Child carrying bikes are very widely used across the Netherlands and in Denmark, and even the Danish Crown Prince and Princess are seen regularly riding from their castle carrying their successors in a cargo bike.
This trend has for some time also been evident in German cities. In particular, cargo pedelecs offer parents new opportunities for cheap, fast and environmentally friendly child transport which is great fun for both kids and parents. This in no way makes the classic child seat and cycle trailer obsolete – they still have distinct advantages when it comes to price and flexibility. It is rather the grossly over-sized and expensive car which is facing fresh competition from cargo pedelecs when it comes to carrying children.
On a cargo bike – in contrast to when using a child trailer – in most countries more than two children can be carried with you, and pedelec 45 drive systems may also be permitted (on test are the "Load" from Riese & Müller and the "Rapid" from Radkutsche). Many parents especially appreciate that in a cargo bike, the children sit in front of you, so maintaining eye contact, and communication is no problem. On some models there will be generous storage space as well. Many three wheeled child carriers (we test the "Cargo" from Urban Wheelz) and even some two wheelers (we test e.g. the Bakfiets.nl "long") can carry four children plus plenty of shopping.
Cargo bikes for families are enjoying a major boom right now, thanks to electric assist. For starting off, for climbing hills and over longer distances, a built-in tailwind can make it significantly easier when carrying kids and/or shopping. The rise in sales of cargo pedelecs has been correspondingly rapid compared to unmotorised cargo bikes. Some cargo bike dealers report that the ratio has swapped over in just two years, from 1:2 to 2:1. This makes it even more important to take a closer look at the performance of cargo bike pedelec power assist systems used for child carrying. The ExtraEnergy Test does just that, with its “Family” product group. As is appropriate, given that the predominant usage of child carrying cargo bikes is on regular, but shorter urban journeys, the relevant evaluation matrix prioritises, for example, the power assist factor (U-factor) rather than factors such as speed or range.
Key aspects of a family’s purchasing decision for a cargo pedelec are practical design and safety when carrying children. In Germany, traffic regulations specify, for child carrying by cycle in general, that “special seats” must be present and "wheel coverings or other similarly effective measures must ensure that children’s feet cannot touch the spokes". An additional DIN standard on "Cargo and transport cycles", which defines safety standards for child carrying (standards already exist for cycle child seats, and child trailers), is currently under development. This DIN standard should be published in late 2017, and will possibly form the basis for a European or international standard. In any case, here we are providing an overview on the topic of child carrying, and we will note any specific accessories in the individual test reports.
For children who can already sit upright by themselves, classic bench seats are often provided, with a high centre of gravity and an upright sitting position (on test are the "Cargo" from Urban Wheelz, the Bakfiets.nl "long", the Urban Arrow "Family" and the "i:SY CAR:GO" from Hartje). Special child seats may also be mounted along these bench seats (or facing away from the direction of travel in load boxes), which stabilise the neck and head to the back and to the side, especially for smaller children. Some two-wheeler models (on test are the "Load" from Riese & Müller and the trioBike) have a seat cushion instead of a bench seat, giving a lower centre of gravity, a higher backrest and a slightly laid back position. The children’s legs are often extended forwards on the load bed surface.
To strap the children in, a three point harness, which goes over the shoulders and between the legs, is a minimum standard. Simple adjustability of the strap lengths is a significant plus point. Additional chest straps, a five point harness, a higher backrest or fitting special child seats can prevent the straps slipping sideways off the shoulders, and they are also advantageous for when children fall asleep while travelling and flop over sideways.
Babies from two months old are usually transported by cargo pedelecs in car baby seats. These provide as sold a secure laid-down position, a good attachment system and a handle acting as roll-over protection. More and more cargo pedelecs are now equipped with suspended attachment systems for such baby seats, either in the form of a frame bolted to the load bed (for example, on test on the Bakfiets.nl "long") or in the form of rails on each side wall (for example on the Urban Arrow "Family"). As in a car, the baby seat is mounted facing away from the direction of travel, so the baby is looking directly into the face of the parent riding the bike. However, note that the scope of the upcoming DIN standard for "Cargo and transport cycles" is limited, when it comes to transporting children, to children who can sit upright by themselves – and this is also the case for the standards for cycle trailers.
Additional comfort on rough roads (cobbles) and protection from sudden shocks is offered by suspension forks (on test on the "eHarry" from Pedalpower) or even from full suspension (the "Load" from Riese & Müller). A fairing for protection against wind and weather is standard equipment for child carrying.
To date, we know of no cargo pedelec accidents in which children came to serious harm. So that this remains the case, and so that cargo pedelecs can become even more popular, more quickly, as practical and safe child transport, the cycle industry should intensify its work on standardisation and optimisation of child carrying on cargo pedelecs. The growing market, and the upcoming DIN standard, will provide strong inspiration for this process.
But users too must play their part. Especially for the transportation of small children, always take the advice of a skilled specialist dealer, and always ensure that your cargo pedelec is maintained in roadworthy condition. Get your children used to wearing helmets, and always ride a little slower and above all defensively when children are on board. Then there’s nothing to limit the pure family fun of riding on a cargo pedelec.
Read further background information and test results in the ExtraEnergy Magazine:
Copy: Arne Behrensen, Hannes Neupert, Wasilis von Rauch
Photos: Hannes Neupert
Online publication: Angela Budde
12 October 2016