Antonia and her Bakfiets


A little while ago Antonia came to have a go on our Bakfiets and was so impressed that she bought one almost immediately. Here are her thoughts, the first section written a few months after her Bakfiets arrived and the second section some two years later, a timescale which illustrates the longevity of the cargobike experience and how time flies when you’re busy having fun.


Our new Bakfiets!

With a trailer bike and a front child seat, travelling by bike was OK if it wasn’t wet or cold or we didn’t need to carry anything too major. I share childcare with my partner: we have two children, a girl aged 5 and a boy aged 2. We have an unequal transport arrangement, as my work is a car journey away and his isn’t, which means he usually gets left with no wheels. After a winter of feeling I was making too much use of the car (a real pain in Oxford – either no parking available, or paying out for tickets, or feeling stressed to get back to the car by a certain time), I looked into other options. I was looking for a ‘second car’ which wasn’t actually a car: I came up with a large electric cargo bike. The Bakfiets came up and I knew this was the way to go. However, it was enormously expensive and making it electric adds £1,500 to the cost.

Having searched for ‘Bakfiets Oxford’ on the offchance, Jonathan’s blog came up – Headington, same as us. Top! I asked about hills and barriers, and he was kind enough to offer us a test drive. We went thinking: we’ll give it a try, but it’s just going to be too expensive.

But… it was amazing. Compared to my last bike, it felt like riding along on a sofa! It was soon obvious that there was no need to go electric and we got serious. One more test drive with Jonathan and we went for it. A new bike with lock (really nifty one that can be a simple wheel lock, or with an easy chain extension; fine with the insurance people), rain cover, and anti-puncture tyres all in (they really work! We’ve both been over patches of glass and nothing… yet) set us back nearly £2,000 exactly. Having ridden this bike for a few months now, it is well worth its weight in gold and I can’t imagine ever wanting to part with it, which is maybe why we couldn’t get hold of one secondhand.

My learning curve:

  • The Bakfiets is not difficult to ride; you very soon get used to the length and handling of it.
  • There are not many places we can’t go, but you do need a dropped kerb to get onto the pavement. You get adept at planning for these.
  • It’s only the width of the handlebars, so you can get through lots of stuff a wider bike (eg trike) couldn’t.
  • I have a MacClaren pushchair; you could fit this in with one child, but not comfortably with two. I guess I could try finding a smaller pushchair, or thinking up a way of carrying it on the outside of the box, but I’m nearly at the end of our pushchair days, so I’m not sure I want to put in the effort.
  • You really need to decide whether the roof will be on or off before you leave your house. OK, so it’s not impossible: you can fold it a bit and stick it in the box, but it takes quite a bit of room and is a bit unwieldy.
  • It’s easier to pedal this bike up hills rather than to push it if you’ve got a big load. The gears go down really low; it’s actually easier to get up hills than my old bike. I regularly go up the steep Barracks Lane hill: I tip out the big kid and keep the little one in, and although I can’t boast of not stopping for breaks (!) I have been known to ride all the way up, but usually push the steep hill. Living in Headington, with activities often ‘down the hill’, there’s always the sticky issue of one big hill for us. However, once you’re up or down, Oxford is fairly flattish, so this bike is totally relevant for this city.
  • The bike stand is really stable. They can climb around on the bike no problem, just don’t trust it on a hill. Best way to put up the kickstand is with your foot from the side, I found.
  • You can put the wheel lock on for quick stops: lock and go! This is fantastic. With children on traditional bicycle seats, it’s much harder to make quick stops: you have to balance, unbuckle, buckle, etc. With the Bakfiets, it’s a total joy! Although there are buckles for the seat, I don’t ever feel the need to put these on, and so it’s easy in, easy out.
  • Basically, it does what we need and we don’t need to get in the car for local trips now. The rain cover does the cold, wind and rain; the large box does the shopping and generally hauling stuff around, including friends: we’ve had great hilarity with four children in the box several times (two on the floor, two on the seat).
  • Last but not least: this is a fun ride!

We’re eternally grateful to Jonathan for letting us try his Bakfiets, as I’m not sure we would have taken the next steps otherwise! Thank you.

A recent update:

  • After two years we’ve had just two punctures to date; autumn both times, probably spiky conkers hidden under leaves.
  • We had to change a pedal. One got bent as the bike leaned round a corner with a raised area. They’re quite low bikes, so just occasionally you might need to lift the pedal, say over a speed bump or leaning as you speed round a corner (it wasn’t me!).
  • A note about the height. I am a little under 5′ 5, and we have the saddle on the absolute lowest setting (which means it’s not as secure as it would be higher up). Stopping at a junction, I am on tiptoe, but this is the only time I notice the height of the bike. I prefer to rest my foot on a kerb if I can.
  • We’re still taking our 8 and 4 year-old around in this. They can both ride bikes, but on functional journeys, it’s just so much easier to take them on the bike. You name it, we’ve carried it! It’s seen a lot of action and it lives outside in only a semi-sheltered area, but it doesn’t seem worse for wear. I’ve installed a ground anchor to chain it to.
  • And harking back to my original question: the barriers on Barracks Lane have been widened so I don’t even need to put a foot down to get round them these days!

