New Idea: the Cargo Bike Club

New Idea: the Cargo Bike Club

Following my recent wee issue with getting the biggest pumpkin home from the allotment and trying to find a cargo bike to transport it has made me wonder if there are other people in a similar situation? I think I might have a solution: the Cargo Bike Club®. But, before I get into the details, maybe I should just give a wee bit of background.

First off, what is a Cargo Bike? Well, they come in all shapes and sizes, they are general purpose load carrying bikes, basically they are the SUV of the cycling world, only a lot more environmentally and people friendly. This concept is well understood in Europe, but some in North America struggle with it.

For my purposes, the sort of cargo bike I have in mind is either a Dutch Bakfiets or a Danish Larry Vs. Harry BULLITT, although other bikes would probably work just as well [UPDATE: the Urban Arrow is now the front runner].

Why would you want a Cargo Bike? In places that have a cycling culture, cargo bikes are used in the same way as a second car, for taking the kids to school, doing the weekly shop, moving flat, and all that sort of thing. Indeed some people use them instead of a family car. The important thing to remember is, we are not talking about poor countries here, but the likes of Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany and Austria. Also, cargo bikes are cool! They are increasing in popularity all over the place, even yummy mummies and (I hate to use this word but, here goes) Celebrities are using cargo bikes.

If cargo bikes are such a good idea, why aren’t we seeing more of them on our streets? Here is the rub, there are several good reasons:

Cost: a basic cargo bike will set you back between £1,100 – £1,600, and then there are the accessories: child seats, rain covers, etc. So, for a kitted out cargo bike you are looking at somewhere around £2,000 – £2,500.

Availability: there are very few dealers in the UK who sell these bikes, I am not sure if there are any in Scotland.

Secure storage: yes, they can be stored outside, but, having spent £2,000 – £2,500, you are going to want to keep it safe and secure. As we all know, this can be a problem in our cities.

So this brings us back to my idea of starting a Cargo Bike Club! This would work in a similar way to the City Car Club, with a number of cargo bikes available for hire 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, across the city, for a modest fee to members of the club. The cargo bikes would be stored in lockers around the city, not sure I like the term locker, so let’s call them kennels, I like the idea of a cargo bike kennels. The kennels would be opened by a digital key, with each member having a personalised key. Members will only be able to open the kennels when a (club owned) cargo bike is in the kennel or nearby. This will mean that members will be able to store their own bike securely in the kennel while they are using the cargo bike.

So how would it work? Well, you would book the cargo bike on-line (or maybe even by SMS text or phone, but I would have to work out the cost of that) > go along to the cargo bike kennel > unlock it with your personalised digital key > take out the cargo bike (and put in yours, if you have ridden there) > close the door and ride away.

When would you have to make the bookings? The bookings could be made in advance or right at the last minute 24/7.

Where would these “cargo bike kennels” be? The aim would be to have them in residential areas throughout the city, ideally at roadside or on road in existing parking bays. There would need to be round the clock access. If provision can be made for City Car Club cars, then why not for the even greener alternative? Yes, there maybe some local resistance in some residential areas, people might say silly things like roads are for cars or cyclist don’t pay tax, but this can be overcome in time. Because there may not be a cargo bike kennel inwith walking distance of every member, it is important that members are able to leave their own bikes in the kennel when they take out the cargo bike.

If there were “cargo bike kennels” at various locations, would you have to return the cargo bike to the same one? Yes, unlike other bike hire schemes, the Cargo Bike Club would not be about point to point travel. Although it could be possible to expanded the facilities to include Vélib’ style bicycle hire scheme as well, at a later date.

What would these “cargo bike kennels” look like? Well, there are two approaches that could be taken, either the bicycle locker disguised as a rubbish skip approach or Copenhagen urban camouflage (although I am not suggesting using these colour schemes). Both these approaches could easily fit into our urban landscapes.

What would it cost to hire a cargo bike? Well, that is a detail which I would have to work out, but I would envisage having an annual membership fee and then an hourly hire fee for the actually usage. So, something along the lines of £50 per annum membership, then the first 30 minutes of use free, followed by a sliding scale of hourly fees. Say £1 for up to an hour, £2 for an hour and a half, £5 for two hours and so on. These are just suggestions, I have yet to work out the details.

