Note: I bought a Bakfiets long cargo bike in September 2010 from Dutch Cargo Bikes and couldn't be happier. A follow-up (3yr) review is hereRecent discussions on cycling culture and the imminent arrival of our second child have resulted in an obsession with cargo bikes or Bakfiets (Dutch for boxbikes). These bikes are making their way to Australia, with various businesses now selling the contraptions (such as Good Concepts in West End, cargocycles.com.au, and more here).
I want one, exactly like in the photo above, but I don’t know why.
Economists generally believe people know how to make decisions that maximise their welfare. But in many cases we can’t know how much we will enjoy our consumption decisions in advance, since we have never experienced them before – such goods are known as experience goods.
Having already test-ridden one and been impressed, I am now attempting to evaluate the bike's worth by first itemising the pros and cons. Any assistance or insight or suggestions are appreciated.
Can handle a load of groceries plus children for short trips
Can pick up hitchhikers
No parking or fuel costs and only minimal maintenance
$1650 for the bike
$2450 if you want electric motor assistance
Plenty of hills in Brisbane
Not many safe streets to take this slow and slightly less manoeuvrable bike
Cannot jump off or up gutters if necessary (probably off but it won’t be pleasant
Extreme summer heat (could make a shade for the kids though)
Summer storms and bad weather in general
More importantly, to determine the value to our family of the bike I have been thinking in terms of marginal utility. Instead of thinking how good or practical the bike could be in isolation, I think in terms of how much better having the bike would be compared to our current situation. And by this analysis, the cargo bike falls short.
Our family owns a car which this bike will not replace, nor will trips by cargo bike replace trips by car. So cost savings are not a selling point. However, even if car trips were being replaced by trips by cargo bike, the savings would be minimal since the marginal cost of a car trip is quite low.
Most of the cost of car transport is a cost of ownership – depreciation, registration and insurance etc – while only small costs can be attributed to extra kilometres. For example, it would cost our family about $3,000 to drive 4,000kms a year – or 75c/km on average. But if I reduced driving by 1,000km I would not save $750 because the registration, insurance and depreciation are somewhat fixed. I might only save 20c/km or less.
Replace a 5km car trip with cycling might only save $1 – a somewhat negligible amount in hilly terrain in the heat of a Brisbane summer with a family of four, especially given the likely time savings of driving.
Furthermore, our 2 year old can already walk to the grocery store, so it is simply a matter of taking the new baby in a stroller (which is also good for luggage) for that regular trip.
However, while the marginal benefits for our family do not yet warrant the cost, I do believe Australia is ready for the cargo bike revolution.
Drivers for change include urbanisation and young families losing the ‘must have a house to raise a family’ attitude, instead opting for well located apartments. If this group is forgoing a second car (they may not have a parking space anyway), and using a cargo bike for work, school and shopping trips, their may be significant benefits.
I want to leave you with a short story that demonstrates the difference between cycling culture in Australia and the Netherlands.
The two agents in the car look at me as if I have “Cops are Dicks” written in bold letters across my back and motion for me to stop and talk. They don’t get out of their car nor do they want to see my ID or anything official. The driver, obviously angry, leans over and asks some pointed, rhetorical question to the tune of “what the heck was that, asshole?!”. The female agent in the passenger’s seat is giving me that “Yeah, duhhhh!” look… though I was thinking approximately the same in reverse.
I’m no genius but I can put two and two together; It’s pretty obvious he’s referring to my riding through a red light a few meters back. A quick assessment of the situation suggests that admitting guilt and feigning embarrassment is my best approach. But the cop continues before I’ve had a chance to test my acting skills: “How do you think it makes us feel when you ride through red and everybody giggles and looks to see what we’ll do? You show no respect!”
They don’t seem to have a problem with a cyclist breaking the law. The problem is that I did it in front of a police car. Oh, now how do I react? I can’t exactly say “Sorry officer, had I seen that you were there I wouldn’t have continued.” Likewise, admitting guilt to jumping a red light is a pointless since he’s already noted that it’s accepted.
A couple moments later they still hadn’t stepped out of their car so I figured they’d no intention of giving me a ticket or fine unless I did something stupid. I played it safe, sticking to “Yes, that was dumb of me.” and “I see your point… Understood.” Then they drove away, apparently satisfied that they’d made their point.