Hope this helps others considering a Bakfiets.

Antonia, Lye Valley


Doing the figures: why can’t a bike be more like a car?

There is no point trying to avoid it: a cargo bike is an expensive bit of kit. When I made the financial leap into the world of ten-foot-long bikes, which was in the summer of 2012, the cost was just under £1,800 for the bike (a long Bakfiets) and some £160 for a rain hood (a much-used and highly recommended bit of kit). Add in a modest delivery charge and you are not likely to see any change from two grand. And while prices can go up or down, my bet would be on ‘up’.

Of course, it is possible to justify such expenditure as a sound investment and there is plenty of evidence to be submitted in support of such an argument. We could compare and contrast, for example, the annual costs of car or bus travel against using a bike, even an expensive one like a cargo bike. We could consider the health benefits and the time savings. We could go on and on about how brilliant bikes are and how particularly brilliant really big bikes are. However, while the arguments may be persuasive, the simple fact is that this is not a casual purchase, even for the most determined bike nut.

A Bakfiets going about its business of being useful

A Bakfiets going about its business of being useful

An excellent example of this dilemma – whether to forgo an efficient method of transporting your children and your shopping around town or spend a large amount of money – was provided recently a conversation with a friend. As well as offering an insight into the everyday problems of getting around town by car, bike or foot with children, the discussion also ended up presenting an intriguing challenge to those organisations seeking to promote cycling and the bike-based economy.

Here is the case study. Martin has three small daughters who need transporting daily to various sites for day care and school. By choice he uses a bike with a child seat but he works on one of Headington’s numerous hospital sites and while the distances between home and his usual destinations are fairly small – less than a couple of miles – the demands of his work, his partner’s work and the combination of multiple children and multiple locations means that he has to use a car more often than he would like. And the car presents a problem beyond his general preference for using a bike: getting around the local streets of this part of Oxford at busy times in a car is a time-consuming business and takes a lot longer on four wheels than on two.

When introduced to a Bakfiets, Martin immediately recognised the benefits of a cargo bike: room for all his girls and their school bags, considerable time savings, and a safe and enjoyable experience for all concerned. However, given that he was in the middle of a lengthy and very expensive house renovation, he was obliged to accept that the likelihood of him finding another two grand was remote. Nevertheless, inspired by the ease and elegance of a cargo bike, and being an imaginative and highly practical individual, he came up with his own solution that involved a tricycle, some plywood and a few carpentry skills. The result, as our picture shows, was a triumph of kitchen-table engineering (almost literally in this case) and a tribute to the simple practicality of cycle-based transport, albeit with a few minor compromises in light of the raw materials available.

Martin and his magnificent trike, going about the business of benig useful

Martin and his magnificent trike

A number of points arise from this tale:

  1. In the context of urban environments and/or shortish distances, bike transport is far quicker and far more efficient than any other mode, even if you need to carry children, shopping or bags of sand.
  2. You do not have to be a hardened bike evangelist to be able to recognise the benefits of being able move more than one child by bike.
  3. The economic realities of family life dictate that at the time a cargo bike would be most useful, the ability to make sizeable financial investments is often compromised.

While a cargo bike is an excellent answer to a great many transport questions, we must recognise that they are often beyond the means of a great many people who would find them really useful and who could, by using them, improve their lives and at the same time improve their local environments.

Of course, the cost of buying a Bakfiets is a fraction of the cost of buying a car (although I have owned some very cheap cars in my time) but it still represents a considerable outlay. And yet most families own a car or two. How do they do it? And if they can do it for a car, why can’t they do it for a bike instead of a car?

It seems that over time the financial sector and the car industry, with assistance from government that viewed affordable car ownership as a good thing, have evolved methods by which money can be made available to facilitate the purchase of a car. From traditional bank loans through to more recent leasing arrangements, systems are in place to make the acquisition of a car affordable, accessible and acceptable to huge numbers of people. We should therefore not be surprised to find that there are huge numbers of cars on our roads.

