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Cargo Bikes 201: Living The Cargo Life

July 09, 2019

So you did it. You’ve taken the leap and purchased your first cargo bike. Congratulations! We’re excited to welcome you into the cargo community. As you’ll have gleaned by now getting your new bike is just the beginning, and whether you’re carting around the kids or hauling goods around for work you’ll want to get things set up just right to make the most of your new wheels. This post will walk you through how to make your cargo bike not just another thing you own, or another way to get around, but a tool to help you lead a happier, healthier life. Of course, if you are still shopping and missed our first post head back and check outCargo Bikes 101.

 

A well-outfitted bike ready to carry kids and cargo

Outfit Your Ride

You’ll have noticed that your new cargo bike looks a bit plain compared to some of the elaborately customized cargo rigs you may have seen rolling down the street. While these bikes offer nearly endless opportunities for customization you don’t need to be a DIY enthusiast ready to custom-build the trimmings for your bike to get things going. Here’s where to start.

Basic Cargo Storage:
You’ll want to consider two factors when looking at storage for your bike, where it will go and how you’ll protect it. If you’ll be carrying passengers we usually recommend separating your cargo and passenger areas. If you have a long or mid-tail this usually will mean adding a front cargo tray to the bike, if you have a front-loader you’ll just want to divvy up the space in on your front platform. After all it’s no good being able to pick up the kids and then run to the store if their legs are just squishing the tomatoes all the way home.

Once you have your storage area established you’ll want to think of how you’ll protect your goods from the elements. This usually means a waterproof bag that fits well on your cargo areas.Porteur bags are our go-to recommendation for bikes with front cargo trays. Meanwhile,pannier bags, designed for rear cargo racks, are very popular for many riders, but may or may not work depending on how many passengers you plan to carry. If you have a true long tail and only one kid on the back you may well be able to throw on some panniers for extra storage, but mid-tails or those carrying multiple passengers will need to look elsewhere for storage. Good news though, bike specific bags (like options for the Tern GSD or Benno Boost) may be able to collapse out of the way for when you have passengers and expand for maximum cargo-hauling capacity when it’s just you aboard.

Basic Passenger Carrying:
Broadly speaking there are three major ways to carry passengers on a cargo bike. In a front box on front-loaders and cargo trikes, on a rear cargo platform on long and mid tails, and in a traditional kids seat usually located on the rear of the bike. For the kids, we generally recommend the use of a kids seat (like our favoriteYepp Maxi) until they reach 5 years of age. At this point, most passengers can fit comfortably either in the seat of a cargo tray or on the bench seat on the back of a long tail.

Longtails are the most common cargo bikes for those hoping to cart the kiddos around, and for good reason. In order to carry kids once out of a Yepp seat though you’ll need a couple of bits to make the ride comfortable and secure. First, you’ll need foot pegs or running boards that sit below the seat for riders to put their feet on. Second, you’ll want something for them to hold on to; many kids love the ride-along-feeling of something like theYuba Hold On Bars but if you want more security options like these“Monkey Bars”may be more up your alley (although it will make fitting your husband on the back on date night a bit difficult). Finally, you’ll add some padding to the cargo deck to make for a comfy ride, most manufacturers make pads specifically for their bike.

For front-loaders and cargo trikes, options from manufacturers are a little bit more catered. Typically there will be a dedicated suite of box options that range from a sideless cargo deck to a fully canopied passenger area. For our bikes (or trikes), we offer great options fromYuba, Riese & Muller, and Christiania. Of course, if you feel like going your own direction with your front-loader the flexibility of the front cargo space will provide maximum opportunity for customization. If you can dream it, it can be built for your new cargo machine.

Further Accessorizing:
Now that you have the basics out of the way it’s time to get riding! But customizing a bike hardly stops after initial setup. Indeed, tweaking and perfecting a bike for years down the line is part of what transforms these machines from a form of transportation to extensions of ourselves. It’s part of the reason bike geeks are so passionate.

What extras may you want to consider? Well for starters, how about a second battery? With more cargo options allowing for the addition of a second battery its easier than ever to all but eliminate battery anxiety and double your range.  But that’s just the beginning. A seat with a little more panache?Done. Maybe some grips to match?No problem. How about a stylish bell to clear your path?You know we’ve got ‘em.

 

The right gear and riding's a hoot whatever the weather.

Gear Up To Ride Every Day

Outfitting your bike is a great start, but you’ll want to make sure that you and your passengers are similarly well equipped to ride no matter what the day throws your way. And while bikes may have stable designs and powerful brakes to make them safer, fenders to keep you dry, and integrated lights to help you see and be seen, having the right riding gear can keep you even safer and more comfortable.

Protective Wear:
Now we all know that helmets are compulsory here in New Zealand, but what you may not know is that getting a helmet designed for urban riding can actually make a huge difference. Options like our range fromThousand pop on and off with few adjustments, are designed to lock up with your bike, and will keep you looking fresh on the road. Meanwhile, for the kids wide ranges of adjustability from helmets like theGiro Scamp mean you can protect their noggins as soon as they’re big enough to fit a kids seat. Another great item to keep with the bike are clear lensed protective glasses, you’d be amazed how much keeping rain out of your eyes keeps riding enjoyable even in torrential conditions.

