Washing machines, pianos, mattresses, the mail or your kids – a cargo bike can transport plenty from point A to point B. It is said that some have even accomplished whole moves with their cargo bike.
Overloaded bicycles are a common sight in Asian countries, though in other nations cargo bikes are still considered unusual. Yet there have been an increasing number of sightings in the streets of our local cities.
Since the end of the 19th century
No surprise, after all, these bicycles offer a lot of advantages. They can replace a delivery van or family sedan, do not need gasoline, and looking for a parking spot is an easy task.
Cargo bikes have been around since the end of the 19th century. In those days, deliveries all over the world were done via bicycle. In the Fifties the bicycle couriers began to disappear, until they reappeared in New York in the Seventies, and later in the Eighties also in Europe.
This is also the time when the cargo bike experienced its renaissance. In 1984, the three-wheeled Christiania bike was developed in Christiania in the automobile-free sanctuary of Copenhagen.
Classic bike: Long John
The inventor used the bike to take his kids to child care, and his girlfriend out on the town in the evenings. Since then the rustic bicycles have found plenty of fans and are now mass-produced.
Not as famous is the Bakfiets, or Baker’s Bike, from the Netherlands, generally featuring two wheels and large luggage carriers, one on each end. Also one of the classic bikes is the two-wheeled Long John.
A Long John has a cargo platform between the steering column and the front wheel; the steering is transmitted to the front wheel with the help of a linkage rod. One of the most modern bikes of this kind on the market today is the Bullitt Cargo Bike, weighing only 25 kilos in its basic version, also available with an electric drive.
Alternative to the automobile
You need practice to ride a cargo bike. Some varieties are over two meters long, their turning radius is extensive and overcoming the initial inertia with a fully loaded bike can be taxing on the legs.
Many beginners prefer three-wheeled models. They are more stable and won’t tip over. However, they weigh more than two-wheeled cargo bikes, are less agile, and are no fun when attempting to avoid potholes.
Many young families living in the city are discovering the cargo bike as a method of transportation and alternative to the automobile. They consider a cargo bike safer than using a bicycle trailer. On a cargo bike kids are seated in the box in front and are in the rider’s line of sight. In addition, it is easier to judge distances to cars and marker posts.
Copenhagen: The capital of cargo bikes
In Copenhagen, for example, the elongated bicycles have long become a part of everyday life. “Copenhagen is the capital of cargo bikes,” says Denmark’s principal bicycle ambassador Mikael Colville-Andersen.
“Every day more than 40,000 of them are in the streets. They transport kids to child care or shopping back home.” Colville-Andersen has taken more than 15,000 photos for his bicycle culture blog copenhagenize, and about 3,000 of them are of cargo bikes.
Most of the photos were taken in Copenhagen, others are from São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro where Colville-Andersen photographed cargo bikes. “While we generally use our bikes privately, at the Copacabana cargo bikes are used for 11,000 deliveries every day. Supermarkets, drugstores, beverage stores, cleaners, flower shops, kiosk owners, ice cream shops or carpenters – they all use them.”
These are the kind of results the EU-supported project “Cyclelogistics – Moving Goods by Cycle” by the Mobility Research Association (Forschungsgesellschaft Mobilität – FGM), running until April 2014, is looking for: the goal is to replace car or truck transportation in the city with bicycle transportation.
FGM offers companies cargo bikes for testing or tries to motivate small business owners like window cleaners and tradespeople to forego their automobiles in favor of a bicycle. After all, “every second trip into the city is less than five kilometers,” according to the organizers.
The project has partners in twelve different European cities and communities, such as the Energy Agency in Plovdiv (Bulgaria) and the Agenzia Mobilita'e Impianti in Ferrara (Italy).