The challenge that we should now be setting those with a vested interest in the promotion of cycling as a method of everyday transport – and here we might include the financial services industry, the bike industry (manufacturing and retail), the transport departments of central and local government, health providers and health promoters, to name but a few – is to come up some workable financial arrangements that will allow more people to invest in better transport options. If you can lease a new car with an affordable monthly payment and some innovative purchase options at the end of a three-year contract, you should be able to do the same with a cargo bike. And were cargo bikes to become affordable and increasingly common, the scale of the market for finance providers would grow and a sustainable business model based on a sustainable transport solution would emerge.

If you know someone who works for a financial institution, or even a bike manufacturer, perhaps you could ask them: if you can lease a car, why can’t you lease a Bakfiets?

Are we all riding the wrong bike?

As I fiddled with the locks that had kept my Bakfiets secured to the bike stand outside one of my local supermarkets I watched with interest, then wonder, then alarm as a fellow shopper carefully hung a bag on each end of her mountain bike’s handlebars and then lifted a shrink-wrapped case of six two-litre bottles of mineral water on to the crossbar. For a brief moment she considered the possibility of trying to ride away but before gravity was forced to illustrate the error of her ways she thought better of it and wheeled the heavily laden machine towards home.


Amsterdam: the bike as an everyday tool

It was a relief to watch her walk away. It had been all too clear all too quickly that here was a shopping trip that could have ended in broken bottles, broken bags and, in all likelihood, broken bones. I suspect she would not have made it more than ten yards without mishap and whatever your thoughts on bottled water (and it is difficult to escape the conclusion that no one who lives within a 500-mile radius of where I live actually needs it) its transport should not involve bloodshed.

This little tableau was another small speck of grist to a mill that has been grinding in the back of my mind for some time. The question that has been occupying me on and off for months is simply this: are we all riding the wrong bike?

Now I’m the first to admit that not everyone wants to ride round on a skip on wheels but there does seem to be an obvious disconnection between the bikes that the majority of people are riding and the job that the majority of people want a bike to do. Even in Oxford, which is a cycling city, the off-road bike – or at least a bastardised version that has been inspired by the mountain trail – is prevalent. The majority of these bikes boast enough gears to allow you to tie your chain in knots and still ride up your roof but few seem to have anything that is specifically designed to enable the rider to carry anything that is not strapped to their person. While the wicker basket is not unusual (as I say, I live in Oxford and some traditions, however self-regarding, hold fast), it seems increasingly obvious that most of the bikes on our streets are not fit for the purpose of using a bike as an everyday aid to living.

If you are lucky enough to be choosing a bike that is going to accompany you on life’s great adventure there is a fairly simple question-and-answer session that you need to attend to before you saddle up.

Question one: do you want to get dressed specifically to ride a bike? If your answer is ‘yes’, you are a roadie and you will be carrying only the things that can fit into the three small pockets on the back of your jersey or in the bottles fixed to your frame. You will have no interest in going to the shops and, owing to your likely choice of pedals, no ability to walk round them if you did. Move on; there’s nothing for you here.

If your answer is no, it is more likely that you just want a bike to get about on, one that will save you the faff of getting on the bus or getting in a car and trying to find a parking space when all you wanted to do was go up the road to get something, visit someone or have a drink. And so to question two: are you likely to need to carry something on any of your journeys in the next six months? If your answer is no you have to go back to question one and face the fact that you are actually a roadie and condemned to riding only the narrowest of tyres and narrowest of saddles for the rest of your life, like a cycling Sisyphus.

The only possible answer to question two is ‘yes’; of course you are going to need to carry something. Whatever your purpose, be it work, pleasure or duty, you are going to need to carry a bag or some books, a coat or a bag of chips in the very near future. Therefore you are going to need a basket; or a rack with a springy elastic cord; or some panniers; or one of those natty, 1950s-style saddle bags.

So why do so many people ride around with countless gears but nothing in which to put their gear? There will, of course, be as many reasons as riders but among the most common factors will be happenstance (this bike happened to be available/handy/unlocked/still in the shed), cost (a Chinese-made pseudo-mountain bike with plastic brake levers was the cheapest thing I could find) or availability (I went into my local bike shop and it seemed to be full of high-end mountain bikes or road bikes requiring a specific, highly colourful and highly unflattering wardrobe).

If riding a bike is to become an everyday transport option for a sizeable proportion of the population, rather than a lifestyle choice for the committed, the bicycle has to be reduced to the status of a convenient tool, rather than shrouded in mystery or fetishised as the choice of champions. The everyday bike needs to be sturdy, upright and at the front of the shop. There should be a choice of sizes (small, medium and large should do it), a choice of colours (black, blue or red; anything else as a special order) and a variety of carrying options (basket, panniers or the common Dutch, which entails a folding, front-mounted rack designed to hold a beer crate or a friend; the full Dutch involves the aforementioned skip with wheels and need not concern us for the moment). There should be a minimum number of gears neatly contained within the rear hub (who needs more than three?) and a minimum amount of fuss surrounding the selection process. There should be a sympathetic individual to reassure the purchaser that, yes, while it is quite a lot of money to shell out on a bike, it will cost you next to nothing to keep on the road, you’ll still be riding it in 20 years and it will be a source of joy, all of which is in stark contrast to having anything to do with a car.

