Saturday, April 17, 2010

new-old designs for cargo bikes

In the last week I've had several great discussions about the future of cargo-biking, with designers, builders and sales reps. Out of those discussions has come my own desire for someone to produce a cargo bike that would retail, fully-built, for under $1,000.
I want to see this happen because I think cargo biking is definitely part of the future of sustainable cities, but there just won't be enough buy-in until we make the bikes affordable for a larger segment of the bike-riding public.

There are basically three ways to go, design-wise: 2-wheeled front-loader, 2-wheeled rear-loader and 3- or 4-wheeled cycletruck. Of these three, the first is probably the easiest to own from a logistical and storage standpoint.

Here's an example of a front-loading 2-wheeler, created by Portland framebuilder Joseph Ahearne:

Here's an example of a rear-loading cargo bike (this is my Surly Big Dummy):

And this is an example of a cycletruck -- this is an older model called the Brox that I discovered when I first began working in a bike shop. At the time most of the bike lanes in Portland weren't wide enough to accommodate this vehicle, but I dreamed of owning one for a long time:

The deal with all of these cargo bikes is that they are fairly expensive for the average bike rider. By average I mean someone who could not imagine spending more than several hundred dollars on a sturdy, go-everywhere, do-everything bicycle, even one they'd use as daily transportation. The cheapest of these bikes fully-built will cost about $2,000; the most expensive (The Brox) runs around $4,500 including import fees (it's a UK product). And that's where the average bike rider will turn on his heel and go back out the door.

So this week I began having discussions with a couple of dealer reps and told them I want their companies to consider designing a cargo bike that would retail for under $1,000, fully-built and ready to ride.

A few changes to bring the price down would include:

--V-brakes instead of disc brakes (but make sure the frame has fittings for both kinds of brakes to give the owner a choice);
--Flat pedals
--Basic drive-train with alpine triple cranks and 7- or 8-speed cassette and derailleurs (internally-geared hubs are great but the decent ones cost more than an externally-geared drive-train and don't offer the same range of gears)

I'd also suggest making a thorn-proof inner tube standard for the rear tire to reduce the likelihood of roadside repairs, which can be time-consuming for a cargo bike.

I'm happy to report that both of the companies whose reps I spoke to ARE discussing adding cargo bikes to their line-ups. One has gone as far as to produce a prototype of a rear-loading model that would retail for around $800, complete. I've see pictures and it bears a strong resemblance to the Surly Big Dummy (though the frame's main triangles are a little different). It even accepts the Xtracycle bags and snap-deck.
The other company isn't as far along in development and I'm hoping they might consider a short-wheelbase, front-loading model.

I think if we can get the price down, then more folks would consider buying a cargo bike instead of a used car. What do you think? Discuss.


Logan (at) said...

Here locally in Eugene, Oregon Lane Kagey at CETMA and the CAT crew of human powered machines have a few pretty cool cargo bikes as well. Although prices do start at about $2000. Perhaps once more folks purchase these bikes to replace cars the used cargo bike market will hit the price point you are looking for. :)

Logan (at) said...

I almost forgot! The yuba mundo would be a great bike to meet this need you are describing. It fits your pricepoint and has some fantastic load capacity numbers. Alan at ecovelo is currently reviewing the bike and I hope to read his thoughts on this bike soon. :)


bikelovejones said...

Point well taken.
I took a good long look at the Yuba Mundo (they're available locally through Joe-Bike) and thought that (a) at 60 lbs empty it was awfully heavy for most grocery portage needs; and (b) I really want to see a short wheelbase (usually front-loading) option for folks who have limited storage space.
If you don't have a garage or a really big shed (with a decent deadblot lock on it) it is harder to store a longer wheelbase (usually rear-loading) cargo bike securely.

The thing I like about Joseph's design is that, with some changes in the basket dimensions, it could easily be hung on a hook at the end of a light-rail car, or carried on the racks on front of a bus. Sometimes, having the multi-modal option inclines people to use their bikes more often.

stan said...

Hi Bikelovejones. Here in Africa we have to get pretty creative with our bikes... this Micky Abrahams with all his possessions from a project I'm working on about South African bicycling culture - - check out his cargo racks. You can have a look at the entire project through Kickstarter - - I think you might like it.


Alan said...

didn't the newer mundo shed a few pounds from the previous version? i remember reading this but looked around and couldn't find anything on it. it was pretty significant, i want to say 12 or 15 pounds.

i do love our BD, but when folks ask how much it was they get a little bummed. relative to cars, they are pretty damn inexpensive. if we were to go totally car-free i would seriously consider the stoke monkey for big loads and long distances. i tend to think that cargo bikes would catch on faster IF they were cheap AND had an assist. you know, for kids!

Tex69 said...

I have and use (well, my riding has been poor of late) an '09 Kona Ute cargo bike and love it. They retail for about $1000. The advantage of a Ute is weight; it's alu frame is pretty easy to lug around. The disadvantage as compared to the BD is capacity. It's just not as stout, so there is a tradeoff. It's a fantastic neighborhood grocery hauler.

bikelovejones said...

I hear good things about the Ute, but I've also heard about the reduced cargo capacity (compared to the BD). Also, long-wheelbase cargo bikes are harder to store.

That said, I like my BD and use it quite a bit. Last ambitious move was helping a friend move a futon, which was challenging but doable.

kipchoge said...

Hi bikelovejones, sorry to put this here in the comments, but I couldn't see a way to contact you. At least this is relevant to cargo biking! BTW, I agree with you about the sub $1000 and have been thinking a lot about such a ride.

My cargo-bike riding band is just finishing a movie about our tour through Mexico. We're raising funds on Kickstarter and are offering relevant rewards like an Xtracycle Radish:

kipchoge said...

One pro about the Yuba vis a vis small apartments is that it stows vertically neatly, resting stably on its rear.