Loren's full response:
I can talk cargo bikes until most people tune out and walk away, so I apologize for you having to edit me down to 450 words. Bottom line on this matter is that I can sing the praises of a front loading Bullitt all day, but 95% of parents are going to hear the price and walk out with a Yuba or get themselves another longtail option. Until we get a viable, mass produced, US based, Chinese made, front loading model from a major manufacturer (Metrofiets is a micro-bike manufacturer so not counting them) it will not be an option for most families. Manufacturing and production numbers have to increase to make them attainable for everyone. Some major companies are looking at this market and wondering if they can enter it. We'll see in the next two years.
Here's what we tell people in the shop:
Like every bike, you're going to want to test ride them. If the shop can attach accessories to let your kids ride as well, even better!
Front loaders are great for cargo or kids. We use our Bullitt in the shop to shuttle bikes and accessories back and forth to the warehouses. One advantage to a front loader is that your kids are lower, so their weight shifts the center of gravity to stabilize the bike. Another is that conversations carry on like normal since you can see them and interact. The negatives are that small kids need some imaginative accessory to accommodate them, and the bikes take some practice to master. Because the genesis of these bikes (Long Johns) was in the cargo field, kids are often an afterthought. Weight capacity is around 400 pounds, similar to the Yuba Mundo. After kid duties are finished, this is a great bike for picking up drywall or 5 bags of mulch at Fragers or your entire weeks worth of groceries. It can be done on the longtails, but it just takes more doing.
Rear loaders (longtails) are native to the US, starting with Xtracycle. Their ride is similar to your regular bike and many accessories have been created especially for the kid hauling crowd. For a fully equipped bike coming in at $2,200 (Xtracycle or Yuba) versus a similarly equipped front loader at $3,900 this is the deciding factor for most. The second hand market for these bikes is going to really pick up in about two years, and is already hot, so turning one into cash later is an option.
For people that don't want to dive into cargo bikes just yet, adding a rack and child seat can be a good way to test the waters. Yepp has a rack mount with an extension allowing the addition of panniers to a bike with a child seat installed.
Gillian's full response:
Gear Prudence: I'm thinking about getting a bike so I can ride with preschool-aged kids. I want a cargo bike- but there appear to be two types (the one with they ride up front and the one where they ride in the back) and I don't know which is better. Do you have any advice?
Perplexed Annoyed Running-on-coffee Exasperated Never-on-time & Tired [Ed. Note: THIS IS AN AMAZING ACRONYM]
Dear P.A.R.E.N.T. - Congrats on having kids and knowing the two main cargo-bike types: the box bike (front carrying) and the long-tail (rear carrying). Each type has pros and cons, but they are all better than “regular bikes” because they allow you to take with you basically everything you want and your kids.
Box bikes are the easiest to use -- you can load up to 4 kids in the box, and all of the junk that they “need”. Because the kids are in front of you, you can see what they’re fighting over, and when one is trying to escape. The good ones are more stable than a bikeshare bike and surprisingly easy to pilot. You can add a plastic bubble (called “rain cover”) that keeps the kids out of the elements, even warming them up in the winter. Because box bikes are so big, you can use a framelock, making any spot a parking space. However, they are big, heavy, and pricey, so if your storage or budget are limited, the attention you’d get from riding a box bike around town is probably not in your future.
Long-tails can also carry a load, but you have to think a bit more when you’re loading. You’ll need a seat on the back for when they’re too young to be trusted without straps. Long-tails (and they’re shorter sisters “mid-tails”) look more like normal bikes, and are easier to store at home and to park at racks. Some are even light enough to maneuver up and down a few stairs. Kids are behind you, so you don’t have to see them while you ride, and you can fart on them with reckless abandon. If they’re strapped into seats, it’s harder for them to fight. It’s easier to tow their bikes along with a long-tail, allowing for rides where they sometimes do some work. The best long-tails have smaller rear wheels, so the load (i.e. your kids) are closer to the ground, and those look weird enough to turn heads.
Either kind of cargo bike can be upgraded with “e-assist” -- a little electric motor that flattens the hills. E-assist can be pricey, but worth it around here.
You can find out more about the wonderful world of family biking by visiting the Kidical Mass Arlington website (kidicalmassarl.blogspot.com) or just talking to families who bike. There are a lot of those on Kidical Mass rides, so come join us!
Be prepared, because riding with kids is far, far awesomer than riding alone. As you ride through the city and see the usual menagerie of dogs, trucks, cranes, etc., you will be treated to a soundtrack of “DOG!”, “TRUCK!”, “CRANKY!”, and “I WANT A SNACK!”. It’s like your thoughts being shouted in in a squeaky voice for all to hear. Plus, that hill that you thought was a challenge when you started biking -- with kids, it again becomes Everest, but this time with your own personal coaches reminding you that you’re late to preschool and they need to use the potty. The bottom line is that biking with kids is really, super awesome. If you want to practice, I have an extra kid to lend.
Once again, one billion thanks you to each of them and let this serve as yet another reminder that DC bike people and generous and smart and knowledgeable and funny and I'm so lucky to know so many.