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Top 3 Reasons Cargo Bikes are Going to be Huge

2016 10 07

While cargo bikes are common enough sights in Europe (especially in the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries) they aren’t something you see every day in North America. That’s certainly changing and we see a serious increase in cargo bike usage in the future. There are three reasons why and all are related to a single thing: urbanization.

It may seem that more and more people are cramming into cities but it’s a trend that has been going on for more than 100 years. In the United States, by the 1920s, more than 50% of the population was living in cities. The country as a whole now stands at 80% urbanization.

While I’m not an expert in urban development, I’d hazard to guess that increased urbanization in North America does not automatically translate into more cycling. A bicycle-friendly city requires a certain level of density and the appropriate infrastructure to enable cycling. I’d hazard to guess that the urban sprawl and lack of bike lanes that characterizes most North American cities are simply not bike-friendly.

So what part of urbanization can help increase cycling and, of course, the use of cargo bikes? Urban density.

I’ll be looking at a strictly local phenomenon to illustrate this. As many of you know, Wike is a Canadian company based in beautiful Guelph, Ontario. We’re a hop, skip, and a jump away from the largest city in the country, Toronto.

I should probably note that Canada has space. Lots and lots of space. The situation is similar in the United States. Lots of space translates to urban sprawl. Urban sprawl translates to longer distances to travel for jobs and pretty much everything else.

The Ontario government has been working for a decade to increase density in urban areas. Not just in Toronto but in other city centres around the province. The Golden Horseshoe is one of the main urban areas in the country and contains a large number of cities, including Guelph. In fact, 26% of the entire country’s population live in the Golden Horseshoe.

The Ontario government recently unveiled the “Shaping Land Use in the Greater Golden Horseshoe” (http://www.mah.gov.on.ca/AssetFactory.aspx?did=14910 ) which is a document that lays out some guidelines for growing communities. Feel free to read the entire report. It’s interesting stuff for those part of this geographic area.

But what does this have to do with more cargo bikes? There are a couple of things in this report that have a direct bearing on it. Specifically:

  • “Increase the intensification target in the Growth Plan to a minimum of 60 per cent of all new residential development occurring annually in the existing built-up area.”
  • “Increase the designated greenfield area density target in the Growth Plan to a minimum of 80 residents and jobs per hectare.”

Essentially, the government is planning for more intensification. More people on less land. The anti-urban sprawl if you will.

I’m sure you can see where this is going. More intensification, more people, more bikes, more cargo bikes.

So let’s see where all this intensification will lead.

Cargo Delivery Bikes

If you’ve got a load to deliver in, say, Mississauga, Houston, or Atlanta, it’s a pretty good bet that a truck is your only option. It’s safe to say that you’re your customers are scattered over many many kilometres. But urban density packs those customers into a smaller space, making delivering by bike much less of a problem. And while a bike trailer might do the trick, a cargo bike is really where it’s at if you’re delivering groceries or larger and more bulky items.

Cargo Family Bikes

Intensification and cargo delivery bikes are good from the perspective of “I am closer to customers”. Cargo Family Bikes take a broader perspective: “I am closer to everything”. If things like schools, jobs, day care, and grocery stores are no longer in far-flung destinations, the need for a car diminishes greatly. A solid cargo bike can take care of your everyday needs without a problem. And it’ll be good for your health too!

Driving Cargo Bike Costs Down

We’ve already made the case that cargo bikes are not as expensive as you may think but we can also admit that plunking $1000 or more on a cargo bike may seem a bit daunting. But since we believe cargo bikes will become more common, the increase in the number of cargo bikes sold will bring the costs of cargo bikes down.

Again, the Ontario government has made it a priority to increase density in the most populous region of the country so intensification leading to a golden age of cargo bikes might be a local phenomenon. But I suspect that our little corner of the world is not the only place seriously studying intensification.

Further reading

Urban density is key to smart growth

Density Toronto: As GTA population rises, so do expectations for denser living

And it’s not all chocolate and roses. More rural areas consider the intensification targets too high: Density increases could change face of Centre Wellington