mother and daughter biking

It’s been a hard few months for us fossil-fuel-addicted societies: calamity in the Gulf of Mexico; coal mining disasters in China, West Virginia, and Russia; still-frustrated attempts to win climate and clean-energy policies in Salem, Ore., Olympia, Wash., and Washington, D.C. Perhaps we’re hitting bottom?

If so, catching glimpses of a life cured of addiction can be a step toward recovery. To that end, I’ve been devoting odd moments this year to marveling at some of the innovations going on in human-powered urban transportation: walking carts, community carts, and convertible cart-trailers.

Today: a report from the edges of human-powered conveyance, where pedal pushers are hauling car- and pickup-worthy loads on cargo bikes and trikes. The ingenuity evident across the Northwest and the world in finding practical, nonmotorized solutions to the daily challenges of urban mobility is heartening, even inspiring. It’s also sometimes whimsical and amusing.

Given a price on carbon, policies that grow compact communities, and adequate investment in safe, segregated bikeways, such inventions will proliferate. They’ve already won toeholds in the Northwest’s cities.

Pictured below, for example, are my Seattle neighbors John Floberg and Lisa Hellefond on their weekly grocery run. Their vehicle is their “long tail,” a bike suitable for hauling not only John but also 200 pounds or more of (Lisa and) groceries.

John Floberg and Lisa Bellefond on Xtacycle cargo bike


Long tails, which put their load in the back on sturdy extended racks, are but one type of cargo bike. (Long tail examples include the Kona Ute, HammerTruck, Yuba Mundo, Work Cycles Fr8, Torker Cargo-T, Batavus Personal Delivery Bike, Surly Big Dummy, and the Xtracycle, which bolts onto a regular bike to make it a long tail. John and Lisa ride an Xtracycle.)

Others, called long johns, put the load in the front. (Examples include the Monark, Velorbis, Bullitt, and Eugene, Oregon-made CETMA pictured below.)

CETMA cargo Bike_Flickr_grrsh

Bakfiets or Box Bikes have built-in cargo cases, usually in the front. (Examples include the Gazelle, Bilenky, Madsen, and two Portland made bikes: the Metrofiet and the JoeBike pictured below.)

JoeBike cargo box bike_Flickr_Cordova Duvet

A Cargo trike adds not just a crate but also a third wheel. (Examples include Christiania, pictured below, and Velorbis Mobii.)

Patrick Barber - Mom and kids on Christiana


Cargo bikes of all these types are spreading in the Northwest, and especially in Portland. No one has been counting, so it’s impossible to quantify the trend yet. But my anecdotal observations make me think that cargo bikes are growing at least as fast as electric bikes—a trend I discussed earlier this year.

What interests me most is not the numbers, which remain small enough to be a marginal phenomenon in Northwest transportation. It’s the variety of uses to which people are putting freight-hauling bikes. They’re becoming human-powered pick-ups. Consider:

– My friend (and Sightline trustee) Jeff Youngstrom, a gifted photographer, lives car-free in the town of Issaquah, Washington. He uses his longtail for dozens of hauling purposes (many of them documented here). For example, he used it to carry with him all the supplies he needed to set up a photography exhibit at a community art walk.

Jeff Youngstrom's Loaded Xtracycle

The Portland brewer Hopworks commissioned Portland’s Metrofiet to build it a custom “pub bike” (pictured below). described it as, “A locally built cargo bike that holds two kegs below an inlaid wood bar. A rear rack is built to hold a stack of pizzas; below that a wood-paneled pannier is in fact a compact sound system.”

Hopworksfiets - portland beer pizza cargo bike_Flickr_Elly Blue

Also in Portland, a small company called B-Line PDX recently started offering delivery services on its cargo bikes (pictured below).