A bicycle built for three (plus groceries) - Macleans.ca

A bicycle built for three (plus groceries)

Good for carrying both people and packages, the cargo bike is enjoying a revival



For passersby, the sight of a man pedalling an odd-looking bicycle down busy Spadina Avenue in Toronto must have seemed more apparition than reality. People stared as they passed John Dimaras and his two passengers, a friend and his young son, sitting on a padded bench inside the large plastic compartment set between the two front wheels. They were out for an evening ride and to drop off the friend before heading back for bedtime.

Dimaras is one of a growing number of Canadians who have bought a cargo bicycle this summer so they can move about with both packages and passengers. In Vancouver, Mark Wilson, manager at Rain City Bikes, has sold twice as many of the oversized bicycles as he did last year. In Calgary, a city where sprawl is a barrier to commuting by bike despite the city’s network of trails, interest is growing, said Sean Carter, owner of BikeBike. “It’s got people thinking about how they can reduce their car usage. Maybe you can’t go car-free, but you can go car-light,” he said.

In Toronto, where you can spot the bicycles hauling, more often than not, children as well as stuff, Eric Kamphof of Curbside Cycle has sold all the cargo models he had imported from Holland this year. Now demand is high enough to bring over more. “People are obsessed with the fact that you can cycle with kids and groceries,” he said. “It’s nothing short of a paradigm shift.”

There are many varieties of cargo bikes: adult-sized tricycles with the cargo in the rear; three-wheelers like Dimaras’s with the two front wheels sandwiching a box; regular-seeming bicycles with an extra-long rack at the back to which you can attach a heavy load; bikes with a sturdy rack in the front to which you can bungee bags or even boxes.

Then there is the Long John, which is the strangest-looking, because the front wheel is located several feet out from the handlebars. In between is a box designed to carry inanimate or living cargo. The handlebars control the front wheel via a long mechanical arm that runs beneath the cargo hold. Though they appear ungainly, riding one is as easy as, well, riding a bike. The frame may be long but balancing is simple and the machines turn corners nimbly. At first, it is odd to steer the satellite wheel, but it is more of a challenge to the mind than the body. The Long John arrived soon after the bicycle was invented, in the late 19th century. But it fell out of use and has experienced a European revival only in the last decade, said cycling advocate and blogger Herb van den Dool.

The people buying cargo bikes are predominantly young families who aren’t necessarily cyclists, said Carter. The reason for their spread is not necessarily climate change or gas prices, said van den Dool, citing surveys that show that environmental reasons are not generally what prompt people to cycle. Rather, it is exposure to something new. “If they see a woman in a skirt biking, they think if she can do it, why can’t I? Especially if they see a woman in a skirt riding a cargo bike.”

Mari Rossi and her partner purchased a Long John with a box—called a bakfiet, or box bike, in Dutch—when their daughter was six months old. They live in Toronto and don’t own a car. When they installed a car seat in the box and Rossi started cycling with her daughter, she was euphoric. “I joke: let’s get into the minivan,” she said.

Emily Chan, who is five months pregnant, also travels by cargo bike with her husband and their four-year-old, even in winter. “People often say when you have a family, you need a car,” she said. Instead, they recently purchased a specially designed electric motor to attach to their cargo bike. It gets them up the big hill near their home.

At around $3,500, cargo bikes don’t come cheap (though a $1,500 model is available in Calgary). But those who ride them think they are a bargain. “They are not expensive. A car is expensive,” said Kamphof. The bicycles are fuelled by your lunch, and built well enough to last decades—possibly a lifetime, he said.

And there is the fun factor. While more and more people are using the machines, they are enough of a rarity that people turn to look. “When we are biking, a ton of people always wave,” said Dimaras.


A bicycle built for three (plus groceries)

  1. I need one!

  2. Do they make them in fixie configurations for hipsters? Don't you know gears, like showering, is uncool?

    • Somebody is insecure and feels the need to accentuate a stereotype out of the blue at way overblown proportions. Don't knock on fixed gear bikes unless you've tried one. You're only hating the fad. This fad, unlike others, is backed with something truly legitimate. Fixed gears are incredibly fun to ride and possess a lot of benefits that become clear to you once you ride it; increased exercise being one of them.

    • Yes: http://www.workcycles.com/home-products/professio
      That's a huge tricycle bakfiets with a single-speed, fixed-gear drivetrain, able to cart 300kg of cargo. Only suitable for use in places where the terrain is completely flat.

