How can we encourage cargo bike culture?

There are some sectors of society who still see cycling solely as a sport; a sometimes form of exercise as oppose to an everyday and ordinary activity.  Here in London the streets are full of commuting cyclists every morning and in to the evening, but we need to see an expansion in the scope of people riding bikes if we truly want to become a 'cyclised city', as Boris Johnson would like it.

I'd love to see more parents with their kids using bikes as a means to get around town.  I have friends who really resent the fact that they 'need' a second car in order to successfully manage family life.  I have a colleague who would love to commute to work by bike but doesn't know how to integrate this with dropping his kid off at school in the morning.

Of course in established bicycle cultures like Denmark and Holland cargo bikes are used not just to deliver large goods but act as an integral part of everyday family life.  With a cargo bike you can bike the kids to school, do the weekly shop, even move house, and still ride to work.

Away from these bike-centric countries there are early adopters of cargo bikes like Matt from North America who bikes his gorgeous twins around in his bakfiets (follow his exploits over at his blog Bikes Can Work) or the good customers of London cargo bike specialists Velorution.  But, encouraging people to be early adopters of anything is a real uphill struggle - who wants to be the first Mum to rock up on the school run with their kids on a bike when everyone else is rolling around in 4x4s?

Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore launches the City of Sydney / Marickville cargo bike library. Photo courtesy of Sydney Cycle Chic.

As a consequence I think we should be doing all we can to encourage families to get riding on cargo bikes.  The benefits are of course just like the benefits of riding any bike, plus the added bonus of getting to spend more time with the kids whilst going from A to B; something we found that was important to parents here before.  But it's a big step to give up a family car and move over to a bike, and some people are initially put off by the cost of cargo bikes (though of course they are not nearly as expensive as running a car or two).  We should continue to maintain our campaigning focus on reducing road danger, providing good cycling infrastructure and all the rest of it, but the City of Sydney has already provided a great template for London to follow.  Launched a few months ago by Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore, the Watershed cargo bike Library provides a stock of bike trailers, heavy load riders and cargo bikes for families to test and get used to before they consider buying one for themselves.  The same idea has also been proposed by Kim Harding over at her blog - good ideas spread quickly!  Projects like this can be great enablers in terms of getting people to make that first 'leap of faith' and of course borrowing a bike and finding you love it is a much less daunting prospect compared to giving up the family car outright and hoping for the best.


Streetfilms explores Copenhagen's cargo bike culture at it's cargo bike race. 

Do you have kids?  Would you consider doing the school run on a cargo bike?  Would you borrow one from a Library?  How about it, Boris Johnson?!

Copenhagen Cargo Bikes from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

36 comments:

jellybaby.net said...

I have kids and I'd love a cargo bike to move them around but I don't fancy the idea of the commute afterwards with a big heavy bike and hills (mine is 10 miles with Highgate in the way). I'm also not sure a cargo bike would fit in the bike parking at work which could cause problems.

Is there somewhere in London that can hire me a cargo bike for a couple of days to try out?

ndru said...

Good point.
I seems that the whole image of cycling has to change in UK for mass cycling to happen. It has all to do with bicycles becoming cool before they become just transport. Until then we will have people asking about a good watch for commuting on bike (true story), the optimum weight of their water bottle cage, clipless pedals and wearing silly hi-viz and making themselves look like christmas trees. It all makes cycling unappealing. If people had to dress up like this to drive a car few would do so. Plus there is this weird perception that you will be dripping with sweat if you ride your bike? Sure if you ride it like you were escaping the peloton.
We need to remind people what cycling really is about. That it's a cool, green and friendly way of moving around which allows you to socialize, get everywhere quickly and hassle free. Not mentioning it costs nothing.
I have quite a few ideas for some nice posters that would show this. I will be posting them on my blog soon.

ndru said...

jellybaby.net try velorution.biz. Also dutchbikes.co.uk have some dealers in London.

Paul M said...

