[messengers] The minivan of bikes

Date: 15 Jun 2011 16:51:40 +0200
From: Joe Hendry <messvilleto@xxxxxxxxx>

The minivan of bikes


Cargo bikes elicit curious stares here, but they're standard transport elsewhere


By Liisa Tuominen


Ottawa Citizen, June 11, 2011


Europeans and Asians have long used bicycles for inner-city deliveries. While the sight of a person pedalling a load of sofas doesn't raise eyebrows in China, a cargo bike, designed to haul goods or perhaps some kids on the back, still causes double-takes in North America.


However, in densely populated urban areas, a cargo bike can make a lot of sense. Small businesses or couriers can use them for deliveries. Shoppers can bring home groceries or that big bag of mulch, or transport kids to school. For stability and manoeuvrability, the bike is designed so that the weight is between the wheels. The load might be carried in a box at the front, or on a longboard platform at the rear.


Cargo bikes can cost more than $1,500. It can cost upwards of $600 for parts and installation if you want to convert an existing bike into a cargo bike.


A review of cargo bikes in the May 2011 edition of Bicycling magazine calls them the "minivan" of bikes. Like the minivan, they're not for everyone, and you might not want it as your only bike, but if you want to carry loads short distances, the cargo bike might be worth considering. Locally, they've available at a few local bike retailers including Tall Tree Cycles and Kunstadt Sports.


In Ottawa, the Human Powered Vehicle Operators of Ottawa (HPVOoO) are big fans. They are a loose group of local cyclists who share a love of recumbents, folding bikes, choppers and just about any bike that might look a bit different. Many live car-free and use their bikes for transport, moving stuff around, and also taking part in the odd parade or two. Some examples of what Richard Guy Briggs, an HPVOoO member, has carried (separately!) include a cedar strip canoe, a two-seat couch, four 4x8 sheets of plywood, and three dozen banker's boxes with a dolly, on his specially outfitted tandem recumbent cargo bike.


Mark Rehder, a local musician, carries musical gear and other cargo in the box at the back of his recumbent trike.


Bike courier Gary Watson has been a messenger in downtown Ottawa for 21 years and rides a cargo bike full time. He's on his second one, a $3,000 Danish import with a large front box. He estimates that bike messengers have decreased by 70 per cent in Ottawa since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 because envelopes were perceived as dangerous and documents have increasingly been sent electronically - so the cargo bike has helped him survive in the business. Watson pedals his cargo bike 50 to 75 kilometres a day, carrying loads, which include boxes, food, architectural documents or printed materials of up to 150 pounds. His record is 250 pounds. He's even carted passengers in his box.


Watson delivers all year round, using skinny tires to cut through the snow and slush in the winter, and does much of his own maintenance on the bike. "Not a day goes by that someone doesn't stop me to ask about my bike," says Watson.


Former Ottawa resident Joel Mulligan studied in Europe and was impressed with the way the Danes and Dutch incorporated cycling into their daily lives. He's a huge proponent of cargo bikes and urban cycling in general. Nearly 40 per cent of trips to school or work in Copenhagen are done by bicycle, and one in four families with two children or more have a cargo bike. The weather in Copenhagen can actually be more miserable and uncomfortable than Ottawa, yet the Danes still ride in large numbers all year long. Various types of cargo bikes can be seen on the streets of Copenhagen and typically have a large box in front of the rider. These boxes are used for transporting children and other items such as groceries, or work supplies. They are also used for a range of small businesses. Two-wheel and three-wheel versions are common.


When he moved back to Ottawa several years ago, Mulligan imported two high-end cargo bikes - for himself and bike messenger Gary Watson. Mulligan used his for hauling groceries, and always received a high level of interest from people asking about his bike. In February, Mulligan moved to Copenhagen to work and immerse himself in bike culture. He has left his cargo bike at Tall Tree Cycles, a bike store on Richmond Road, to be displayed and used. He'd love to see more cargo bikes in daily use around Ottawa. Unless they're using it for commercial purposes, most people would want to own less of a workhorse than Mulligan's bike.


If you'd like a chance to borrow this cargo bike for a week, send us an e-mail to citizencycle@ ottawacitizen.com and let us know why and how you'd use it.




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