  3. Daisy Daisy
    Give me your answer true
    I'm half crazy
    All for the love of you
    It won't be a stylish marriage
    I can't afford a carriage

    But you'd look so sweet
    Upon the seat
    Of a bicyle built for three

  4. I was appalled at your article “A bicycle built for three (plus groceries)”. The very idea of transporting children and babies in this contraption is ridiculous. The picture you ran with the article showed the child wearing a helmet, but there was only a flimsy fabric bonnet on the baby. How are these children restrained in this vehicle? Are there safety regulations? Certainly none were cited in your article.

    I have seen many adults lose control of bikes in traffic, and this can be fatal. This crazy contraption has to be more difficult to control than a regular bicycle. What if the children shift their weight and lean quickly to one side to look at something? The whole thing could easily go under the wheels of a car or truck. When I got to the part in the article about using this vehicle in WINTER, I nearly fainted.

    I have seen irresponsible journalism before, but rarely and never so blatantly in MACLEANS. You need to retract anything and everything about transporting children and babies in this potential death trap before your magazine gets sued into non-existence.

    Laurie Dunn

    • It looks unsafe, if not actually illegal under the traffic act for transporting kids. But "sued into non-existence"? A) this isn't the States where you can just sue willy-nilly because B) there is some expectation under the law that you think for yourself and act responsibly. "I saw a stock footage picture" isn't the same as suing your pharmaceutical supplier.

      • MACLEAN'S Magazine is calling this thing a bicycle (two wheels) and is referencing people in downtown Toronto carrying children in this … in traffic …. It's reprehensible ..

        • I'm not saying that I necessarily condone transporting children "in traffic" in one of these, but in the photo, you can see that both children are restrained (the youngest one is in a carseat), and they look to be riding along a trail rather than "downtown Toronto". If anything, it's the mother that should be reprimanded for not wearing a helmet.
          I agree that there should definately be some accountability for adhering to safety regulations, but if used responsibly, I think that it's a great idea!

          • you all are over reacting. these bikes are everywhere in the netherlands (i just lived there for four months) and used as depicted. the adults next to never where helpmits (nobody) does. the kids are often not restrained, though sometimes car seats are used as is depcited. and their are little to no observable problems. a key distinction is the prominence of bike lanes, but that just requires common sense (e.g., it is bloody stupid to even think about riding in the manner depicted down spadina or accross bloor at 530pm…. but i think most people don't any help figuring that out).

            I don't think I have to say one more word. This is all straight from the article …. do any of you people have chiildren?

          • Umm, I don't think the article advocated riding a bicycle in winter on icy roads.

          • I live in Calgary, own a cargo bike, and ride it all year long – including winter. I transport myself and my son to school, errands, groceries – everywhere! We have never had a problem with traffic – in fact, most drivers give us more room and treat us with more respect than when I am riding alone.

            People like you Laurie are nothing but fear mongers and naysayers. Have you spent any time at all on a bike lately? Before dumping all over a transportation mode that is healthy for communities, healthy for people, and healthy for the planet – maybe you should go for a bike ride in your neighbourhood and lighten up.

          • is this Scott Reid, were you ad-libbing from your in SOLDIERS….IN OUR STREETS… etc performance piece???

          • You're mad! Go to the doctor and get your meds checked.
            Who are you to tell people not to ride bikes?

          • Why don't you criticize car drivers who transport children in winter? Every winter, thousands of motorists get into grizzly car accidents due to ice and snow on the roads. Imagine trying to control a needlessly heavy oversized hunk of metal over ice. That is dangerous.

          • I don't think I'm over reacting. I said that I think it's a great idea if used responsibly.

          • but you want the mother reprimanded for a law that doesn't exist, no?

          • Please see my post below to trikebum. I thought that it was a law – in Alberta anyway, but I was wrong. And besides, I didn't suggest we charge her or anything. (If someone breaks the law do they recieve a "reprimand"?)

            Parents have a responsibility to set a good (smart) example; and so far as that goes, I stand by my sentiments.
            If you read the rest of my earlier post, you might see that I am actually in favour of using cargo bikes.