Is that Sydney, as in New South Wales, Australia?

Why are they not wearing helmets? Or is there a copper just out of shot to fine them?

Adam said...

I ride with my son (3.5yrs old) to nursery school but it's getting more difficult now I have my daughter (8mths old) to transport too. I'd love a cargo bike but would have trouble getting it in through the front door of our house and nowhere to store it if I did. There's also the very high cost of them which unfortunately I wouldn't be saving by getting rid of a car as the car is already gone due to the cost of it.

I'd love to be able to actually go somewhere with the kids and still have room for the shopping that we went to get too. Often we visit the city centre and can't buy any of the things we went for, especially in the cold winter months with the baby changing bags and spare clothes we carry.

If anyone wants to give away a cargo bike and some sort of on road storage cage then do let us know!

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Chris said...

You won't often catch me talking about initiatives that don't centre on Dutch Model Infrastructure. But seeing as I have some experience in the family transportation arena, here's my 10 pence worth.

So, what are some of the common barriers to transporting children by cycle?

1. Road Danger
2. Cost
3. Storage

Let me deal with each point in turn. I'll also add that I'm going to talk about Cargo bikes only. I do have a kids trailer, but I mostly use that for holidays, rather than utility. It's conceivable that my wife and I might use the trailer at some point on the school run for logistical reasons (we might leave the trailer locked up at the school for example), but the need hasn't arisen so far. We also prefer the fact that the cargo bike allows us to talk more easily with our kids (the kids are up front) - and that the kids are much more visible to other road users - which, subjectively, and as a parent, feels safer. We're also going to have child 3 in the new year, so a cargo bike will be much more practical size wise.

Points in turn:

1. Road danger. Obviously, campaign groups should focus on Dutch Model Infrastructure - my views are well known on this subject, but seeing as this isn't the point of Mark's post, and to keep the debate narrow, I'll skip this (very important) point.

2. Cost. My wife and I own a cargo bike - we use it to: ferry the kids to and from school/park/parties; shopping; going to the dump; and to do criteriums. Ok, I lied about the last one. We have no end of positive reaction from other parents. Other kids love it, they can't wait to have a ride in it. Even hoody teenagers are fascinated by it, and yes, mostly in a positive way - which, frankly, I'm astounded by. Anyway, parents always gulp when you tell them the true cost of owning a cargo bike. In my experience, if you want a quality machine, with gears, seats for the kids, straps (so your 2 year old doesn't jump out when having a paddy), rain cover, lock, etc, you're looking at dropping the best part of 2000 pounds. You can spend less, but not a lot less, and you can easily spend a hell of a lot more! Unless you live in Chelsea, or Kensington, most people just don't have sign-off to drop 2000 pounds on something that could easily end up becoming a garden ornament. So, what should the price be? I think 400 pounds is the correct price - then lots of people would give it a go. We either need to mass produce the first quality 400 pound cargo bike, or the government needs to step in and subsidize the current range of cargo bikes that are on offer. Currently, these machines are simply too expensive. And, please, don't flame me about the cost effectiveness of cargo-bikes - I've done the math, I've explained the math, and still, parents don't want to buy.

3. Storage is a real issue when you own a cargo bike, particularly in central London. Regretfully, but thankfully, there isn't much of a secondhand market in cargo bikes, so the theft rate appears to be quite low, so in reality it's not too much of a problem. But I do see some potential cargo bike parents stall when they start to think about overnight storage. I park mine in the garden, it's not visible from the street, so I'm lucky. But many people are not so lucky. I have heard of a couple that park their Christiania in the street overnight, no problem. I have to say, though, I wouldn't be happy leaving mine on the street overnight, but that's just me.

So, there you have it, other than road danger, cost is the number one barrier. Cargo bike libraries maybe the way forward, but parents will still have a 2000 pound bill to stomach at the end of it.

Chris said...

