Umbra on cargo bikes
After reading your article on the amazing Thermos, coffee, and bicycle commuting, I thought I should alert you (if you’re not already alerted) to the Xtracycle (or S.U.B.) as a means for everyday, super-utilitarian biking. I replaced my car with one of these about eight months ago, and find that meeting new “can I haul that on my bike?” challenges is great fun — not to mention the sense of accomplishment and the general feeling of well-being that comes with pulling one’s own weight.
Because the Xtracycle is always on my bike, I can haul odd things (and odd people!) at a moment’s notice — very important for an art student. It’s terrific. I still get super happy every time I see my bike — and most days, it’s faster and more convenient than either public transit or driving.
Thank you for writing in with this fabulous huzzah for biking. Look, everyone: Sara is from Chicago, with the famous wind and real winters, yet she was able to shed her car and replace it with a bike. She planned ahead and bought a bike in a design suited to her needs. It was expensive, yet certainly cheaper than a car in the long term. And handy: the rear tire on the Xtracycle is farther back and lower than on a traditional bike, configured for a long, hearty rack able to hold people, four panniers, musical instruments — basically whatever you might imagine. Xtracycle offers a conversion kit for traditional bikes too. (Read our archived interview with company president Kipchoge Spencer to find out more.)
The best news, though, is not that the Xtracycle exists and is apparently great, but that it is not the only specialty bike out there. Looking at cargo bikes reminded me that bike hauling is not a derivative of fast, distance cycling. Bikes are a form of transport, and bike hauling is its own established transport activity with appropriate technology to suit. It’s not that we must weigh down our inner Lance Armstrong with unwieldy baskets and trailers; rather, we are updating the rickshaw. If you want to haul stuff on a regular basis, there is a bike or bike-expanding attachment for you.
As we know, the internet is a strange and wondrous place, and today it will help us view a few of the many crazily practical, human-powered wheely items ready to render their riders ridiculously happy. Many thanks to the lads at Cargocycling for starting me on this internet tour.
Let us first go to Holland. Remember the bicycle-powered ice-cream cart? Picture a large, low box where the ice cream would be, and you’ve got a bakfiets. These are Dutch-made cargo bikes, perfect for carrying an entire family, groceries for the week, your boyfriend(s) … anything, really. There are bike and trike models, they have rain covers, and although I’ve never seen one in person (life can be unjust), they look great. Perfect for flat routes in paved towns and cities with a bike-friendly populace — which is to say, if your home resembles Holland, these bikes are for you. Bakfiets are available at a few stores in the United States. A nonprofit in Eugene, Ore. seems to make a similar cargo bicycle, as do other European manufacturers. Whether you want to import a bike or not, garner some inspiration with this Dutch store’s many photos of various cargo-carrying bicycles.
What if you already love your current bike and were somewhat attracted to the Xtracycle ‘Free Radical’ bike attachment? Maybe one of the many cargo trailers out there is for you. The trailer will attach for Lance Goes Shopping, and then detach for our Tour de France moment (although I’m sure ye actual bike racers would not attach a trailer to your cycle). The list of tailored trailers you can get for your bike is exhaustive and exhausting: trailers designed for pets, for kids, for punks, for surfers, for campers — in short, for real people. BOB, the baby stroller manufacturer, makes attractive open-bed trailers that attach to most any bike’s rear hub. Here is a mini U-Haul type item and a variety of plans for building your own trailer.
If a new bike trailer seems out of your budget, look around for a used one. I see a lot of used kids’ tow-behind bike seats at yard sales, which would be cheaper than a new bike trailer and handy for more than just kids. (The main brand is Burley, ye Craigslisters.)
Speaking of cheaper, this column started with Sara replacing her car. I ask us seriously, is it possible for a cargo cycle, or the panniers and baskets from earlier this week, to replace even a single car trip in our lives? Is there one regular errand we could do by bike, even in the summer? Give it some thought and put some effort into making a summer cycling plan. Maybe together we can lose some carbon weight, and when we examine our ecological footprint in the mirror, we’ll like what we see.