings who do the bike thing now will move to the suburbs and do the car thing with kids. "

    Aaron- I was born and raised in NYC. Never rode a bike. Wouldn't consider it. ( well I tried once and got about 50 yards on 2nd ave before I got sandwhiched between a bus and garbage truck and bailed). I moved to the burbs. didn't learn to drive until I was 30 and 6 months pregnant and about to move to the burbs. The Cargo bike actually saved me from Doing kids with cars. I live in a leafy $$ suburb and I'm riding. I may be in small company but it's growing. I Seriously have NO cycling chops whatsoever. And I don't need infrastructure change. I needed the right bike.

  50. sorry for all the comments- but this topic I grok.

    anyone interesting in trying a boxcycle with electric assist - please feel free to contact me via my blog suburban bike mama.

    thnx- gotta go deal with kiddos now!

  51. Val said.......
    "I am pleased that more of them are popping up in Boston and wish the industry would take note. What about your city?"

    Since I live in a small midwestern town there is only one pure utility trike......mine.

    Even the nearest city has few ,if any, pure utility cycles. BUT........ there is an abundance of ordinary bikes that have been dressed out to carry lots of groceries etc. so the trend will , in time, swing to dedicated cargo haulers found in large cities.

  52. Aaron - kinda of a lame post. A cargo bike is the ultimate is consumption? That has to be one of the craziest statements I've ever read...Maybe a car is the ultimate in consumption, or a TV, or a plastic doo-hickey purchased for a few moments of pleasure and then thrown away. But a human powered vehicle that allows people to transport things and other people without fossil fuels, that replaces a car, has got to be the opposite of the ultimate in consumption. And while a a trailer may be an alternative for some, it is not the same as dedicated cargo bike. As a former owner of an Xrtacyle (which is similar to a trailer in that you use and existing bike) I can vouch that the cargo bike allowed me to do things that a trailer would not. Specifically transport my two larger children, plus their books, coats, groceries, etc., that would not have fit in a trailer, not to mention that a cargo bike is more convenient and generally handles better then a trailer.

    And if a person wants to ride a bike instead of ride a crowded bus a subway, hey that's great.

    While many peoples intention of buying a bike might not be the purest, and they may not be able to stick with it for their whole life or whatever their specific imperfection as people may be, of all the useless and unesseceary things people are buying, I don't think buying a bike, which is a tool that has the power to bring about real change in the world, unlike so many other so-called solutions, shouldn't called out as the ultimate in conusmerism. Just saying....

  53. @MFarrington - Big Dummies have three things going for them for winter riding. First, they're set up to use continuous runs of housing from lever/shifter to the brake or derailer/igh, which keeps water (and thus, ice) out of the cables.

    Second, longer wheelbase, makes for easier recovery from skids and slides, which do happen.

    Third, lots-o-room for studded tires, or fat tires, or whatever floats your boat.

    The manage just fine on the ice with studded tires. Note the two-wheel skid -- the long bikes really are stable: http://gallery.mac.com/dr2chase#100060/IMG_3067

  54. Aaron,
    "a cargo bike stands out as the ultimate in consumption: a specialized and unnecessary vehicle that is typically not a replacement for a worn out bike but an addition to a gleaming stable and that typically will see just hundreds of miles over its lifetime."

    Maybe that's the case where you are. My family's Cargobike has been ridden pretty much every day since about a month after our first child was born a little more than three years ago. Actually I can't imagine having a young family without the thing.

    It's the same for thousands of our customers. These bikes are usually mom's primary transport in town, sun, wind, rain and snow they carry the kids and groceries. When not ridden the bike stands parked outside with a big chain. You could do the same with a trailer but it wouldn't be nearly as handy or fun. You couldn't keep an eye on the kids or talk to them while riding. Or carry random large objects without bothering to secure them. Or carry your own two kids plus your friend's two kids. Or...

