A new generation of family runabouts looks set to change the face of Britain’s roads next year and no one will be worried about the running costs.
Cargo bikes and child-carrying cycles could transform the way Britons do their shopping and the school run, as retailers report sharp increases in sales of the load-carrying bicycles.
On the streets of Copenhagen it is common to see a father or mother cycling to school with two children strapped safely into a carrier on the front of a bike. In Amsterdam, it is equally common to see an old lady pedalling serenely back from the local shops with bags of groceries in a carry-box on the back of her tricycle.
In Britain, as the boom in cycling gathers pace and petrol prices make short journeys by car less practical, shops are reporting a big increase in the sales of cargo bikes, putting more pressure on the Government to make the roads safer for cyclists.
“Based on our year-on-year records, we have seen a 25 to 30 per cent in the sale of cargo bikes,” said Zaynan Lythgoe, owner of Practical Cycles. “It is mostly an increase in people wanting to take their kids around by bike, but also businesses using them.
“You could easily fit two weeks’ shopping for a family of four on most cargo bikes, and you are statistically more likely to be killed while driving a car than while cycling, so it makes sense, as people want to find a quicker and cheaper way of completing short journeys.”
Ben Johnson, director of the Cargo Bike Company, based in Derbyshire, said that sales had increased by around 30 per cent this year. “With the downturn in the economy, young families struggling to run cars see cargo bikes as a viable alternative,” he said.
Darwin’s Deli in London was set up in 1992 as a sandwich delivery company operating entirely by cargo bicycle. Terry de Willers, the manager, said: “Being eco friendly wasn’t as big 20 years ago when we started as it is now — going by bike just seemed better than getting stuck in traffic and struggling to find parking.
“These days, it is far more cost effective to do it by bicycle — it makes perfect sense for businesses to use bikes, like they do in the Netherlands.”
The company’s couriers take extra training and additional cycling proficiency courses, though safety is still a concern, and Mr Willers admitted that there had been “a few scraped knees and broken legs”.
No courier has ever been killed on a Darwin’s Deli bike, but a courier, Javed Sumbal, 34, was killed this month in East London in a collision with a lorry as he cycled to work on his own bike. “That did affect us, big time,” Mr de Willers said.
Graeme Semple, of Brixton, was made redundant from a corporate job two years ago and set up the Cargo Bike Handyman, to do jobs around South London. His business now employs a second full-time worker and is looking to hire a third.
His bike has three racks for carrying tools and materials and cost him about £900, but does not require the expense of petrol and parking that comes with a car. “It runs on bananas and flapjacks,” Mr Semple joked.
“And I certainly hope the price of them won’t go up as much as petrol has. I just couldn’t face the idea of sitting in traffic any more.”
The Times Cities Fit for Cycling campaign has, since February, been promoting cycle safety by encouraging cyclists to take care and wear lights on the road and, importantly, by encouraging drivers to give cyclists extra space and time. The campaign calls on local and central government to invest more money in safe cycle lanes and to rethink how towns and cities are designed.
Cash and carry
Cargo trailer Strap the camping gear or the football kit to the back of your bike on a trailer, with a yellow flag hoisted high above it for visibility. Price: £199.99.
The kiddie capsule Enclosed in see-through plastic, like a bicycling buggy, you can put the kids or the dog (or both) in a trailer that sits at the back of your bike, giving them a ring-side seat as the world goes by. Price: £299.99.
The box bike A common sight in Amsterdam or Copenhagen, the rider sits on a seat with handlebars as normal, but attached to the front is a box with a seat and harnesses for children to sit in. Price: £1,815.
Load-carrying bike You’ve heard of bike racks, these are rack-bikes. With a longer wheel base, there is room for long racks on the back to carry tools and materials, or even just the weekly shop. Price: £949.