          • i read your post, and reacted to what you said which seemed to indicate you thought the mom ought to be reprimanded or charged when she is not doing anything improper. further, i think she is setting a just fine example.

            i am happy to see your correction re the law below. and i am glad to see you support the use of bikes/cargos etc (although truthfully i don;t really care with regards to the issue at hand)…. i just thought the rush to infer lack of safety and need to some sort of sanction was a bit much…

          • Yeah – I should have checked the laws first… though really, I didn't say anything about being charged (so I wasn't necessairly talking about a law in the first place).
            What I was really saying was that if I really had to pick out one thing in that photo that could possibly be of concern – that would, in my opinion, be it.

          • ok. thanks for the clarifications. i really was not intending to be harsh or anything Kate, i just thought that everyone was overreacting a tad. one of the things that really occurred to me after working/living in the netherlands and europe this summer was how much more we worry about the risks of everything. i think we could all relax a bit more, but, of course, that is just my opinion. cheers!

          • Thanks – and you know, I totally agree with you.

          • "If anything, it's the mother that should be reprimanded for not wearing a helmet. "

            Scuse me? There is no mandatory helmet law for adult cyclists in Ontario. As a transportation cyclist I am pro-choice on that.

          • only because it would be political suicide to pass such a law
            I am pro choice on everything but I'm not against reprimanding people. Children learn from example and besides if she does get in an accident it's going to be hard to take care of her children when she has a head injury. Parents need to take a higher level of responsibility than other adults, it just comes with the job.

          • Scuse me. I didn't realise that they were not mandatory. I am from Alberta (though I have lived overseas now for a couple of years) and I'm pretty sure that it IS mandatory in Alberta. Oh wait, I just did a search and it seems as though it's just for the under 18's. My bad.
            Like Mellissa says though, it is important to set a good example… and unfortunately common sense can be all too uncommon.

    • First of all, being a high-strung, frantic, intrusive mother-in-law character on the internet only irritates people. Calm down, nobody is bursting into your home from McLean's and forcefully throwing your kids onto a Cargo Bike (despite you calling them evil wild death-contraptions, they have a name and a legitimate use). Secondly, the people who are randomly losing control of their bikes on the road are INEPT, if you're a terrible rider who has trouble going in a straight line, you SHOULDN'T be on the road at all. Its not the bike that's risky, its the rider. I ride fast in downtown toronto, on the road, with cars, between cars, all of it. I do this successfully because it came with experience and aggressiveness. The road isn't as much of a guaranteed-death zone as many may think, It's very dangerous and many people are horrible drivers, luckly that can be fought by amazing cycling, not over-cautiousness and constant braking. Not to mention your whining.

    • Is it Dunn or Lovejoy? Won't someone please think of the children?!?

      That said, I agree to an extent. I wouldn't be driving a newborn around in something like that.

    • Wow Laurie, you really need to relax!

    • The only thing reprehensible and shocking and irresponsible are most of the replies in this particular thread. Cyclists rarely lose control of their vehicles, particularly in urban traffic and when they do it is generally due to the illegal, unsafe and outright dangerous maneuvers of reckless, frustrated and aggressive motorists. If some think the parents taking their children out in a cargo/child-carrier bike is unsafe, then they need to conduct themselves in a safer manner so as not to endanger others whether they are walking, driving or in/on a bike. In the approximately 1,000 collisions per year reported to TPS not only are motorists, in whole or part, responsible for almost 90%, children are rarely involved. Contrasting that fact, car collisions are one of the leading causes of death for children. If motorists respected others on the road and operated their vehicles safely, they wouldn't kill as many innocents as they do. I am disgusted by the narrow-minded, uninformed and plainly ignorant remarks this story has generated and those who made them need to take a serious review of their values and ethics.

    • Lord… where to begin with you? A magazine can't get sued for not reporting safety features on a bicycle… The magazine is not a parent or a guardian. It has no responsibility to the consumer or the citizen in that regard. I'm sure you understand that dynamic.

      And if it weren't for your trumpety righteous tone, I would tend to agree with your need for safety and that the baby should have a helmut. However: EVERYTHING on the highway is a death trap! Everything. Your child is at risk regardless of what you strap them in to, be it car or bicycle or wheelchair equipped SUV.

      And Macleans would never print a retraction because they haven't reported incorrect information. That's the only case in which that might happen, so take your litigious "let's sue everybody with everything that we've got because I rolled out of bed offended" self south of the border where your precious PTA rhetoric might be more appreciated.

    • Talk about going overboard!

    • Won't SOMEBODY think of the CHILDREN!

