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.