Cargo bike childcare drop-offs are a cinch

One of the most popular images from cycling meccas like Copenhagen or Amsterdam is of a mum on a bike loaded with two or three kids.

The good quality, separated cycling networks in those countries mean that riding a bicycle is a logical way of getting around, even if you have to undertake multiple chores before and after work.

A criticism of advocating for bicycle transport is that it’s no good for the parents who have to drop off and pick up kids or do the shopping on their way home.

The extra strong, longer framed cargo bikes have solved that problem, and now they are available in electric models they are also an option for hillier cities like Hobart, Burnie and Launceston.

What is a cargo bike?

Cargo bikes are stronger than normal bikes, with most able to carry the rider plus 70-150 kg, depending on the model.

They are generally longer than a standard bike and have a long pack rack at the back that can carry children, large panniers/basket or have a box at the front or back of the bike that can carry children, shopping and dogs and either two or three wheels. 

This explainer video from Melbourne shops Dutch Cargo Bikes runs through the most common types of bikes available in Australia.

Some brands have normal and electric versions of the same model while others just make electric or standard.

South Hobart hotspot

South Hobart is seeing more cargo bikes on its streets, with the Rivulet Path connecting to schools, child care and on to the city centre it makes sense to utilise bikes as trips are relatively short distances.

At South Hobart’s Gowrie Child Care, five families have swapped their usual bikes for electric cargo bikes and a few others use standard bikes with trailers and seats.

Ben and Pen take Harlow to the centre on their Yuba Spicy Curry which they have had for 18 months. Ben said they decided to buy the cargo bike as they’d tried to ride a normal bike with their first child and found it challenging to get up the hills carrying him and their work gear.

“Getting a cargo bike meant we could transport both boys and the bags, in safety and still be able to get up the hill. For me, it also meant being able to ride on from school/childcare to Glenorchy in a reasonable time (~32 mins vs 1hr by bus or ~25 mins by car), and not get too hot and sweaty on the way (or caught in traffic snarls on Macquarie or Davey St).

After talking to other cargo bike owners, they chose the Yuba for its lower cross bar and centre of gravity.

“We'd nearly bought a mountain-bike style e-bike in 2014 when Otto was getting big for the Apollo but couldn't settle on a bike that we could both comfortably ride - and the high crossbar seemed to make getting on and off with a toddler seated in the rear problematic.

“The Yuba's crossbar is lower and very easy to step over = keeping it stable with 2-3 kids seated in the back. The seat had a high degree of adjustability making it easy for Pen (~173cm) and me (193cm) to both use the bike.

“The welding of the rear section can take up to 120 kg, and the 'running boards' and seat pad make it comfortable so we can also use it for transporting an adult.”

Rowan is another cargo bike parent at the centre, transporting his child Myrtle from Fern Tree in a front-loading Bullit cargo bike that he converted to electric. The Bullit has allowed the family to get rid of their second car.

Where to get them

Tasmanian bike shops tend to focus on bikes for recreation or sport rather than transport, so cargo bikes are few and far between.

Teros in Hobart has the biggest local range of electric cargo bikes and while they may not have all the models on their shop floor, can order in bikes for you. The brands they regularly have on the floor include Tern, Yuba, Benno and eZee.

Teros is a recognised stockist for the two interstate specialist stores: Dutch Cargo Bikes and Cargo Cycles, which both have a wide range of brands so you can buy direct from them or order through Teros.

Store owner Ahmet Bektas said buying through a shop rather than an online seller provides the added security of warranty and servicing.

“Like any vehicle, cargo bikes need at least annual servicing to operate reliably and safely. For those with a Bosch drive it’s essential to have a “wear-in” service at around 100 km.

“To help decide if this is for you, Teros offers cargo bike test rides including some you can try overnight. Until the end of May, we are also running week-long trial of the popular Tern GSD."

Like other types of bikes, cargo bikes are being affected by the problems with worldwide freight costs and availability of bike parts due to the COVID-19 bike boom so you may have to wait on your order.

Ahmet says bikes made in the US, such as Benno and Yuba, have the longest waits but check with the store as they still have some models in stock and may be able to get more from interstate.

Making it easier to get on a cargo bike

Purchase price can be a turn-off for people looking at buying a cargo bike, but that’s because many people compare it to the cost of other bikes instead of the cost of running a car. Ben agrees that price can be a barrier.

“Most people are shocked when we tell them the cost, but when we talk about it being used like a second car and effectively reducing the need for a car for the 1–4 km trips, they can start to see the value. These are the trips we would be unable to cart 15 kg of shopping plus two kids on a regular bike.”

Bicycle Network has made a couple of budget submissions calling on the government to make it easier for individuals and businesses to buy e-bikes and cargo e-bikes through either no-interest loans or direct subsidies. This is what many European governments have done to great success.

We’ve also been encouraging a few big employers to take up e-bike salary sacrificing, which have cargo e-bike options, and we’ll hopefully have some goods news on that front soon!