It is no coincidence that when you go to Amsterdam the first thing you notice after you have marvelled at the sheer weight of bicycle traffic on the streets is that all the bikes are almost identical. The two things that might dissuade you from hiring a bike to get around the city for a couple of days are first, that you will struggle to find anywhere to park it because every available stand and railing has a bike chained to it and, second, that if you did find somewhere to leave it you may well struggle to find it again among the massed ranks of black, sit-up-and-beg bikes. In Amsterdam no one really seems to care what their bike looks like as long as it does the job of getting them and their bag to where they need to go. It is a lesson we should learn in the UK as we strive to emulate our Dutch brethren.

So with two simple questions, you are on your way to a life of bicycling convenience, free from the necessity for special clothing or the dangers of things hanging from your handlebars. There is a third question: do I need a bike that can carry another three or four people, a month’s worth of groceries, three bags of sand or a barrel of beer? If the answer is yes we may need to talk skips.

Uphill: the battle with gravity

There is no point denying it: a Bakfiets cargo bike is a heavy bike. But only if you are trying to carry it. Once you are moving it feels very light; in fact just like a proper bike, which, having two wheels, is exactly what it is. The low centre of gravity means that it feels almost dainty when rolling along and cornering but the main thing – one of the frequently answered questions and my key concern before I ever rode a Bakfiets – is whether it feels heavy when the road goes uphill.

The honest answer is that it does not. The first thing to remember is that there are plenty of gears to play with – seven or eight depending upon your preference and level of expenditure – in the elegant and invisible workings of the Sturmey Archer system. On the longer hills you may have to be patient as you spin the pedals and move your cargo towards the summit but it need not be an unpleasant task, unless you live in a place with the suffix ‘dale’ or the prefix ‘Alp de’. For the shorter, steeper inclines – the sharp little slopes out of the underpass or the little rises that are commonplace if you happen to live in an old quarry –a quick, exhilarating burst of energy to maintain momentum is probably the best approach, a sensation that will be familiar to anyone who rides a bike with any regularity, or can remember doing so before they were shackled by a perceived need for a car.

I was delighted to have this view confirmed recently by a visitor who dropped by to see whether a Bakfiets might be a good idea for her. Her main concern was, of course, that such a big bike would feel cumbersome and require more effort and energy to move than she was able or willing to supply. Her first experience was a pleasant one as she found that the Bakfiets was easy to ride, cornering and stopping without any of the assumed weightiness suggested by its appearance. Her second ride, with her own two items of precious cargo on board, was undertaken with only one concern: whether it would go uphill without requiring the legs and lungs of a Grand Tour winner. We had not travelled more than two hundred metres, only a few dozen of which were uphill, before a broad smile was on her face and she was wondering how quickly she could get home to place an order for a Bakfiets of her own.

There is no getting away from the fact that a 10-foot-long bike with a wooden box on it is going to weigh a fair bit more than your average mountain bike but the surprise is that it does not weigh as much as you might think; it certainly does not feel as heavy as you might think once you are actually moving. At first sight one cannot help but presume that this is a weighty and unwieldy machine but look a bit closer and you notice that its frame comprises a traditional rear triangle and only one large tube to join the wheel at the back with that at the front; and the box, while both strong and capacious, is actually constructed from quite a fine-gauge material.

Unless your regular ride is an piece of carbon-framed exotica I am quite confident that you would be pleasantly surprised by a spin on a Bakfiets. If your regular ride is a flat-barred hybrid with a trailer bike on the back and a front-mounted baby seat, as my visitor’s was, you will be very pleasantly surprised. If you happen to be an item of precious cargo who can now travel about protected from the snow, wind and rain by a very efficient cover you will be delighted.

Het regent!* Onboard and undercover

*Dutch for “It’s raining!”

If you use a Bakfiets virtually every day eventually you are going to have to deal with inclemency. This year we have been dealing with inclemency since the summer began but now that the winter is here with a vengeance biting winds have been added to the rain. What is the purveyor of a precious cargo to do?

With a really big bike as your chosen mode of transport you have a choice of two options and, given that the Dutch have very similar, if windier, weather to that of the UK, both options have been catered for by the Bakfiets design team.

