Metrofiets-Cargo-Bike

The Cents & Sensibility of the Cargo Bike

metrofiets-logoIn our recent visit to Portland, we were blown away by the number of people who share our values and beliefs about everything from sustainable organic farming to limiting one’s dent on the environment. The bike commuter culture there, in particular, was just a little sliver of our Portlandia experience that reinforced what we’ve been longing for in our own community for a long time.

Our credo:

  • Collect experiences rather than things
  • Consume or purchase the most quality resources possible to reduce careless consumerism and ease our impact on the environment
  • Enjoy a happy physical existence with plenty of outdoor recreation and quality whole foods

In our neighborhood, we try to live out that credo by choosing to live in downtown Sarasota, putting us within a mile radius of work, all of the services we need, and the amenities we use. Martin’s job and Bethany’s office, Whole Foods Market, the park trail where we run with Katie, the local farmers market, and the launch site for our paddle boards are all within that radius.

Nope, this isn't Katie Lou, but something like this will soon be her ride.
Nope, this isn’t Katie Lou, but something like this will soon be her ride.

Unfortunately, Florida’s heat and the fact that Katie Lou is getting to be an old dog mean that the mile commute to the office and home for lunch everyday is often taken by car. Since she joins Martin at work daily, this adds up to a lot of needless miles. We already share the Subaru Outback and leave VANdal alone during the week, but inevitably we could be doing more.

Our goal:

Go as gasoline-free during the week as possible, only using the car or VANdal for weekend trips.

The solution:

A bicycle that not only would get groceries, run errands, transport Katie to the office, (and maybe even serve as a fuel-free chariot for date nights), but would realistically be a full substitute for a car. After a couple of years of research, we decided that a Dutch box bike (bakfiets) would be the answer.
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Holland is the epitome of bicycle culture. While in the United States moms use minivans to shuttle kids around, Dutch kids are transported by cargo bikes. The cargo bike is an extended bicycle with a section between the front wheels and handle bars being taken up by a wooden box ranging anywhere from 25-40” in length. Cargo bikes are built to CARRY. Most can accommodate loads of up to 400 pounds, whether that’s to haul kids, deliver heavy parts, get groceries, vend coffee, or anything your car could do…minus the gasoline and parking mayhem.

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In our search, we learned that there are three major manufacturers of cargo bikes in the US. Though Holland has many reputable manufacturers, we found that service and repairs can be dicey if you don’t buy from a US builder. With its powerfully strong commuter culture, Portand is at the epicenter of cargo bike build-outs (though even there, it is still more of a niche market).

After trying them all ad nauseum, choosing Metrofiets was an easy decision as their performance, geometry, and overall look are in a class all their own. Metrofiets are designed after the classic Dutch box bike, hand-built from steel with all custom componentry in a small shop on the north side of Portland by Phillip Ross and James Nichols, whom we had the pleasure of meeting and spending some time with during our recent visit.

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Both of these guys are, in many ways, typical of Portland. They are passionate about their product, fully immersed in the local bicycle culture, and genuinely interested in sharing their dream with others. Metrofiets are the perfect merger of industrial art and impeccable machinery, creating a bicycle that is not only beautiful, but supremely functional. James’ background in art and metal sculpture is clearly evident in their product as its design is something we will be pleased to ride for many decades forward.

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After testing out all the competitors at length, we got in touch with Phillip and test drove Metrofiets last. Since their bikes are custom and there’s not a lot of inventory to test drive, Phillip was kind enough to let us take a look at his wife’s bike.

After only twenty yards, it was abundantly clear we had found what we were looking for. The bike is uber stable, extraordinarily comfortable, classic in its design, and its performance greatly exceeds everything in the current US market. We test drove without the electric assist motor, but ended up decided to spring for the upgrade (with one of the new BionX systems) since our purchase would be replacing the car. It was important to us that we have the option to avoid a sweaty ride when necessary. With Metrofiets, we were also able to customize our bike with everything from hydraulic brakes and other components to our preferred seat and rear rack.
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On our test drive, Bethany, at 5’4”, comfortably sat in the box on the built-in bench and felt just like the little dog in the classic “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” cartoon… Or maybe more like Cinderella in her pumpkin coach as Martin escorted her around the streets of Portland. Even with her added weight as cargo, Martin was able to start smoothly, corner easily, merge into traffic, and even U-turn effortlessly. The bike’s geometry soaked up all potholes and rolled over bumps with a cushy shock absorption that was lacking in other models.

When the Metrofiet arrives in three months (or hopefully less!) we are going to rely on it, not just as a replacement bike, but as a replacement to our Subaru. The math alone on this purchase just makes sense:

  • Martin (Work): 20 miles per week
  • Bethany (Work & Errands): 40 miles per week
  • Recreation, Entertainment, & Dining Out: 30 miles per week

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Being completely conservative, that’s nearly 100 miles of pedal-power and not petroleum! AAA calculates the cost of car ownership at $0.56 a mile. We’re no math wizards, but even in this small scale example, that’s:

  •  $50 a week
  • $202 a month
  • $2,424 a year

In addition to the raw mileage cost, we have to add $15 per week for parking (and, oops…parking tickets) which are an inevitable part of car ownership. With the decrease in driving, we expect an insurance discount, significantly fewer repair and maintenance costs, and hours saved by not scanning for parking spaces, being stuck in traffic, and not walking from the heat to our final destination. Can you imagine our joy to be able to park directly in front of work, the grocery store, the evening’s restaurant, coffee shop, pub, or movie theater? There’s always a front row spot with a bicycle!

At that rate, the bike will have paid for itself in no time. Let’s not forget the inherent health benefit of avoiding traffic-related road rage (Amen to that if you’ve ever driven Sarasota “in season”!), and the cardiovascular perk of moving your butt instead of plopping it down in the drivers seat.
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Lastly, it goes without saying that when you live in accordance with your values, you derive tremendously greater satisfaction from even the mundane stuff like going to work or to the grocery store. Since we value quality, simplicity, & sustainability, trying our best to avoid careless conspicuous consumption disguised as expensive taste, this choice is an investment in living out our values. It is about our actions being consistent with our words — and investing in the RIGHT solution to what we see as a serious problem.

Have you been thinking about a way you can reduce your impact on the environment? Transform your commute? Get your kids to the park or your dog to work? Look us up! When we get the new cargo bike, we’d be happy to let you give it a test drive, especially since this style of bike is not something you’ll typically see outside of urban bike communities like Portland. Our next feat is to build a VANdal rack so we can also use it in our travels! We’ll be sure to write an update complete with photos once it arrives.

To learn more about Metrofiets, check out this recent podcast on The New Disruptors.

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