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 dot.nl 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.