BikeBiz explores the burgeoning world of cargo bikes and investigates to what extent the rides are influencing school runs
Laura LakerOct 29, 2018
Cargo bikes are growing in popularity in the UK, but they’re not just for carrying goods. Increasingly, parents are transporting kids by cargo bike, saving money and time getting around.
Although there are pockets of growth – with Cambridge and parts of London experiencing booms – other parts of the UK are yet to catch on. However, with the right support, and safe enough routes, even parents who haven’t cycled for years can be tempted to transport their kids by bike.
In 1999, the School Run Centre in Cambridge became one of the first shops in the UK to sell child-carrying cargo bikes. Founder Hugh Salt says the main draw for parents is practicality. “The logistics are amazing,” he says. “I have one parent with a tricycle cargo bike, who saved £3,000 to £4,000 over four years [versus a car]. Saving £1,000 a year when you aren’t on a big income, with children, makes a huge difference. As a parent, you never have a minute in your day, and being able to cut those travel times down is great. “Cambridge is so small, but it suffers from gridlock. With a car, you have got no idea how long it will take to get to school, because of the traffic. With a cargo bike, you know. It ticks so many boxes for parents here.
“I have one parent whose kids were at three different schools, which made it impossible to use any other transport than an electric cargo bike. Electric assist has opened up a whole new world for people who wouldn’t have used them, because of hills.
“Parents come in and say ‘it’s life-changing, you have made my life easier’. Even down to the special needs customers, they send me emails and say ‘we didn’t believe this was possible, it’s liberating’.” Salt says many Cambridge parents are from cycle-friendly countries, where cycling kids to school is normal. Once parents see other parents using them, however, they become interested too. “Now, when you go out in the streets of Cambridge, you see three or four cargo bikes in ten minutes. There’s usually a line of ten or 20 outside schools and nurseries,” he says.
London-based CarryMe Bikes CIC helps parents find the right cargo bike, offering support, bike loans, test rides and sales. Alix Stredwick, who runs Carry Me, says the purpose is “getting people through the stages of cycling with kids, trying out lots of equipment and giving them the confidence to ride on the streets”.
“One-to-one attention is really important, to make sure they are comfortable and happy with the details such as the steering, brakes and gears,” says Stredwick. “You have got to try before you buy with cargo bikes – try as many brands as you can.”
BikeBiz joined one of Stredwick’s East London park sessions – funded by Cycling Grants London – where parents ride different cargo bikes in a supportive environment. One mother of four, Esther, who hasn’t cycled since childhood herself, was considering carrying her youngest by bike as a way of avoiding local traffic jams.
Stredwick says: “Research shows it is the women of the house who make transport decisions, so we need to get women onside, though both parents have to be on board.
“I enjoy talking to female customers because they get a rough time in traditionally male bike shops.”
Salt also sees test riding as essential to get parents riding. “It’s pretty amazing, people’s reaction people when they see them; the main one is happy smiling children and happy
smiling parents, and that’s the best advert you can get.”