    For most of the cargobike owners I know (and I know a LOT of them) it's the way to not have to deal with a car on a daily basis.

  55. Aaron etc - It is impossible to make judgments on behalf of others about what is or isn't justifiable consumption. For one thing, we are not privy to the context of their lives as a whole.

  56. Henry

    I have already seen one of your lovely bakfiets suspended on pulleys from the ceiling of a suburban garage, interred alongside the kayak that will never be used again.

    The problem here in the States (which you must remember?) is that precious few of us can lock them outside as you suggest. Big chain is not going to work. Maybe outside under the porch in suburbia but mostly you can't realistically own one if you don't have a suburban garage and a suburban garage that is not already buried in stored detritus. Being in the 'burbs means bike errands happen over longer distances. And few suburbanites get free of their cars. Those who do are happier for it, it's not a big number of potential customers.

    The cargo bikes I see most often (same two bikes in neighborhood) are misbegotten US made things with horrible steering oscillations and big industrial plastic tubs instead of boxes. When I see a real bakfiets it is always a child transporter and the family always look happy.
    Report from Chicago

  57. I live just outside Boston and I want a cargo bike to carry my family so much! But the lack of retailers was disheartening. Very hard to commit to a purchase without a test ride to make sure the bike fits my body. Also very hard to travel to Portland, ME or NYC when you have young children! I also live on a steep hill, plus given I'm expecting to be pregnant or raising infants for the next few years, my energy and stamina is fairly low, so an electric assist is a must. I ended up getting a regular bike, adding a BionX assist, and front mounted baby seat. Christiania Bikes has an import warehouse in Lowell and was eager to help me test drive one, but adding the assist to it would have been too complicated. DBC, when I inquired about Bakfiets, angrily steered me away from transporting children on bikes in any way shape or form, due to threat of "spinal cord injury leading to developmental damage from road vibration". Tell me, where are all the developmentally damaged Dutch people ? The minute there is a retailer in Boston who will help me test drive a cargo bike, I will be there ready to give them my business.

  58. I cycle in Cambridge almost daily and I'm seeing more and more cargo bikes. I see a lot of people bringing their kids to school in them. I think they make the streets feel friendlier.

    I generally feel really comfortable cycling in most parts of Cambridge, Somerville and Arlington and I see many other cyclists on the road so I know I'm not alone. For all the flack MA drivers get, I have to say that the overwhelming majority of motorists I encounter on a daily basis are courteous.

    There is just such a huge bike culture around here I'm sad that it's so hard to find cargo or dutch style city bikes around here. There would be a thriving market. SOmebody needs to invest!

  59. Daily Rider in Hartford has been selling them for a long time. Also, Kennebunkport Bicycle Company in Maine carries them as well.

  60. Daniel said, "A cargo bike is the ultimate is consumption? That has to be one of the craziest statements I've ever read...Maybe a car is the ultimate in consumption, or a TV, or a plastic doo-hickey purchased for a few moments of pleasure and then thrown away."

    I meant in the context of bicycles, Daniel. I was responding to the title of the post, which used the word "symbolism." I should have said "ultimate symbol of consumption" to make the connection clearer. In the larger context of consumption, I wouldn't say "ultimate." That said, in the USA at this time, bicycles make a political statement, whether we care for it or not. Therefore, the consumption associated with bicycles can have greater significance than that associated with, say, televisions --- if the discussion surrounding consumption is relevant to you.

    Whether my post was "lame" or not, I do think that there is a point to be made, namely that if you choose to cycle commute partly for environmental reasons, then you must take life cycle costs into account. If not --- say your goal is exercise, or freedom, or fun, or to make an "up yours" statement to the system, or whatever else that is non-environmental --- then you can of course consume to whatever extent is required to meet that goal.

  61. @Aaron - "I meant in the context of bicycles"

    I get what you're saying. But still, if you put up a $10K Serotta with electronic shifting against a $2K cargo bike, which is more symbolic of "consumption"? A race bike that will never be raced or a cargo bike that will see limited use.