Option one: the hardy approach

The first option is the hardy approach. If you are an adherent to the old adage that there is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing, this one is for you. The hardy approach involves kitting out your cargo in their best wet-weather gear, jamming the hats firmly on the head of cargo and captain alike, and heading off into the squall. The Bakfiets design feature included as standard that will meet your needs in this instance are the four holes in the floor of the box, one in each corner. No matter how hard it rains, you can be confident that you won’t be pedalling with water in the bilge. How much weight is taken on board by the absorbency of the cargo is down to the appropriateness of the chosen clothing.

The second option may be termed the deluxe approach. This approach involves using a Bakfiets rain hood, an elegantly designed and sturdily constructed cover that fits simply and quickly to the Bakfiets box, ensuring that the cargo is warm and dry at all times. Freed from the worry of a dampening and increasingly disgruntled bikemate, the captain is left in peace to cope with the effects of side winds on a tall structure and marvel at the improvements to the drag coefficient that the rain hood appears to bring. There is also an added benefit in that the rain hood offers some protection for the pedaller’s legs, particularly if you are able to maintain a reasonable pace.

Option two: the deluxe

This second (deluxe) option does mean additional expense – some £160 – but this, having braved the first option during a very wet August, was our preferred option. Although the hardy option has much to recommend it and is still employed on those ‘will it, won’t it’ days for short trips, the rain hood has already seen plenty of use and has proved invaluable. No matter how bad the weather, you can be confident that your cargo will arrive at her destination warm and dry, although the warm, dry conditions do tend to create a very snoozy environment, which may or may not be a cause for concern depending upon your planned bedtimes.

Putting the expense to one side, the drawbacks of the rain hood might be said to include storage – away from the bike the hood comprises a large triangle of heavy-duty plastic that really needs to be hung somewhere that is both out of the way and accessible (a garage in our case) – and that fact that it does not stow – once it is attached to the bike it won’t fold down during the journey. However, the positives are plentiful and persuasive. It is very simple to install upon delivery, requiring only a few screws to fit the four clips and anchors. it is quick and easy to put on the bike on a day-to-day basis, which means you will actually decide to use it rather than thinking, “I don’t have time to fiddle about with that now.” Most attractive of all, it works. The cargo is warm. The cargo is dry. The cargo is happy. And so am I. Excellent value at almost any cost.

Staying safe on the road with Wiggo and Shane

When Bradley Wiggins and Shane Sutton, two of the most experienced and skilled road cyclists in the country, ended up in hospital within 24 hours of each other cycle safety was briefly elevated to front-page status. Questions were asked in the Commons and daytime television sofas alike, all asking why so many people riding bikes on UK roads are seriously injured or killed every year. Many talking heads or muttering hacks quoted Department of Transport figures that show 104 people riding bicycles have been killed on the roads so far this year, with a total of 107 killed in the whole of 2011.

It was a brief but welcome (apart, of course, from the incidents and injuries to Wiggo and Shane that generated the interest) moment in the limelight for an important issue and before the debate got superseded by other stories some progress seemed to have been made towards a recognition of the importance of cycling as a transport and health solution, and of the need to make cycling safer for anyone and everyone who chooses to turn a pedal. The downside of the debate was that it focused attention once again on the dangers of cycling rather than its benefits but given the origins of the story – Britain’s only Tour de France winner and a senior member of his coaching team put in hospital by errant drivers – this was hard to avoid.

As someone who rides a bike regularly, I am often asked by friends who might be considering taking to the roads on a bike, whether for the first time or as a returner, for a bit of advice. Top of the FAQ list is safety. While trying to be as reassuring and encouraging as possible, I also try to make sure that my answers are considered rather than flippant and realistic rather than dismissive of the risks and hazards associated with cycling on busy roads.

My most frequent response comes in two parts. First, in terms of your long-term health the benefits of cycling vastly outweigh the risks associated with being on a bike on the roads. Second, once you are on a bike on the road you need to make a conscious decision that you are going to be part of the traffic and ride accordingly; obey the rules of the road but do not be afraid to assert your right to be there. This first part is now a well-documented aspect of public health policy and is generally accepted by anyone who has read a newspaper or engaged broadcast media with any regularity in the last decade. The second part is a conclusion drawn after some two decades of regularly riding a bike at home and abroad on a great variety of roads and in a great variety of traffic conditions. However, it is easier said than done, or at least a lot more easily done by a confident, experienced cyclist than a novice.

