On the experience of hiring a cargo cycle and then transporting some cargo with it

In the run-up to Xmas 2018 I found myself faced with a tiny dilemma of the kind that occasionally arises in a car-free lifestyle. I had ordered a present (a snazzy new printer) for my then other half to be delivered to a pick-up point close to my workplace in central Manchester. On carrying it back to the office, I noted that the box was a tad too heavy and bulky to be carried comfortably in my puny arms (an inescapable consequence of relying on cycling as one’s sole source of fitness), so the prospect of lugging it back across town to a bus/tram, and then from the respective stop back to the house, was distinctly unappealing. It was also too big to fit on any of my bikes, which, with a creative approach to racks, strapping and netting, is how I normally transport stuff that gets sent to work.

The present in question. A little too bulky for me to carry over any notable distance.

So I considered my options:

  • some kind of trolley or similar wheeled contraption might make it easier to get to/from public transport stops, but may be a faff depending on how crowded the bus/tram is. Would also have to be pulled using said puny arms;
  • stick it in a taxi/mini-cab and burn some fossil fuel getting it home (only ever the last resort); or
  • why not use this as an opportunity to try out the the process of hiring and riding a cargo cycle, which I’d been meaning to look into for a while?

So that’s what I did. Now, here in Manchester we have a fabulous resource called Manchester Bike Hire (actually based in Salford, for any borough-boundary pedants who may be reading), who rent out not only regular bicycles, but also a range of cargo-carrying machines. I’d seen they had recently acquired a Babboe Curve-E electric cargo tricycle which, as something of a trike fan, I was itching to try out.

So I logged on to the Manchester Bike Hire booking page, entered the required date, clicked the “Family Cargo Bikes” category and selected the trike. I then paid £20 for the day’s rental (yes, this is not an infomercial, but an independent test paid for out of my own pocket).

Collection from the Manchester Bike Hire shop on Chapel Street, Salford.

When the big day arrived, I cycled Stan, my regular commuter bike, down to the shop where the trike was waiting to be collected. Stan was kindly stored in their workshop as I took the rental cycle out. After a quick induction (you operate the eight e-assist levels with your left hand, and you have a regular set of seven rear gears activated by the right hand), I was off!

First impressions? Well, it was magnificent! OK, it was heavy (without the e-assist it would have been a real challenge to ride!). And it felt sturdy: you sit in a very upright position so you’re much higher than usual, and with the stability afforded by the three-wheel design, it’s a majestic thing to ride. The downside to that is that it also feels much less nimble than a regular cycle – which is fine for the wide, Dutch cycleways it’s designed for, but occasionally requires a little creativity on our less than optimum cycling infrastructure here in Manchester.

Stymied by the narrow, fenced-in crossing across Trinity Way (direct route navigable with a regular cycle in purple), I took the scenic option.

Indeed, within a couple of hundred yards I was faced with the first challenge: the barriers designed to fence pedestrians in as they cross Trinity Way from Lamb Lane to Bloom Street, which I navigate every day on a bicycle, looked a smidge too narrow to navigate this beast of a cycle through, at least for me as a very novice pilot, so I took the thing on a detour through the roads of central Manchester. Next lesson learned: don’t ride anything as eye-catching as this if you don’t like being gawped at! Commonplace as they are in more civilised cities, you don’t half get some funny looks from the locals as you pedal a big three-wheeled box around the place. But the exposure is ultimately good: at least some of those people will now know that transporting cargo by cycle is a thing.

Present safely stowed, it’s now time to ride the 7km back to Prestwich.

After collecting the package from my office, the rest of the trip was mercifully uneventful. The route from work to home has a mix of light protection and painted bike lanes, and with the novelty factor of riding such an unusual machine, I was pretty confident that drivers would see me and give me enough space where necessary.

View from the saddle along the Broughton Cycleway.

The e-assist was a godsend: with a cycle of this weight, even the slightest uphill incline makes itself known in the form of strong drag and sudden increase in pedalling difficulty. As with any e-cycle, you can choose whether to just take the edge off and still get a decent workout, or you whack it up to the top setting and let the electric motor do most of the work. So it’s ideal for pretty much any kind of rider. Coming back into Manchester after setting the package down again highlighted the trike’s Dutch heritage: anything above the slightest downhill gradient and the rear gears spin out, so you just have to sit there and cruise until the trike reaches the end of the descent and slows to a pedlable pace. But again, it’s not designed for speed, so that’s only a minor niggle.

Returning the trike after a successful and enjoyable cargo drop.

In conclusion, I would not only definitely use the service again in similar circumstances, but would also recommend it to anyone curious about more sustainable ways of moving stuff about. The whole process took just over two hours and cost £20. It not only got the package moved, it was also bloody good fun pedalling this amazing contraption round the place. Compare that to the bus/tram, which would have cost around £5 for an irritating faff of a similar duration; or to a taxi/mini-cab which would have cost upwards of £10 and would have been, well, whatever emotions sitting in a car invokes.

It also provides yet more proof of an important point: the more you look into it, the more innovative ways there are of doing loads of stuff without a car. Ultimately, when I have the space, I’d like something similar to this trike of my own. In the meantime, it’s fantastic to have a resource such a Manchester Bike Hire where people can rent a cycle ad hoc and explore its capabilities, as a prelude to perhaps also investing in their own. Manchester Bike Hire are true pioneers in Manchester: alongside the rental business, they employ a team of professional cargo-bike riders who can be frequently seen making last-mile deliveries around the city, each of them taking a polluting, congesting diesel van off the road.

And for me that’s ultimately what so much of banging on about bikes is about: whenever a sceptic cries out “well, what about X, Y or Z? You can’t do that on a bike, can you?” And of course, at least for most stuff that happens in cities, the answer is: “actually, you probably can. And you’ll have much more fun in the process.”

A selection of the cargo fleet (including the “boom bike” mobile disco/PA system) available from Manchester Bike Hire.


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