You won't often catch me talking about initiatives that don't centre on Dutch Model Infrastructure. But seeing as I have some experience in the family transportation arena, here's my 10 pence worth.

So, what are some of the common barriers to transporting children by cycle?

1. Road Danger
2. Cost
3. Storage

Let me deal with each point in turn. I'll also add that I'm going to talk about Cargo bikes only. I do have a kids trailer, but I mostly use that for holidays, rather than utility. It's conceivable that my wife and I might use the trailer at some point on the school run for logistical reasons (we might leave the trailer locked up at the school for example), but the need hasn't arisen so far. We also prefer the fact that the cargo bike allows us to talk more easily with our kids (the kids are up front) - and that the kids are much more visible to other road users - which, subjectively, and as a parent, feels safer. We're also going to have child 3 in the new year, so a cargo bike will be much more practical size wise.

Points in turn:

1. Road danger. Obviously, campaign groups should focus on Dutch Model Infrastructure - my views are well known on this subject, but seeing as this isn't the point of Mark's post, and to keep the debate narrow, I'll skip this (very important) point.

2. Cost. My wife and I own a cargo bike - we use it to: ferry the kids to and from school/park/parties; shopping; going to the dump; and to do criteriums. Ok, I lied about the last one. We have no end of positive reaction from other parents. Other kids love it, they can't wait to have a ride in it. Even hoody teenagers are fascinated by it, and yes, mostly in a positive way - which, frankly, I'm astounded by. Anyway, parents always gulp when you tell them the true cost of owning a cargo bike. In my experience, if you want a quality machine, with gears, seats for the kids, straps (so your 2 year old doesn't jump out when having a paddy), rain cover, lock, etc, you're looking at dropping the best part of 2000 pounds. You can spend less, but not a lot less, and you can easily spend a hell of a lot more! Unless you live in Chelsea, or Kensington, most people just don't have sign-off to drop 2000 pounds on something that could easily end up becoming a garden ornament. So, what should the price be? I think 400 pounds is the correct price - then lots of people would give it a go. We either need to mass produce the first quality 400 pound cargo bike, or the government needs to step in and subsidize the current range of cargo bikes that are on offer. Currently, these machines are simply too expensive. And, please, don't flame me about the cost effectiveness of cargo-bikes - I've done the math, I've explained the math, and still, parents don't want to buy.

3. Storage is a real issue when you own a cargo bike, particularly in central London. Regretfully, but thankfully, there isn't much of a secondhand market in cargo bikes, so the theft rate appears to be quite low, so in reality it's not too much of a problem. But I do see some potential cargo bike parents stall when they start to think about overnight storage. I park mine in the garden, it's not visible from the street, so I'm lucky. But many people are not so lucky. I have heard of a couple that park their Christiania in the street overnight, no problem. I have to say, though, I wouldn't be happy leaving mine on the street overnight, but that's just me.

So, there you have it, other than road danger, cost is the number one barrier. Cargo bike libraries maybe the way forward, but parents will still have a 2000 pound bill to stomach at the end of it.

ndru said...

Adam - a cargobike is indeed an investment and I have pondered for a long time before commiting to buying one. However the quality of the bike means that you can sell if off without loosing much of the original value. Plus if you get a two wheeled cargobike it wont be wider then the handlebars of a regular bicycle.

ibikelondon said...

Thanks for sharing your ideas everyone!

To address a few points; @Paul M yes, that is Sydney NSW - no idea how Clover Moore got away with not wearing a helmet in the photos, but hoorah for her. I never thought I'd see the day when we'd se Sydney ("the world's most bike-unfriendly city") doing things better than us here in London.

With regards to cost and storage, I think the cost issue can be remedied by a bike library as I agree £2k is a big ask of any parent. As to storage maybe we could get some of the car-shaped bike garages they have in Copenhagen? I remember Mikael from Copenhagenize telling a story of a cargo bike being stolen with the kids still in it... bit of a shock for the thief!

