Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Go go cargo!

We just bought an electric cargo bike and we love it so much we want to spread the word. Cargo bikes have been around since about the 1920's; in their modern form they originated in Holland (or Denmark depending on who you talk to) and are really popular over there, mainly as a means of transporting children around. They are bikes with big wooden (or aluminium) boxes on the front, like this:

They are the SUV of bikes, being up to 2.5m long and able to take big loads (up to 80kg in the box). This means they are perfect for taking kids to school (up to 3 or 4 in the box), doing the shopping, going to the park with our 18 year old dog Porridge who can't make it on foot any more, going to the beach, etc....

We've really struggled cutting our car mileage (we're a 2 car family I'm afraid), so this should really help. About a third of car trips in Perth are less than 3km in distance, meaning many could realistically be done by bike. If you've got some gear a regular bike just doesn't cut the mustard though.  We even ride ours to work every now and then without any cargo (40km round trip). It's not your ideal commuter bike, but it's pretty good to crank the motor and head home into the sea breeze. And how ideal is a car in terms of sustainability? Amy was driving to work recently in our station wagon (on her own). Stuck in traffic, she looked around her and wondered "What I am doing bringing an arm chair, 3 seater sofa and spare room to work with me?" It's a good point, what are we thinking (or not)?

Here are the specs of our Bakfiets long bike:
  • Factory fitted with a 24V 10 Ah Li-ion pedal assisted electric motor. It's a pedelec system, which means that the motor only engages when you are pedalling. This is good for safety and for conserving battery power (but Amy sometimes finds it hard to take off, especially uphill where a throttle system would help).
  • There is a controller on the handle bars which tells you how much juice you have left in the battery and allows you to change the level of assist you get (5 levels). We've just installed a bike computer and seem to be getting about 50 km+ per charge. A full charge takes 6 hours and uses 0.4 kWh, which costs between 4 and 10 cents depending on the time of day we charge it (that's 10 cents for 50km, a bit cheaper than the car). It just plugs straight into a power point (and no, I'm afraid it doesn't recharge under braking like Hybrid cars). We really recommend the electric version (especially if you don't live in super flat Holland) because these bikes are very heavy (40kg).
  • Shimano roller brakes front and rear for very smooth and effective braking (important for up to 200kg total weight)
  • Shimano Nexus 8 hub gears (very low maintenance compared to derailleur style)
  • Low in step and quick release saddle means Amy and I can both use it and swap riders easily
  • Dutch upright style frame (good for the dodgy back)
  • Integral locking system makes it very hard to pinch and impossible to forget the lock
  • Stabilo 4 legged stand makes for easy parking, loading and unloading
  • It's unique, so you get lots of looks if that tickles your fancy (Amy).....

I could go on for a while, but maybe the technical stuff's getting a bit boring. The question most people ask is "isn't it hard to ride?" and the answer is a definite no. It is a dream to ride, probably easier than your average bike. It seems effortless and it's so comfortable. I've never driven a Bentley before, but I think our bike rides a bit like a Bentley car drives (stately and sedately come to mind.....). It is 2.5m long but the width of most standard bikes (63cm). It is so much easier to manouevre than a 'tagalong', which many parents will know of. Tagalongs are articulated which makes them tricky to manouevre sometimes and almost impossible to reverse. No such worries with a cargo bike. By the way, kids absolutely love these bikes (I would pay off the bike pretty soon if i charged $1 a ride.....).

So, what's the down side I hear you say? Well, the only one I can think of (except for where the bloody hell do we store a 2.5m bike) is the cost. Cargo bikes are pretty pricey, especially the european made ones. But I think it's worth it. A bike mechanic friend who has a chinese made one told us to get the chinese one, but when he saw the Bakfiets he said that it's worth the extra (about twice the price). It will last us many years and give us many miles of pleasure and if our plan comes to fruition it will soon pay for itself. You see we're going to rob a bank with it..... No, what I meant was our plan is to get rid of our second car within a year and the cargo bike will be an essential part of that. Amy and I both work and we need two means of getting around with room for Quin and other gear, so it would be pretty hard without the cargo bike.

I think transport is a weak point for many people (including ourselves) in terms of their carbon footprint. So many people who otherwise have a low footprint blow it all by flying for example, but that topic's for another post. But cars are huge users of oil and in this age of peak oil and climate change we need to find alternatives. The car may still be king for now, but its' days are numbered. If Amy and I can become a one car family then we will have made another big step towards a lower footprint. We will also save ourselves lots of dough since the average car costs $12,000 a year to run. By my reckoning you could run an electric cargo bike for at least 25 years on that. As the Weezer song goes, "You take your car to work, I'll take my board, and when you're out of fuel, I'm still afloat"......(it's a surf song, but replace board with bike and you get my drift).

And I know what you're thinking, yeah well that's a pretty cool bike and all, but you can't do stunts and cool stuff like that on it. Well, check this dude doing a cargo bike wheelie:

Oh yeah!

Cargo bikes come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, so you should find one that will suit you (and you don't have to have a child, they're an optional extra). Here are some links if you want to know more:

Australia: Dutch Cargo Bikes (where we got ours', Melbourne), Cargo Cycles (they sell chinese ones)

Europe and elsewhere: Workcycles (have dealers worldwide), Bakfiets en meer blog, Dutchbike co (Cambridge, UK)

USA: Joe Bike (Portland, Oregon)

These bikes will help save the world. Happy cargo bike riding!


  1. Wow thanks for the amazing info about your fantastic setup. Reading your blogs tonight, it feels like I am reading about my own family. We have 2 kids, two e-cargo bikes (Box-bike and a yuba mundo), we have our front and back gardens dedicated to kitchen gardens, we have one car (we even used to have a camry like I think you had), our rainwater tank (9,000L) is plumbed into our house plumbing, etc, etc.
    Lovely to know there are other families out there giving suburban sustainability a crack!
    Thanks heaps and keep up the blogging.
    Andy Ashton (and family), Brunswick, Melbourne

  2. I meant to ask: we were thinking of doing a blog similar to yours (or just starting with a page or two on cycling options with kids...) Just don't know how to get started... Any advice?
    Thanks again

    1. Hi Andy, it's great to hear the feedback and that there are others out there doing similar stuff to us. I look forward to seeing your blog when it's up, please let us know.
      Cheers, Adam