A Guide to Cargo Bikes

Car-free living is even more possible with the right bicycles designed to haul everything from groceries to children.

| January 11, 2013

Bike culture is exploding in cities across the world. Whether people are riding folding bikes to the commuter train, slipping through traffic on streamlined single-speeds, or carrying children and groceries on their cargo bikes, bicycles are making urban life more dynamic and enjoyable. Cargo bikes — specialty-form or retrofitted — are a good option for cycle commuters who want to fully replace the car with green transportation that works for everyday life. In this excerpt from On Bicycles: 50 Ways the New Bike Culture Can Change Your Life (New World Library, 2012), Finley Fagan explains the different kinds of cargo bikes and their benefits. 

Hauling stuff by pedal power is nothing new. In 1898, when Morris Worksman established Worksman Cycles in New York City, he believed that a well-designed cargo bike could replace the horse and wagon. Henry Ford begged to differ, and so King Car all but killed the fledgling cargo bike. The towns, cities, and suburbs of North America grew to rely on and reinforce the convenience of the automobile, bicycles were largely relegated to the role of toys, and cargo cycling didn’t evolve much beyond the factory floor. But in the late 1990s, almost a century after Worksman Cycles built its first heavy-duty trike, cargo biking started making a comeback on the streets of North America, with hot spots in Portland, Seattle, the Bay Area, New York and Colorado.

So what do we know about cargo cyclists, this curious breed who set themselves up for hauling heavy or cumbersome loads?

Sales figures indicate that the buyers of cargo bikes are just as likely to be male as they are female, and that the new cargo is not strictly business. While some entrepreneurs and couriers are zipping around laden with mail, organic fruit and vegetables, baked goods, coffee, and Christmas trees, for others cargo cycling is all about the everyday A to B — getting the kids to school, the pets to the park, the groceries into the fridge, the fridge into the new apartment.

Vik Banerjee, the self-confessed bike geek behind the Lazy Randonneur blog, has noticed two major groups leading the renewed interest in cargo bikes: “Bike geeks that want to ride bikes more” and “families and individuals who are trying to be green and not drive … not necessarily bike people in general, but they see cargo bikes as a way to replace car trips.” The wheel has turned full circle. Ironically, King Car has been responsible for both the collapse and the renaissance of cargo biking in North America.

Nicole and Anthony Stout are parents who have taken cargo cycling one step further, having now celebrated three years without a car. I was interested to find out how car-free living is going for them and their two young children in suburban Colorado.

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