When Dave Hoverman, 38, a business strategy consultant in Berkeley, Calif., goes to Costco on the weekends, he ditches his Audi Q7 and instead loads his four children into a Cetmacargo bike with a trailer hitched to the rear.
“We do all sorts of errands on the bike,” Mr. Hoverman said. “We try not to get in the car all weekend.”
Mr. Hoverman is among a growing contingent of eco-minded and health-conscious urban parents who are leaving their car keys at home and relying on high-capacity cargo bikes for family transportation.
Cargo bikes initially catered to the “hard-core D.I.Y. crowd — people who wanted to carry around really large objects like surfboards or big speakers or kayaks,” said Evan Lovett-Harris, the marketing director for Xtracycle, a company in Oakland, Calif., that introduced its first family-oriented cargo model, the EdgeRunner, in 2012. Cargo bikes, he said, now account for the largest proportion of the company’s sales.
“When we first started selling these bikes 15 years ago, we were the total freako weirdos,” said Ross Evans, the company’s founder. “Back then, a basket on your handlebars was considered fringe.”
These days, cargo bikes are no longer a novelty: They are cropping up not just in the expected West Coast enclaves like Seattle, Portland and the Bay Area, but in cities like New Haven, Tucson and Dallas. “It used to be that if I saw somebody in Boston on a cargo bike, I probably knew them and probably helped them buy their bicycle,” said Nathan Vierling-Claassen, who has ridden a cargo bike since 2008. “Now that’s no longer the case.”
Cargo bikes are also popular in Washington. Jon Renaut, 37, a software engineer at the Department of Homeland Security, said that he is one of more than a dozen parents at his children’s elementary school who commute to school and work by cargo bike. “There have been only two days this whole school year — when it was really, really snowy out — that we left the bike at home,” Mr. Renaut said. What helps keep his 4- and 6-year-old daughters warm, he said, is to have them face backward while riding.
The popularity of cargo bikes has given rise to more variety. Cargo bikes come in two main types: longtails, which look like a regular bike with a large rack extended over the rear wheel, and the Dutch-style bakfiets, which has a cargo box mounted in front of the handlebars. While longtails are considerably cheaper (a Yuba Mundo starts at $1,300), bakfiets (which start at about $3,000) can generally hold more.
“The thing I love about cargo bikes these days is that there is such an amazing selection,” said Shane MacRhodes, 43, who manages a school transportation program in Eugene, Ore. “People are finding bikes that really fit their lifestyle. Some people like the sturdiness of a Yuba Mundo, and some people like the sporty zippy ones. It’s almost like the S.U.V. versus the sports wagon.”
Cargo bikes are making inroads into New York, too. It is not unusual to see them parked outside Whole Foods in Gowanus, Brooklyn, or Union Market in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn.
Joe Nocella, who owns 718 Cyclery, a bicycle shop in Gowanus, joined the bandwagon last year and expanded his cargo bike selection. “Our shop was up 21 percent over the year before,” he said, “and a good chunk of that was from our focus on cargo bikes.”
“It’s such a great transaction because here’s this family that’s ditching the car and transforming itself, and you get to be a part of that,” he said. “I love when the kids come in and jump all over the bikes.” (When parents show up without children, he lets them test-ride bikes with sandbags.)
Manuel Toscano, 42, a design consultant who lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, commutes to his son’s preschool in Chinatown and his job in TriBeCa on a Bullitt bicycle. “Every time we tried to take the kid into the subway, it was an ordeal,” he said. “People don’t move or let you sit when you have a kid.”
“We finally decided we’d had enough,” he said. “The only sustainable way to have kids here is not to get in the subway.”
Biking in New York has its share of challenges. “New York is not an easy place to have a family, and it’s not an easy place to have a cargo bike,” Mr. Toscano said. The bike-path approach to the Manhattan Bridge, he said, is not for the faint of calf muscle, and the bridge’s narrow entrances are difficult to navigate.
“The other challenge is where to put my bike,” he said. “I garage mine, and they charge me the same as any other bicycle: $38 a month plus tax, even though it’s longer than a Smart car.”
Of course on street parking for these beasts is a bit tricky. In fact unless you have a nice large garage or a basement with ground level access to store it in, they make for a pain in the butt to manage.