      • oops, Andrew beat me to it

    • You are not really serious are you? Have you ever been to Europe where these bikes are standard forms of transportation?
      This is the best sort of journalism, get people out of their cars and doing something fit and fun and keeping the air clean.

    • I have seen many adults lose control of their cars in traffic, and this can be fatal… Not only for the driver, but for pedestrians, cyclists and passes-by. For the sake of the children, we should ban cars now.

      As for safety of cargo bikes, will somebody please do something about the thousands of people already using them? And please also ban motorcycles, personal watercraft and snowmobiles!

      • LOL … exactly!

    • Perhaps you should experience the bike for yourself before making such ignorant comments. Regulation isn't what makes children safe, caring parents and communities do. If you insist on regulating someone have harsher fines for driver's who in complete ignorance of the law are constantly overcrowding bikes! I bike everywhere with my child and he is fine. Also the article pointed out that the one person attached a car seat to his. Keep in mind that the bike is not travelling 50km an hour and if you are worried about cars hitting the bike, no safety equipment is going to protect you from that but not biking with children isn't the solution.

    • Laurie Dunn, you need a vacation in Amsterdam or Stockholm!

    • Regarding helmets on babies:

      1. There are no bicycle helmets made for infants. Even the smallest ones can easily be too big for one-year-olds. One reason for this is that some jurisdictions prohibit transportation of infants on bicycles.

      2. It would be unsafe for an infant in a carseat to wear a helmet. First, a baby's neck muscles don't typically have the strength to support their own heads well against shocks until they are six months to a year old (or more). Add the weight of a helmet, and the chance of a neck injury is greatly increased. Second, a helmet would force an infant's head forward, out of the position in which the car seat is designed to support it, making it both uncomfortable and dangerous, as this could result is constricting the airway, just like a few of the infant slings in which babies suffocated recently.

      Transporting an infant in a carseat secured to the box of a bakfiets — without a helmet — is almost certainly the safest way of transporting them by bicycle.

  5. Hey, is anyone one else in agreement that Laurie is spun???? Get a life Laurie!

  6. "In Calgary, a city where sprawl is a barrier to commuting by bike despite the city's network of trails…"

    What a ridiculously nonsensical comment- first, every North American city has "sprawl." The city of Ottawa comprises an area that is more the TRIPLE the size of the city of Calgary and with 200,000 fewer people. But "sprawl" only is relevant for those who live far from where they're biking to. Not everybody in Calgary lives in "sprawl" any more than does everybody in much worse-sprawling Ottawa or Edmonton live in, say, Kanata or St Albert. Nobody who lives in an exurb or a far-flung suburb, in ANY city, is going to find cycling a convenient option. What Calgary has, though, is an outstanding network of cycle paths and, in the inner city areas, a splendid grid street pattern that, I've come to learn, is a superb context for cycling. Add the ability to take bikes on the C-Train and you have a great cycling city. People who reside in sprawl, whether they're in Toronto or Calgary or Vancouver, aren't going to cycle- why your article points this out about Calgary when every city is an offender and there are much, much worse offenders than Calgary is really tiresome and stupid.

    • And all those notions that Calgarians are thin skinned are just plain wrong, too.

    • Actually, Ottawa and Calgary's metro areas are about the same in terms of population AND area. They seem to suffer from a very similar amount of sprawl.

    • Agreed, Manzo. But why did you say "North America"? This article is about Canada and there is sprawl on every continent.

  7. As a very avid Cyclist, I would agree with Lori for 'some' part. That part being I would not be transporting a 'baby' on any kind of bike, Alas, motor vehicles although subject to great damage at speed during collisions, are equipped with an 'outer' protection and variable safety features.

    As per the " Chariot Style" tow behind trailers, I believe that the recommended age for kids is no younger than 10 -18 months ? Based on body development, and the chance that an 'impact' may cause brain injury trauma within the skull. Helmets, are proven to reduce skull injury, however only lessen a 'chance' of brain injury from impact, Proven.

    I do agree though, that other 'Modern' country's use these types of bikes everywhere, everyday, by the thousands… And I think that is good. If you're a parent and you want to take your kids to school on a non-motorized vehicle that is capable of speeds over 30km/hr … it's up to you then to ensure their safety, and I'm sure most responsible parents do so accordingly.

    The photo ? does look a little gratuitous with the Mother in flip flops etc, no helmet, the youngest child with no visible head protection etc … perhaps not the best Photo to promote Cargo Bikes.

