From ferrying children around Copenhagen to making deliveries in Amsterdam, load-carrying cargo bikes have been popular in Europe for decades. Now the green, affordable alternative to the car or van is enjoying a sales boom in Britain.
Essentially bikes with big boxes or platforms on the front, they have traditionally been used as a means of transporting goods or carrying young children. Major manufacturers such as Christiania and Dutch brand Bakfiets became popular in the 1970s and 1980s and they are a common sight on the streets of Scandinavia, but not Britain.
That is starting to change, with cargo-bike retailers and importers across the country reporting a sales spike as parents and businesses look for cheaper, greener ways to get around. Jacqui Shannon, of London Green Cycles, says sales have “gone up by 20 to 30 per cent this year and are still climbing”. The shop announced a partnership with four London boroughs to encourage more businesses to trial them.
Hugh Salt, the official UK importer of Bakfiets cargo bikes, said: “There’s definitely been an increase in sales this year. In London we’re selling at least a couple a week. In Cambridge, there are now 90-plus Bakfiets[en].”
Some have questioned the safety of cargo bikes, particularly as a means of ferrying children. Indeed, a London father doing the school run with one was recently stopped by the police. But Carolyn Roberts, of Kids and Family Cycles in Bournemouth, said the shop has never had any safety complaints. She said: “With any activity there is always a risk. With cargo bikes, you need to ride responsibly and adhere to the limits of your chosen bike. Keep your speed down and slow down around corners. Make sure you are highly visible with lights and hi-viz clothing.”
Steven Patterson, 49, from Belfast, rides with his thee-year-old twin daughters, Lilly and Grace, most weekend on his Bakfiets cargo bike. “It’s far easier than towing them on a trailer,” he said. “My girls love it.”
In Poole, Jeremy Davies, the owner of Vélo Electrique, has added an electric battery to his cargo bikes. Starting at £1,395, his bikes don’t come cheap (non-electric prices range from £800 to £2,000), but Mr Davies said they have become popular with families “struggling to haul their families around” on standard cargo bikes. “Britain isn’t Holland. It isn’t flat as a pancake and sometimes you need a little bit of help.”
Despite the burgeoning popularity of cargo bikes, Royal Mail confirmed last week it was withdrawing the last of its 3,000 mail-carrying cargo bikes by the end of 2014.