So far as I can see there's plenty of demand for this sort of thing, it's just a question of getting over the obstacles!

Chris said...

Other than road danger, cost is the number one barrier (IMHO). I expand on the problem here:

http://thayersfarm.blogspot.com/2010/11/cargo-bike-barriers.html

I like the idea of a Cargo Library - but parents will ultimately be stuck with buying a very expensive machine. There's no getting away from that problem. Cargo bikes are just too expensive.

tim said...

you don't need a cargo bike to transport kids, you can do it with a bike with kid seats e.g. this http://www.sparta.nl/nl/Fiets.aspx?Id=786075 2 kids a buggy and shopping, and fits in a normal bike shed and locks to most bike racks too. it is heavier than a regular bike but has 7 gears which are plenty for south london, can't say have attempted the hills of the north ;-)

Jonathan said...

You don't have to spent vast amounts of money to build a cargo bike. Got an old mountain bike lying around? Then purchase an xtracycle kit. This bolts onto the existing frame and turns it into a long-tail cargo bike. There are additional extras to enable children to be carried safely as well as the ability to carry a weeks worth of groceries.

I am in the process of building one to take my 4 year old son to school and also to do the shopping/errands etc. I have tried using a trailer in the past to do the school run but the extra width and the level of traffic on the roads put me offas well as the few 'encounters' I had with car drivers.

These cargo bikes are really only suited for short journeys. As another commenter noted I couldn't imagine dropping my son off then cycling the 24 miles to work on one. They are heavy and unless you invest in an electric 'stoker' kit you will work up a sweat. It is hard work! This combined with the unfriendly roads and driver attitude in the UK will put most people off. Sad but true I'm afraid.

ndru said...

Another issue just came up - the distance. London is just blown out of proportion and I feel for people that need to commute 20-something miles to work. I wouldn't cycle that far to be honest. It's an obstacle to mass cycling of course. It shows you what the car did to the cities - you can no longer do without it because of the time it would take to to move without motorized transport.

Tim Beadle said...

Kim Harding is a bloke, by the way :)

Jonathan said...

ndru. You don't have to 'feel for me' cycling 20 miles to work. I enjoy it! Does this set me apart from the 'normal' cyclist? Am I to be excluded from the 'everyday' cycling group because I do this? Sounds dangerously elitist to me.

You cannot moan about getting people out there cycling and at the same time blame those that are doing just that as being an 'obstacle' to mass cycling. Nonsense.

The main obstacle to mass cycling is not hi-viz, it's not people cycling 20 miles to work. It is the appalling cycling infrastructure we have in the country and the attitude of the government towards cycling. Remember it took the Danish government 40 years to get to where they are today. Without a forward thinking government like that we have no hope.

David Hembrow said...

I own an Xtracycle myself, and when we were in the UK this was one of several contraptions that we used to transport our children. Also trailerbikes and at one point an adult trike with two child seats on the back. All great things, but they were needed in large part because of the road design.

I really like cargo bikes, including the Dutch bakfietsen, of course. However, they're not really all that common in the Netherlands. Most parents don't ever use one. Those who do use them for very small children will mostly have sold it by the time their children are of school age.

In this video of the school run to a primary school you'll see no cargo bikes at all.

There are a lot of child-seats, but these are used mainly to transport younger brothers and sisters of children who go to school. There are also moeder and vadafietsen for the same reason.

However, in virtually all cases, by the time a child is old enough to go to primary school they are also old enough to ride their own bike to school.

This doesn't happen where there is lesser infrastructure because it simply isn't safe enough for children to ride their own bikes. For parents to want their primary school children to ride their own bikes to school relies on there being a very high degree of subjective safety.

sheffield cycle chic said...

I couldn't afford a cargo bike so I got a Gazelle Bloom http://bit.ly/epMmxn
which can carry a surprising amount of stuff!
http://bit.ly/gky6aa
http://bit.ly/e9V7UG
http://bit.ly/fzweC7

The handle bars are a bit wider than a normal bike and it is longer than a mountain bike (but the same size as my vintage Raleigh) and yes I have managed (but not often) to ride it up hill with two kids on.

ndru said...

