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Our growing family needed a second set of wheels last Christmas, when our son started daycare and we were all returning to the workplace. Our growing family needed a second set of wheels last Christmas, when our son started daycare and we were all returning to the workplace. We had one small car, and I didn’t see the need for another. I had grown weary of battling non-compliant kids into hot car seats. We don’t go far: the 4-kilometre round trip to daycare (7km on the scenic coastal route), errands and occasionally the 20km round trip to Darwin CBD.

We’d been borrowing a bike trailer — a trailer for kids towed behind a pushbike — but the kids hated it, I hated it and my wife rightly felt it wasn’t safe. I capsized the empty trailer once after hitting a curb. I then saw a Dutch-looking bike with a plywood box and knew this was what we needed.

My mind was made up. “Cargo bike” covers a multitude of configurations and can be homemade or bought off-the-shelf. Within a day of internet searching, I opted for the latter (and became several thousand dollars poorer).

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How did the family take to travelling on a cargo bike?

The kids, aged five and two, have loved it from day one. Whenever we finally leave the house, they automatically climb in, strap in and wear their helmets. They are no longer separated across the big divide of the car’s back seat, so are free to play, sing, share food and fight. It’s quality family time. We even have to argue that Litchfield National Park is a 90-minute drive away and we must take the car. They always have their eyes out for lizards, bush chooks, kites and kookaburras on our rides. We’ve yet to spot a croc on the bike path.

Going to the local public pools, or even kids parties, is a breeze. I wheel the bike inside the gates and treat it like a big bag for all our gear. We use it to bring food and decorations to kids parties and then to bring all the flotsam and jetsam home for sorting.

It once came to the rescue of our car which suffered two punctures at once, so I was able to ride the wheel to the tyre store and back for repair.

The forklift operator at the white goods store had fun loading our new tumble dryer.

We do get funny looks from everyone, especially in the supermarket or hardware store. But we love the attention. The kids give onlookers the royal wave and shout out to their friends. It can get awkward when they make loud personal comments on passers-by. I wish we’d taken the car when that happens. But when they fight or get emotional in public, I do get the feeling I’m being judged for not providing my family with a luxury, air-conditioned, four-wheel-drive.

Motorists panic when they see a cargo bike waiting to cross and slam on the brakes and wave us over. This has almost caused accidents. So now I pre-emptively wave traffic through until a suitable break.

The freedom it allows is the best part for me. We don’t have much of a yard, so getting out of the house is essential. We can easily and quickly strap the kids’ bikes to the side for a value-add. On rare occasions when the house is clean, we prepare “in-flight” meals for the way home or stop for a picnic.

The finer details

  • Insurance is $600 annually, and I’ve also invested in two top of the range locks which cost that much again. Cargo bike theft is an industry, and there’s a worldwide network of people looking for their bikes.
  • At time of writing, the bike’s odometer had just clocked 3,000km in 11 months, so we average around 9km a day. This is about the same as our car’s annual mileage.
  • I’ve worn out a few parts already, with an annual service costing $160.
  • All up, that’s $760 a year (on top of the initial cost of the bike: $10,000).

Comparatively, our car’s rego is $719, insurance about $700, servicing $500, fuel about $1,000 — roughly totalling $3,000 a year.

But there are some downsides.

Because I sit so upright and there is no suspension, I find my less-than-perfect core strength is not protecting my back on bumps. I was once laid up on pain relief medication for a day with a bad back after a long ride on a bumpy road. I’ve since bought a suspended seat post and I’m saving for a sprung saddle. I haven’t had a puncture yet (fingers crossed), but I’m not sure how I’d get home on a flat. The bike will probably last us until the kids are maybe eight and five. I think then we’ll migrate to a longtail-style cargo bike, if not sooner. The car seat still sees my bum, but usually at weekends when time or luggage constraints require the internal combustion engine to be fired up.

Cargo bikes are definitely not for everyone, but we’re not the only family in Darwin with a cargo bike. And owning two cars is certainly not for me.

Original post; https://www.abc.net.au/everyday/

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