Cargo bikes may look a bit strange but these useful bikes are becoming more common, Cian Ginty reports.
A common sight in the Netherlands and Denmark, large cargo bikes are starting to turn heads in Dublin.
“It’s in its infancy and there’s only a couple of us who sell them. But the more that the bikes get seen, the more normal they become and then the more popular they become,” says Astrid Fitzpatrick, who runs Dutchbikeshop.ie with her husband Frank.
“I’ve already sold more this year so-far than all of last year,” she says. While there’s still only small numbers.
Cargo bikes are essential load-carrying bicycles used mostly to transport children and shopping, and used by businesses for deliveries.
The Dutch Bike Shop sells a two and three wheeled version Dutch brand Babboe, while Bear Bicycles at Greenaer, based off Pearse Street, sell two-wheeled bikes from another Dutch brand, Bakfiets.nl.
One cargo bike that can often be seen in Dublin City Centre is the ‘Bullitt’ by Danish bike builders Larry vs Harry, which is used by bicycle couriers. It’s the racing bike of cargo bike world – it was built to be the fastest and has forward leaning user position compared to the others which hold the typical upright Dutch cyclist position. However Larry vs Harry no longer has an Irish dealer listed on its website.
The bicycles used by An Post are a small type of cargo bike, although the difference between it and an average bicycle is far less striking.
“I’ve on occasion cycled from Lucan to Howth and back,” she adds.The Fitzparticks use one of a Babboe three-wheeled cargo bike to taxi their three children around Lucan, in west Dublin.
Astrid, who is originally from Amsterdam, sees the bicycle as a second car. She says: “It’s dead handy – I hardly every use the car anymore. I bring them to school in it, they have a roof over them if it’s raining, and I’ve often been seen cycling with the three kids in the box up to their necks with grocery shopping. It’s like my second car.”
But are these bulky things as easy as cycling a regular bike? “In the beginning it took a bit of getting used to, because unlike a two wheel bike you can really feel how uneven the road is, but your body adjusts to it after a while,” says Astrid. “It’s not made for speeding, but when you have such a precious load as kids on board you don’t want to go too fast.”
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Emma Tierney, who lives in Blackrock, owns a two-wheeler from Bear Bicycles. “I’ve three kids who are 7, 6, and 3 years old – I take them to school in it and shopping. It’s fantastic, it’s paid for its usefulness at this stage,” she says. Most people who have bought it from her have been using it on a daily basis as a car or second car replacement.
“They make a well informed decision before spending money on a cargo bike, it’s not a cheap purchase,” she says.
She says you need to be fit enough but the bikes are not a massive leap from normal bicycles.“You do have to have a certain level of fitness, especially going up hills, but you get fit from being on it. For anybody who cycles an ordinary bicycle, it would not be a massive leap to a cargo bike.”
Caitriona Walsh, who also uses a Bear-branded two-wheeler in her business Little Green Fingers, an outdoor childminding service for under preschoolers in Malahide, says she finds the bike easy to use.“The only thing is the kids are getting a little bit big and I live on the top of a hill and on days that are very windy or wet I tend to leave it at home,” adds Emma.
“I find it easy to cycle – it’s different, but I find it easy. I really like it and would highly recommend it. The first time you sit on it you say ‘I’ll never be able to do this’ but within seconds you get it. It’s so smooth and well built. It’s better than buying a buggy.” she says.
With Little Green Fingers she mostly cycles around parks. She lives close to the grounds of Malahide Castle.
“I trained as a Montessori teacher and do some Montessori work with the children but we also go outdoors, identifying wildlife and flowers. We go to the beaches and parks. The children really like it – the uniqueness of the business is that we get outside and they love going on the bike” says Caitriona.
She says they had looked at a trailer for a normal bike but went with the cargo bike because the children are so low down in a trailer and with their bike the children are strapped in and in front – so you can see what is going on.
What about Irish drivers? Emma says: “The bike is nearly three meters long, so on a couple of occasions I’ve had people trying to overtake as I’m going around the corner not realising that, but I have not had any near misses or anything like that.”Emma also says her children love getting transported in the bike.
She says: “I think they get a kick out of the fact that no other kid in the area has one, they like that the kids in their school all want to go in it and if they invite a friend home on a play date the first thing they ask is ‘can we go home on the bike?’”
It has proven handy for shopping, she says: “I used it at Christmas when the car parks were jammers – I did my Christmas Day food shopping on the bike. It’s not as big as a car boot but a week’s shopping for five will handily fit in it – what more do you want?”
Rain/wind covers – or ‘tents’ as the makers call them – are available as an extra.
There’s a trade off between keeping your children fully covered and adding extra wind resistance. The more agile two-wheeled bikes have pushed cargo bike sales worldwide, but the two or three wheel choice is a personal one based on needs and style.
Dublin City Council were looking at electrical assisted cargo bikes to keep deliveries running smoothly to city centre business while the now stalled Metro North and other projects were underway.
This article was originally published in the print edition of Cycling in Dublin in June 2012.