    I know what you mean. I'm sure a lot of cargo bike purchases are being made for the same "status" reasons that people buy Priuses instead of just driving their old car. But if you're worried about useless consumption style purchases in the bike market, go into any bike shop in the country and try to tell me that the big problem is too many cargo bikes.

    On the trailer versus cargo bike debate. Again, I get your point. For many people, a trailer probably is more purely practicle. But one of the things I like about a cargo bike is that it is a bike that I don't have to always plan ahead in exact detail what I will need to carry. If I suddenly decide to pick something up, no worries. And ofr normal transportation riding, I usually ride it even if I have no need for the cargo capacity. I do have a faster bike I will ride sometimes. But there, one of the most common factors in my decision is whether I need to take the bike on a train which cannot easily be done with a long wheelbase bike (though I've done it).

  62. Just a general comment to all those who say "it is too hilly in my area". I honestly am not quite sure what you mean. Cargo bikes are typically a bit heavy, but not much more than many "transport" bikes. The bakfiests style bikes are probably a bit tougher to crank up hills. But the longtails really ride pretty much like "bikes". Sure, if you load 200lbs. of cargo on one, you're not going to crank up a steep hill. But from my experience, it's rare to carry more than 30-40lbs of cargo at a time. It takes a bit more effort to get up a hill than unloaded, but it's really not a game changer.

    The big difference for me after moving from panniers, etc. to a cargo bike was not so much the total mass that you could carry, it is the ease with which you can just toss things in, not have to worry about large or awkwardly shaped items, etc.

    Not saying that they're great for every person in every environment, but I think the "hills" thing is a bit of a false hurdle (so to speak)

  63. Interesting, Aaron. Thanks for clarifying your view. I don't quite agree but I understand what you are saying.

    "I'm sure a lot of cargo bike purchases are being made for the same "status" reasons that people buy Priuses instead of just driving their old car."

    I've said it before and I will say it again: I think it is a *good thing* if bicycles become status symbols. The fact of status symbols will not go away. It is how people are made. They need to have them. Would it really be so bad if people aspire to buy bikes instead of SUVs or even Priuses?...

  64. Bikes already are status symbols. I wish they were more like socks. Just something everyone has and uses w/o thinking too much about it after the purchase.

  65. Velouria said, "I think it is a *good thing* if bicycles become status symbols.... Would it really be so bad if people aspire to buy bikes instead of SUVs or even Priuses?"

    That's a really pragmatic way of looking at it that I haven't really considered. I like it.

  66. Posts like this remind me that this is quite possibly my favorite blog of all time. Seriously, I can never bring myself to skip posts on Lovely Bicycle! even when I'm so busy I have to mark everything else in my feed reader as "read".

    Velouria, please just keep doing your scholarly yet down-to-earth/open-minded yet penetratingly evaluative/serious yet funny/in touch with a sometimes grim reality yet uplifting and inspiring/innocently curious yet modestly experienced and wise...thang. Haha.

    Enjoy the holidays and your break from cycling!!!

  67. MFarrington - Calhoun Cycle carries a couple of Larry vs. Harry models, and Varsity Bike carries Babboe and Christiana according to their website.

  68. Another nod to yes that bikes as status symbols is a good thing. Although honestly- we aren't there yet. Yes, they may be a status symbol amongst those in the know- but not really in the mainstream. As a family of four we remain a 2 car family ( 1, b/c my car is paid for so I see no reason to sell it and 2. my husband works 6-6, 6 days a week and commutes 1 hour each way 5 of those days so his car is never seen by me. And before he gets flames for making wrong choices of work/living space- he is in a diff place each day so where we live is central to all points south, west and north that he goes and his visit to work saves 30 people a day from coming to boston to get his specialized care) I ride as much as I can as often as I can and I ride what you are calling a status symbol and when people in my well to do town see me around- they makes comments where it is clear they assume I can't afford a car or luxuries etc- so to the average person, seeing me on a several thousand dollar bike makes them assume I'm poor-ish b/c I don't drive a BMW SUV to cart my kids. ( particularily seeing my ride said bike in cold and rain)

