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BoxCycles Cargo Bike for the Family

During several recent trips to Europe—Amsterdam in particular—we have returned home with bike envy.  While American mountain and road cycling interest and participation are now comparable to the Europeans, commuter bikes are far more popular overseas.  In particular, the family-friendly “cargo bike” caught our eye as a practical and fun way to pedal around our hometown.  Only one problem:  cargo bikes were not yet being sold in the U.S.  And, purchasing one in Amsterdam and shipping it to San Diego would be one pricey affair.  

Velo Hangar
So, you can imagine our surprise and excitement when, at the 2011 Interbike, we met Laurel Graziano and her team at AlternaBike - Velo Hangar in Solana Beach, CA (just up the coast from Athletic-Minded Traveler in San Diego).  We learned they were one of the first U.S. bike retailers to offer true cargo bikes.  Score!

Christiania
After testing a demo, we purchased a Danish Christiania bike from Velo Hangar and love it!  We pick up our daughter from school, use it for trips to the grocery store, tour local farmers markets, and of course take family rides to the park, playground, etc.  We’ve never been a big fan of the trailers (aka “cages”) that isolate your child 7 feet behind an adult bike.  With the cargo bike, everyone feels included and together.

Bike details
As bike junkies, we can be picky about the way it handles, shifts, steers, etc.  After all, if a bike is a pain to ride, it sours the experience.  The Christiania doesn’t ride like a $10K Pinarello, but it’s far from an entry-level Huffy.  The aluminum frame is stiff but not unbearably hard.  The Shimano Nexus internal 7-speed shifts without much pause and catches well.  A combination, two-brake option comes standard:  a dual-disc front (with parking brake) and a rear coaster—having both provides a sense of comfort though we primarily use the hand brakes.  The sitting bench has a lap belt and shoulder harness for the real little ones—perfect for our 1 year old—and doubles as a storage compartment for keys, purses and other personal items.  The saddle is appropriately wide and comfortable for a commuter bike—we’ve been on 1 hour rides without “caboose” issues.  

The box is made of 9mm marine plywood and one of our biggest concerns was ease of pedaling the 80 lbs. bike up San Diego’s steep hills—they surround our home.  We elected to install a slightly smaller front chain ring with the hills in mind—Velo Hangar was great about customizing it for us.  With the slight gearing modification, hills are no problem.  The shop also installed a rear-wheel lock to discourage theft.

Handling
The Christiania cargo bike is very stable, but don’t plan to hop out of the saddle…ever.  Doing so may cause the bike to swerve and tip.  Seated pedaling is a requirement.  

Also, we noticed that the more weight inside the front box (maximum 200 lbs.), the more the bike pulls from side to side—especially when the front brakes are applied.  It’s not a dangerous condition, just something to be aware of while riding with a full load.

The bike will also tip if a high speed sharp turn is attempted.  But this warning falls into the cycling “moron” category as it should be obvious that a cargo bike is not for racing nor hard core workouts—just as you wouldn’t take a minivan to drag strip.  

Cost
The Christiania cargo bike retails for $2800.00 and is well worth the investment.  Yes, we paid for ours to maintain objectivity.  Contact information found below:

Laurel Graziano
AlternaBike & Velo Hangar
637 Valley Avenue
Solana Beach, CA 92075
619.200.0465

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There are several people

There are several people manufacturing the bakfiet style cargo bike in the US; a bunch of them are in Oregon (Bullit, Metrofiets etc)

In addition to the bakfiet style, there also is the long tail (Yuba Mundo and Xtracycle) style, which are faster, lighter, cheaper and can take more weight.

If you really want to carry a lot of cargo (and you live somewhere flat), the Worksman trikes are also a good bet.

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