Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Consider the Cargo Bike

This is the third in a series of blog posts about recovering from the Gulf oil spill and from oil dependency overall. The first introduces the series.

More bad news today from the Gulf of Mexico as removal of a collection cap again allowed oil to gush unrestricted from BP’s Deepwater Horizon well. And so the graphic display of oil-dependence dangers continues. Recovering from oil addiction takes on further urgency if we acknowledge, as Alaska writer Charles Wohlforth points out, that total clean-up from large oil spills is just not possible. In a superb essay for Seed Magazine, Wohlforth notes that less than 10% of the crude spilled two decades ago by the Exxon Valdez was ever recovered. Even as we gape in horror at the current larger spill disaster in the Gulf, significant oil still remains along the shores of Prince William Sound.

Here’s the good news: our heavy dependence on dirty oil needn’t continue. With this post, I’d like to highlight another of the bounty of cleaner ways to move people and goods. Human power doesn’t get much press, so I was delighted yesterday to see Alan Durning’s fabulous piece on Sightline Daily about cargo bikes. If you want to be amazed by what can be carried on two (or three) non-motorized wheels, check out the terrific images of "human-powered pickup trucks” in this post. As he introduces these photos, Alan chimes in on the healing-from-dependence theme by writing: “Catching glimpses of a life cured of addiction can be a step toward recovery.”

The pix compiled by Alan and urban planner Alyse Nelson inspired me to set down a few of my own experiences with cargo bikes. I first learned about hauling by bike when the cycle delivery company Pedal Express formed in Berkeley, California in the early 1990s. Still in business, the service will deliver up to 500 pounds and uses a fleet of bikes that includes the one pictured below. The Pedal Express website also includes a scrapbook of PedX cargo bikes carrying some really big loads.

One of the cargo bikes used by Pedal Express in Berkeley

I have used Pedal Express on a few occasions to deliver birthday presents to folks living within their service area. I’ve done this from Michigan by purchasing presents by phone from Berkeley or Oakland stores, then arranging for Pedal Express to deliver.

These days, you can find delivery highlights on the Pedal Express Facebook page. My favorite highlight went up last November: “We are delivering an entire Thanksgiving dinner by bicycle today! Awesome.”

I got further experience with human-powered hauling when my household owned a cargo trike. Though it ultimately proved to be more than we needed, this beautiful recumbent trike was both fun and a good teaching tool as it garnered admiration from people who saw it. Custom-built by Lightfoot Cycles of Montana, this “ice trike” could navigate snow and ice as it carried cargo, an important feature for our long winters. Lightfoot, by the way, also makes cycles for people with disabilities and special needs, including hand-cycles.

"Ice trike" cargo bike built by Lightfoot Cycles

When I wrote Divorce Your Car! I mentioned BikeCartAge, a Victoria, BC, bicycle delivery service that used this slogan: “Is there anything we can’t deliver by bicycle? Not much!” It applies to cargo bikes overall, which you’ll see when you check out Alan Durning’s stellar photo compilation (did I mention you should take a look at his post?). I particularly like the “pub bike” built for Portland, Oregon's Hopworks by Metrofiets and designed to deliver beer and pizza, complete with bike-mounted kegs and a serving bar.

From a different and older source, I also liked the pair of cargo-bike services (not affiliated, as far as I know) that operated in Toronto several years back. As page 152 of Divorce Your Car! relates:

  • “One enterprising Canadian promotes safe sex in Toronto by selling condoms from a three-wheeled ‘Condom Cart;’ using a bike gives him a competitive advantage, writes the Community Bicycle Network, because ‘bikes are a good way to go where the action is.’ And should the condoms fail, ABC Diaper Service of Toronto provides a complete daily diaper delivery service by bicycle, offering diapers made with unbleached cotton and washing them with environmentally safe products.”

Note: I’m not sure whether these services still operate, but I’m checking. Stay tuned.

Obviously, cargo bikes alone won’t get us off oil. Rather, they offer this take-home message: cycling technology can do much more than most of us realize. If we take greater advantage of these capabilities as part of an integrated strategy, they can indeed aid our recovery from oil addiction. And I agree with Alan: simply glimpsing what’s possible can be a first step.

The more adventurous among us might go on from there to have our own cargo bikes, but even those who don’t can support their use by patronizing services which use them. If you know of more such services, please share links or contact info in the comment section below. Thanks!


  1. When I wrote this, I promised to follow up on whether those bike delivery services for condoms and diapers still exist in Canada. Haven't found them, but did find this new bicycle condom delivery service just started by the Swiss:

  2. In case that long link above doesn't get you to the Swiss bicycle condom courier story, here's a shorter one:

  3. I have found this post while searching Toronto courier service at Google and I am glad I found it. Thank you for the valuable information’s……