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?)
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.
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.
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.