  69. I bet there isn't any of this in Boston! (warning, cute overload)

  70. Our bike looks so nice with your photo treatment Velouria! (that bakfiets up top is our new addition). There are definitely more and more cargo & kid bikes on the road around here, and a growing cargo and family biking community. I smile every time I see one on the road. Ours get daily use, and make our lives with kids and without a car so much more enjoyable.

    Locals looking to try a small-ish Xtracycle or a short Bakfiets should be in touch with us. We're always happy to set people up with test rides. We also recently started a local listserve for family bikers that has gotten a great response (cargo bikers also welcome, please only sign up if you are in the Boston area): http://groups.google.com/group/bostonareafamilybike

  71. Another note on finding these bikes locally -- you're right that availability is extremely limited, but there are a few ways to rustle up these bikes in the northeast:

    Portland Velocipede in Maine carries one or two bakfiets-style bikes at a time, and is an easy train ride from Boston. Mike of NEAT bikes, also in Maine, has a couple box-bikes (the same chinese frame that Joe Bike in Portland used to sell -- http://neatbikeshop.blogspot.com/ ). We had great luck working with adeline adeline in NYC for purchase of our bakfiets. Freight added to the cost, but not like shipping from Europe, which is what folks had to do not so long ago to get these bikes, and it was close enough we were able to do a weekend bus-trip for a test ride. Also, the Park Sales bike shop on Somerville Ave is stocking the Sun Atlas Cargo longtail. I have no experience with that shop but am always happy to see a cargo bike in their window when I ride by.

  72. There was a dealer in Cambridge for a couple years called the New Amsterdam Project, but it folded. It's not that demand for cargo bikes isn't there. The problem is those things take a lot of display space, and our city's bike stores pay a lot of rent and have to justify every square foot.

  73. We have seen a huge rise in families riding THANKS to cargo bikes here in New Haven, CT. We have a local bike shop, The Devil's Gear, who is really supportive of the family biking scene and carries Xtracycles, Yuba Mundos, & Madsens.

    I could not disagree more with Aaron's point of view that others have responded to: " To me, a cargo bike stands out as the ultimate in consumption: a specialized and unnecessary vehicle that is typically not a replacement for a worn out bike but an addition to a gleaming stable and that typically will see just hundreds of miles over its lifetime. A trailer is the opposite: an accessory that extends the capabilities of one's existing bicycle with minimal resources. Sexy? No. But it gets the job done with minimal consumption."

    I am a parent of three kids. If trailers were our only option (as we so thought five years ago), we would just be another family going everywhere by car. Trailers would not be able to do what we do by cargo bike. First off, I admit that I would not be comfortable riding the New Haven streets with my kids low & behind me in a trailer. A trailer could be wonderful in another setting but not here. Also, kids grow out of trailers quickly. Unfortunately, even with kids who are very proficient riders on their own, many cities do not have the infrastructure to make it safe for them to ride themselves for transport.

    Our cargo bikes have allowed us to 1. ride all three boys on one bike when they were smaller 2. continue to get places by bike even though they are bigger (9-yr-old twins) 3. remain a one-car family of five

    To others in our area who would be interested in trying out one of our cargo bikes, feel free to contact me. Would love to have you come on by and try them out....

  74. There was a dealer in Cambridge for a couple years called the New Amsterdam Project, but it folded. It's not that demand for cargo bikes isn't there. The problem is those things take a lot of display space, and our city's bike stores pay a lot of rent and have to justify every square foot.