So who would the Cargo Bike Club be aimed at? The cargo bike club is for everybody! Well, everybody who needs to shift things about, things like the weekly shopping, or kids on the school run, or move a washing machine, or just stuff… More seriously, the obvious target market for the Cargo Bike Club would be young urban professionals (contrary to the belief prevalent among many motorists that cyclists are poor, urban cyclists are more likely to be from socio-economic groups ABC1 than in D or E), students, and allotment holders bringing home large pumpkins.

This Cargo Bike Club sounds like a really good idea, so what is next? Well, I am about to start working up a business plan, so if you are interested in getting involved or you would like to invest, please feel free to get in touch.

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33 thoughts on “New Idea: the Cargo Bike Club

    1. Yes!

      A Dundee branch would be great 🙂

      I think its a great idea for shopping or transporting large pumpkins…
      I remember transporting/ maneuvering LOTS of 1.5m cardboard tubes under my arm, through busy Parisian streets on a bicycle once.(well three times actually) Looking back it wasn’t really that sensible, but seemed like the best option at the time. I really could have done with a cargo bike then. 🙂

      *Just had a peek at that post too – what a great pumpkin transportation operation.

  1. cool idea. the thing about the SMS booking- Stirling has a small scale cycle hire scheme aimed at the students. if you are registered, you can text to book a bike, by sending them the bike’s ID code. They then text you back the combination code of the lock, you unlock, and away you go.

    http://www.uniquecycles.co.uk

    The unique bit is that they are using bikes, rescued from landfill or from donations, that have been reconditioned at http://www.recyke-a-bike.co.uk

    picture here http://www.flickr.com/photos/owenphilipson/5395112409/

    1. I have seen a number of the text-a-bike schemes popping around the place, they are a great idea if your bikes are relatively low cost. However, with the cargo bikes which cost about £1,500 to £2,000 each and I would be some what uncomfortable to use a standard combination cable lock used to secure them.

  2. Evan,
    So called “angry customer” is indeed running some sort of smear campaign. The same nonsense is posted on the following blogs, and probably more too if you search more thoroughly:

    http://cargocycling.org/2010/10/the-big-china-rip-off.html#comment-66588
    http://www.cheaphack.net/2010/07/diy-bakfiets.html
    http://www.metaefficient.com/bicycles/longtail-bikes-a-review-and-buying-guide.html
    http://letsgorideabike.com/blog/2010/03/bulk-groceries-on-a-bike/

    I’ve (me being Workcycles for the others) had such problems before, actually originating from two different bicycle companies (competitors thus). One has stopped this sleazy tactic while the other seems to be continuing.

  3. Angry Customer,
    I’m not sure what Dutch cargo bike your referring too but the only Dutch Cargo bike we [Wheelhousebikes] sell is the Van Andel Bakfiets, now currently badged as Workcycles. These cycling pieces range in price between $2700 and $3000. We’ve built our shop on selling quality products sourced from quality manufacturers. If you paid under $2000 for your Dutch Cargo Bike you did not purchase it from us. I’m sorry you feel as though you’ve been scammed but rest assured it was not by us. Please be more thoughtful when making your negative posts and be absolutely sure that the company you are calling into question is the one that you did business with. Or, if you are looking to drag our name in the mud, send us an e-mail or give us a phone call and we’d be more than happy to address any concerns you might have. Thanks.

  4. Sounds a great idea.

    I would avoid the cheap bakfiets copies like the plague. There are quite a few reports that they’re cheap (as in crap) copies of the bakfiets. And that they have poor components and poorer frames. Users have reported serial problems.

    Let’s face it, a half decent ordinary bike is +£800. So buying a bakfiets cargo bike IIRC currently around £1700 for the short version, seems reasonable value.

    If you were going to buy several, you could probably get a special deal.

    Alternative or possibly complementary idea. Bicycle trailers. Carry Freedom do the Y-frame and are a Scottish company. Come with various accessories for longer items.