  8. It looks like a mother enjoying a beautiful day riding on a safe sidewalk with her two
    lovely children. I don't see any danger there at all. Some people have
    to examine their thinking about things. We have to live even if there is
    some possibility of danger. These bikes are completely safe if used responsibly
    just as all pedal vehicles are. No pollution, lots of exercise, fresh air (I hope)
    and the joy of spending quality time with your kids. What a great invention!

  9. I don't 'get' how this could work in downtown Toronto? If we lived in a city that had bike lanes everywhere, like some places in Europe, then yes, I think this would be awesome…
    But with the traffic and no 'special lanes', this could be very dangerous (yes, I know, anything in unskilled hands can result in disaster…but still…). Most of us like to think that we are just as skilled as the next person, but that isn't always the reality….
    Therefore, until Toronto gets designated bike lanes…this cargo bike thing is nuts.
    (And they should not be allowed on sidewalks, …since we all know that the sidewalks are there only to accomodate families pushing their SUV size strollers, with a 4 yr old on one side and a giant Golden retriever on the other!)

    • How could you do this in Canada? Easy, look to other countries who already do it… it can't happen over night but that is no reason to discard the idea. http://www.streetfilms.org/cycling-copenhagen-thr

    • Actually, TO has dedicated bike lanes. My kids use them (helmets, good training, brought up on and around bikes with their parents–us–also wearning helmets, obeying the rules of the road and using bike lanes as much as possible). They are safe. Granted, we live on Rte. 11, which makes it 1: easy to get to the bike lane at our door! 2: less busy than core/dt traffic.

      Get used to it: bikes are going to be on the streets more and more. Sorry 'sky falling' people.

  10. Beautiful photo. Beautiful article. My wife and I used a Burley Solo, then Chariot Cougar II (double) for 6 years with our two boys. Wonderful experience and many happy memories of our times together with the kids. It was just the daily grind of to and from kindergarten, but somehow every day is different when you are out on the bike. A seminal experience for the boys and I am so glad they were not stuck in a car growing up. But I still sometimes wish I had scratched that itch and gone ahead and bought the Cargobike as well. Too late now. To those considering it now – just do it!!

    ps – photo is great. Older child has a helmet, younger child is restrained properly, and at the speeds they will be going, adult will not need a helmet. Pretty much the only danger is speeding cars and dangerous drivers. Strange how some people think you need to prepare like you are going out to do the TDF every morning.

  11. I think we should ban cars. Cars cause unneeded injury and death, even to those not in cars but walking, cycling, or in other cars as well. See http://stephenrees.wordpress.com/2010/08/13/carja… for more information.

  12. Do you transport your children/babies in your potential deathtrap, otherwise known as a car? I would nearly faint to hear that you do. You realize how many kids die in car accidents every year, yes? I would also be appalled to learn that you allow your kids to take a bath or swim in a pool. Gawd, I wouldn't be able to sleep if I knew you did!!!!
    Do you wear a helmet while driving to set a good example for your kids?

    I sure am glad I grew up in the 60s with parents who weren't hysterical and overly protective. How did we ever survive?

  13. LOVED our Chariot Carrier for our boys and my cousin is loving it for his kids in Vancouver (we're in TO). I miss it very much for carrying groceries; I used to call it 'the minivan' too.
    We have a car for big travel and, perhaps ironically, for transport to soccer for the (bigger) boys.

    btw: the boys wear/wore helmets, as do us parents, All The Time. The "outraged by children in a cargobike" lady needs to grab some perspective, as has been pointed out already.

  14. The word is bakfiets (singular; plural is bakfietsen) not bakfiet.

    Spare us the dingbats who rag on cargo bikes without knowing the slightest thing about them.

  15. What a cool bike! A bicycle can change a person's life!

    The Bicycle Factory is giving Canadians the opportunity to help send up to 5,000 bikes to Ghana – by eating candy! Participants also have a chance to win a trip to Ghana to help deliver the bikes. D

    Details are online now at &nbsp ;http://thebicyclefactory.ca

  16. I've build,one with recycle bycicles that people trow away last Winter,,,ride it all summer.
    Send pictures if you want.

  17. What a joy to see this kind of alternative way of transport! On a recent bike tour we encountered two senior citizens with their own variation on cycling for fun, exercise and shopping – I wish I could insert my lovely photo of them, but I cannot – however, they can be seen on my blog post here: http://averagejoecyclist.com/?p=611