The Stages of Cargo Bike Culture (wittco posted on July 3rd, 2012 )

Look around. If you see cargo bikes throughout your day, it is a good indication of cargo bike culture. That’s an obvious one.

Portland has cargo bike culture. It has been almost 5 years since Clever Cycles stocked its store with Work Cycles bakfiets. This offering started the core of what has become a nationally known culture. I bought my first cargo bike from Clever Cycles in 2007, a bakfiets, and went on to own other platforms including a Madsen, Yuba, and Bullitt.

Cargo culture can go through four stages: Presence, Products, Producing, and Pedestrian.


Presence: the 1st indicator of cargo bike culture is the presence of cargo bikes.

Cargo bikes are no longer an oddity on the streets of Portland, and while cargo bikes have not appeared in local advertisements for Macy’s, New Seasons, or Ace Hardware, it may not be too far off. These amazing bikes are used everyday, transporting children, groceries, or company deliveries.


Products: the 2nd indicator of cargo bike culture is after market products

Many riders have created their own after market needs, often specialty boxes for Long Johns or child seats for Long Tails. These creations are one-offs, created by the rider for personal use. I repurposed my son’s overalls to create a “glove box” for my bakfiets.

When these after market creations are made and sold locally on a large scale, it is a sign that cargo bikes are here to stay. Selling a bike that costs several thousand dollars is one thing, but having enough of those bikes on the street to warrant manufacturing a specialty item is an increase in cargo bike culture. Some of the after market creations that have caught my eyes are specialty boxes, electric assists, and clever ways to use saddle bags and panniers. I will have future posts on these cargocessories.

Metrofiets Kickstand

Production: the 3rd indicator of cargo bike culture is local building of cargo bikes.

In this stage, the need for cargo bikes is large enough to support locally sourced and made bikes. For Oregon, the list is quite long considering how young Oregon is to cargo bikes. Here is a sample of the larger known builders: CETMA, CAT, Metrofiets, Tom’s Cargo Bikes, Huckleberry Cycles, and Icicle Tricycle. Joe Bike and Clever Cycles have also created their own cargo bike versions, respectfully, Shuttlebug and Travios. Sounds like Oregon needs a Cargo Bike Guild.

It says a great deal about the community’s interest in cargo bikes when it is profitable for a builder to make and sell a cargo bike in excess of three thousand dollars. This stage indicates a fully-formed cargo bike culture.

By some odd of order of history, Portland (and Oregon) did stage 3 before stage 2. Perhaps these two stages are more fluid, both impacting the other.

Logically, the third indicator of cargo bike culture is the production of cargo bikes since hand making cargo bikes is a more exhaustive and expensive process than creating after market products. Hypothesis: Oregon experienced a flip in stage 2 and 3 because interest in cargo bike ownership grew at a faster rate than expected for an area so young to cargo culture. In other words, demand for a range of cargo bikes may have been higher than world-wide suppliers could offer.


Pedestrian: the 4th indicator of cargo bike culture is not seeing the bike as unique.

Yes, it will come to this.

This does not mean that people no longer care about cargo bikes and their use. Rather it is to say that the whimsy of cargo bikes has come and gone and this mode of transportation is just another part of city life. I saw a glimpse of this last week when pour pour coffee was in my neighborhood park.

In this step, the arbitrary construction of a group, which was once bonded by a common bike enthusiasm, will wane. There will be a time when Cargo Bike Roll Calls will cease. This will happen in Portland over time, and I welcome this natural evolution*. In the wake of loosing a cargo bike group, I hope we maintain an organized party of cargo bike riders to continue activities that give back to the city and neighborhoods.

These are the ramblings of a cargo bike enthusiast. I am sure results vary. How has the cargo bike community in your city developed? Or, if not yet there, what is the next step?

*This evolution from excitement-to-everyday can be seen in Portland’s acquisition of Bike Corrals. Once a unique and novel idea—one that created press, enthusiasm, and photo groups—bike corrals are rarely met with the pomp and circumstance of 4 years ago. I imagine that BikePortland no longer heads out to cover a newly installed bike corral for front page posting.

9 Responses

  1. Josette says:

    I live in Boston and the number of cargo bikers is pretty low. We have a family biking Google group that has a fair amount of activity. There are only a couple of bike shops that have cargo bikes to test ride (I’ve only seen Yuba Mundo and Kona Ute). None of the local frame builders are doing cargo bikes (I’ve asked). If I want to get a Dutch cargo bike like a bakfiets or Fr8, I have to go down to NYC. I often envy the cargo bike scene in Portland and SF, and am hoping Boston catches up someday. In the meantime, I’m learning a lot from reading the many blogs on the subject.

    • wittco says:

      Josette, I am glad that you are finding information through TransportLand. That is our goal–a central place for cargo bike information and thoughts.

      I have two thoughts for you: (1) think about what you would like in Boston and talk about your thoughts in a post–we would love to share it. It can be as way to show the other side of cargo bike life–building a culture. From where I stand, I am too involved and close for any real perspective. (2) you can be that person who starts cargo culture in Boston.

      Let me know. Let’s do something.

  2. Tonya says:

    I think the accessory market is limited by the variety of cargo bikes in existence. Until there is a critical mass of one design, there isn’t enough demand for accessories for that design.

    • wittco says:

      Tonya, good point. Standardization (to a point) will increase aftermarket products. Makes sense–reliable points for attachment and additions. It could also go the other way–specialty products for a specific bike. Blaq covers started somewhat that way but then had covers for other bike platforms. Splendid Cycles has products specifically for Bullitt, made in the area: box, pannier, battery try.

      It will be exciting to see where it all goes. How big do you think the market for products wil get? Is there a bike platform (or company) that you foresee carrying much of the momentum for aftermarket products?

  3. David Koski says:

    Yeah, well, Minneapolis rocks as well when it comes to bike culture.

    I find it all so exciting.

    thanks for the article

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