Thursday, March 13, 2008

Little Dreams and Supercool Bikes

Can I share some little dreams with you? I am dreaming of:
-going out on the porch to wake up in the mornings when it's warm enough!
-reading with the kids in a hammock
-finally building my dream compost bin: a 2- or 3-bin system with front panels that slide out, in the backyard
-finding some way for myself to bike around town safely with both the kids!
-growing more herbs and flowers in the garden this year
-canning and drying more wild, garden, and farmer's market foods, so we can head into next winter with a beautiful, well-stocked pantry!

So, lets talk about the biking dream a bit more. Warning! None of the pictures in this post are our own. I snagged them off of the websites of people who sell alternative bikes, and will try to give credit for each one. I hope they don't mind as they all look like great companies.
My goal is to be able to bike with the kids. We rejected the bike trailer pretty early in our search. They seem to be the preferred method of cycling with children, but they are heavy and kids are behind me and out of view. I think I would still go for the trailer except that our biking is primarily on city streets, and there are busy ones all around us. To cross a big, fast, four-lane road on a bike, bikers often stop on the median but this wouldn't be practical with a big trailer hanging off your back end. To cross at a light, I would either need to ride alone the busy road for at least a block, right in the middle of traffic, or go on the sidewalk. The sidewalks are rightfully full of pedestrians here in the hood, and I just don't feel good about biking in a traffic lane with my precious children behind me.
That brings us to child seats that can be mounted right on the bike. A great option for one kid. Maybe even two. There are front-mounted child seats that go either in front of or just behind the handle bars. They are popular in other countries, where family biking is more common. Bobike has a child seat that goes in front of the adult, but looks like it wouldn't interfere with pedalling. There are some other nice ones out there as well. But with one of these in front as well as a seat in back might make a lot of extra weight up at the top of the bike. It might work great--check out the sturdy-looking setup I found onthis blog, which showed this picture by Bala Nallama of a mother with three kids on her bike! I love the way those Scandanavians make everything look so easy. It also makes me wonder if a bike designed for extra riders wouldn't be more stable than a conventional American bike with after-market seats. Even better would be a setup with the child lower to give a more stable center of gravity. I would also like a place to put our backpack or whatnot. We always need our water bottles and diapers other sundries when we are out and about.
Well, leave it to those wonderful bikers and designers, Scandanavians, to have figured this all out long ago. I found plenty of Dutch and Danish manufacturers of cargo bicycles called Bakfiet as well as cargo tricycles!
This fancy version of the bakfiet is pictured on the
CargoCycle site, which is a good resource for all kinds of things related to alternative
It was also at
Cargocycle that I discovered the Christiania.
As far as I can tell, and this is all new to me, the Christiania is the essence a cargo trike, and were designed to carry all kinds
of things, and people, around the town after which they are named, where cars are not allowed. Both of these designs seem to fit all my saftey requirements, plus room for gear.
One company imports the classic Dutch bakfiet, and their website displays this picture of Princess Marilene biking with her two small children. Isn't that just lovely? At their site, I also found a video describing how bicycles can be used by ordinary families as transport for people or large cargo. I particularly appreciated their explanation that in many countries, regular families travel this way and it is completely accepted as a safe mode of transport, even safer than cars, whereas here in the states it is still really a fringe thing. I realize that it may be safer there because of the way roads are designed and bikes are respected. Hopefully we too can learn.
I feel like we're getting close to a workable solution; low center of gravity, secure places for children, children ride in front of the adult, small bicycle road footprint. And, imported from Europe, quite expensive!

On the other end of the spectrum,
WorldBike , whose slogan is "Bikes that Haul, for All," has programs for open-source bike designs to meet the practical needs of the world's poor. They have plans for bikes that carry stunning loads of cargo, and instructions to make them quite simply. While I do want to explore this site more, I didn't see plans for anything like the bakfiet or a front-loading cargo tricycle like the Christiania. I think the kids in the picture are just sitting on the cargo rack of an extracycle extension. Somehow I don't think this particular plan would work along University Avenue. All the same, WorldBike looks like a really neat organization doing exciting work.

Back to my Quest.

Looking for a company that makes a bakfiet or front-loading cargo tricycle domestically.
This company makes a sturdy cargo tricycle that looks good. I found a few start-ups trying to make something like the bakfiet, only better. (Isn't that just the American way? Trying to improve on what we haven't yet mastered?) These efforts didn't seem to be off the ground yet anyway.
I also discovered found a company in Eugine, OR, that makes this! Check out HumanPoweredMachines
Looks like the Bakfiet, no? Pretty exciting stuff. A girl can dream, can't she?


Natalie said...

Neat ideas but I don't see how a front loading bike carrier like the Bakfiet would fit better onto a median than a trailer. The front mounted child carriers look wonderful, we were looking into one called WeeRide. It is available at Nokomis Cycle if you want to check it out.

MamaBear said...

Having them in front of me, rather than behind me would make the biggest difference to me. With a trailer they are three or four feet behind the rider, and I the bakfiet does have an overall smaller footprint in length than a bike and trailer.
I was talking with Dad about it and he pointed out that really, one would just wait for one of those big gaps in traffic, which do come at all times of day on University except rush hour. I think he's right. No matter the setup, I would just have to be more cautious, and allow for longer waits at busy streets, giving up median-jumping.

Kate in NJ said...

LOL, I love that you have a "dream compost bin" do we!
Some of my favorite moments
are spent in our hammock.
Those bikes look really cool, but I'm
not sure I'd feel safe at all with all the crazy drivers near us.

Meredith said...

Its been over a year since you posted this, I see. But I love it! I'm not even quite sure how I came across it but I've posted it on Twitter and Facebook (and that basically means its bookmarked for life!)

I'm kinda in the market for a freight bike but seeing as I don't really have a place to store one right now, I'm just oogling.

In response to the comments about safety. I don't think "all the crazy drivers" are what should keep you from riding around with kids. What would keep you safe are proper facilities in transportation design. And law makers, engineers and planners need to know that facilities would be used if they were built. So instead of just assuming that something is impossible or unsafe and giving up on the dream, do what you can to change the situation. Its time that our transportation network begins to diversify and move away from autocentricity. Check out some of the Actions you can take at