Freight bicycles, carrier cycles, freight tricycles, cargo bikes, cycletrucks, or long johns, are human powered vehicles designed and constructed specifically for transporting loads. Vehicle designs include a cargo area consisting of an open or enclosed box, a flat platform, or a wire basket, usually mounted over one or both wheels, low behind the front wheel, or between parallel wheels at either the front or rear of the vehicle. The frame and drivetrain must be constructed to handle loads larger than those on an ordinary bicycle.
The first freight bicycles were used by tradesmen to deliver mail, bread and milk amongst other things. Early freight bicycles were heavy-duty standard bicycles, with heavy carriers at front or rear, sometimes with a smaller front wheel to accommodate a large front carrier. During the early part of the 20th Century these were commonly used by tradespeople for local deliveries. In the UK this style is still sometimes known as a butcher's bike or delibike, although the Post Office have by far the largest fleet; a more formal name is porteur bicycle.
With the domination of the internal combustion engine in the industrialized countries after World War II, freight bikes became less popular. In the rest of the world, however, they continued to be manufactured and heavily used. In the 1980s in Europe, and the 1990s in the US, ecologically-minded designers and small-scale manufacturers initiated a revival of the freight bike manufacturing sector.
Freight bikes are used in a variety of settings:
- Delivery services in dense urban environments
- Food vending in high foot traffic areas (including specialist ice cream bikes)
- Transporting trade tools, including around large installations such as power stations and CERN
- Airport cargo handling
- Recycling collections
- Warehouse inventory transportation
- Mail delivery (The UK post office operates a fleet of 33,000 bicycles, mainly the Pashley MailStar)
- Child transport; it is estimated that 90% of the freight bicycles sold in Amsterdam are used primarily to carry children.
In Amsterdam it is common to rent a worktrike to move one's belongings, have a party in a park or promote a new product. Furniture retailer IKEA is also testing a freight bike rental program to allow residents of Copenhagen to transport new purchases.
Because of the strong economic advantages realizable by widespread proliferation of freight bicycles, Oxfam has designed the OxTrike and established local production at community workshops in non-industrialized countries for use in non-industrialized countries worldwide. Dangdang, China’s biggest online bookseller, uses 30 bicycle courier companies in 12 cities to deliver goods and collect payments. Karaba, a free-trade coffee co-op in Rwanda, uses 400 modified bicycles to carry hundreds of pounds of coffee beans to be processed.
Freight bicycles have a number of advantages over motorised vehicles:
- They do not create air pollution problems (e.g. enclosed warehouses and industrial plants)
- They are less costly to operate
- They are not limited by the availability of fuel
- They do not generate sparks which could be dangerous in the presence of sources of ignitions
A limitation of any human-powered vehicle is the relative weakness of human power compared to many motors, leaving a narrow scope for balancing tare weight, payload, geographical and topographical range against each other. These limitations might in some cases dissuade some people from using cargo bikes, whereas others still find them useful, and have been in increasing numbers.
Some cargo bike makers and users utilize power assist motors to complement the power of the cyclist. Power assist can increase the payload and range of cargo bikes, but also increases the cost of the bicycle and requires a fuel or electrical source.
Because of the unavoidable physical demands on a driver who also has to propel the vehicle, and the lack of protection against either the elements or other traffic, there is also a potential for working conditions becoming a problem. Technical efforts to improve conditions are hampered by the need for low weight and sturdy simplicity to achieve low costs in small-scale operations.
In Amsterdam and Copenhagen, freight bikes are extremely popular. In Amsterdam many residents simply fit large front carriers to sturdy city bicycles. There is also a broad variety of specially made freight bikes including low-loading two-wheelers with extended wheelbases, bicycles with small front wheels to fit huge front carriers, tadpole-type three-wheelers with a box between the two front wheels. Varieties used elsewhere include a platform, basket etc. instead of the box, the loading area between two rear wheels (delta-fashion), small-wheel two-wheelers loading both back and front. An occasional four-wheeler can also be seen, especially within a plant, warehouse or the like, where demands on stability and loading capacity are higher than on range.
The Cycle truck refers to a type of freight bicycle with a smaller front wheel than rear, typically 26 inches (66 cm) rear and 20 inches (51 cm) front.
A Porteur bicycle has the rack on the front, and can carry as much as 50 kilograms (7.9 st) that way.
Also referred to as a Baker's bike, however this style of freight bike was popular with a wide variety of trades during the first half of the 20th century, particularily in the United Kingdom. Typically, they would have a basket or storage box mounted within a framework which was fixed to the front of the bike. Often, they would also feature a sign advertising the business concerned, which would be attached within the main triangle of the bicycle frame.
Their popularity declined significantly towards the end of the 1950's, with the increase of mechanised transport, and their use today is largely limited to postal delivery services.
Long John bicycle
The Long John Bicycle is a freight bicycle with the cargo area in front of the rider and some linkage connecting the steering to the front wheel. Capacity is usually about 220 pounds (100 kg). A traditional Long John will have a smaller front wheel and a 23" or 26" rear wheel and a 30"-40" long platform or basket located low in front of the handlebars. Vintage Long Johns are becoming collectible. Recently the term "Bakfiets" (which means "box bike" in Dutch) has sometimes been used to describe Long Johns and for cargo bikes in general. Slightly shorter versions of Long Johns are also sometimes referred to as "Cycletrucks". The last known manufacturer to still produce the original Long Johns is Monark. The history of Long John Bicycles is traced to Denmark c. 1923. The Smith & Co. Company (SCO - founded by Ivar Smith and Robert Jacobsen in Odense, Denmark 17 October 1894) was the inventor and the first to build this type of cargo bicycle. The first Long-John was presented to the public at the Wembley World Fair & Exhibition in 1924.
Longtails have a longer than usual frame wheelbase at the rear compared to a standard bicycle. The extended rear better facilitates use as a freight bicycle or carrying multiple or adult passengers compared with shorter bicycles.
Xtracycle developed the first longtail product, their Free Radical, which attaches to an existing 'donor' bicycle to make it a longtail bike in 1998. The growing popularity of Xtracycle inspired the Kona Ute, launched for the 2008 season. Surly were asked by Xtracycle to build a complete Xtracycle-compatible frameset; the result was the 'Big Dummy', first released for the 2008 season. The cromoly frameset is designed for 26" wheels. Buyers have the choice of frameset alone or complete bicycle. In 2008 Xtracycle documented the LongTail as an open-source standard. This has helped individuals to build longtail bikes themselves such as the Xtravois.
Cyclists in Portland, Oregon, move a household by bike
Classic Monark Swedish baker's bike, this one with locking aluminium case on the frame-mounted front carrier
Traditional Delibike in Buenos Aires.
Somewhat heavier two-wheeler, steered by linkage. Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Designers and manufacturers
- George Bliss.
- Mike Burrows, designer of the 8 Freight.
- Pashley Cycles
- Sohrab Cycles, in Pakistan.
- Jan Van Der Tuin
- Worksman Cycles
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Freight bicycles|
- Bicycle trailer
- Cycle rickshaw
- Human-powered transport
- Quadracycle (human-powered vehicle)
- Utility bicycle
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