Cycle tracks will abound in Utopia... said author, thinker and futurologist H.G Wells.  I'm inclined to agree, and he also said "When I see an adult on a bicycle I do not despair for the future of the human race"...


Not so long ago we were asking here on the blog how we can go about encouraging cargo bike culture, and steadily and surely I've been noticing more and more cargo bikes - nearly always for carrying kids - since then.  I witnessed a touching moment this week when a group of commuter cyclists formed a 'guard of honour' around a Mum on a Christiana at a busy junction in the City - they kept the traffic from passing too closely through the junction so she could be safely on her way.  It wasn't planned, or even discussed amongst the cyclists, it just sort of happened, but moments like that give me hope that we can at least start to get somewhere in London with our emerging cycling culture.  Now all we need are the conditions to encourage an awful lot more of it!

On London's busy, dangerous roads should we even be encouraging these pioneer cargo bike users, and if so, what can we do make conditions safe and comfortable for them?

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David Hembrow said...

"Cargo Bike Culture" shouldn't really be an aim. If you see children who are old enough to ride their own bikes instead being transported on an adult bike, or (as we did in the UK) attached on trailerbikes behind an adult's bike so that they can be kept safe, that is an indication of people suffering from a low level of subjective safety.

Here in the Netherlands, children ride their own bikes to school, to the centre of the city, anywhere. This means even quite small children including three and four year olds who have only just learnt to ride a two-wheeler.

A cargo bike isn't needed. Parents can simply ride alongside on their own bikes.

In fact, cargo bikes and child trailers are remarkably rare around here. Trailerbikes are almost non-existent. You only see young people being transported on an adult's bike if they are very young or if there is some other reason of convenience, in which case they'll probably be sitting sideways on the rear rack.

This varies even within NL. In a city with a lower than average standard of cycle facility, where cyclists are under more pressure, such as Amsterdam or Rotterdam, you'll find cargo bikes are more common and older children can be seen sitting in them.

It's the same as with your "guard of honour". Lovely idea, but it's a symptom of a problem.

"Cargo bike culture" should be seen as an intermediate step towards a situation where children are safe to cycle on their own.

And should it be encouraged ? That's a very difficult question. While we transported our own children by bike in the UK, that was our personal decision. It is for every individual parent to decide what is safe for their child, and as conditions stand at the moment, most don't think it's safe even if they can use a cargo bike.

ibikelondon said...

Hi David,

Thanks for stopping by, and just for once I'm inclined to actually disagree with you. When I met with the former Mayor of Copenhagen she explained that studies had found that there was a drop out rate in Mums and Dads cycling between the time when their kids were born and the time when they perceived their kids were old enough to cycle. Cargo bikes allowed them to keep cycling through that time, with baby on board, meaning that the kids were around bikes from a very young age and there was no cycling "gap" in the parents lives where they might have been tempted to buy a car and disappear from cycling all together.

Of course I agree that conditions should be thus that children who are old enough to ride should be able to do so confidently and safely, but we are not quite there yet. (Indeed, we're not even close!) If cargo bikes, which we *should* encourage along with all other types of cycling, help to form a stepping stone between the two then that I think can only be a good thing.

You're correct in that I used the 'guard of honour' analogy as an example to demonstrate that things aren't right on our roads, and such an action should not be necessary. As to whether I'd ride around with my young niece in a cargo bike.. that's a tough one, and I am sure it would be a tough question for most people here. By raising such a question I hope it makes everyone think a little harder as to whether conditions on our roads are fair and equitable or not.

All the best from London!

ndru said...

David - there are two problems here - my son and I cycle side by side if the distance is not to great and we have time (and we don't have to go over too busy roads). However taking into account how big London is some parents wouldn't find it feasible to actually let their kids cycle on their own due to time constraints. Secondly as you have observed roads in central London are not safe enough for children to cycle on them. And this is of course the sad reality that I think most Londoners who cycle (and some who don't) wish to change.

Adam said...

Cargo bikes are also used for carrying cargo, not just kids. I use mine to carry my kids around Bristol (one is just over 1 yr old (@David).. so not realistic to have her cycle alongside me!). But I also use it a lot to carry other loads including lots of shopping. So yes, I'd be inclined to say it should be encouraged.

We always get a very positive (if slightly confused ) reaction from people riding ours, with a lot of people never having seen anything like them before or even being aware that anything is available that can enable you to carry loads that would otherwise require a car.