Monday, February 14, 2011

Cargo Bikes, pricing and US sales

Chances are, if you are a cargo bike nerd you are aware of a recent post over at Bakfiets en Meer that has stirred up a lot of debate. If you are less of a bike dork than me, you can read it here:

I won't rehash what was discussed in the original post, but it was one person's strong opinion about various styles of cargo bikes and the quality of product offered. The original post has since been updated by Henry(blog owner) and commented ad naseum by several folks, some comments good, and some not so good. Like many sites and blogs with comments, things can quickly get nasty and people get really defensive about their decision of a bike.

The original post centered mostly around Josh's perspective on the quality and durability of the most popular cargo bikes available in Europe and the US. Some folks took offense to negative comments made about two relatively new but strong contenders in the space, Metrofiets and the Larry vs Harry Bullit. Since I don't have personal experience with either of these bikes I won't add meaningless comments. Josh didn't have much good to say about longtails, be they xtracycle conversions or the Yuba Mundo.

One thing that I feel was unaddressed in this conversation was perceived value, cost and growing adoption of cargo bikes in the US. Having been a recent consumer of a cargo bike in the US I thought I'd share my thoughts.

Some perspective: I am a bike geek. Really, a lot. In our 2-person home we own 8 bikes. 6 are mine, if you count the cargo bike that my wife also sometimes rides. I really, really like bikes, and would rather ride than drive whenever I can. So I am a basically a dream consumer for a cargo bike. We are also expecting in about a month so having a kiddo has played into my decision a desire for a cargo bike. All those things being said, a cargo bike was a big decision and a big expense. Yes, it is infinitely cheaper than a car, I don't need to be convinced of that. But writing a big check is writing a big check, no matter how you frame it.

Here's how I saw it. We wanted a bakfiets style bike so our little girl could ride up front. That eliminated a lot of the lower cost options (Mundo, xtra conversion, Ute, Big Dummy, etc). So I was presented with this:

Quickly drop $3,000+ plus on an entry level "real" bakfiets from Dutch Bike Co, Workcycles, etc. Spend at least that or easily more on a Bullit or Metrofiets.


Spend $1600-$1900 on a Joe Bike, a Chinese frame that has been well upgraded with good components. We have a garage, so the bike is kept inside and out of the elements.

As I have written before, we got the JoeBike, a decision I have been very happy with so far. To me it was a reasonable way to test the waters with a cargo bike. Also, I feel like I am going to get 90% of the value of a $3,000 bike for 60% of the cost. If, in a few years we decide we would benefit from a full size box or a higher quality frame build, we'll consider that.

Realistically, I think it would be very difficult for most folks in the US, even people who love bikes, to drop $3,000 on a cargo bike. I know that there are plenty of roadies who are willing to drop much more than that on the newest, lightest, stiffest CF creation, but we are a fickle bunch. Having a reasonably priced option for a frontloading cargo bike can help bring these bikes to more people. Personally I am glad there are $500 xtracycle conversions and $5,900 Metrofiets frontloaders. More people using their bikes for more stuff is a win, in my opinion.


Travis A. Wittwer said...

Great post. I will have to comment as a post as there are numerous ideas to discuss and if cargo bike makers want a head start on cornering market, there is a possibility here is they listen to what people say. I think two large factors in the market are (1) cost vs. length of use and (2) American bike style/cargo bike want vs. the styles of other countries. I think it would be ignorant to target American cargo bike users like those in Holland, especially because the bike riding family in America has typically used seats or trailers to do the kid thing until kids no longer need to be carried. At this point, many people would no longer need a cargo bike (in their minds).

James said...

Thanks Travis. I'll look forward to seeing your post as well.

You bring up a really good point on cost vs. length of use. My perception of resale value/marketability was a big part of the decision to go with the Joe Bike. I'm pretty confident I could re-sell the bike in a few years for over $1,000. I don't know how much of a market there would be in Denver for a second hand, $3,000 cargo bike. While I love the idea of a bakfiets for young kids, I can see the appeal of a longtail for older kiddos who sometimes ride their own bikes. Longtails also easily handle groceries, junk hauling, etc. I would not be surprised if we looked at a Mundo or BD when kid(s?) get older.

Joe said...

James, I appreciate the positive comments. Our boxbikes in a number of instances have actually appreciated when re-sold, particularly for people who bought their boxbike when it was about $500 cheaper than it is now, or during the times when we've been backed up a month and people didn't want to wait. We were pleasantly surprised at that.

Chris said...

Glad you found me through twitter!

I'm fascinated by the bakefiets, but we're definitely going the longtail route. We took our tax return (every last penny) and have already bought a Kona Ute, which is my wife's new bike and we both love, and I've got the xtracycle kit coming.

Our younger child is four, so we have effectively missed the boat to transport both kids when they were small via Pea Pod or some similar longtail contraption. We have carried both kids in a two wheeled trailer and/or a rear carrier seat since they were both very small, but if only I had known about the longtails eight years ago!

The xtracycle is a very cost effective option, and even the $1,100 for the Ute will pay off in a very short period of time. I've calculated that I've saved about $1,100 since the middle of Oct by commuting by bike every day. By upgrading to a longtail I'm going to open up so many more opportunities to choose the bike.

James said...


Sounds like you guys are really happy with the Ute, and that is awesome. I agree that longtails are probably the most economical for cargo hauling and they make a lot of sense for older kids. Since we are such a young family the bakfiets made sense. And I realize that we paid a premium for the kids-in-front setup, which is worth it for me.

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