How should I upgrade my bikeage for better haulage?
July 17, 2017 12:13 PM   Subscribe

Now that our kid is getting big enough to ride in a bike seat, I realized I now need to figure out the bike situation. I need to get a new bike regardless to accommodate a rear seat - my current bikes have high top tubes and I can't mount them without kicking my leg over the back. The big question is should I get a longtail cargo bike or a regular bike with a mixte/step-through frame? This is for commuting around Berkeley/Oakland.

My commute is only about 2 miles to work, but it's entirely up hill. I currently walk my kid to daycare about half a mile and then ride to work, and reverse it in the afternoon. It would be great to just bike to shave time off by biking to daycare. I'd also like to get back into a car-lite lifestyle and using the bike for more errands/getting around the East Bay (like I did before the kid).

The options: a longtail cargo bike (probably the Xtracycle Edgrunner) or get a new bike with step through frame so I can mount the rear seat.

Considerations:
  • I would like this bike to fit our needs for as long as possible, which means hauling the kid on it. It seems like the cargo bike would make it easier to transition the kid after they outgrow the seat, but we could also get a trailer I guess.
  • If we get a cargo bike, then we could potentially rely on the car less for errands like grocery shopping, going to the plant store, anything.
  • A regular bike is easier to take on transit, which is convenient. It would be nice to take our bikes on Amtrak to ride around Sacramento or Davis with the kid.
  • We're leaning towards an e-bike for the cargo bike because my commute is uphill, is it worth it?
  • My partner is 12" taller than me, which might make sharing the bike difficult. If I get a regular bike, we'll probably get another seat for their bike.
  • We have a garage at home to park the bike, but at work I would probably just park it outside since my building doesn't have secure parking.
  • Cargo bikes are an investment, so if we go that route we'd want to commit to the lifestyle but is that going to work?
It's been awhile since there was a question like this on here, so I'm asking. We only have the one kid and have no plans to have any others, so assume this would only to carry around one child. We live in the flats of Berkeley and I'm very familiar with the bike paths/bike boulevards of the East Bay and mostly stick to them. It would be great to take some weekend rides to parks, the Bay Bridge, and what not when the kid is ready.

(Please don't suggest a bike trailer - it's not on the table and won't be.)

So help me bike folk of Metafilter, what options should I pursue?
posted by kendrak to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
On my travels riding around SF, the regular rear child seat style (there are many less fancy) is the most common one I see, followed by trailers, then quite a bit more rarely XtraCycles. I do see XC's around town doing deliveries and generic cargo things, but for kids it's either rear chair or trailer. For shopping, I'd add panniers unless your trips to the nursery regularly produce trees and such.

For taller partners, there are adjustable stems that can adapt the handlebars, and quick-release seatpost clamps for the other part. You'll want to talk to someone at a bike shop to size the whole package appropriately tho.
posted by rhizome at 12:23 PM on July 17


For what it's worth, it's possible to adapt a regular bike for carrying children much longer than you might think. There exist some rear bike seats that can hold kids up until 10 years old, and you can get a mega kickstand that will make your bike stable like a cargo bike. For our family, fitting out a regular step-through bike with these things plus a front seat for the baby was a better (and much cheaper!) solution than a cargo bike.

OTOH, we don't have to deal with hills. My understanding is that you need extra good components like brakes when dealing with extra loads + hills, so you'll need to keep that in mind.
posted by wyzewoman at 12:51 PM on July 17


I would like this bike to fit our needs for as long as possible, which means hauling the kid on it. It seems like the cargo bike would make it easier to transition the kid after they outgrow the seat, but we could also get a trailer I guess.

My kid has ridden on the back of our edgerunner since he was 2.5 He is now almost 6 (but is the size of an 8 year old...jesus christ), and still gets hauled around on it. He started in a seat, then to a hooptie, and now just hangs onto a handlebar setup. Our trick for long term use was to rig up a little bike hitch so he can ride alongside me until he craps out. Then off comes his front wheel and it gets stowed in the saddlebag and then his bike gets towed. It's laughably long when assembled, but it works super well. The hitch will not support the child riding on the bike behind the cargo bike; it's not load bearing that way, and the angle is way off. This is only a storage situation.

