and Blogs Merge with Bikes As Transportation

Welcome to! This new site represents a merger of three blogs focused on electric cargo biking: Larry Clarkberg’s Bike Forth blog, by Don Marsh and Mark Stosberg with his “Bikes as Transporation” blog.

We now blog from Ithaca, New York; Seattle, Washington; and Richmond, Indiana. We write about biking with kids from 6 months to 16 years old. Blog posts here will cover direct experience with a range of cargo bike options, from the common to the exotic.

The joint venture aims to provide a better overall experience for our regular readers and visitors. For more information about the site, you might start with About this Website or About our Bikes.

We hope you enjoy it!

Don, Larry and Mark

Mark, Don and Larry plan the new site

Portrait of an Electric Cargo Biker

I recently filled out the following survey questions and I thought that my readers might enjoy the answers I gave. Enjoy!

1. occupation/where work

I make websites. I founded my own company called Knowledge Town.

2. how long have you been commuting

I don’t commute to work by bicycle. I walk to work since my office is only a few blocks from my house. I use my cargo bike for errands such as shopping, taking my kids places, and long-distance travel.

3. where/when do you commute (ie. work only, other places, daily or few days a week, year round or seasonally, etc.), distance/ terrain

I use my bike three or four times a week year-round. A typical errand is 5 to 10 miles round-trip. Almost all of my trips require carrying a heavy load up very steep hills. It seems like any direction I go in Ithaca requires climbing a hill. When I step out of my front door my choices are South Hill, East Hill, West Hill and Cornell, which is on a hill to the North.

4. any advice or tips you have for new or potential commuters re: getting started, hills, winter, cargo, passengers, route planning- whatever your experience has taught you that might be helpful

If your goal is to replace your car or reduce the amount you use your car, you will need a cargo bike (a bike specifically designed to have a large cargo capacity). And in hilly Ithaca you need an electric motor for a cargo bike to be practical. And you need an electric motor connected directly to the drive chain rather than a hub motor, since this will give you the advantage of low gearing for climbing with a load. As far as I know, the Stokemonkey (described in the next question) is the only motor set up like this.

For long trips it is useful to use the Google Maps “bike button” to map your route. If you use an ebike, it is worthwhile to purchase a second battery to double your range. I am also experimenting with using a solar panel attached to my bike to increase my range.

For winter riding it is very important to put studded snow tires on your bike. It is nice to have platform pedals so that you can wear boots while riding. If you have an ebike, try using electrically-heated glove liners and sock liners hooked up to your bike battery. I used these last winter and I am experimenting with ways to make this more convenient. Also if you have an Xtracycle-compatible cargo bike you can keep your passengers warm by constructing the Bike Wagon canopy as described on my website.

5. type of bike, any accessories you find helpful (or that you’ve tried and weren’t) and why ie. panniers vs. backpack

I have a Surly Big Dummy cargo bike frame. To this I’ve attached a Clever Cycles Stokemonkey electric motor which came as a kit.

The Big Dummy frame adheres to the Xtracycle cargo bike standard, so there are many accessories available for it. I have the Xtracycle Long Tail and Cargo Van rack kits.

One advantage to an electric bike is that you have a big honkin’ battery that you can attach accessories to. My bike has very bright front and rear LED lights that are always on day or night when I am riding.

6. why do you commute by bike? what do you like about commuting?

I bike because biking is faster than walking.

(Here I must explain this answer. When people ask me why I bike they are showing a hidden bias. They assume that for me driving is the norm, and biking therefore requires some sort of explanation. For me biking is the norm. I bike because that’s how I get around. And furthermore I like to turn this question around and ask people why they drive. This often leads to a good discussion about our car culture and the damage it has done.)

7. has it changed your life in any way- how? (ie. lost weight, less stressful, have more energy, save money…)

I find that spending so much time outdoors has made me tougher, particularly my skin. I’ve noticed I don’t mind temperature extremes and being in the rain and snow as much as other people.

It would be easy to save money relative to what I spend maintaining a car. But I haven’t been trying to save money because my biking is tied up with my inventing. I have this idea that I am spending money to help other bicyclists. For example I spent hundreds of dollars and dozens of hours developing my bike canopy so that other bicyclists can build their own canopy in a few hours for about $150.

