The Right Cargobike for Tacoma

Cargobikes are amazing. They are the minivans and pick-up trucks of the bicycle world. In my household, we use a cargobike in place of a second car. I use it nearly everyday to carry two kids, groceries, other bikes, and even some stuff that you would struggle to load in a small car.

Although most of the basic cargobike design elements have been around for over a century, the market has recently exploded with many modern versions. I thought it might be helpful to showcase some of the bikes that I and my fellow Tacomans are using, as well as some other options that may work for you.

Keep it simple: Racks

Many bicycles can be equipped with front and/or rear racks for hauling cargo. This Civia Loring came with a sturdy front rack and a Bobike Maxi kid seat was added in place of a rear rack. Payloads are limited by the frame, wheels, and rack strength, but getting 70 pounds of cargo on a bicycle isn’t unheard of. The Tacoma mom that owns this bike really likes the step-through frame and double-leg kickstand, which simplifies mounting and dismounting. Also note the disc brakes that help manage our steep Tacoma hills when fully-loaded.

I have also seen a few iBert kids seats in Tacoma. They mount on the stem of most bikes and keep small passengers very close to the rider. (Any one know of a shop in T-town that carries those?)

Trailers

Both cargo- and child-specific trailers can be pulled by most regular bicycles. Their modularity and compatibility is a plus, but their wide stance and added rolling resistance can make them difficult to handle.  While you can purchase trailers from nearly any shop in town, Jeff Smead of Jeff’s Ice Cream in Tacoma fabricates his own trailers from steel tubing for hauling his custom coolers.

Dean from Tacoma South Sound Sports salvaged a worn-out kid trailer and crafted this beautiful cargo hauler with mostly reclaimed materials for use on his single-speed commuter bike.

Their are bigger trailers available from Haulin Colin in Seattle, Bikes-At-Work, and even big brands like Surly. I spotted this Surly Bill trailer in Portland being used to tow a cameraman and film equipment.

Longtails

This is my bike, parked next to a Fiat 500 for scale. It’s basically a regular bicycle upfront with an Xtracycle extension kit on the back, the longer wheelbase helping to lower the center of gravity. Xtracycle says their kit is weight-rated to 200 pounds plus the rider, but I’ve found that payloads over about 100 pounds start to effect handling. It’s a great balance between weight and everyday practicality. I ride it everywhere.

Xtracycle pioneered this design in the 1990′s and the popularity has provoked other major bike brands to create their own. A few others I’ve seen in Tacoma:

 

The Surly Big Dummy was one of the first longtail frames to hit the market (about 5 years ago.) It uses most of the Xtracycle racks and accessories, so you can customize it for your specific cargo.

The Kona MinUte (little brother of the Ute) has an integrated rear rack and deck that’s great for hauling 1 larger child or a weeks worth of groceries. The MinUte is more of a midtail; the wheel base is only slightly stretched. This allows for a slightly larger cargo area than a bolt-on rear rack would provide, but keeps the same handling characteristics of a regular bike.

At the heady-duty end of the longtail spectrum, the Madsen kg271 is weight-rated to 600 pounds (cargo + rider) and has seats with buckles for 4 bucket passengers. Shown here with a made-in-Tacoma rain cover and electric assist motor. I owned one of these for a few years and used it to run errands with three kids. Heavy, but amazingly stable.

I had a chance to test ride another heavy-duty longtail, the Yuba Mundo, while on holiday in Portland. The fully-integrated rear rack makes this bike handle the same whether loaded or unloaded. The kids liked it! Defiance Bicycles in Tacoma is currently building up a Mundo shop bike.

Front-loaders (often Bakfiets or “Box Bikes”)

This basic bike design has been around for a century, but the market has exploded recently with a number of adaptations. I haven’t seen any of these around Tacoma, but surely it won’t be long before they start rolling in! I saw all of these in Portland when I participated in the Disaster Relief Trials cargobike race.

Metrofiets bikes are made in Portland. This one has an added bartop and can be used as a mobile beer dispensary.

Bullitt bikes are imported from Denmark by Splended Cycles in Portland. They are sleek and quick.

CETMA bikes are made in Eugene, Oregon. Sporty and study, the front cargo section is bolted to the rear section of the bike, which makes the bike easier to transport.

Cycletrucks, with their frame-mounted front racks, can also fall into this same category, though I haven’t seen any of those around T-Town either.

Trikes

Tricycles can get the job done, but I feel like Tacoma’s rolling hills keep folks from going this route. Portland, however, is pretty flat.

How do you get one?