If we get a cargo bike, then we could potentially rely on the car less for errands like grocery shopping, going to the plant store, anything.

Yup. Xtracycle routinely carries x4 regular bags of groceries, plus one bag in my backpack, and a child. That load is not sustainable for hills, but our grocery store is a pretty flat shot from our house.

A regular bike is easier to take on transit, which is convenient. It would be nice to take our bikes on Amtrak to ride around Sacramento or Davis with the kid.

If this is a dealbreaker, you do not want a cargo bike. They're a pain in the ass for such things.

We're leaning towards an e-bike for the cargo bike because my commute is uphill, is it worth it?

Your definition of worth it is different than everyone elses. Some of the kits to electrify these things border on small-car territory, they also weigh about the same as a small car. I rode one when I was testing out cargo bikes, and just getting that thing around was a nightmare without it actually being powered on. I didn't want to use the e-assist the whole time, so we opted against it. My commute was uphill, with child. Get low gears, and get ripped. While the rest of my body is fighting age, my legs look like a supermodel's. The first couple weeks are s-h-i-t-t-y.

My partner is 12" taller than me, which might make sharing the bike difficult. If I get a regular bike, we'll probably get another seat for their bike.

Yup, every cargo bike bills themselves as 'super adjustable for everyone in the family' to ride, but this is such bullshit. My wife is only a few inches shorter than me, and we can't appropriately adjust the cargo bike to fit her unless we spend a morning in the garage lowering the headset. Even then it's kind of awkward, and she should use different handlebars.

We have a garage at home to park the bike, but at work I would probably just park it outside since my building doesn't have secure parking.

Depends on the hood, but I did this for years, and never had any problems.

Cargo bikes are an investment, so if we go that route we'd want to commit to the lifestyle but is that going to work?

*shrugs* that's a pretty short commute, and your situation mirrored ours quite a bit. We did it for yeaaaaars until I got a job that I had to car-commute to. I wish I could go back to that lifestyle. The way you describe it, you'll be fine. We ended up using our cargo bike for WAY MORE than we thought, and it's actually my primary bike, 90% of the time. I have a single speed for fun rides and quick errands but really, cargo bike gets more use.

FWIW, Extracycle just released a step-through version of the edgerunner. I'm not sure how much they're broadcasting or shipping them, but they're available and out there.
posted by furnace.heart at 2:05 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


Oh, and if you, or any other mefite wants close up photos and details on building the hitch, its real cheap, and real easy to do (20 minutes, mostly awkward wrenching bolts into place, and some easy drilling), just PM me.
posted by furnace.heart at 2:22 PM on July 17


Depending on how high a priority being able to take the bike on transit is, you could go with a folding cargo bike, like the Bike Friday Haul-a-Day or Tern/Xtracycle Cargo Node.

As far as seeing whether an e-bike makes sense, try to find a way to test-ride the cargo bike (or any bike) you're interested in on the hills you'd be riding, preferably under at least some load. Also take a look at your next grocery haul and work out how much cargo capacity you'll need to carry it, though you may find that more frequent and smaller trips are simpler when you're doing them by bike. Fitting your bike to your lifestyle as it is now is easier than making two big changes at once.

If you've gotta leave your bike outside, make sure you're locking it well.
posted by asperity at 3:16 PM on July 17


You might want to look into the Yuba Boda Boda, which is a more-compact cargo bike. It can fit in a regular bike rack if you turn the front wheel backward.