Having been carefully honing this response over the years, I was delighted to find that there is now a third element to be added: get a copy of Cyclecraft, a guide to cycle safety written by John Franklin and published by The Stationery Office (what I still like to think of as HMSO); I’ve put the details on the links page of this blog. This excellent and highly readable book explains clearly and with great authority what I have inexpertly been trying to convey for years in my reference to deciding to be part of the traffic. In his succinct explanation of the primary and secondary riding positions Franklin explains for the benefit of novice and old hand alike not only why you should be riding in the middle of the lane on certain occasions (the primary position) but also why you have the right – and an obligation – so to do despite what some ill-informed road users (you know who they are) might think. This latter point should be a comfort and an encouragement to everyone riding a bike, as should the explanation of why the secondary position – slightly closer towards the kerb than the middle of the lane – does not involve riding in the gutter or making sure you don’t inconvenience drivers of motor vehicles.

Cyclecraft is not a radical publication. It is not written by or for road warriors, nor is it an anti-car diatribe. It is simply explaining to anyone using the road that a bike is a vehicle that is, as the Highway Code points out, entitled to the same consideration and the same space as any other vehicle. This issue of the same space is what should make the primary and secondary riding positions more acceptable and more readily adoptable to anyone whose limited bike handling skills and self-preservation instincts prevent them from adopting some of the more extreme tactics of the urban cycle militia.

Riding a big bike with a precious cargo brings the issue of road safety, and in particular road positioning, into sharper focus than it might have been when I was riding solo on a road bike or a pub bike. Perhaps as a parent I am now consciously or unconsciously less likely to take risks but certainly as the pilot of a bike with a passenger in it I am aware of my responsibility to deliver the cargo safely and comfortably to her (or occasionally my) chosen destination. For many less experienced cyclists the concept of riding out in the stream of the traffic, well away from the kerb and well in the way of the cars, vans and buses also using the road, is counter-intuitive; even experienced cyclists might feel that their instinct to ‘take the road’ is about competing for space rather than using the space that is legitimately available to them. However, for the rider of a cargo bike, it becomes a necessity.

Once I started riding a Bakfiets I quickly became aware that my riding style had changed. Sitting upright and pushing a significant weight meant my speed was generally going to be slow, so nipping in and around other vehicles was not going to be a feature of my journeys. The fact that a cargo bike is pretty wide also meant that I was not going to be slipping up the inside or outside of many traffic queues or squeezing between buses to grab a few extra yards. Instead I found myself taking my time and taking my place within the traffic, becoming part of the traffic rather than competing with it. I finally realised that I was actually following the advice I had been offering all these years: I had had the decision to be part of the traffic forced upon me by dint of the size of the bike I was riding.

By being obliged to travel more sedately I have taken to travelling more serenely. Now I take my place on the road in what I now know to be the primary position, offering generously exaggerated hand signals and cheery waves as I go. The reaction of motorists has been to respond in kind, almost without exception, offering space on the road and clearance as they pass. Such consideration from fellow road users is probably a reflection of their surprise at coming across such an unlikely bike or their incredulity that anyone would be so irresponsible to pedal their own child about in a small skip on wheels; it may be down to the fact that we have become something of a local talking point, although given that we live near the Headington shark locals are very hard to impress. Whatever the reason may be, I feel as secure on a bike on the road as I ever have.

On the odd occasion that I have had to remind a driver that they might like to reconsider their decision to take my space, I have been able to do so with the confidence of someone who has read Cyclecraft and is quite prepared to discuss its recommendations in detail. Which is enough to frighten even the most hardened motorist.

Frequently answered questions

Part of the joy of tooling around town on a great big bike is falling into conversation with people along the route who are fascinated by this unusual mode of transport. These are some of the questions that have created a pleasant delay in my journeys in recent weeks, along with some of the answers I have come up with when politely put on the spot.

Did you make it yourself?
Er, no. You wouldn’t have to be Mycroft Holmes to work out from a quick look at my hands that I don’t spend much time working with metal but it is a question that always makes me laugh; and think. Given that I still haven’t painted the new staircase in my house two and half years after it was fitted, I hate to think how long it would take me to build a bike frame of any description and the Bakfiets is too elegantly finished to be the work of a back-garden workshop. However, there has been a strong tradition of manufacturing in the city so perhaps it would not be beyond the skills of some of my neighbours.

Is it difficult to ride?
Not once you have got used to it. Here I tend to fall back on the analogy of the difference experience of driving a van when you’re used to driving a car. Once you are familiar with the turning circle and the handling, it becomes second nature quite quickly. You need to read the far too lengthy article on A Precious Cargo – Getting started: riding a very big bike – dealing with just this question.

Is it Dutch?
Yes it is! Well spotted. The web address on the side of the cargo box might be a give away but it seems that a lot of people in the UK, and not just people who cycle, understand that the Dutch have a very positive attitude to solving transport problems using bicycles. The conversation usually continues along the lines of how sensible the Dutch approach is rather than suggesting that they must all be stoned in the Netherlands to come up with such a contraption. This bodes well for the continuing efforts to promote cycling as a viable and accessible transport solution for the UK.

