To this day, whenever I hear New England legislators and even regional energy advocates mention bicycle transportation I frequently have to inquire, so what is a bicycle? I ask this because there’s a sense that on their minds is a vastly outdated version of the bike. You know, someone hunched over a 10-speed bike, tooling up a hill with perhaps a rear rack.
It’s time for New Englanders to get on with the big bike update! There’s a worldwide revolution in design and technology that’s dramatically altering what a bike can do. A lot of this has to do with the emergence of the electric bike. Thrilling advancements in the past 10 years with motor and battery technology make a 10- to 15-mile commute truly possible for way more people, hill climbing a non-issue, and hauling heavier loads more viable than ever.
However, the real shining moment perhaps belongs to the cargo bike. In the 1990’s, there were only a handful of small frame builders in the US making cargo bikes. Then, in 1998 Xtracycle introduced the Free Radical, an attachment that could transform almost any bike into a longtail cargo bike suited to haul kids, cargo, laundry, plywood or practically anything you need to carry. That was a game-changer. But it wasn’t until 2008 that Yuba Bikes introduced its Mundo, the first fully integrated longtail cargo bike. That opened up a whole new market. A few years later brought an avalanche of new products and designs for families, households and businesses to go car-free. Many are American entries like Madsen Cycles, Bike Friday, Surley and, of course, Xtracycle and Yuba, but quite a number also come from overseas.
But this story would be rather incomplete without highlighting the revolutionary combination of the cargo bike with e-assist technology. E-cargo bikes are demonstrating amazing potential for businesses and households wanting to shift up to the bike in a big way. Every major cargo bike company now has one or several models that include e-assist right out of the box. Carrying heavy loads, kids, or making gardening runs has never been easier on a bike. And now there are online companies, including Rad Power with their budget RadWagon longtail e-cargo bike going for as low as $1500! Compared to the major companies retailing their e-cargo bikes at upwards of $3000, the RadWagon is a real deal, but that also depends the level of hill climbing power you need and quality of components you’d like to have.
But best of all, e-cargo bikes have a unique way of inspiring local lifestyles, livable communities and physical fitness, unlike electric cars which mainly promise to exacerbate more sprawl, more traffic and more car-based lifestyles. And so, if we really want e-cargo bikes to really take off in New England we need support from state and local governments. Thankfully, Vermont is leading the way with four of the state’s utilities offering e-bike rebates, including its largest utility Green Mountain Power. Now there’s even talk of state subsidies to boost this great option and make a purchase even more viable.
Finally, if you really want to get the lowdown on cargo bikes and their potential to create change, catch a screening of the internationally-released cargo bike documentary MOTHERLOAD (www.motherloadmovie.com). It’s time to go for the big bike update!
Dave Cohen is an integrative psychotherapist in Brattleboro, (davecohencounseling.com), specializing in approaches in mind/body modalities and ecopsychology. He is also the founder and director of VBike (vbikesolutions.org), an advocacy group dedicated to promoting new bike design and technologies for everyday bicycle transportation in Vermont.