If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll notice I post a lot about biking. Switching to a more car-free lifestyle has been one of the most significant intentional changes our family has made in the past couple of years. I am a huge believer that biking or walking more instead of driving has a profoundly positive impact on one’s life. It also is a change that helps minimize your environmental footprint. Transportation is the largest contributor to C02 emissions in the US. And most of the driving comes from short trips around one’s town or neighborhood. Of course the automobile has opened up so many opportunities to us, but next time you go to jump in the car for a short trip, ask yourself if maybe you could get there by a smaller, cleaner vehicle instead. (Or a larger one with lots of people on it!)
In order to making biking your norm, you need a bike to suit your needs. Enter: the cargo bike. We bought ours two years ago, and as cheesy as it sounds, it has truly changed my life. I get a decent number of questions and comments about my bike, so I thought I’d do a little FAQ here for anyone who’s interested. Let me know if there’s anything you’re curious about that I’ve missed.
What type of bike is it?
Our bike is a Nihola 4.0.
Nihola bikes are made in Copenhagen, Denmark. Their “family” model is the most popular: it has one bench which fits two children. Our model, the 4.0 has two benches so it can fit up to 4 children with seat belts.
Where’d you get it? Is it custom?
We ordered our bike from Practical Cycle, a bike store in Sacramento, California. They import Nihola bikes from Copenhagen and have sold them to customers across the United States. The bike was shipped in a truck directly to our garage! The cost of shipping was minimal relative to the overall purchase.
Why not just use a trailer or bike seat?
We’ve used both of those bike attachments to transport our kids. But when I was pregnant with our third child, I realized I really wanted a bike that I could use in place of a car to go almost everywhere we need to go. I didn’t want to bike just for recreation or occasional use. A trailer and/or bike seat can be heavy and awkward depending on your set-up. I loved the idea of a “bucket bike” where I could just throw everything in the cargo area and not worry about attachments or the kids dropping things etc.
Why a bucket bike instead of a longtail?
Longtail bikes were some of the first cargo bikes for carrying kids available to the American market. I remember over 10 years ago I watched a video about a family using an Xtracycle for errands (they bought a tree at a nursery, haha) and seeing that lit the flame that turned into a burning desire to own a cargo bike. But later, I saw a Madsen bucket bike (basically a longtail with a cargo bin on the back) and thought that would be much better for kids. More research led us to the Nihola, and I love having the kids in front of me so we can talk and I can keep an eye on them. And I love having the ability to just throw everything inside the cargo hold and get on our way. I don’t have to think too much about adding bags or attachments. And I don’t have to worry about the kids dropping their belongings en route!
Why do you like it so much?
This might actually be the hardest question to answer, just because it’s hard to put it into words. Riding a bike gives me a feeling of freedom and excitement while simultaneously making calm and at peace with the world around me. The sensory experience of the breeze in your face and the weather all around you is truly good for one’s soul. I love getting my exercise while also getting somewhere. I like talking with the kids about the things we see around us. When I see traffic, I am gleeful that we’re not stuck in it. Riding a bike makes me feel strong and independent. The most mundane errand, is more fun when you’re biking. At least, it is to me!
When are you going to let your kids bike on their own?
When Denver has more protected bike lanes? ;) Kidding. Kind of. Willa is 7, and her biking skills are improving. Cameron is almost 5 and he’s good on a bike too. They bike on her own for recreation and in parks. But generally, the traffic and roads around our neighborhood do not feel safe for children, in my opinion. Even the large park we live near allows cars on the roads, and the drivers go too fast while looking at their phones. I wish my kids were able to bike more on their own, because I think it’s important for kids to be independent. And I’m a parent who is ok with kids taking on a bit of risk. But I also have to be honest with myself about where we live and central Denver just isn’t the best place for kids to be biking on their own at a young age. I’m hopeful the bike infrastructure will continue to improve though.
All that said, I plan to keep riding the Nihola with the kids for years to come. Often we bike to places that others would drive. This morning I took Willa to her soccer game 5 miles away. She’s not going to bike that on her own any time soon.
Is it hard to ride?
In short, no. It rides much easier than I thought it would before buying it. Even though we have the electric assist, we don’t use it all the time. The Nihola is relatively lightweight as far as cargo bikes go. The challenges with riding it are more related to navigating streets and obstacles in the city. It doesn’t clear steep curb cuts, so I have to angle the wheels to make sure the front doesn’t bottom out. It also doesn’t have the same turning radius as a two-wheeled bike, so I sometimes have to do three-point turns. Locking it up can also be tricky sometimes, depending on what types of bike locks are available.
Where do you ride it?
Pretty much everywhere! We live in central Denver, so we can get to so many places within a mile or two. We use it almost every day for school drop off and pick up, as well as trips to the grocery store, the doctor, friends’ houses, and more. I love having the cargo bike in the garage ready to go at all times, so we can just jump in it without too much rigamarole. I try not to drive unless I’m going somewhere over 5 miles. Last summer, we did swim lessons 4 days a week for 4 weeks about 45 minutes away (biking). I biked most days. It was a great way to spend time together with the kids and for them to decompress after swimming. Last year, I used the bike to bring my son’s classmate home from their preschool a couple days a week. I call it my “bike minivan:” I use it for everything!
Do the kids like it?
Yes! They’ve gotten very used to it over the past two years. They often complain now if we’re going to drive somewhere. But, just like anyone, they can get crabby if it’s hot or we’re on a long ride. They sit pretty close to each other so kicking and yelling at each other is not uncommon. But neither is singing songs or laughing. Mostly, we have a good time when we’re biking around the city.
Is it just for carrying kids?
No way. We sometimes load it up with lawn chairs and a cooler for a picnic in the park. I regularly use it for grocery shopping. Occasionally I’ll ride in it for a date night! (When we were in Copenhagen, that was commonplace!) Whatever kind of cargo you need to move around, there’s a bike for that!
How much cargo can it hold?
The bike can carry 265 pounds plus the rider. People often ask when the kids will be “too big” for it, but going by their weights, it will be a long time before we out grown it!
What about when it’s cold or rainy?
There’s a rain cover for days with inclement weather. We use it occasionally, but thankfully we don’t get too much precipitation in Denver. On days that are just cold, I have the kids bundle up with coats and blankets. The cover makes kids cozy for sure, but it’s hard to get them in and out of their seats and it’s sometimes a bit claustrophobic for them. I stay warm by using no assist and getting my heart rate up!
How much was it?
The Nihola 4.0 was $3500 and we added a BionX e-assist battery for an additionally $2000. I sometimes feel uncomfortable when people ask how much it cost, but I also remind myself and them that it was much less than a car! And we are now a one-car family, so we feel like we came out ahead! There are definitely more inexpensive cargo bikes available, but we wanted one with high-quality parts that would last for years. We are hoping to use it for many years to come.
Should I get one?
YES! I’m a big believer that everyone needs some sort of cargo bike. Even if you don’t have kids, we all have stuff we need to carry around. You’re more likely to bike places if you have a way to carry cargo (hello, grocery store!). There are so many types of cargo bikes, there’s definitely one that would suit your needs.
If you’re in the Denver area, my friend Arleigh at the Bike Shop Girl Family Cyclery in Aurora can hook you up! She is infinitely knowledgable and passionate about cargo bikes. She even has a challenge going right now where you can borrow one of her bikes for 24 hours to try it out with your kids! In other cities, search “cargo bike shops” and I’m sure you’ll find something not too too far away. They’re becoming more common all the time. I also recommend joining Cargo Bike Republic on Facebook; that community has tons of advice to offer!