Is it very expensive?
Er, yes it is. There’s no getting away from it, you get little change out of two grand once you’ve had it delivered and no change at all once you have added a rain cover; and that’s a lot of money for a bike. However, once you begin to balance it against the cost of running a car, or perhaps for some people a second car, it begins to make a little more sense to a lot more people. For hardcore bikies you can just point out that it’s about the same amount  they might pay for a decent carbon-framed, Campag-equipped road bike. And you can’t carry a bag of sand with Campag.

Is it as much fun as it looks?
Oh yes. While it may be much more fun for the cargo, it is still a great way to get about even if you are the one having to pedal. The question is usually prompted by a smile and wave from the passenger but it is a question that cuts right to the heart of the cargo bike experience: it is just much more fun for all concerned than trailers, rear-mounted seats or trailer bikes.

Can you give me a lift?
Why not? Although conveniently enough, I never seem to be going in the same direction as the questioner. I must soon do a gentle road test with a bigger passenger so that I can invite the next person to ask this particular question to hop in.

Getting started: riding a very big bike

Among the most frequent questions posed by people encountering a Bakfiets for the first time is: “Is it difficult to ride?” It is a sensible enough question (“Did you make it yourself?” is not really that sensible a question) because, let’s face it, this is no ordinary bike and, for anyone who might be tempted to put a couple of kids and all their accompanying paraphernalia in a nice big box on wheels, it is a fundamental issue.

My usual response is to offer a simile that I was given when I went for the initial test drive: “It’s a bit like driving a van when you’re used to a car.” It is a good analogy. It feels a bit odd at first but after ten minutes or so on the road you have forgotten how big it is. The turning circle is bigger, you have to be a bit careful going through gaps and it feels a bit of a handful to manoeuvre at slow speeds but before you know it you are enjoying the new sensations of sitting up high with a new perspective on the road and your fellow traffic-makers.

Getting your hands on a Bakfiets for the first time puts you on a learning curve and the entry point is taking it off the stand. For parents carrying their precious cargo, this stand and the solidity of the parked position is one of the Bakfiets’ most endearing features but it presents the first test of technique. Standing to the side of the bike with your hands on the handlebars, you push the bike away from you and, once the bike is down on its wheels, you aim a deft toe to lift and stow the stand up under the box. A reassuring click tells you it is securely home. Step through the frame into the saddle and, as long as you have remembered to adjust the saddle height, you are ready to roll away.

The best approach to getting the hang of riding a ten-foot-long bike is perhaps adopting a highly concentrated version of when you first learned to ride a bike of any description. Scoot for a few yards to get a feel for the balance, pedal warily with a bit of wobbling as you get used to the sensation of steering, this time with wide bars and a front wheel a good distance away from you, and then gradually relax into the ride as you gain confidence in your ability to remain upright. All this can be condensed into a few hundred yards up a quiet street and will take only a minute or two. After ten minutes you may find that leaning back in the saddle is the most comfortable and elegant way to enjoy the ride, and after fifteen you may well be hooked. Live with it for a couple of days and you begin to wonder how you ever managed without it.

Once you are used to this new riding style you will begin to notice what it is that makes it so enjoyable. The high bars and the relaxed geometry of the frame mean that you are sitting very upright but the saddle is generously – hugely – proportioned to make this a very comfortable position. The twist grip gear shift makes changing through the gears very simple and the seven-speed Shimano hub means that you should have few problems when the road throws a hill at you. Hub brakes front and back do the stopping but it is noticeable that hubs are never as sharp in their braking action as blocks on rims. However, they give no cause for alarm once you are used to their slightly spongy feel. While you are never in danger of locking a wheel, they work as well in the wet as the dry so you can have confidence in your anchors.

Having always ridden with a traditional crossbar, I was initially confused by the step-through frame but once I had overcome my habit of swinging a leg over the back of the saddle rather than in front of it I began to warm to this most understated method of getting on board. The step-through approach makes hopping on and off the Bakfiets simple and swift, something I appreciated when I realised how often I would be stepping down to tackle the many bits of highway design and road furniture best taken at a walk, particularly while I was getting used to this new vehicle. With a Bakfiets you will find that routes may have to be plotted to avoid the low barriers and chicane posts designed to slow bikes in shared spaces; some may prove just a little too tight for something this size. There will also be plenty of three- or four-point turns as you turn the Bakfiets on a narrow pavement to head back the way you came, or to manoeuvre your new best friend into a parking space where secure locking points can be found.

