Opening Day: Cold Feet on the Cargo Bike ride

I managed to get away from sick-kid-care just long enough to get stated on this years Opening Day Cargo Bike Ride. Great day for a ride, the weather was pleasant enough for very light clothing, and the xtracycle made it possible to haul almost all the extras. Despite a very social pace, my cargo (6 yr old daughter) veto’d the ride just a few blocks in. Note to self: Dressing pedal people and cargo people are two very different tasks. After the ride I’m wondering when cargo bikes will start designing a cargo-people experience in from the get-go.

We’ve had a bit of a go of it around our house, round robin illness to beat the band. Between that, New Years hang-over, and a half-way complete fork replacement on my xtracycle I figured I would never make the cargo-bike ride. But, I managed to rally on the fork replacement (thanks to some help from the Local Bike Shop), and got everything back together. Hang overs were kept light by a mellow evening on the 31st and my kid said she was in for a Bike Parade after some time on the playground with friends.

The sky was more hung over than me, with grey clouds crowding the horizon BUT: No wind, temperatures in the low 40s, all in all a very temperate day for a ride. Nice crowd at Greenlake for the ride, including many xtracycles, a rickshaw, a swiss military bike + trailer for a small artillery piece carrying a stove and other goodies, and many other choice rides. I was very comfortable in my spring clothing: arm warmers, a wind jacket, jeans. Hauling cargo on the big bike is enough to keep anybody warm even down in the 40s. Regardless I brought along my big winter gloves, an extra warm jacket, scarf and various sundries for the 6 yr old, but didn’t give enough though to what kind of experience my passenger might have.

J. (the 6 year old) still wasn’t feeling that well when I picked her up from a play-date with some friends, and immediately started negotiating for a foreshortened ride and asking for a jacket for her legs. We agreed to doing half the ride, and I put my extra jacket on her. This was her first time riding in the bobike/peapod kid carrier, usually she rides on the back but I didn’t have time to set up her stoker stem. We had a good time socializing the peloton, meeting a couple of other youngsters on the ride and being suitably impressed by anybody willing to bring a becack (bicycle rickshaw) out on a winter day.

We left the park, becack in the lead, at an extremely brisk pace for a rickshaw, or an extremely reasonable pace for a long bike. We were slowed by a mechanical just a mile or so into the ride, and the sounds from the back made it evident that the jacket was doing OK for the legs but not the feet of my passenger. Just a few blocks later there was enough noise from the back to be clear that J. wasn’t comfortable and needed to head home, so head home we did. When we arrived we had a bit of left over black eyed peas and greens – the braised country style ribs got finished on new years eve. Then a warm bath for J.

In the future, particularly in the colder weather I need to pay closer attention to how my passengers are dressed. Hauling people around on a bike is enough work to keep you warm in many conditions. Sitting on the back just isn’t. J. sometimes asks to ride on the trail-a-cycle just so she can pedal, and I wonder if the ability to work up a bit of warmth isn’t part of the incentive.

Kids are the most frequent and most precious cargo I carry. Some of the cargo bikes (Bakfiets comes to mind) make passengers a priority but most of the long-bike kid carry capabilities I’ve seen seem more like second thoughts that integrated designs. The analogy I’m thinking of is the difference between a truck and a mini-van. Both are big and can carry a lot of crap, but one’s much friendlier for passengers.

I expect the Long Bike, City Bike, and Cargo Bike categories to take on more life in the next couple of years. Passengers on cargo bikes face special challenges – moving fast but not exerting themselves, staying and feeling secure, etc. It’d be great to see more passenger friendly features designed ‘up front’ in these newer versions, even if they come as optional packages from the store. How about some integrated handlebars? Better foot and leg protection, (both for wheels and wind)? Maybe an integrated ‘scooter’ blanket for passenger bottom halves? Back supports? Easier entry/exit?

Take that becack from the cargo ride as an extreme example of passenger centered design – it even has a roof! Clearly that’s too far for a general purpose utility bike, but designing in options for 10-30% of that functionality would be a big win.

Sorry, no photos, I was brought my camera but didn’t have a chance to take any snaps. Next time, next time.