After gaining three months experience using our Babboe Big cargo bike around our locality, one thing that I have found useful is planning our journeys, even short journeys. Unlike using my standard bicycle, cycling a three wheeled cargo bike is quite different in terms of handling. This is particularly important when dealing with the rather variable road Irish conditions which range from decent to fairly poor when you are a cyclist pushed over to the side of the road. Also in mind is the fact that with the cargo bike, I am cycling with two to three young children so I want to make sure that whatever route I take, it is the safest possible route & that they are not too spooked by the journey. For example, if my destination involves taking narrow roads, chances are if they are busy routes with buses & trucks along with lots of cars impatiently trying to overtake us, then I would try to avoid such a route. This might mean taking a longer indirect route but in the end the cycle is more pleasurable for the passengers & for the cyclist as well. Even though I consider myself an experienced commuter cyclist, with the cargo bike I want to make sure that I am not overly stressed about the traffic & that I can concentrate on cycling in as relaxed & observant form as possible.
Google Maps Streetview
In Dublin like most Irish towns & cities, most roads do not have cycle lanes or cycle paths so you are generally mixing with motorised traffic. For that reason, I tend to plan & sometimes test any new routes I plan on taking with the cargo bike. Google Maps Streetview can be very useful to inspect a potential route if you are not familiar with a particular journey. Using Streetview, it is possible to see if there are bicycle lanes/paths or if roads look safe. You can also observe if the route you take is full of on street car parking & determine the width & space of the road.
Type of Traffic
The time of the day determines the route I take & indeed when I take it. I am using the cargo bike pretty much each week day for the school run. I try to leave a little early to avoid some of very heavy traffic that generates around my child’s school. Like many Irish schools, the school is located within a quiet housing estate with narrow-ish roads. It becomes absolute bedlam at the peak drop off period with cars parked everywhere & not enough room for two way traffic so cars are dashing in & out to try to progress to & from the school grounds. As I need to get up a relatively steep hill from the house to the school, by leaving a little earlier, I do not have so many cars backed up behind me as I approach the school & I do not get stuck in the car traffic jams that build up around the school.
After the school drop off with child #1, I tend to use the bicycle to bring the other two children somewhere be it to go shopping or leisure. This means we are cycling within morning rush hour traffic. The consequence of this is that on some of the main routes,the traffic is clogged up. On narrower roads, there is little or no room for a standard bicycle to cycle past cars, let alone a wider cargo bicycle. With that in mind, we are fortunate that we have alternative routes we can generally use to get from A to B. So during rush hour, I may choose a particular route such as cycling via a quieter housing estate. It may not be as direct a route to get to the destination but as it is quieter & oddly enough sometimes wider roads than compared to the main road, it is in my opinion safer & allows for more safe havens should there ever be a need to take evasive action to avoid any issues with cars.
Road Conditions & Cargo Bicycles
With a three wheeler, you do feel the weight on the front of the bicycle which obviously impacts your control & handling of the bicycle. One reason we favoured the Babboe Big cargo bicycle is that we felt on uneven surfaces, we had more control over the bicycle when compared to the Danish cargo bike we tested. Being a three wheeled bicycle, you do need to concentrate a bit in terms of handling control, especially if there are no passengers in the cargo bike box.
There is no point in hiding the fact that Irish road engineering is fairly poor overall. Not only is it poor in terms of design for pretty much all road users, it is really poor in terms of maintenance quality, especially if you are a cyclist or pedestrian. Even with relatively new surfaces, they tend not to be very smooth for cycling & I have found myself slowing the cargo bike on cycle lanes as the surfaces can be uneven & wobbly. So I have become more familiar with various routes in our location, I now avoid certain roads & cycle lanes due to the surface quality as I feel it is too unstable for the bike or I need to move out into the road to avoid uneven surfaces or potholes. Not exactly the safest thing to do but regrettably it is a challenge stemming from poor road design & management by local authorities.
Apart from the condition of the road infrastructure, the design of it plays a part in terms of safe passage for a bicycle. Roundabouts are pretty dangerous junctions for cyclists, so unless the roundabout is fairly small or quiet in terms of traffic, I would tend to avoid routes that have large or busy roundabouts. Not that it matters but generally local authorities in Ireland seem to end cycle lane markings at roundabouts or as a design afterthought, desire that cyclists dismount at roundabout junctions & walk their bicycle across a junction – which may or may not have pedestrian traffic lights!
When you reach your destination, you need to park the bicycle somewhere. Where I am based, in fairness to the local authority, they have placed quite a bit of cycle parking around the towns under its remit. Generally there is space to park a cargo bike so that there is somewhere safe to lock it up as well as not having the parking in an area that could potentially block pedestrians on footpaths.
I am calling out some of the challenges I have encountered using the cargo bike. I do not want to frighten people about the challenges as there is nothing insurmountable even on our challenging Irish road network. I feel a little planning & research of journeys in advance does help make a journey go smoother. I think this helps relax me as the “driver” of the cargo bike & in turn gives the little passengers are more enjoyable journey. Happy cycling!