While many of these options are not stocked at bike shops in Tacoma, they can be special ordered. This is not an exhaustive list and by no means addresses every aspect of each style. Feel free to ask specific questions in the comments and I’ll point you to a resource if I don’t have a good answer.

Busy Bike Month Winding Down

RideTacoma has attended many of the local Bike Month events and there’s still one more tomorrow, the Bike-In Movie Night at The Red Hot (21+ only.)  Along with the movie and some bike-themed beers, they’ll be celebrating Tacoma’s first on-street bike corral, installed outside their door on 6th Ave between Pine and Junett Streets. RideTacoma was the first to try it out!

Here’s a recap of some of the Bike Month events that we enjoyed. What events did you attend? Any event suggestions for next year?

Tacoma Bike Swap: This event continues to be a huge draw for riders in every part of Tacoma’s cycling community. Mattias volunteered at the bike corral while I pitched in with 2nd Cycle in the vendor area. There was something for everyone, even an obstacle course for the kids.

Bike to Market Day: The Tacoma Farmers Markets are happening more often and in more parts of the city. We missed the Broadway Market on May 3, but biked to the 6th Ave Market the following week for some produce. A friendly farmer liked our bike and gave us this tomato start.

National Bike to School Day: I biked to school with my kids and was happy to see a few other families trying it for the first time, too. We’ll be posting more on family cycling in the coming months.

Zeit Bike: Letterpress Ride/Seek: My kids loved this event! Not only did we get to see the cool artwork from Wayzgoose and other local artists, but we also made our own art and jewelry from recycled bike tires. I’d like to see the Tacoma Art Museum make this happen again next year.

National Bike to Work Day: Mattias and I are both avid commuters, and it was obvious that there were more bikes on the road this particular day.  Remember that if you log at least five bike trips with Pierce Trips during May, you’ll be eligible for some cool prizes. Be sure to log those trips before the end of the month!

Bike to a Better Tacoma: Mobility coordinators from the City were on hand to talk with riders about plans and efforts to make Tacoma more bikeable. There were seasoned riders wanting to know what the city has planned for the future, and just as many new riders looking for more information and advice on how to include bikes in their daily lives. Attendance included all types of riders: families, racers, tourers, bike shop employees, and many commuters. If you’re looking for a do-it-all event to attend next year, this might be it. I helped with the valet bike parking out front: we had nearly 60 riders plus another 10 kids that arrived in trailers and on cargobikes. I have a good idea of where the City can place the next on-street bike corral…

Bike to a Better Tacoma

 

National Bike to School Day is May 9

In conjunction with Bike Month, the first National Bike to School Day is set for May 9, 2012. Organized by the National Center for Safe Routes to School, the event promotes bicycling as a safe transportation option for students. More kids biking to school means less car traffic around schools, which ultimately increases safety for all children.

 

How will you be participating in Bike to School Day?
I am the parent of an elementary student and a pre-schooler. We ride to school nearly every day, sometimes on separate bikes and sometimes all together on one cargobike. My youngest rider is 4 years old, so sometimes we ride on the sidewalk and walk our bikes across intersections. The most difficult part of the trip is always the last block, trying to navigate through a sea of cars and busses edging towards the school curb.  If you are driving, consider parking further away from the school and walking the last block with your children. This will help you both avoid and reduce the congestion and traffic hazards around the school.

 

How is Tacoma promoting Biking to School?
Biking to school is becoming a priority for Tacoma.  Stadium High School and Tacoma School Of The Arts were both recently awarded grants from the city’s Office of Sustainability to create school bike clubs, partly in an effort to promote biking to school. At my neighborhood elementary school, there’s an effort to better integrate cycling into the school’s Safe Routes program in order to reduce the amount of vehicle congestion during pick-ups and drop-offs.  While the elementary schools in the Tacoma Public School District have their own Safe Walking Routes (find your school then look for the “Safe Walking Route” link on the right), most have not yet integrated them with safe bicycle routes.

 

What are other schools doing to get kids riding?
Most Bike to School programs begin as grass-roots efforts led by parents with support from school administrators, PTAs, and students.  One of the most successful programs is in Portland, OR, where Bike Trains have been implemented at many elementary schools.  A bike train works like a school bus: An adult volunteer bikes along a predetermined route, picking up students and other parents on their bikes at identified stops along the way. Bike Trains usually happen once a week at participating schools and help teach new riders the best routes to their school while encouraging safe cycling techniques.  The success of Bike Train PDX has led a group of Seattle parents to form Walk.Bike.Schools!, a blog and guide to implementing and documenting Bike to School programs at their neighborhood schools.

 

Do you know of any other programs in Tacoma that promote getting kids on bikes? What hurdles are keeping you and your kids from biking to school?