Tuesday, 30 August 2016
Bikes aren’t famous for carrying bulky loads – but cargobikes can. If you’re looking to get small children around from A to B and you can’t fit them on your regular bike, there are loads of options out there to help you. Or if you’re running a small business like Green Workforce in London, or even a courier company like Outspoken Delivery in Glasgow, Norwich and Cambridge, and you need to get light freight from place to place, it’s definitely worth considering a cargobike. Even for trips to the plant nursery and the weekly shop, a cargobike can be a great alternative to a car.
What are cargobikes?
There are several different types of cargobike. Broadly, you’re looking at a bakfiets, a longtail, a pedicab, other types of trike, and a ‘mini cargobike’. They all have different niches, and they vary in price from mini cargobikes at prices similar to the average regular bike, through to several thousands of pounds for pedicabs. These days many can be fitted with an electric assist option, which you will thank when those unnoticeable inclines you experience on your regular bike turn into irksome hills when loaded up with two kids, their stuff and the weekly shop. You will pay a chunk more for that, but you will never look back.
It may also be wise to choose a model that includes all the really useful stuff for true utility vehicles: back racks, mudguards, chaincases, rain tents and so on. Your cargobike will be working hard, so choose one with good quality parts. Hub gears and brakes should be well protected from the elements, and a low frame will make getting on and off that much easier when loaded up.
But first, you need to define what you’ll be carrying: A very young baby? Small children? Older kids? Another adult? Or cargo? What type of cargo? Then, how long will your trips be? Is time of the essence – will you want to remain nippy and manoeuvrable, or would you rather have a three-wheeled vehicle with perhaps a greater capacity but which is likely to be slower?
Very importantly, consider where you will store it, and have a good idea of your uppermost budget, remembering to factor in the cost of accessories such as rain tents, child seats and high-quality locks.
The best advice is to try out several types to see how they feel to you, and to see how much capacity each actually has. Check out the weight limit including rider and vehicle as well as load. If you have a friend or neighbour who has one, that’s ideal: try theirs and pick their brains about their experiences. Look for things that will make your life easy, such as a low step-through frame, integrated stand, and well-designed accessories suited to your needs.
There are a good number of high street bike shops around the UK that stock cargobikes, such as Bikefix and Bikeworks in London. Some outlets specialise in cargobikes, such as The School Run Centre in Cambridge; Practical Cycles in Lancashire; Really Useful Bikes outside Bristol; Kids and Family Cycles in Dorset; and London Green Cycles , CarryMe Bikes and The Flying Dutchman in London. Some even specialise in hand-making their own cargobikes, such as The Cargobike Company in Derby and Porterlight Bikes in London.
The best outlets allow you to try before you buy, ideally renting one to see how it works practically in your own home or workplace environment. London Bike Hub operates a free cargobike rental scheme in the London borough of Ealing, and Edinburgh Festival of Cycling has a cargobike for hire. Many of the above mentioned companies such as CarryMe Bikes and The School Run Centre will let you rent one to try it out and take the rental cost off your purchase price.
You may well find that whichever cargobike you choose, it will change your life!
Electric-assist on cargobikes
‘Pedelecs’ are a form of electric assist becoming extremely popular within the cargobike market. There are now some brands which manufacture cargobikes with electric assist as standard, and don’t offer a non-motorised version, such as Urban Arrow.
A pedelec bike is one fitted with an electric motor which only starts to give power only once you start to pedal, hence ‘pedal electric’. They will cut out when you freewheel and when you reach the legal speed limit: current regulations state that with a motor of up to 250 watts and a speed of up to 15.5mph/25kph the vehicle is not classed as a moped. You will not need a license, vehicle registration, motorbike helmet etc.
Having electric assist on a cargobike is an obvious choice if you will be pedalling significant loads, relatively long distances, or steep/long inclines. And it’s up to you how you judge this – just 3 miles taking 2 kids to school requires significant effort without electric assist! However, it will add significantly to the price. But you may wonder how you ever coped without one!