The Perfect Winter (all-year) Commuter

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Typical winter street conditions - big puddles and slippery leaf-sludge.

Since I own a cargo bike shop it’s only natural that I ride cargo bikes frequently. I enjoy pushing the limit of expectations for what a cargo bike can do. Bike touring, commuting, even a little gravel grinding, are all uses not commonly prescribed for cargo bikes. Yet, cargo bikes are incredibly capable in those applications.

If you ride a cargo bike around enough you’ll collect dozens of frequently asked questions from curious passersby. One of the questions on that list is:

“How is it for longer distances?”  Ha! How is it? It’s fantastic!

Some are asking about touring/bike camping but we’ll answer that question in a future post. Really, what most people are asking is whether or not cargo bikes are suitable for commuting.  Either way, the answer is still: It’s fantastic!

I first started commuting regularly by cargo bike in the winter months. I had a very challenging commute that included about 1-2 miles through an unlit industrial corridor. Although there is a bike lane along the route, the bike lane is swept infrequently and during fall and winter has leaves, branches, random flotsam from passing trucks, and potholes. Add darkness to the mix along with a dash of fast-moving truck traffic and you have a less than desirable bike route.

So, it was on one rainy morning that I set off for work. I was running a little late and knew that the e-assist on my Bullitt would help get me to my destination on schedule.  At first I hesitated also knowing that I had about 15 miles to cover each way. I’d done a few long rides with the Bullitt but not a long commute. Ultimately, the e-assist won out and I took off for work. And I used it the next day and the next day and it is now the bike I use most often for my commute.

It didn’t take me long to start appreciating the Bullitt commuting benefits.Here’s what I discovered:

1. Stability

Long wheel base and overall size add to stability and safety.

 

With their long, nearly 8-foot wheelbase, low center of gravity, and fat tires Bullitts (and most cargo bikes) are very stable. Obstacles that would have normally slowed me down, such as leaf slicks and branches, slushy snow, and metal grates are basically of little concern. The Bullitt just plows right through without even a hint of traction loss. Railroad, light rail, and street car tracks are a major danger point for most cyclists, even if you avoid the ruts next to the tracks, the rails themselves are quite slick in winter rain and I know my share of experienced cyclist that have had pavement encounters due to the rails. Not likely with a Bullitt. Crossing tracks is a fairly insignificant thing. On the Bullitt I don’t need to moderate speed or angle or my position on the bike when crossing tracks. The only danger is not remembering my skills for track crossing when I get back on a standard bicycle.

2. Respect

It may seem odd, and I don’t know how universal my experience is, but drivers seem to give me a little more berth and to treat me as a fellow vehicle (as the law dictates) more often.  I’ve had fewer close brushes with aggressive drivers, more acknowledgement to take my right of way, and basically fewer hassles taking the lane when I needed to, when riding the Bullitt. I would say that I am usually a defensive cyclist and normally project my confidence and right to the roadway, so noticing the difference is surprising to me. Perhaps I’m projecting even more confidence than usual because I’m riding a big bike. Perhaps people see the big bike and assume that I’m not on a recreational ride: I’m working or headed to work and that somehow entitles my use of the road;I’m talking driver perception here, not the law (which gives us the right to be on the road). Whatever the reason, it certainly makes for a more enjoyable commute. It’s nice to have that extra room any time of year but with decreased visibility during winter months it’s especially appreciated.

3. Protected Cargo

Ah, the joys of a waterproof, lockable cargo compartment! My Bullitt commuter has a lightweight, lockable aluminum box on the front. That means that I can carry my laptop, camera gear, change of clothes, lunch, and what ever else I want, back and forth to work with no worries about water damage or an unwieldy load. It also means that if I need to run errands before and after work, I not only have a place to stow my rain gear and helmet, but all of those items are secure while I take my time selecting the best avocados at the store, with no mind to watching panniers either on the bike or in my grocery cart.

