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THE SEARCH FOR THE PERFECT CARGO BIKE

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.  Blue Madsen

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!

 

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3 thoughts on “THE SEARCH FOR THE PERFECT CARGO BIKE

  1. First, it makes me really happy that you are doing this again and I enjoy reading your blog :):)

    We have a bike trailer for the kids (a Chariot Cougar 2 but now I think it is called a Thule Cougar 2), but this is not for 3 kids. We have 2 kids in the trailer and 1 in a bike seat. Since we don’t have a car we use it for everything (shopping, transport…etc.) as well as take it on vacation with us. This is one of the best/most practical things we have ever purchased.

    For me, the beauty of the bike trailer is that it transforms from a trailer to a stroller… so if we are out and about and decide to have lunch or do something without the bikes we can detach the trailer, lock the bikes, and we still have a stroller for the kids (w/out having to bring an extra stroller with us)

    We see a lot of the box style bikes here (Germany) and they are really cool. The only challenges I see with using box bikes vs. a bike trailer is that 1) when you want to go on long family bike rides (I would rather pull than push something), and 2) of course bringing it with you on holiday. Additionally, box bikes are really long and don’t pivot in the middle like a trailer-bike combo would. This potentially makes maneuvering more difficult for ex. when riding through the park. It may also be a little more difficult to find a parking space for your bike when you’re out and about…. you know… everything is smaller in Europe :):)

    One final comment about safety, our bike trailer provides a roll cage type structure with a 3 point harness and in the event you have an accident and the bike falls/rolls over the kiddos are locked in safe and sound. We had an accident where the trailer rolled completely over and rested upside down and the kids just sat there locked in and totally safe. The box bike is opened on the top and does not provide any additional protections. The kids are exposed essentially from the waste up.

    At the end I have not tried a box bike and so you should probably not listen to me :)
    I am sure that whether you have a bike trailer or a box/bucet style bike you will be happy 

    1. I often think of you guys and fantasize about life with a bike as a main form of
      transportation! In reality your setup really would be the best for us too… And if I come across a great deal on an electric bike I’ll probably wind up going this route. I’m just such a dork when it comes to these bucket bikes! I wish I wasn’t so in love with them, haha.

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