Visibility:
Fortunately all the cargo bikes we offer come with integrated light systems that run off the bike’s central battery and are always on to keep you seen day or night. For extra visibility you may consider adding ahelmet mounted light, or keeping ahigh-vis vest in your cargo bag for mixed light conditions.

Weather Guards:
Many new cargo riders are most apprehensive about riding in the rain, but a few handy items will have you zipping through the rain no problem. Most of our cargo bikes come equipped with full-wrap fenders to keep you dry from road spray, but are a must if the model you select doesn’t have them standard. For yourself a good, reflective rain jacket is an absolute must and packable rain pants take up very little room in your cargo bag for really wet conditions. For the kids, we’ve actually found they’re the heartiest riders out there! They love splashing through the wet on a cargo bike, but you will want to get them a good dedicated riding jacket as well. If you’d like more protection, you can do afull rain canopyon many front loaders to keep the kids completely dry no matter the conditions.

Roadside Repairs:
Depending on your level of mechanical inclination you may want to carry a repair kit with you. If you live here in Wellington our friendly workshop has long opening hours and is always keen to lend a hand; if you live elsewhere building a rapport with a local bike shop you trust is always a great idea, not just for emergency repairs but for ongoing maintenance as well. Fortunately by-and-large the parts on cargo bikes are the same as regular bikes, so a repair kit with a multitool, handpump, and spare tube will likely be all you need to get out of most pinches. Just keep in mind many cargo bikes like the Spicy Curry and Bullit have two different sized tyres that will need two different sized tubes!

Securing Your Bike:
Next to riding in the rain, securing bikes is usually the next largest worry for many riders. Luckily we have decades of experience in locking up our beloved steeds. We usually recommend a two-pronged approach, a wheel lock and a frame lock. Many cargo and electric bikes will come equipped (or can be retrofitted) with integrated wheel locks like this, these discrete locks work by making your bike largely immobile and a tougher theft target. Then you’ll pair that with a super tough frame lock to secure your bike to a fixed object to send any would-be thieves packing. We have great options that lock directly into wheel locks or that fold compactly away like the ever popular Abus Bordo. Finally, if you want to secure cargo bags on the bike, keeping a couple of these super-flexible Hiploks on hand never went amiss for quick bag security.

 

The sky is the limit.

Get Even More Out Of Your Cargo Bike

Now that your bike is kitted out and you’re properly outfitted it’s time to get riding! There are a million unique ways to get your bike set up for your needs, and the best way to figure out what works best for you is simply to go ride. Once you have things finely tuned for your daily commute your mind will likely be ablaze with other possible uses for your versatile steed. This is where cargo bikes transform from a form of transportation to a way of life. There are a couple of common ways that you may want to push the boundaries of your bike.

 

Convertible Cargo Areas:
Just because you bought a cargo bike to haul the kids around on doesn’t mean family transportation is all that it’s good for. Smart, convertible cargo setups mean that just about any cargo bike can go from hauling passengers to loads of goods for work to a sound system for your local bike rave and back in no time. For longtails like the Tern GSD, this can simply be a matter of folding out the huge cargo bags or swapping the seat padding for storage crates. If you want even more space on your longtail adding cargo deck extensions likethese from Yuba will turn your cargo bike into a bona fide ute! 

Meanwhile, this is an area where front loaders really get to shine. With their superbly flexible cargo platforms you can go from carrying the kids to a new washing machine by simply ditching the seat! There’s a reason why our company van is aBullit, we go from hauling groceries for the cafe to boxed bikes to our famous sound machine in no time.

 

Heading Off The Beaten Path
Many people are surprised to learn just how capable their cargo bikes can be, especially with regards to the terrain they can tackle. While we usually picture rolling along city streets or down an esplanade on cargo bikes they are actually more than happy to head off of pavement and seek a more adventurous route home. If this is something that interests you, you’ll likely have already considered theReise & Muller Multicharger with its pseudo-mountain bike build. But even if you have something more street oriented like theBenno Boost adding a set of tyres with a little more tread depth can have you feeling comfortable as you head off on a gravely adventure.


Engage With The Cargo Community:
Did you know there’s a growing group of like-minded cargo-lovers all over New Zealand? We’ve proudly been fostering this community at Bicycle Junction for years, mostly because we’re cargo fanatics as well! How can you get involved? Easy, first step, join our newsletter; this will keep you up to date on any events we’re coordinating and keep you well versed in the developments of all things cargo. Then you can head out on one of our cargo-specific events to chat with other riders about what works best for them on their bikes and see how you can make your ride even better. Finally, join one of our Bike Raves; cargo bikes are a staple on our regular many-wheeled parties, you’ll see them carrying sound systems, light displays, and revelers of all ages. Come get involved!

 

Get going on outfitting your cargo bike!

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