Illustration by Stephen Haynes
I’m interested in cargo bikes. I’ve been riding for a while, and more of my trips are taken on my bike. But some pretty normal tasks needed for daily life re- quire more cargo space than my rack and panniers can handle. I’m having a hard time coming to terms with the price of a cargo bike versus how much time I’ll actually ride it. What’s your take on cargo bikes?
Cargo Curious in Lower Yardis, Nebraska
In my younger days there were few things my trusty messenger bag and I couldn’t carry by bike: cases of beers and live animals and small children and radiator fan shrouds for a 1985 VW Sirocco and other bicycles. It’s amazing what a strong back and a bad attitude can manage to haul around. Not all of those things at once, mind you, but you get the idea.
But some loads where just not fun, so at the time when cargo bikes were still uncommon here in the United States, I happily loaded up both one- and two-wheeled trailers with even more food and beer and laundry and children and brakes and rotors for a 1992 Mazda 626 and trail building tools and multiple bikes. Again, not all at once, but still, lots more stuff.
It wasn’t until I started riding a cargo bike that I really started to unlock my potential as a beast of burden. Enough beer for a huge party and gaggles of small children and and reluctant parents of the gaggle of children and ladders and doors for a 1996 Ford F-150 and bags of cement and lumber and even more bikes. And sometimes combinations of these things at once. Combinations like a case of beer and new toilet from Home Depot, or two children, an extra large pizza, imported cheeses, a dog and two growlers of beer.
You didn’t really talk about what you wanted to carry, but as an everyday replacement for a car, cargo bikes are hard to beat. They have some drawbacks: initial expense, storage issues and issues with hilly terrain and loads. I can’t help you with storage issues, but find it perfectly acceptable to strap one of these modern e-bike motors to a cargo bike. In fact, I highly recommend it, as you’ll ride it more. Price? Sure, we are talking real money, and some people loooove to talk about all the motorcycles and used cars you can buy for the price of a new cargo bike. But that’s just short-sighted crap.
Take a typical $7,500 car. Now go on the internet and use one of the many cost of ownership calculators to see what it would cost to drive, insure and maintain your personal automobile
for five years. Try something around $30,000. Even with a new drivetrain and tires every year, the cargo bike has a tiny cost to operate. And if you charge an e-bike from empty every single day of the year, it runs less than $100 annually.
My point? Cargo bikes are sweet. Random passersby love them. I love them. You might love them. They are cheaper to operate than any car, used or new. So get one. Ride it. Bring your crap with you. Be happy. Or at least happier than you were, as some folks start out a lot higher on the happy meter than others.
This Q&A originally appeared in Bicycle Times Issue #35. Support your favorite independent cycling magazine and order a subscription today. Beardo is counting on you.