Everyone needs an SUV. One you can pedal, that is.
July 24, 2016: We like cargo bikes so much that we now import them. For more about Christiania Bikes, check out our new site.
If you followed the Bike Law National Tour, you probably noticed a number of cargo bikes in our pictures, like this shot from our Detroit scavenger hunt. Here I am, at speed and with cargo.
Simply stated, we are big fans of cargo bikes. A number of the Bike Law lawyers use them to commute, go to court with boxes of documents, run errands, shop, or just tool around town.
Also known as freight bikes, cargo bikes were historically used by European tradesmen, milkmen, bakers, and butchers. There use declined dramatically with the invention of the automobile and work truck, but they have remained popular in certain cities in northern Europe, like Copenhagen and Amsterdam. These workhorse bikes are now becoming popular in the United States, so here is a quick introduction to help jumpstart your journey for your next bike purchase!
BAKFIETS AND LONGJOHNS
“Bakfiet” is the Dutch word for a “Box Bike.” In Denmark, it is called a “Long John.” It features large storage area in front of the handlebars. The design also keeps cargo low to the ground which serves the dual purpose of increasing stability and preventing freight from blocking a rider’s view of the road.
This style is our favorite cargo bike. In fact, seven (!) Bike Law lawyers currently own a model known as the Bullitt Bike. As described by its Danish manufacturer, Larry vs Harry, the bike was designed to include the features of a classic Dutch Long John, but also be “sexy.”
The bikes have a long wheelbase, a 26” rear wheel, and a 20” wheel in the front. The cargo rests between the handlebars and the front wheel, which makes for a long wheelbase. The result is a fast, responsive bike that can easily haul over 200 pounds of cargo [Ed: including a full keg of beer.] As if these bikes weren’t sexy enough, two of the Bike Law attorneys have outfitted their Bullitt Bikes with drop handlebars and SRAM Force CX1!
There is also an active cargo bike racing scene. Last June, a few Bike Law folks went to the Danish Championships.
CETMA makes two-wheel cargo bikes in the good-old USA. Though we’ve never ridden one, looks like a cool bike and cool company.
The three wheel cargo bike setup has one rear wheel and two front wheels (one on each side of the freight box). These bikes work best for hauling large loads (including young children). They usually handle best at slow speeds. While the two front wheels make them extremely stable, the steering is unresponsive and turns can be difficult when moving at a faster pace. Examples of a three wheel cargo bike include the Christiania Bike (first built in the Christiania commune in Copenhagen), the Babboe Big Cargo, and the WorkCycles Trike (which comes in numerous models, including an ice cream “truck” and the “XL” which can haul loads over 800 pounds!).
[Ed. Note: I/Peter imported two Christiania Bikes to Charleston about 12 years ago and drove the kids to school in it until they got too big. Now, I am the US importer for Christiania Bikes USA. BTW, in Copenhagen, the moment a kid can pedal two wheels, he is considered too big for a Christiania!]
Newer on the scene is the Butcher and Bicycles Bike from Copenhagen, which has a high-tech steering mechanism which address some of the downsides to three wheels.
The longtail cargo bike incorporates the long wheelbase of the long john cargo bikes, but extends the wheelbase in the rear, rather than in the front. The longtail is often thought of as the American answer to cargo bikes, but this design was clearly used in numerous countries long before it became popular in America. Xtracyle and its founder Ross Evans,made the longtail popular in the US by creating the FreeRadical, a bolt-on extentsion that could modify almost any bike into a cargo bike. It quickly became popular with outdoor enthusiasts who could transport kayaks and surfboards with longtails.
Xtracycle still offers the FreeRadical as an affordable option for those looking to add a cargo bike to their stable. However, the company also offers a full line of complete cargo bikes. The company’s signature bike, the EdgeRunner, features many of the design features seen on long johns, including a 26” front wheel and a 20” rear wheel, and can haul up to 250 pounds.
Some mainstream bike manufacturers are also now offering longtail cargo bikes. Trek’s longtail is called the Transit, and Surly’s goes by the name Big Dummy.
A cycle truck is a cargo bike typically used to haul smaller loads (no more than 40 to 50 pounds). It is sort of a less dramatic version of the two wheeled bakfiet. It utilizes the larger rear wheel (26”) and small front wheel (20”) design, but places the cargo plate above the front wheel. The result is a bike that has a more traditional look and feel than most cargo bikes. Cycle trucks handle easily and make good commuter bikes. Examples include the USA-made Ahearne Cycle Truck and the imported Soma Fabrications Tradesman.
Each cargo bike model has its strengths and weaknesses. The model that will work best for you will be dependent on how you intend to use it. But, if you are like us, you won’t regret buying one and will want to find more and more ways to use your cargo bike, once you commit to adding one of these bicycles to your collection.
Best thing to do is ask one of your friendly neighborhood Bike Law lawyers for a test ride! We are happy to share our love for these bikes. Also, here are some a few great shops that specialize in cargo bikes: Splendid Cycles in Portland, OR, and Chicago Cargo.