For the last two years I have been thinking about a cargobike. We rent a car a few times a year for big errands (THD, Target, etc) but otherwise live without a car by choice. A cargobike would allow us to continue our carfree life for another 40 years.
Two years ago cargobikes in the US were largely a custom affair: Bilenky and XtraCycle are the only ones that come to mind. Then last year things started to move but mainly on the West Coast. LBS like CleverCycles in Portland and Seattle Dutch Bike company started to import bakfietsen and other types of Dutch or Dutch style bikes (Retrovelo, Azor, Velorbis, etc). In Chicago I met Jon Lind at the 2008 Bike show. He had just acquired the Fietsfabriek franchise in the US and was looking to import hiss first batch of bicycles
Then in the summer of ’08 things started to heat up: Kona Ute and Surly Big Dummy entered the market and lo and behold Performance Bike on Halsted carried a bright orange Batavus Deliverybike (at least for a while). Could it be that Cargobikes had entered the mainstream?
This April we visited Portland and me and Mrs. Duppie were able to rent bikes for a day. A bakfiets for me, a Dutch bike for Mrs. Duppie. Mrs. Duppie’s cousin showed us around on the East side and fun was had by all. I realized that bakfietsen are not that different from the bikes that I grew up with in the Netherlands. You sit upright in a position that can only be described as Royal and speed is not of the essence. Comfort is. The bakfiets worked well, even on the moderate hills in Portland.
So here we are in July 2009. Over the last 9 months 3 bike shops have opened up that focus Dutch or Dutch style bikes. All 3 also carry cargo bikes. Time for a visit and some testrides.
The first thing you notice when walking into any of them is the lack of traditional LBS accoutrements. There is no visible repair shop and a lot less accessories for sale. Also, unlike a traditional bike shop where bikes are displayed side by side, these stores are more traditional showrooms. There are typically a limited number of bikes either carefully scattered across the shop floor or artfully arranged on a wall.
Dutch Bike Co. Chicago
. This sister store from the Seattle Dutch Bike company opened up last fall. It appears the most well developed store, possibly because it has been open longer than the others and the owners have been running a bike shop for a while. Brands carried are largely Dutch (Workcycles) or German made (Retrovelo). The sales pitch is largely focused on the low maintenance aspect of these bicycles. (Full disclosure: I did visit this store, but did not testride a bike)
. This store on Wells in Old Town opened in April and carries only bikes by De Fietsfabriek, a Dutch bike company that largely focuses on bicycle used for carrying things. If you need to haul kids, groceries, beer, or a combination of them, De Fietsfabriek has a bike for it. They make a traditional bakfiets, but also 3-wheeled cargo bikes and my personal favorite, the Filibus
. The bike frames are made in Turkey and assembled in the Netherlands. The store owner, Jon Lind, has a very low pressure sales pitch. You can take bikes out to a parking lot in the neighbourhood for a test ride. Which comes in handy if you have never ridden a bakfiets before, since riding one takes a few minutes getting used to.
. This store on Milwaukee in Wicker Park opened last month. The store appears somewhat unfinished as of yet, and the sales folks in this store come closest to the traditional bike geek. The sales person was the only one who started discussing ways of customizing the cargo bike, They carry Italian made Abici bicycles, Danish made Velorbis, (including the Long John, a copy of a thirties cargo bike)and the Bullit, a Pac-Rim made cargobike by Larry vs. Harry, a Danish bicycle design company. Abici bicycles are probably the prettiest bikes that would fall in the Dutch Bike category thanks to their smooth lines and nice color choices, but they also have ‘interesting’ component choices (When is the last time you saw the Chinese rod-actuated brakes on a new bike? Why even bother installing the wheel lock made from pressed steel? Even a toddler can break that lock in seconds) The Bullit is probably the most sporty cargo bike that I have ever testridden. The frame is made from aluminum instead of hi-ten steel, rider position is a lot less upright (although it can be adjusted) and components choices are more modern than the traditional cargo bike. Handling took a little getting used to, since the steering is a lot more indirect than I expected. To make a narrow turn, you end up with the handlebars turned almost 90 degrees.
What can I say? I am happy as a pig in mud by seeing these 3 stores. Anecdotally speaking, I do notice an increase of Dutch bikes on the road. I can only hope that the Chicago market is big enough to support 3 stores.