I’m at a time in my life when I’m realizing that I won’t last forever. So the biggest change in my life is that I’m doing what I love before it’s too late: biking, inventing, and going on adventures.

Another bike blog?

If you do a Google search for blogs about cargo bikes, you can find quite a few people who are carrying impressive amounts of stuff (and kids) on bikes of varying shapes and sizes, and blogging about their experiences.  It’s kind of inspiring, but it also feels a little fringe.  Who are these eccentric folks and why would I want to join them?

That’s how I used to feel before we moved to Denmark for a year.  We wondered if we could live without a car in Copenhagen, so we travelled everywhere on bikes.  Occasionally, we used Copenhagen’s exceptional public transit system.  In the end, biking became our favorite aspect of our year in Denmark.  And not only us, but all our friends and family who visited us were similarly impressed.

It’s not easy to describe how compelling the bike-centric culture is if you haven’t been there.  However, this video will give you a hint.  As you watch, notice how many obese people you see.  Think about all the roads and parking lots the Danes would need to build if these cyclists were driving their cars instead…

Even though the video shows what is happening in Copenhagen, it doesn’t makes a case for why this is a good thing.  There are lots of benefits, but I’ll list my favorites:

  • It’s good for the environment and our children and their children.  You’ve heard that before.
  • It’s good for society.  Even if the Danes are famously reserved, they see more of each other on their bikes than Americans do in our isolating metal and leather cages.  It feels less anonymous, more personal.  If someone does something annoying on their bike, at least you can see a real person and perhaps feel some sympathy, as opposed to cursing some anonymous jerk behind tinted glass.  If you still feel annoyed, you can crank harder on your pedals.  It’s amazing how quickly your burning thighs and heaving chest bring things back into proper perspective!
  • It’s good for freedom.  When you’re in a car, you are at the mercy of circumstance.  You can easily find yourself boxed into a traffic jam with no way out.  On a bike, you have more options.  It’s empowering to find ways around obstacles that have drivers banging their steering wheels in frustration (without breaking any laws, of course).
  • And it’s good for you!  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Danes seem more fit, on average, than Americans.  But the benefit isn’t limited to physical fitness.  Biking is a less stressful and more predictable way to commute than many other options that can haphazardly tax your independence and self-reliance.

After seeing how well bikes are working in Denmark, I wanted to bring some of these advantages home to Seattle.  Unfortunately, there are some challenges:

  • Hills!  Denmark is amazingly flat.  Our hills burn out your legs and make you sweat when you don’t have time for a shower.  However, electric motors that provide assistance are becoming increasingly attractive.  I’ll describe my electric motor in more detail on this blog.
  • Infrastructure.  Copenhagen’s bike lanes are light-years ahead of ours.  As long as biking is seen as life-threatening, it won’t be a viable transportation alternative the way it is in Copenhagen.  I am becoming more active in local politics to incorporate bikes in transportation plans.
  • Weather.  It’s not fun to bike in the rain.  Or is it?  The Danes have a great saying: “There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.”  I wouldn’t make a habit of riding in torrential downpours, but with good rain gear, riding in Seattle’s heavy mist is actually envigorating.  (We’ll see if I still feel that way after I’ve made it through our winter…)

Now I’ll return to the question of what distinguishes my blog from all these other cargo bike blogs.  I think it’s partly because I’m not so interested in pushing the envelope.  I don’t expect to use my bike to transport heavy construction materials.  I want to do all the mundane errands that keep us hopping into our cars – buying groceries, going to the fitness club, getting kids to various activities.  These are things that the Danes are doing on their bikes. 

Americans tend to think of bikers as fanatics in spandex and toe clips.  I’m just an average suburban dad who would like to help expand our transportation options.

Why I traded in my car for a bike

bakfiets, car seat, stoller and Model T

This is the story of why I traded in my car for a bicycle.

It’s not that many people have asked about this. Rather I have sensed that people wonder about this unusual lifestyle choice and do not ask.

My story isn’t going to be about lifestyle comparison or counting karma points. I want to convey the emotional parts of this transition.
I had some selfish reasons for wanting to get rid of my car. I don’t particularly like driving them or riding in them. I don’t know how to fix them if they break, and I’m not interested to learn. I didn’t like car down payments, car insurance payments, car gas payments, car breakdown payments and car break-in payments.
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