 

Those are three BIG reasons why a cargo bike makes an ideal commuter in the winter, and all year-round. Other Bullitt features that make winter commuting a little easier:

  • Fenders – If you want to ride in rainy weather a good set of fenders is essential. They keep you drier but also help reduce the amount of grime splashed onto your bike’s drive train and brakes. It’s easy enough to install fenders on most bikes but they are stock items on all Bullitts we sell.
  • Disc brakes- Disc brakes are wonderful in wet climates: they don’t cause rim wear, require less maintenance than other brakes, and really work well. Hydraulic disc brakes are even more remarkable. When road conditions are sketchy and visibility poor it is not just nice, but life-saving, to have brakes that really work. With hydraulic disc brakes, a cargo bike can stop on a dime even in wet weather.

    Fenders and lit by dynamo - the way to go!

  • Dynamo hubsGood light systems make a hard commute a bit easier. I’ve been caught in the dark several times because the headlight’s battery died. That’s no fun at all. With dynamo hubs and LED headlamps there’s no such problem. As long as the wheel is turning you have light. And with systems like the Supernova E3 Pro, a capacitor keeps the light lit even when you’re stopped. Not a stock item on a Bullitt, but an easy upgrade to make. We have 20″ dynamo wheels on hand and can build up other sized wheels when you’re ready to brighten up your commute.
  • Rain canopy – Have kids that need to go to day care or school? Want to go by bike? No problem. We have a rain canopy specifically designed for the Bullitt kid seat set up. The Splendid Rain Canopy is constructed from tough cordura and vinyl and it not only sheds water but blocks winter’s chill. Kids sit happy and warm inside and there’s no messy rain gear to manage when they get to school.

Essentially, the Bullitt has become my “go-to” bike for nasty weather and road conditions. It’s a little slower and more effort than my light-weight commuter but because the stability of the Bullitt allows me to maintain my momentum through tough stretches of road, I find my overall commute time is about the same.  I love the convenience of being able to take everything I need to work and run errands after work without concern for security or capacity for my cargo. I think too, that there’s a certain je ne sais quoi that just makes commuting by cargo bike so much fun.

So, if you’ve been toying with the idea of getting a cargo bike but thought it might be a fair-weather grocery fetcher, think again. For me cargo bikes make foul-weather riding fun. And who doesn’t need more fun in their life, eh?


 

 

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3 Comments

  1. Madoqua

    I have not really looked at these bikes in detail before, but have just spent half an hour reading a range of articles. I am intrigued by these vehicles, but wondered how heavy they are?

    • Barb

      Hi Madoqua,
      We sell a variety of cargo bikes and the weight varies considerably by type (longtail or front-loader), brand, and cargo options. But, generally longtails we sell will weigh 50-60 pounds (depending on model and options) and front-loaders we sell range from 50-90 pounds (depending on brand and cargo options). That sounds quite heavy compared to a lightweight recreational bike that might be under 20 lbs but when you consider that these bikes are capable of carrying from 200-400 lbs in addition to the rider that extra weight makes sense.

      They are indeed a bit slower up the hills but on the descent and on flats they really cruise. For most riders it takes 2-3 weeks of regular riding to adjust to the heavier bike, then you have what I call “cargo legs” (which is both a little extra muscle but also a mental adjustment to the riding style) and you don’t really notice the weight difference. It has really surprised me how much I use my front-loader as a general transportation bike. I do much of my commuting and errand running with it; in icier conditions it’s my go-to bike (long wheel base = stability), and I have even done (and plan for more) bike touring on one. Overall, I just find them really fun to ride. Thanks for asking. Let me know if you’d like a little guest post – perhaps a Q & A – for your bike blog. I’d be happy to introduce your readers to the possibilities this bike category has to offer.
      Cheers,
      Barb (aka Mudlips)

      • Madoqua

        Barb, thanks for your offer of a guest post and apologies that the response has taken a while. Your website has stimulated such interest in these bikes that we are keen to have a look at some and will be doing this in the next few months.
        I would very much appreciate a guest post, that would be wonderful!