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Wild Green

Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.

Cargo Bikes: How Load Can You Go?

 by Keith Goetzman

Tags: Keith Goetzman, environment, bicycles, transportation, cargo bikes, bike culture, Alan Durning, Sightline Daily,

The Utne Reader's Surly Big Dummy

You may have seen or heard tales of cargo bikes, the specialized pedal-powered machines that can haul much more than your average bike. Perhaps you’ve spotted one loading up with groceries at the co-op or tooling around town with some kids on the back, or maybe you’ve come across one of the many YouTube videos or Flickr pics of plucky riders hauling large and unwieldy items on their sturdy rides.

Over at the Pacific Northwest alt-news outlet Sightline Daily, Alan Durning recently posted an impressively thorough rundown of these “human powered pickup trucks,” which range from pretty conventional bikes with extended and beefed-up back ends—like the Utne Reader’s new Surly Big Dummy, pictured above—to more farfetched designs with monikers such as longjohns, box bikes, and cargo trikes. Durning’s article covers custom-designed bikes for carrying specialized loads from beer kegs to mail to soup, and includes great shots of folks lugging screen doors, flower seedlings, and, on moving day, what appears to be all their worldly possessions. He writes:

What’s clear from all the inventing and tinkering and experimenting in cargo bikes is that we’ve yet to reach the limits of muscle-powered urban transportation.

I doubt that cargo bikes will ever amount to a substantial share of freight hauling even in cities. The motor is an amazing technology, and hauling large loads is where it makes most sense.

Still, cargo bikes seem destined to fill a small but growing niche in our communities. Unlike electric bikes, they fit perfectly into North America’s existing bike culture (macho, anti-auto, lighthearted). They extend options for car-less and car-lite businesses and families. …

As our neighborhoods grow more compact, mixed, and bike-friendly, and when we put a price on carbon, cargo bikes are likely to grow steadily in numbers and uses. They are likely, in fact, to become commonplace—symbols and reminders of how human power and human ingenuity are chipping away at an unreliable, climate-changing, and ocean-endangering petroleum supply.

Here at Utne Reader, we’re proud to be part of the trend with our new staff Big Dummy. We intend to take it out to events such as concerts, film festivals, and book fairs, bearing Utne Readers and conversation, and put it to work hauling everything from burritos to the giant stacks of books and magazines that we plow through. I’m not sure we’ll change the world, but we’ll save a little gas, get some fresh air, and tone our thighs nicely.

Maybe we can even reach out across partisan lines and give Rush Limbaugh a lift somewhere.

(Thanks, Grist.)

Source: Sightline Daily