The SUV of bikes: Cargo bikes gain ground in Charleston
Seven years ago, when Amy Herring Lewis had her second child, she found herself in a dilemma. Lewis enjoyed riding her first child around downtown Charleston on a bike in a WeeRide children’s bike seat and wanted to continue doing so with both children on board. “I enjoy being able to get places downtown without getting in a car,” says Lewis, noting the added benefit of easy, free parking. “Plus, it’s just good to be outside with my children and getting exercise.”
So she turned to a staple that Danish parents have relied on for the last 30 years: the stable and roomy cargo bike. Back then, it was a bit harder to find cargo bikes in the United States, but never doubt the power of a determined mom. Lewis hit the web and found a Haley Tricycle cargo bike.
Over the years, the sight of Lewis and her two children, Charlie and Grace (now 11 and 7), has become common for people who live and work downtown.
Cargo bike arrival
As The New York Times noted in a 2015 story on the emergence of the cargo bikes in Brooklyn, as well as in the usual places (Seattle, Portland, San Francisco), cargo bikes are catching on with millennials as they become parents and business owners. Many cite health, both by getting exercise outside and not contributing to air and noise pollution, as motivations for choosing cargo bikes. Charleston typically lags five years behind other parts of the country for such trends, but not this time.
Local entrepreneurs are noticing the demand and are bullish on cargo bikes becoming a fixture here. One hopes to become a hub for the region and nation. Local attorney Peter Wilborn, founder of the Bike Law Network, has been personally promoting the benefits of cargo bikes, purchasing three Bullitt cargo bikes, built by Copenhagen-based Harry vs.
David, for the firm a few years ago. He and fellow Bike Law attorney Timmy Finch have been riding them around Charleston and Mount Pleasant ever since. Last month, Wilborn became the exclusive distributor of Christiania Bikes, considered an icon of Danish three-wheeled cargo bikes, in the United States.
Wilborn and Finch converted the bottom floor of Bike Law, located at 57 Cannon Street, into a showroom for Christiania Bikes USA. (They also will sell two-wheeled Bullitt bikes.) Among the first customers, besides parents, are local business owners, including floral design shop Lux & Union and clothing company Indigo & Cotton. Finch says Charleston is ideal for replacing car trips with a cargo bike.
“(Charleston) is essentially flat as a board. The (Christiania) bikes can hold hundreds of pounds without disturbing the handling characteristics,” says Finch. “I’ve used mine to get firewood, propane tanks, groceries, anything.
I take my son to school some days from downtown to Rifle Range Road in Mount Pleasant. It’s a delight.” Finch says Christiania and Bullitt bikes are suited for different riders and purposes.
The former can handle heavier loads without sacrificing stability. The latter is faster and more suited for “a messenger style of riding.” As part of Bike Law’s awareness campaign for Bullitt bikes, Finch spearheaded and participated in a cargo bike race at last spring’s Criterium Championship in North Charleston.
“It was the most fun I have had in a race,” says Finch. Base prices for the cargo bikes are £2,500-£3,500.
Afford a cargo?
Meanwhile, just blocks away, a popular bike shop on the corner of King and Cannon is building custom cargo bikes. Affordabike owner, Daniel Russell-Einhorn, says customers have been inquiring about cargo bikes for years as a means of transporting children and/or their dogs.
“We came to realize that cargo bikes were a rare commodity in the states. The interest was growing as Americans traveled to Europe and saw a different lifestyle where people shopped or took their kids around by bike,” says Russell-Einhorn. He adds that some went as far as importing cargo bikes from Europe, going through a painstaking process with customs, then still having to pay his staff to assemble them.
Russell-Einhorn then bought a used cargo bike from a neighbor. Soon, the bike became his main form of transportation. The bike fits my two dogs conveniently in the bucket and they enjoy the ride as much as I do.
People would stop me on my ride and ask where I got the bike or would come in the store and inquire about it when it was parked outside,” says Russell-Einhorn. Having started in the bike business as a custom builder (he launched in 2009 with the Bilda bike and does a steady business in building college bike share bikes), Russell-Einhorn noticed a flaw in his used cargo bike and endeavored to build a better one, specifically with a “maintenance-free drive train.” He currently has a handful of orders for cargo bikes with a Gate belt drive, instead of a chain.
“The belts don’t crack, slip, stretch or come off. The users who buy these bikes will be very appreciative of this amenity and will find it hard to go back to chain-driven bikes,” says Russell-Einhorn. “Lastly, we made sure that all cargo bikes came with a door for dogs or children to easily get in.” But he also realizes that the belt drive vs. chain won’t be the main stumbling block for customers.
“Price was a big concern for us. People experience sticker shock all the time when it comes to bicycles. … By doing some of the design ourselves, and importing our own models directly, we were able to save considerably on the costs.
We removed anything that was not necessary on the component spec and then passed all the savings on to the customer,” says Russell-Einhorn. His cargo bikes will cost £1,600 for a two-wheeler or £1,800 for a three-wheeler. The bikes will be named “Bike Bus” with the hopes, Russell-Einhorn says, that the human-powered cargo bike will replace the school bus for transporting children.
“By doing so they will make lifelong memories with their children, decrease congestion and pollution, get a work out, and enjoy this great city by bike,” says Russell-Einhorn.
Contact David Quick at 843-937-5516.
Follow him on Twitter @DavidQuick.