Your commute is two miles uphill... could you make it like four miles but less steep?
posted by mskyle at 4:09 PM on July 17


Please note the Bike Friday Haul-a-Day does not fold like their other bikes. It's a long tail cargo bike with a low step-through, very nimble with 20" wheels and all in all a joy to ride. Just not foldable.
An interesting aspect of these bikes is the main tube is designed so it can be lengthened or shortened to fit just about anyone in the family. Not something you would do on a whim but useful if you want to pass the bike on to a different size rider. They also build a variety of accessories for hauling kids, cargo rails and so forth.
posted by diode at 4:09 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the answers so far!

Your commute is two miles uphill... could you make it like four miles but less steep?
Nope. I already take the less steep, less direct route but living in the flats and working on campus (near the hills) makes riding uphill unavoidable.
posted by kendrak at 4:15 PM on July 17


I have an electric cargo bike (a bullitt bike with the 14ah version of this battery) which I ride to daycare and back through a decently hilly neighbourhood, about 4 miles round trip. Our situation sounds really similar and the bike has been really great for us. I'm 100% sure there is somewhere in the bay area that rents electric bikes and you should definitely check it out! Also check facebook to see if there's a local family cargo/electric bike group - if there's one for Sydney I'm sure there's one for the bay area.

The things that I appreciate about the battery:

If I'm sick or really tired or something, I can turn the gears down and the battery up and have a pretty damn cruisey ride even uphill, even with a heavy load. Between the gears and the battery settings you can really get as much or as little exercise as you want.

It gives you a bit of a quicker start and response time, which is great if you're in traffic with actual cars. I also like being able to downshift the gears so the battery kicks in quickly, allowing a really smooth start if I'm stopped and need to start uphill or round a corner uphill.

I can climb hills like they're nothing - hills I know I couldn't bike otherwise because I've done that too.

It makes my three year old yell "Do the engine mommy! DO IT AGAIN!" haha.

Battery use is optional, and the whole battery pops off if I really don't want it. If the area is flatish, it's perfectly fine to ride around with the battery off - this may vary by bike.

The bike is heavy, no lie - the first few weeks I definitely improved my upper body and core strength and it's a total non-issue now (six weeks later).

The battery really takes it from "bike" to "car alternative" - it's a legit car replacement.

Along with the battery we have really really good brakes (hydraulic disc brakes), which I cannot more highly recommend, mostly for safety reasons.

I would get a cheap regular bike with a child seat and double kickstand for taking on public transport; I think you could get an extracycle on Amtrak. Keep in mind that with the battery you can really comfortably cover more distance though too.

(We are all tall and my kid is rapidly outgrowing child seats plus I like the lower center of gravity; bike trailers scare the crap out of me. Cars, even beaters, are much more expensive in Australia which conversely made an expensive bike more reasonable as it was still less than a car! So we ended up with a cargo bike.)
posted by jrobin276 at 5:00 PM on July 17


I have a Yuba Mundo and ride it with my 6yo and 4yo on the deck. I did NOT enjoy riding it when the 4yo was in a baby seat. Now that he's off, the bike is just way more fun to ride -- the seat threw the balance off enough that it wasn't fun for me. I don't have an e-assist and it works just fine, but I (just this weekend) went bike camping with a bunch of other cargo bike families, and the five miles of the ride that were uphill were MUCH easier for the folks with electric motors. One woman had her bakfiets with a Stoke Monkey and she zoomed right up a steep gravel hill. I was blown away.

That said, for daily riding with kids, like what I would do for a commute if I had one, the Mundo works beautifully. I love how easy it is to get the kids on and off, and how I don't have to deal with any attachments if I don't have the kids along. It means my regular bike is my own for traveling solo -- and it makes that bike feel much lighter! I love the Mundo, and so do my kids. They like being close to me. We talk a lot -- more than in the car. We've had so many good conversations on the bike.

That being said: our good friends managed to do this with one kid and no longtail. Their daughter is 6. She was in the trailer until about a year ago, and then on a trail-a-bike until a few months ago when she learned how to ride her own bike. Now she just pedals herself around.
posted by linettasky at 5:14 PM on July 17


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