This past weekend I was lucky enough to be able to sit down with a local East Nashville bike enthusiast and pick his brain about cargo bikes and transporting young children via bicycle in general. I would say it’s fairly safe to consider this gentleman an expert on the subject. I walked into our meeting thinking that a Madsen Cycle is what would work best for our family but I put that notion aside for the moment and he helped me to walk through the pros and cons of each bike option available for a family like ours. If you are in a similar situation (I have an almost three year old and twin one year olds) and have been considering a cargo bike of your own… perhaps this information will help you too. I am starting from square one as I sold my old bike about a year and a half ago. Also, I think it is worth mentioning that we noted fairly early on that I am going to need some sort of electric assist kit if I am going to cart the children up and down Nashville’s hills for any sort of distance. Keeping that in mind, I have added in that cost to my assessments below where it is necessary.
Option 1) A longtail bike like an Xtracycle or Yuba
For the sake of brevity I am only going to address the Xtracycles although my assessment really applies to both. Xtracycles are pretty snazzy. They look sleek, handle well and can definitely accommodate three children on the back. The biggest issue for my family would be that I have 3 under 3 and they are undoubtedly going to fall asleep on a long ride. With the setup of the back area, if any of them were to fall asleep while riding they would slide right out/off. Terrifying right? This can be addressed somewhat by purchasing harnessed child seats to attach to the deck of the bike. The problem for me then becomes that only two seats will comfortably fit on the deck. So where does the third kid go? I could install a front mounted seat… but then that kind of defeats the purpose of buying the cargo bike to begin with. So while this might have been my top choice if I had older children, it doesn’t really seem to make sense for my life right now. Cost-wise, the 2016 Xtracycles start at $2,000.00. Throw in the cost of three seats and an electric assist kit and you’re easily looking at another $1,700.00+.
Option 2) A box bike like the Christiana or the Bakfiet
For starters (and we didn’t actually talk about this so the answer may be a simple one but…) where in the hell can you even buy either of these bikes? Both are headquartered overseas and as best I can tell neither is available for purchase online directly through the manufacturer. It looks like Bakfiet has three North American dealers that I imagine one could order from but dang. I am a quintessential lazy American and if I can’t buy it locally just give me an easy option to purchase online ok?
Anyways, box bikes are cool. They just are. When I think of a cargo bike this is the first thing that comes to mind for some reason. Maybe it’s because I have seen too many pictures of Emily Finch riding around Portland with her six kids but I just get jazzed every time I see one. I could certainly fit all three kiddos in the box but the bikes are heavy and not necessarily well suited for areas that aren’t just flat as can be. Also the price would be a bit of a setback. I’m having a hard time finding reliable pricing online but it looks like I would be looking at $3,500.00+ just for the bike? Add on electric assist and it just keeps climbing.
Option 3) Forget the cargo bike altogether and try something else
Honestly there are endless configurations that would work if I scrapped the idea of a cargo bike altogether but the one that would seemingly work best for us would be to an electric bike with an axle mount trailer and a back mounted rack and child seat. This setup would keep my center of gravity low enough to hopefully stop any tipping nightmares, it would accommodate naps perfectly and at the end of the day when the kids were done being toted around by me I would be able to detach all of the extra gear and be left with a perfectly good bike of my own. In reality this is a fantastic option for us if I could only shake my love of all things cargo bike. There are electric bikes available at many different price points and I could reasonably assume that I might be able to purchase a bike and then find a used trailer or front mount seat either for free or crazy cheap through our local mom’s club or craigslist. I could put something together that would work well within the $2,500.00 range.
Option 4) the Madsen bucket bike
I saved the best for last. After our full assessment we both came to the conclusion that as far as cargo bikes were concerned, the Madsen really would be my best bet. They are known for being light, having tons of storage capacity and they are the perfect spot for littles to safely fall asleep if need be. They come equipped with bench seats and seatbelts for four and although they currently do not have an electric assist option, their site recommends several kits to try and they note that future versions will probably have an electric assist option. The gentleman I spoke with also had met someone who had sold their Bakfiet in favor of their Madsen. When asked why, he wasn’t able to give any concrete reasons… his whole family just liked it better! At $1,875.00 they are one of the more economical options (though again… adding the electric assist kit will drive the price up). One thing I was cautioned about was that some users have found that the components are a little cheap and they have had to replace things like brakes in the first 1.5 years… but we both agreed that with the front end price being so comparatively low that didn’t seem like much of an issue.
So there you have it. My obsession with the Madsen has been justified. Now I just need to scrimp and save until I too can call myself a bucket bike owner!