The New Year Starts Today
Year-end posts usually reflect on the past year. This post won't ramble about that. Well, at least not much.
But, let me briefly reminisce about a phrase I saw posted on a school mural this last week: "The future starts today, not tomorrow." "Yeah," I thought. So true.
Being ever inquisitive, I did a little research on that phrase. Turns out it's attributed to Pope John Paul II. Ah, but whatever its source and original context, this is one of those phrases that I think nearly every day. Afterall, I know that each customer who buys a cargo bike will have their world changed in innumerable ways. Having owned and ridden cargo bikes for nearly a decade, I have had a glimpse into the future they may not even yet imagine.
When we opened Splendid Cycles, we had a statement on our website that stated, "We are a small shop, but our vision for the world is grand." That grand vision continues to come true; we've watched as interest in cargo bikes blossomed. That beautiful growth and manifestation of the future is due to two factors: families and electric assist.
Part I - The future family
Customers from other cities frequently remark about how amazing the cargo bike culture is here in Portland, Oregon. Granted, Portland's bike culture and bike-friendliness are pretty well known. Spoofy Portlandia, poked fun at our bikes-have-rights assertiveness; Bicycling Magazine in all seriousness, consistently ranks us in the top 2 of Bicycle-friendly US cities; even our own Bike Portland.org likes to showcase the proliferation of cycling in our town. Yes, indeed, we are a bike-crazy town!
But, it hasn't always been this way.
In the late 1980's when I started bike commuting, I was an oddity. Any other cyclist I saw commuting was either someone I knew (a friend or customer) or someone I greeted as a friend. Few bike facilities existed yet an intrepid bunch of early-adopters kept doing it and showing the way.
Our city government, local bicycle advocates, and bike shops, worked hard at increasing the quantity of bike commuters in town. That work took time, and the work is not done but, but it has paid off. Today, our fair city has miles of bike-greenways, bike-specific traffic lights, and rush hour bike lanes more congested than a horse with hay fever.
Well, at least that holds true for "normal" bikes. We're still in our youth (or perhaps teen years) as a cargo/utility-biking city. Cargo bikes are not rare but I still get odd looks and many questions from the curious while running errands around town. While some of those questions come from business owners a greater percentage comes from moms and dads (and dog owners). That is also the case for sales of cargo bikes. The majority are being purchased by families.
I think families on bikes helps to normalize bikes as traffic, which in turn will lead to more people cycling. It's hard to have road rage toward a smiling toddler seated in a colorful bike seat. It's easy to imagine giving bike commuting a try when you see a family cycling down the road with their box bike. "If they can carry all of that, I can surely pedal myself to work," says the prospective bike commuter. Then, there's the family dog factor. Put your cute pup on a bike and you have the best conversation-starter and smile-producer ever!
I like to tell our customers that they're part of a growing trend. With some work and patience, and their dedication to arriving by bike, their cities will transform as Portland did. In some cases those places are out-doing Portland. People for Bikes, a bicycle advocacy group, just published its 2015 list of the 10 best US bike lanes, and Portland facilities did not make the list! "If you build it, they will come," also applies to bike lanes and bikes so, expect to see more family bikes and cargo bikes filling these and many other bike lanes around the country.
Knowing the tide of family bikes is rising gives me great hope for the future. I can see swelling ranks of family cyclists filling streets, demanding more bike-friendly cities and calmer neighborhood streets. I see a shift away from oil dependence and a shift toward appropriate transportation. It's a future of greater mobility, convenience, and community, facilitated in part by cargo bikes.
Part II - The future power
When we opened Splendid Cycles a wee 6.5 years ago, electric assist bikes were not widely accepted, or understood. If I had a dime for each time a customer stated, "That's cheating," in that first couple of years, I'd have a lot of dimes. We knew that electric assist was not cheating. It's practical, and a great compliment to the cargo capacity of heavy load-hauling bikes. We stuck with higher quality, consumer-friendly products so had limited offerings at that first. But, we continue to promote e-assist on cargo and commuter bikes. It just makes sense.
Flash forward and interest and awareness of electric assist systems has completely changed and it is now the rare customer (usually a lycra-clad tourist) who mutters the cheating baloney. Most customers we talk with now are well-informed about electric assist options, or at minimum don't need to be convinced of its value on a cargo bike. As we head into the new year we are excited about the electric-assist options becoming available. We're seeing more high quality systems AND more viable options for cargo bikes.
BionX produces the powerful D500 system, a rear hub motor that is truly capable of moving heavy bikes up hills. Although only available for 26", 700c, 650b wheels, that still means that many bikes can be retrofit with this system. As families grow, the need for more help moving kids, dogs, and groceries also increases. We refit quite a few Bullitts and Big Dummys (and standard commuters) last year and transformed many death-march slogs into joy rides again.
Top-of-the-line electric assist company, Bosch, has also entered the cargo bike arena. Thanks goes to Xtracycle's e-EdgeRunner models and Butcher's & Bicycles' MK1-E, both with the sophisticated Bosch Performance Line system. While we've done many-a e-assist retrofit , this stock offering blows the doors off the limits for a e-bikes with 20" wheels. Bosch-equipped EdgeRunners are user-friendly, reliable, high torque, and hill-appropriate. The MK1-E can't be beat for those wanting a built-to-tilt three-wheeled cargo bike; stable at slow speeds, leans in the corners, and an absolute favorite with the kids.
Brilliant and visionary Larry vs Harry offers another great e-assist system on their Bullitt cargo bikes bikes: Shimano STePS. Like the Bosch Performance Line, Shimano's e-system can be found in many bike shops on standard commuter models. In that category, it's proven itself reliable and immensely popular. With the new STePS Bullitt we're able to offer a cargo bike with a mid-drive system that also integrates lights and Shimano Alfine Electronic Di2 shifting. By far, this is one of the easiest systems to understand and operate. For customers who want simple, clean, commuter-friendly components the e-Bullitt gets it right.
With the big companies like Bosch, BionX, and Shimano entering the cargo bike market, we expect this category to keep growing. These high-quality e-assist bikes systems, while still a big investment, are viable car replacements. Six years ago we could only dream of an e-longtail or box bike. Today, if the growth and demand continues, I can imagine a day when a cargo bike specialty shop is a dinosaur. It is possible to picture cargo bikes, and e-assist cargo bikes taking their place in every bike shop alongside fat bikes and carbon fiber racing bikes.
So, like many year-end blogs, I will wrap-up by making a prediction for 2016:
Families are capturing the joy of cycling through cargo bikes and more reliable e-assist bikes; the future is now, it includes cargo bikes, and that makes for a very Happy New Year!