Is it safe to cycle a cargo bike?

As a regular commuter cyclist in the Dublin region for almost 20 years with no incidents to report about, I would like to think that I have a good safe record in terms of cycling. However your perspectives & priorities do change when you are cycling a cargo bicycle with children. You’re top concern is not just your safety on the road but those who you are transporting around, in my case it is 3 young kiddies.

Cycling a cargo bike on a road in Dublin, Ireland

Things to consider for safer cargo bike cycling

A cargo bicycle can come in all sorts of shapes & sizes. It is important to be as comfortable as possible when using your bicycle & understand its limitations & idiosyncrasies. For example, how does your cargo bike handle uneven road surfaces which would be an everyday consideration on Irish roads.

Weight: We have a 3 wheel cargo trike so it would be one of the wider types of cargo bike you would see on Irish roads. It is also going to be a little heavier especially if you are filling up the seats with children. If you are used to dashing across a road junction on your own bicycle, it is not going to be as easy or quick with a cargo bike. So understand your limitations in terms of acceleration & breaking with your cargo bike.

Width: A 3 wheeled cargo bike is likely to be wider than 2 wheeled equivalent & it is certainly much wider than a standard bicycle. I have found some of our local roads are too narrow to use with the cargo bike during the morning rush hour. Where it could be possible to squeeze by on my own bicycle, this is not always possible with the cargo bike. Narrower roads brings you into closer contact with motor vehicles which could increase risks in terms of safety. My advice is to plan your journey as best you can. We do not stop cycling during rush hour, we are just clever about where we have to go & how to get there.

Light Up: It is important that you are seen. Our near daily school run is an example of cars running amok in the environs of our local school. The closer you get to the school, the faster cars seem to go weaving in & out of parked cars trying to progress closer to the school grounds. For many years now I have my bicycle lights switched on at all times including during the day. I do the same while driving my car as I personally think it makes sense to be seen. While I have a high-vis rain jacket for cold/rainy days, I am not convinced of the wearing of such clothing all the time while cycling but some people believe it is a good thing to do. I think lights make more sense to switch on & I do this on the cargo bicycle.

Hands in!: It is getting warmer as we head towards summer so the winter rain tent on our cargo bike is opening up to let the fresh air into the little ones. Soon we will remove the tent altogether. However I have noticed the kids are sticking the hands & even their heads out to take a look. So I am trying to make them aware that they need to keep everything inside the cargo bike box for safety. You never know what could be sticking out.

Helmets: I have been asked about this a few times. I do generally wear a helmet when using my own bicycle, purely because I travel at a much faster speed when compared to the cargo bike. In my opinion, the risk is far greater that I will hit something hard if e.g. I hit a pot hole or slide on a slippy manhole cover. With a 3 wheeled cargo bike there is more stability when cycling & I am cycling significantly slower. On that basis I am disinclined to wear a helmet or find it necessary to put helmets on the kids (the 1 year old is too young for a helmet). If a car collides into us, depending on the speed of the impact, helmets are likely not be useful in such a scenario. There are multiple cargo bikes used in our local schools & I note that none of them are using helmets on the cyclist nor passengers so I feel my viewpoint is prevalent among many users.

Needless to say, all the safety norms for cycling a standard bicycle apply to using a cargo bike including good observation of your surroundings, obeying the rules of the road, stopping at traffic lights, giving clear signals when turning/moving out etc. In almost 6 months using our cargo bike, there has been only one instance where a motorist took a foolish overtaking manoeuvre on a bend that nearly backfired on him. Otherwise it has been plain sailing using the cargo bike on our local roads& motorists are generally giving us space & being courteous towards us.

Happy & safe cycling!