Cargo Bike as Cargo

We won’t have much in the way of bike adventures this week, because the big bike is in the shop getting a custom chain guard for the Stokemonkey. I’ve wanted one from the beginning, but we got the bike in the early summer (after the nicest spring I can remember) and didn’t want to wait any longer. So I figured we could take it in during the dead of winter. Of course it’s been the warmest and driest winter I can remember, so it’s been plenty nice enough for biking.

One drawback of being in the suburbs is that the bike stuff is all in Seattle. So if the bike needs work that our local recreationally-focused shops can’t provide (for example, custom metalwork!), it’s either a very long ride or car transport. The last time the bike went somewhere, we borrowed a pickup. This time, I really wanted to make a rack on our car work.

We own a regular hitch-mounted rack. I’ve heard of people putting longtail cargo bikes on those, but I’ve also heard not to do it. We figured we might as well try it. Is it really longer than the car is wide? First we compared the bike to the garage door. Our family-hauler truck is nearly as wide as the door. We have to fold the mirrors in to clear it. And you thought power-folding mirrors were a silly feature! (we did too…)

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So we tried the bike on the rack, and indeed, it sticks out past the car. Worse, it’s so back-heavy with the motor that it wouldn’t balance on the rack. So that won’t work.

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Mark is holding the front end down

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We borrowed a vertical tandem rack made by Draftmaster. This particular rack holds a tandem by the fork in the middle, and can also hold two regular bikes on the sides. The tandem that it regularly carries is 60-70 lb, so we figured the one electric cargo bike would be okay. You can lower the whole rack to mount the bike, and then raise it to be closer to the car. In the lower position, I (at 5’2″) can just reach the fork mount while standing on a stool.

And… it worked! We wheeled the bike right up to the rack before taking off the front wheel (ripping the wires out of the dynamo hub in the process, argh). We lifted the front end of the bike up and set it on its rear rack. Mark lifted the bike (a second person to lift would have helped tremendously) and I guided the fork in place and screwed the skewer down. It took a few tries because I’m terrible with screws (sorry, Mark!). We lifted the bike + rack into place and gazed at it.

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are we nuts?

Would this really work? Can we really drive on the freeway this way? We took some measurements, and the highest point was just less than 10′. You see low clearance signs for 13′ and 14’… which implies that regular clearance must be higher than that. This doesn’t even really look much higher than a bike mounted to a roof rack.

The other option was to get the bike down, and for Mark to start riding. It was around 16 miles to Cyclefab, and involved riding through Bellevue, across the I-90 bridge (which does have a bike/pedestrian path), and through unfamiliar parts of Seattle. And I’d have to drive over to pick him up anyway.

So we took a break, walked to the hardware store for some ratchet straps, the grocery store for groceries, and then home for lunch. And the bike didn’t fall off, so we went back out to strap it down.

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strap is bolted to the tray and looped around the downtube

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Blue ratchet strap is wrapped around the attachments for regular bikes on both sides, and looped under another vertical part of the frame.

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I took a slow cruise around the block, and headed off to Seattle.

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crazy contraption got even crazier

It stuck out 4.5′ past the end of the car, so we strapped a reflective vest to the rearmost point.

I took surface streets to Bellevue, because I was still nervous. I’m sure cargo bikes don’t have guardian angels, but I was sure asking for help from mine! Through the rear window I could see the rack move with every bump in the road. The first potential obstacle was the overhead wires near Bridle Trails State Park, but the wires looked about twice as high as the SUVs around, so I would be fine. Then we went under SR-520, which looked about triple the height of the other SUVs. In Bellevue, I got on I-405. In the exit lane for I-90 a cement mixer truck pulled up behind me – clearly higher than my load. Okay, I got this!

Even so, I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to get off the freeway.

For an unassisted cargo bike without a big basket, this rack would be a totally reasonable way to go. I’m sure we’ll end up transporting our bike again this way, but probably not often.

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6 thoughts on “Cargo Bike as Cargo

  1. Wow, thank you for sharing this. I know you know that car-topping a cargo bike is still a largely unsolved problem! You folks are doing a great job! I am loving the blog!
    Also, nice bike!

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  2. Wow! This is great (though, yeah, scary-looking!). I’ve had my Big Dummy on a regular van trunk rack (with a second Big Dummy at the time!) once, and know of longtails that travel on roof-top tandem trays, but this looks really nice. And easier to load than those other two options.

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  3. When my husband bikes the family bike to the far distant bike shop he Lyfts back, cuz, yeah, otherwise it is an all family all day extravaganza. Glad you are working out the logistics and keeping going!

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    • Lyft, of course! That would work! This did turn into an all day family extravaganza (and our babies were well past their quota of playpen time by the time we got the bike up), but we learned a lot, so next time should be quicker.

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