    That's not entirely true. The New Amsterdam Project was part dealer for cargo bikes and part pedal-powered delivery service. The business got bought and renamed Metro Pedal, and continues to focus on providing pedal-powered delivery services in the area:


  75. All I can say is I have been a bike commuter for 6 years, had my eye on xtracycles for several yrs but never pulled the trigger til I saw a used Big Dummy on Craigslist. And in the past 12 months the cargobike has gotten the lion's share of my mileage. I have hauled my 8 yr old to school, camp and scout meetings, and taken stuff to work or to donate to the bike co-op with it. It's so much more rideable than a trailer, and convenient. Happily am now ready to finally sell the hybrid car that I just don't drive much anymore.
    Aaron, I think you are wrong just as those who said buyers of hybrid cars will drive more miles on them and not save any petroleum. Every year my utility bike miles traveled have increased. And it's been nothing but smiles along the way!

  76. If you're looking to buy a Yuba Mundo, Ferris Wheel Bikes in Jamaica Plain carries them:

  77. I signed up to carry Yuba Bikes at my shop Midtown Bike in good ol' Memphis, TN. The notion is like being a fish out of water. However, I am a full believer in the obvious positive potential of cargo bikes after spending the spring and summer on the Yuba el Mundo, electric cargo bike. Imagine a decent sized grocery/beer haul with two daughters, ages 7 & 12, about 170 lbs in precious cargo before you add the grocery/beer haul, flying down the street at road bike speeds. Yes, I pedal the whole time. The motor is simply an assist. My 4.5 mile commute to work takes less than 15 minutes. This is perhaps one of the best, most fully functional bicycle I have had in my 19 years

  78. Looking for cargo bikes in Boston? Ferris Wheels Bike Shop in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood is a dealer for both Xtracycle and Yuba Mundo. We used to carry the Zigo Leader and we're looking into a bakfiet for next season. Ferris Wheels Bike Shop specializes in commuter bikes already, so cargo bikes are a natural direction for the shop.

  79. Ferris - Thanks for stopping by. I was told that you do not carry the XtraCycle Radish, only the XtraCycle attachments. Is this not the case? I would love to test ride a step-through radish and write about it here.

  80. We don't currently stock the Xtracycle Radish as the Yuba Mundo has a few advantages over the Radish and has taken over our complete longtail cargo bike sales; we do have 2 Mundos on the floor available for test ride if you'd like to stop by some day and try them. It's a bunch of fun.

  81. Many of the entries in the 2009 Copenhagen Bike Share Design Competition - including ours named Open Bike that won one of two first prizes - included a cargo (child-carrying) bike concept. The tender (RFP) will be published in about two weeks, so we will see if this kind of bike is part of it.

    Since so few public transport systems in the Canada and USA allow full-size pet dogs (in Boston, Calgary, San Francisco, Seattle (?), Toronto and MetroNorth in NY/CT/NJ) it would seem that carfree people in other cities would love something like a cargo bike to carry their pal, along with kids and other stuff. I only know of a few people in the USA who do it.

    (See my website for links to Open Bike and Dogs on Board!)

  82. In Australia,particularly in Qld bike shops only stock generic "Family" bikes because that's all that sells.They will order you a Fat Bike if you pay up front or at least 50% deposit.Long bikes are never seen in our bikes.I got my Kona Ute because it was a demo given to the shop to see if it got any interest.I was interested and bought it at first site.They sold one more the following year and that's it.I got my Bullitt Cargo from Melbourne because there was only one dealer at the time.Australia has a very poor bicycling scene unless you ride what I call a track bike but most people call road bikes.They're not fit for the road in my opinion.I drive for a living so therefore I hate to drive anywhere on weekends or my free time.I want to be a bike messenger again but there is no demand for it here.We had 25 riders here in Brisbane 15 years ago and now there is 5.The big transport companies killed it off.I want to open a proper bike shop that only deals in the "functional" bikes like Long Bikes,Cargo Bikes,Trailers,Side hacks etc.


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