Families find a fun way to be mobile by incorporating cargo bikes into the routine
The Dutch word bakfiets means box bike and Amsterdam is filled with these cargo-style bikes, carrying kids, groceries, and wares that can all be strapped in and carried safely about town.
While this type of bike may not be quite as prominent in the United States, we talked to four area families that are finding ways to incorporate pedal power into their daily world, treading the “bakfiets” lifestyle with a sense of adventure and a desire to bring a healthy, economical and environmentally-friendly means of getting around into their daily routines.
Angela and Jarin Marocco
Angela and Jarin Marocco of Ann Arbor are a single-car couple and use a WorkCycles cargo bike from the Netherlands for their work and school commute, running errands, and family fun with their children Dominic, 4, and Aurelio, 2.
Angela Marocco, a program manager at the University of Michigan School of Education, says the bikes can be pricey and not every road is cycle friendly, so she was hesitant at first. Her husband, Jarin Marocco, who has been a cycle-enthusiast for the past 10 years, made the case for purchasing the bike touting the long-term money savings and safety of having the children in the front where the parent rider could see them.
Jarin Marocco is a nurse at the U-M Kellogg Eye Center and commutes year-around using one of several bikes, including a distinctive recumbent bike that puts the rider in a reclining position. Angela Marocco incorporates the cargo bike, the bus, and her car into her daily routine, depending on her transportation needs.
Savings and fun
The couple said they have seen the benefits in cost savings with gas, maintenance and parking fees. They note the convenience of pulling right up to their building for work. There’s also the fun-factor of tooling around with their young children safely strapped in the front of the bike for grocery trips and leisure rides.
The couple also had a battery added to the bike for an electric-assist feature that allows them to go further, faster while carrying heavier loads. “It’s really a game-changer for any family already cycling, or for those that are going to make it a part of their routine,” Angela Marocco said.
To enable their family to be able to connect socially with other cargo bike owners, Angela Marocco created the Ann Arbor Bakfiets Facebook Group in 2016.
Nicholas and Natalie Adams
Nicholas Adams said he wasn’t a bike enthusiast until about three years ago when Human Electric Hybrids (H.E.H.) of Ypsilanti converted his road bike with an electric assist feature. Ever since, Adams has been hooked and now he and his wife, Natalie, are looking for a bakfiet-style bike to tote their two children, Oskar, 5, and Magnus, 2.
“I live four and a half miles from work,” Adams said, “and it just seemed absurd to drive to work everyday.”
Nicholas Adams sold his car after converting his bike, finding out he could make the commute to his job at the University of Michigan fairly easily without getting sweaty, while helping the environment in the process.
Natalie Adams has a longtail cargo bike called Radwagon from Rad Power Bikes that could potentially accommodate the two children on the back, but, for now, the couple carries one child on each bike for family outings. One of their favorite family bike rides is the Border to Border trail that connects many Washtenaw County areas. Nicholas Adams said a lack of bike lanes near home and snow-cover can be an obstacle at times.
He said his electric-assist allows him to ride more confidently with traffic, takes much of the stress out of commuting and provides many health benefits with the daily exercise. Once the couple gets their box bike in the spring, they plan to incorporate bike riding even more into their daily family routines.
Nate Phipps was overjoyed when he found out the local owner of a Bullitt cargo bike was selling. Phipps rides bikes on his commute to work at the University of Michigan and also rides recreationally.
He and his partner, Michelle Bellino, have a 14-month old son, Reed, and wanted a way to transport the little one. Phipps is part of the Bicycle Alliance of Washtenaw and anxious to let people of all skill and interest levels know the fun and convenience of a cargo bike.
“It puts a smile on my face and turns a lot of heads,” Phipps said, of being able to ride the sleak, white cargo-style bike. The bicycle is somewhat narrower than other styles of cargo bikes and rides with greater maneuverability.
Cargo bikes are a great car-alternative, Phipps explains, and add a lot of health benefits.
Bike Lending Library
Phipps said some families may be hesitant to make the switch to cargo-bike commuting, but there is a lot of information out there for people interested. Families who would like to try out the unique bikes before making a purchase can contact the Bicycle Alliance of Washtenaw general email at firstname.lastname@example.org to access a bicycle lending library.
Rain, snow or sunshine, Sam Firke makes the daily 7-mile round trip commute to drop off his two older children, Ilana, 8, and Ari, 4, at school saying it’s a nice way to start the day.
He and his wife, Shoshannah Lenski, have been in Ann Arbor for the past 10 years. They also have a younger son, Ezra, 7 months. Sam does data analysis for a K-12 education nonprofit and works remotely.
He explains he became a regular bike rider in 2016 after seeing a cargo bike for the first time in New York City and wanting to give it a try. He bought a Yuba Boda Boda, later upgrading to a Yuba Spicy Curry, which is a longtail bike with an electric motor assist.
“I do most of our shopping on the bike, even including the occasional trip to Costco,” Sam Firke said, saying his reasons for riding include the environment, for pleasure, incorporating exercise into a busy schedule and not having to worry about parking.
“My kids and I have better conversations on the bike than in a car. And we can stop and engage with things like animals by the side of the road or friends on the sidewalk.”
He said his favorite places to bike as a family are where he can get safely and quickly. “In particular, the new bike lanes on North Maple Road changed from being a street I avoided to one where I’m comfortable taking my kids to the library on the back of my bike.”
Winter weather can be a big obstacle but the family allots a good amount of time before school to suit up with appropriate winter gear.
Advice for those considering a cargo bike? Borrow one from someone, Firke said. “It’s a big purchase when you’re not sure if it will change your life as you hope.” He said he is happy to offer test trips on his bike and talk to people about the pros and cons of various options.