@Jonathan - sorry Jonathan, didn't mean that at all. I meant to say that the distance is and obstacle to mass cycling, not people who cycle long distances.
However I do feel that getting people to cycle en mass means we need to create a certain image of it. It connects with the general sense of safety on the roads and the infrastructure you mentioned. The current image is a "road warrior" battling the traffic, where everyone has set out to kill him/her. Not very appealing.

violet maze said...

I will not shop at GIANT bikes in Liverpool again.asked them to check if |I'd attached my back wheel correctly when in shop to buy a new tyre and was told NO- IN CASE I SUE THEM !

Jonathan said...

@ndru. I got the wrong end of the stick there :-)

I agree. The perception of safety is a key driver to the take-up of cycling by everyday folk.

waterloobikes.ca said...

Why does it have to be a cargo bike? Most bikes can carry / haul a lot of wait to begin with. Add a trailer and you've got yourself truck!

Every Friday I take my ice hockey gear to work for shinny at lunch time - Canadian style.

http://waterloobikes.ca/2010/10/15/commuter-cyclist-meets-lunch-hockey/

ndru said...

The biggest advantage of a cargobike for me is that the children and other cargo sit in the front and doesn't articulate. This means that I can have a conversation with my kids and don't need to worry about the trailer every time I take a turn For two wheelers it's also the width of a normal bike which means I don't have to worry about bollards (shows how good the infrastructure is in London).
I still ahve an AT3 trailer but hardly ever use it because I can't be bothered with assembling it, plus parking it is another hassle - you can't just leave it at the rack, you need to put it next to and lock it to your bike.
Then there is the cool factor :)

Kim said...

I would like to point out for the record that I am a him and not a her. Please could re-phrase your reference to me ;-)

Great post and an interesting discussion.

ibikelondon said...

Thanks everyone for your comments and contributions, it's been really interesting.

Kim, I'm so sorry for that school boy error, I totally should have checked with you first. Please keep us up to date with your cargo bike club scheme.

Adam said...

One of the main barriers I've found to cycling with a cargo bike or trailers in Bristol is actually quite literally the barriers they put on the cycle paths. The worst one is at a point between the famous cycle path that brings you all the way to Bath and then you get stuck going through an underpass getting into town because of the barrier that you have to edge around, which is an impossible manoeuvre with a trailer or slightly wide or long bike. I know they're there for a reason (mostly to stop kids on mopeds) but they do stop you being able to get onto and off the paths with anything but an ordinary bike. Some (the tall triangular ones) even make it difficult if you have a child seat on the back.

Adam said...

also, what is a cargo bike library? Intrigued.

Mike said...

I've commented on this here (or elsewhere anyways) before.

I use a double trailer and a rear child seat at the moment to transport a 4y/o and 1y/o twins to school and nursery.

The key thing about it is that all the extra seating COMES OFF the bike. Otherwise my other half wouldn't be able to pick them up again.

Either I'd have to do pick up AND drop off, in which case I couldn't work full time, or we'd need TWO cargo bikes.

That said, the current arrangement works beautifully and the trailer will get sold on in good time (it was 2nd hand to start with).

What it won't do is fit through our front door, so I built a shelter for it:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/chthonic/sets/72157623777315658/

Charlie Holland said...

Lots of stuff being carried around by bike in central London now. I've just blogged about it here:
http://kenningtonpob.blogspot.com/2010/11/moving-stuff-by-bike.html

Chris said...

@Adam - I would I agree with you about cycling infrastructure in the UK - it literally is a barrier to large cargo bikes - even to the two wheeled variety! My wife regularly has to ride on the road instead of the off-road provision because she literally cannot get onto the path due to ridiculously over-engineered gates & posts. The answer would be to take a look at how the Dutch do it - Dutch Model Infrastructure. Hence my reference to Road Danger earlier.

