Thursday, January 23, 2014

We have a Bullitt cargo bike

Today we picked up our cargo bike, a Bullitt classic with a crate up front. Here it is:
I promise, we wore helmets later. It was only when we had no idea how to ride the bike that we didn't.
While Eli was napping we tried it out on the street outside our house.
I hope to write more about it on Composting Faith, but here on Concrete Gardener I wanted to share the news and the day-to-day process of learning to ride with small kids in Cape Town. Here goes!

Up to now, riding has been limited to my trips to work and back. It's a short, easy ride on our folding bike. For about a year we've been thinking a lot about doing a car-free experiment: selling our car and relying on bike transportation, with some train and bus support. I don't consider myself a great bike enthusiast, but I do believe that personal-use cars are generally unsustainable and not great for neighborliness or health. We're uniquely suited to giving up our car- we don't have long work commutes, the weather in Cape Town is more or less ok, there are nearby hospitals we could bike to quickly if there was an emergency. We can get to some amazing beaches by train. All the important things are pretty much covered.

But I call it an experiment so that it doesn't have to be forever; even as I know driving is not sustainable, it's part of who we are and that doesn't change overnight. We hope to give it our best shot for a year or two, then reevaluate. Of the cities I've lived, Cape Town is not the greatest place for commuter-biking, nor is it a great place for being without a car... yet. Of course, most of the city do live without personal cars, but in general it makes life more complicated, whoever you are. So anyway, we'd love to be part of making Cape Town more bike-friendly.

We ended up with a Bullitt because it seemed like a cargo bike is much better at replacing a car than a regular bike- even a regular bike with modifications. I think the Bullitt makes it much more likely we'll survive and thrive without a car, long term. There was just one company in Cape Town, Camissa bicycles, that happened to be interested in importing cargo bikes. After doing all their research they decided that the Bullitt was the best cargo bike on the market, so that was what they imported. I love it when choices are made for us. We had to buy it without ever seeing one. In fact, it's the first Bullitt imported to Africa.

A look at costs
We hope to sell our 2008 Tata for about the same amount we paid for the Bullitt, and from a financial perspective, the bike will pay for itself in less than 2 years, not counting the health benefits of cycling. That is, in two years, if we need to, we can buy a car similar to the Tata and not sell the Bullitt, and still come out ahead. Even as a high-end, expensive, awesomely made bike, it's still a lot cheaper than our always-has-problems low-end car.

First impressions
1) It's big
We have to keep it indoors for security, so it's good that the kids like playing in it because it takes up most of our corridor space. I think they may start eating all their meals in the crate. If you come over a meal, please excuse the massive bike you have to climb over. We're going to have to figure out security as we try out different routes around the city. The bike comes with a really good lock, and with a second lock I'm hoping we can secure it on lampposts etc. It's size also makes it harder to steal. It's relatively narrow, so I think it could be on at least some sidewalks without totally blocking pedestrians.

2) It's beautiful and looks like it can last a lifetime
This is a super well-designed bike.

3) Even though it takes some getting used to, it's fun to ride. And super fun to ride fast.
It rides extremely well, but I'm still getting used to the center of gravity up front. Today I rode the kids down the street to the park (I didn't take pictures, but we did wear helmets this time!), and felt like a clumsy novice. The good news is, the kids are already in love with the bike, and even with the clumsy bits the trip to the park left them so happy and excited that it was worth it. They consented to the helmets and safety harnesses and sat there like they were going on the adventure of a lifetime, not a trip to our local park.

It does best when I get a bit of momentum- stopping and starting was hard for me. Pedalling with the kids and cargo was not strenuous, but then I only rode a couple of kilometers.

4) The crate is spacious enough for two toddlers and luggage. 
There's plenty of room for the kids. They share a safety harness and once Noah is a little taller, there is also a space for him to ride behind the handlebars. Figuring out a way to buy groceries with two children and no car was the biggest impediment to thinking through life without a car, so the space is great. We also signed up for Harvest of Hope so we're not really needing to grocery shop much.

Remaining questions
We don't yet know how we'll do on longer rides in extreme weather- very hot or very rainy. We have a weather cover for the crate, but it's solid waterproof fabric. Right now we're thinking of just bringing up the weather cover so that water isn't rushing into the crate, and the kids can just wear jackets and poke their heads out. We may have to build something to fit on top of the crate- or just have the kids hold umbrellas... ideas welcome!


leah said...

Our kids have held umbrellas in the cargo bike in the rain. Sometimes it's been an exciting adventure and sometimes they've done it while sobbing.

IsaBeauPeep said...

Such a great idea and I hope the next couple of years are filled with lots of adventures.

Nix said...

It is so beautifully elegant! I love it and the kids look so chuffed! Can't wait for you to come visit us!

Danny said...

Yay! The boys and I took a cargo bike ride ourselves in your honor. Only it's not summer where we live...

Bronwyn said...

Cool Jo :) we have a backfires and love it. I feel like a cool mom when I ride it. Although we live in Cambridge where it's flat and has cycle paths... ;)

Bronwyn said...

Stupid autocorrect! A bakfiets!

Concrete Gardener said...

Cool Bronwyn! Is it easy to ride? I'd love to try out a classic bakfiets one day....

Unknown said...

Awesome Jo, I love the Bullitt!

I just had my little bike stolen a few weeks ago (my little cable lock not much good), so now I'm prepared for my next one with a decent D-lock. It was a second hander, but still... If I could only convince Andre to use a bike too!

We are sharing a single car, and I bike to the train station for my commute. I need some options for lugging groceries to go completely car free, maybe get a small trailer sometime.

Brownyn - awesome, a bakfiets!

Concrete Gardener said...

Thanks Linda, for your comment. I like the idea of the little trailer.

A few years ago I interviewed the pedal people, who operate trash collection and CSA delivery by bike: I was so inspired by them, and also some of the interviews on the site where they explain why they believe so much in human transportation.

Sorry about your bike being stolen- I agree the D-lock is good. Do you feel really fit? I feel like I'm already getting fitter (or more tired) and we've only had the Bullitt less than a week!!