London Recumbents
Amazing Bikes: Load Carrying Bikes

All about load carrying by bike. All the options and how to choose the right workhorse.

Posted by Peter Eland on Thursday 31 Mar 2011

Load Carrying Bikes

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Pedal power isn't just useful for personal transport. With a bit of thought and the right equipment, you can carry a surprisingly large amount of cargo too. Whether shopping, carrying produce home from an allotment, or carting musical instruments around, bikes can be a cheap, convenient and green alternative to the car.

Panniers and baskets

The simplest way to carry stuff on a bike is to fit a basket or panniers. The old style wicker or wire basket on the handlebars may have a classic old-fashioned look, but it's surprisingly useful for odds and ends of shopping, taking parcels to the post office, or even transporting a small dog.

Having a rack on your bike to take panniers increases the amount you can carry - a pair of large panniers will swallow a lot of shopping and big items can also be strapped to the top of the rack. Many panniers are attached with quick-release hooks, so that they clip on and off easily, and shoulder straps let you carry them round the shop with you - or you can hang them on the side of your supermarket trolley and pack them at the checkout. Adding a rack to the front forks increases your load even more, although you'll need to start thinking about distributing the weight evenly so as not to affect the handling.

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Trailers

If you often find yourself wishing you could fit a bit more stuff in your panniers, a trailer may be the answer. Trailers come in all shapes and sizes, and often work well for large or irregular objects that don't fit well into panniers. They also have the advantage of carrying the load down low, and usually not affecting the handling of the towing bike very much.

Trailers can be one wheel or two wheel. The one wheel type, such as the Extrawheel or BOB Yak are often favoured by tourers or off-roaders, as the single wheel design tracks well behind a bike, and is rarely wider than the towing bike. They can be used for shopping and so on, but they are less easy to wheel around off the bike.

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Two wheel trailers are perhaps more common, and may be as simple as a box sitting on a frame with wheels - like the Roland or the Mule. Others become handcarts when off the bike, such as the Carry Freedom City, Bikehod or Radical Cyclone.

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Trailers are usually attached to the towing bike either at the chainstay or rear hub, or the seatpost, and most hitches are quick to release once fitted to the bike. When choosing a trailer, think about how much you'll need to wheel it about off the bike, and how often you'll want to attach and remove it. A trailer that can be wheeled around comfortably makes an excellent shopping trolley.

For really oversized loads, like furniture, modular 'ladder style' trailers are useful, such as that from Bikes at Work. For the practically minded, trailers are a great homebuilding project, and can even be made from bamboo - add a pair of old bike wheels and improvise a hitch...

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Cargo Bikes

If you regularly want to transport large amounts of stuff, a specifically designed bike might be worth the investment. The load is either carried low in front of the rider (as in the Long John or the Bullitt) or behind them (as in the 8 Freight). For really big loads (or children!) there are bikes with large boxes on the front, such as the Bakfiets Cargobike.

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Recently there has been an increasing number of bikes known as 'long tails', in which the rear triangle and rack are lengthened to provide more carrying space. Handling and looking much like an ordinary bike, they are a good compromise between a regular bike and special load carrier. Models include the Yuba Mundo and the Kona Ute. You can even convert a standard bike into a long tail with the Xtracycle, a kit which attaches to your rear triangle to move the wheel back, and provides a long rack area. With the right accessories, such as footrests and handles, long tails can also be used to carry passengers sitting astride the rack on a board or cushion.

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Cargo Trikes

No matter how good a Cargo Bike is, some loads are so large or heavy that they require the stability of three wheels. As with bikes, trikes can carry the load in front of the rider or behind. Trikes carrying the load in front tend to be the 'tadpole' type, with two wheels in front, and the load in a box between them. Examples include the Christiania and the Nihola, both of which will happily carry cargo or kids.

Trikes carrying the load behind are the more traditional 'delta' type, with two wheels at the rear. One of the best is that made by Cycles Maximus, which swallows up loads of up to 250kg, including the rider.

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Trikes are much more stable, and capable of carrying larger loads, but they do take up more space, so you'll need to bear storage in mind if you're thinking of buying one. They are also more likely to be problematical if you often ride on bike paths with narrow barriers, so check out your normal routes to see if a trike will fit.

Safety

However you choose to carry your stuff, make sure it's loaded securely, and tied down well - losing an item on the road is inconvenient and dangerous. Try and balance it so that it doesn't affect your handling too much, and check that you can still stop safely - extra weight will reduce the effectiveness of your brakes. Do a short trial run with a big load, stopping and starting, before you hit any busy roads, and stop after a little while to check all the straps are still tight and that nothing has shifted. If you're towing a trailer, remember that you have extra width behind you, so beware of narrow cyclepath barriers. If anything sticks out, highlight it with a flag or scrap of rag, or a light at night. One positive side effect of an unusual large load, whether on a trailer or on your bike is that other traffic tends to give you more room.

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To see load-carrying by bike in action, check out the pictures on this Flickr user group.

Note that each of these guides is something of a work in progress: we'll be updating, adding links to relevant reviews from the magazine and more as time goes on. Please do get in touch or leave a comment below if you have any feedback or suggestions!


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