Another of the questions you will encounter is whether the positioning of the cargo in the box affects the ride. Like most people who ask the question, my initial assumption was that putting a weight on one side or the other would alter the balance of the bike and would require the pedaller to compensate for this load. In fact the positioning of the load has very little effect and the precious cargo can sit on either side of the seat (there are two sets of seatbelts on the bench seat) without altering the handling of the bike.

Having enjoyed the ride and reluctantly come to the end of your journey, it is time to pull the Bakfiets on to its stand. This requires a bit of heft in order to rock the weight of this big unit – along with whatever you have got in it – on to its feet but, once there, it is rock-solid for loading and unloading, clambering into and out of, or just sitting on while you wait for your heart rate to drop.

Despite the lovable nature of a Bakfiets, there are, it must be said, a couple of things one has to remember. As already mentioned, the brakes are trying to handle a significant weight so it is worth taking a cautious approach to slowing and stopping; nothing to be alarmed about but the stopping distance chart for this bike (remember the diagram on the back of the Highway Code? You won’t be doing 70mph) is a bit longer than for your carbon-framed, disk-braked mountain bike. The other issue is manoeuvring the bike while you are walking it round obstructions, parking or preparing to move off. Unlike conventional bikes, the Bakfiets’ centre of gravity is well below saddle height, which makes the Bakfiets very stable to ride even when laden. However, this is a heavy bike which means that you to make sure that you don’t let the weight get away from you when you are moving it about in a confined space. The trick is to hold the weight of the bike between you and the wheels. In practice this means you need only to keep the bike angled towards you as you walk it, being particularly careful when reversing not to run over your own feet, which can be painful for you and a bit scary for the passenger. Were you to let the weight get beyond the wheels the whole bike could tip and the weight would make it difficult to hold on to once it got away from you. But this is not going to happen. Unless you’re as cack-handed as me. And then it would only happen once.

With these minor caveats taken on board, you are free to enjoy the ride and enjoy it you will. The Bakfiets is no ordinary bike and it does take a bit of getting used to but with a couple of short journeys under your saddle you will be looking for any excuse to take it out for a spin and wondering how you ever managed without a bike that can carry a week’s shopping, a bag of sand and a daughter all at the same time.

Why would you want a Bakfiets?

I first saw a Bakfiets cargo bike in Amsterdam a few years ago and it struck me as a practical and oddly elegant solution to the problem of carrying children or large loads around a city without the bother of a car. Having no children and quite a few bikes already, I gave it little further thought until 2010 when we took delivery of a daughter. As this new cargo got more mobile and increasingly heavy, it began to dawn on me that a Bakfiets might be just as good an idea in Oxford as Amsterdam.

Oxford is a cycling town and lots of people carry children around on bikes. Rear-mounted seats are the most popular but there are is also a significant number of trailer bikes — where a frame with bars, saddle and a single wheel are fixed to the main bike’s seat post — and quite a few trailers — where an independent trailer with two wheels and a cover is attached to the bike.. Having never ridden a bike with kids on board, I studied these options carefully over a number of months but all seemed less than ideal. I discounted both the trailer bike and full trailer options on the grounds that I would be uncomfortable having my precious cargo dangling behind me in the traffic. I thought I was also likely to spend more time than was sensible checking that she was still on board rather than concentrating on the road ahead. The rear-mounted seat was an option but the passengers I saw installed in such seats never appeared to have much of a view, particularly once the pedaller in chief had put on a backpack to take up what little room was available between the nose of the passenger and the backside of the rider. In addition, none of these options showed any sign of being much fun, whether you were pedalling or sitting; laughter was noticeable by its absence.

Forward-mounted seats, whether on the handlebars or crossbar, are rare in the UK but they struck me as rather more sensible, offering both peace of mind  and the opportunity for interaction. Plenty of Dutch companies offer such seats but my mouse kept wandering back to the Bakfiets. I dismissed it, of course — it would be ridiculous to spend that much money just to ferry a daughter around when you have already invested in all those slings, prams and buggies — but the more I looked at it the more sense it made. Living in the city and working from home, I don’t need to own a car (the last one was written off while it sat stationary outside the house by a Polish articulated truck) and I do have a garage. You cannot carry much shopping on a pram, even less on a buggy, and sooner or later someone is going to get sick of being pushed around and want to walk, rendering any journey a feat of endurance for both of us. If I needed any further persuasion, my mind was made up by a quick look at the interest being earned by the meagre savings already being hesitantly earmarked for  another bike.

I took delivery of my Bakfiets long cargo bike in July 2012 and can report that both captain and cargo are enjoying the experience enormously. What I thought might be something of an indulgence on my part has become an essential, used daily for the multiple trips to nursery, shop and park, whether just up the road or down into town. We’ve got used to being pointed and waved at, and the only thing to delay us now is stopping to talk to people who want to talk about this strange but loveable bike.