    Loads carried on my y-frame large trailer, a selection:
    3 x 3.6 m wooden handrails; 2.4 metre fence posts; 50 litre crates of concrete rubble [too heavy to lift, I tried]; tools; tree branches and trimmings; garden waste for composting; crates of old wood from garden; waste electrical items for recycling; roof bars for car; soil; bicycles on carrier bolted to the load-bed; scrap metal for recycling; compost; old rotary drier for recycling.
    I have the 1.9 m extension arm, which was used for the long items.

    Disclosure: I ride bikes and don’t live in Scotland, and am unconnected with any cycling related business.

    1. Yes, cheap bakfietsen are cheap. I had a €499 bike which had a chinese 3-speed Nexus hub. The bottom bracket gave out first, after only a few months. Then the whole bottom bracket shell came loose – poor welding and hard handling in combination. Finally, the rear dropout came loose. Still, it was a good investment. I got what I could afford, and it worked wonders for school run and enabled us to live car free for a time, while shifting some quite remarkable loads. If cheap is what you can get, it might still be better than nothing. Then get something of higher quality as cashflow permits.

    1. Yes, I know Dave of Laid Back Bikes and had a play with the Circe Helios, good fun it was too. It is a possible extra option for the Cargo Bike Club, but I don’t see it as a substitute for the Larry Vs. Harry BULLITT or the Bakfiets, which I see as having better carrying capacity without the need for any extras such as panniers.

  5. Cargo bike club = good idea 🙂

    We have what seems to be the only Christiania trike in East Sussex/West Kent, upon which my lady wife has just now returned from town.

    Should anyone wish to know, I can assure you that it is possible to ride a Christiania up a 1 in 8 hill with over 50Kg of mangels/mangolds in the box, albeit with stops for a breather every now and then.

    Now our busy time of year is over, there’s every hope that I’ll get round to doing something on our own blog about the trike …

    1. Dan – where did you get yours? I’m also in East Sussex and want to sit on or try one before I purchase (I’m very tall and worry about knocking my knees) but though some shops in Sussex sell them they all tell me to go to London to try one!

  6. very interesting – I use a bullit for all my guiding/woodland work. I have some ideas for this that maybe worth sharing. I am based on Islay so am very rural!

    Jez

  7. Really interesting idea! For what it’s worth, I got my Nihola family trike from Amsterdam, and along with its outdoor cover and lights, plus delivery, it came in a fair bit under £2k. And I’d love to be part of a cargo bike club – I’m about to sell my trike because, with me studying full-time, it doesn’t get enough work. When I was home it was used for the school run, trips to the swimming pool and the park, and so on. But I’m hating the idea of never packing the kids into the trike and taking off, ever again!

  8. I think this is a great idea..shame I don’t live in a city but just a town. I am in the process of getting a cargo bike after a year of pleading…

    I would have a look at boris bike scheme in London for some potential ideas as to the logistics of how it could work and how much to charge..

    Kerry

  9. Cargo bikes are not that expensive Yuba Mundos(I cycle one in Wales on seven gears) and the Kona Ute round abound the £800 mark – you do not need specialist gear use euro boxes Screwfix catalogue or a couple of recycling boxes – Lidl PVA bags I can carry eight on the Yuba they are almost as big as the bags for the bike at a £100. I use my old Karrimore Iberians on it with straps. I have put straight 800mm downhill bars on a risers works much better than the Continental bars up and down hills!

    1. Aye, there are other types of cargo bike out there but, they don’t work as well for some things such as the school run, moving flat, awkward loads, and they just aren’t as cool, well that is my view anyway. OK, so cool is in the eye of the beholder, but I do think the barrow type cargo bikes are more flexible, hence their popularity on the continent.

      At this stage I am still exploring the ideas.

    1. Thanks Ian, I did have a look at the Tartan Rickshaw Company web site will I was writing the blog post, at this stage I am still thinking through my ideas.

    1. Thanks for that Cathy, I like the film and yes there are North Americans who do get the whole cargo bike thing, particularly in places like Portland 😉

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