I still think that if we're simply trying to encourage more people into Cargo bikes (assuming we're NOT prepared to tackle the road danger problem) then the cost of ownership has to be tackled; it has to be reduced dramatically if we want to see any kind of critical mass.

I have a 3 and 5 year old (and soon a 0 year old). We don't own a car. The 5 year old isn't quite ready for a tag-along. We have a Christiania - which we've found to be incredibly useful for all sorts of short trips - we often ferry both kids around plus loads of shopping - it's difficult to see how we could do that comfortably with other solutions. When we have 3 kids the Christiania will come into it's own. Plus, Christiania's are very good in snow (it's just snowed here in London BTW)!

I agree, you wouldn't want to ride long distances with a large cargo bike (although it is possible). We probably cover many miles in a day, but those miles are made up of lots of short trips, like going to the school, then onto the shops, then to the childminder, then to swimming pool etc - all short local journeys which are hardly noticeable, but all add up.

It's interesting to read David Hembrow's comments. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised they have little use for cargo bikes in the Netherlands. I guess this is due to better subjective safety - parents are happier to load up their two wheeled bikes with two (more?) kids and wobble down the road (sorry, segregated path). They're also a lot happier to have their kids ride their own machines at a younger age. Can anyone imagine letting their 5 year old loose on the road in the UK? 10 year old? If it's not safe enough for Postmen...

I have to say I feel 'quite' safe with the kids in a Christiania - it does seem to command 'more' respect from other road users, especially if the kids are visible (but I'm probably fooling myself). Personally, I've never liked having the kids in a trailer - they 'feel' very vulnerable back down there - but that's just me.

ibikelondon said...

Wow there are a lot of comments on this post - to me this demonstrates that there is lots of appetite for wider family cycling as a cornerstone of mass cycling but not nearly enough is being done to incubate it.

Putting aside the safety issue, it's clear that costs of cargo bikes are a real road hump to progress. It galls me that the best of the bike to work scheme has been taken away by the Government recently and of course this only ever covered bikes up to the value of £1000. If there are sufficient funds at the treasury to offer £5K sweeteners to people buying electric cars I'm sure some money could be found the bring about cargo bike culture!

Anonymous said...

Going to introduce cargo cult in London, huh?

ibikelondon said...

"Going to introduce cargo cult in London, huh?"

This comment was left by a blogger from Spain called Txarli who believes the Dutch cycling model is the antithesis of all that is good in cycling. Sadly, he is unable to communicate his arguments cohesively without resorting to being rude, crude and downright abusive.

That he is choosing to now leave comments anonymously is frankly ridiculous and I feel sorry for the fact that he is so ashamed of his own opinions that he is not even prepared to put his name to them on a public forum.

If you want to see some of his classic rantings (and have half an hour and a heart rate monitor to spare) do click over to here, dear reader, and read on agog;

http://bicilibre.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/un-momento-de-zapping-a-twitter/

In the meantime, Txarli of BiciLibre, if you have nothing productive to contribute, and can not even bring yourself to put your name to your contributions, may I politely suggest that you do not bother to contribute at all.

Si said...

Perhaps should get some Boris Bike cargo variants and put some at various docks around London... used them in the same way as normal Boris bikes...

Strawberry Annies said...

I have a cargo bike after spending over a year convincing my husband I would actually use it.

I have the bakfiets and bought mine secondhand for £700, its not shiny anymore but I love it,and use it every day to transport two kids 7yr & 5yr. It is hard work uphills but I manage.
Soon going to get the box sorted to advertise my business.
Overall I've had a postive response only a couple of sniggers which I choose to ignore!!
Kerry

Eva said...

Hi,

I really like your blog and it gave me a lot of information. I am undertaking a project in Hackney on cargo bikes.

http://cargobikeculture.blogspot.com/