The fantastic usefulness of a cargo trike

Stopping, shopping, and hanging out is so easy on a three-wheeler. (Photos: Shannon Johnson/BikePortland)

When it comes to bike versus trike, I generally prefer the feel of two wheels and I’ve been considering selling my current trike to replace it with a two-wheeled cargo bike. You might even say I have “bike envy” when I see those Urban Arrows riding by. But there is one place where the cargo trike excels over other two-wheeled rigs: the farmers market and anywhere slow and steady cycling is preferred.

The cargo trike is essentially a bikeable shopping cart and quadruple stroller, making it my dream vehicle for summertime trips to the farmers market and outdoor street festivals. If you haven’t experienced the fantastic usefulness of the cargo trike, allow me to sing the praises of my favorite mode of market mobility.

First of all, by biking to the farmer market, we avoid the chore of parking a car and don’t have to make vulture-like circles for a car spot. (Any sort of bike is a great way to go!) But with a trike, we don’t have to park at all, not even in nearby bike parking, because the trike is stable while walking or frequently starting/stopping. In areas like a crowded outdoor market or street festival, where a bike should be walked, the trike is a dream vehicle because you can sit on it and pedal as slowly as a walker, or even stop and sit without pedaling at all. With a trike, you don’t need  to engage and disengage a hefty brake, or keep feet down and walk on tippy toes to balance. You can stand beside the trike and walk it easily, without needing two hands to balance it or keep it upright.

I have tried my two-wheeled cargo bike at the market and it’s been immediately obvious that a two-wheeled bike is meant to be moving. It doesn’t much like to be walked, especially if the cargo box is laden with children and produce. When I ride a two-wheeled cargo bike to the market, I prefer to park the bike and walk around to shop, because it’s unpleasant to walk a two-wheeled cargo bike, and one has to activate the hefty kickstand to look at food or goods in a stall. This makes a two-wheeled cargo bike unpleasant to haul around on foot: kickstand down, up, down; two hands on the handlebars; hold steady or she’ll tip. It’s one occasion where two wheels feels cumbersome. 

Parking a cargo bike loaded with toddlers and all our stuff is also a bit of an ordeal, similar to parking a fully loaded minivan. It means unloading all the kids, then trying to determine what stuff is needed, and what can be left in the bike. In our case, that means we might be hauling water bottles, sunscreen, a diaper bag, picnic lunch, towels (for playing in the fountains), change of clothes. We probably need to put a stroller in the cargo bike just to be able to carry all of our stuff when we park the cargo bike, and also to carry a family-sized haul of produce home. I also don’t like to have toddlers on the loose either, and prefer to have them strapped in while I am shopping. 

Which is why we love our trike: with its extra wheel, the trike is absolutely stable when stopped or being slowly walked. You can keep all of your stuff with you, as you walk the trike slowly along, and you can put all of your bags of groceries directly into the cargo box. And my husband’s favorite feature: you keep the littlest ones strapped into their seats, without worrying about them running off. 

I say this, as a person who prefers a two-wheeled bike. 

There is no question: when it comes to the farmers market, our whole family prefers the trike. My husband, who doesn’t otherwise bike, loves the trike for visiting our local outdoor market. It’s the easiest, most efficient, and most pleasant vehicle for the job. He can keep all of his kids inside, or let the older ones hop in and out at will. He can step away from it to buy a box of strawberries without it tipping or having to engage the hefty brakes. He likes it so much he’s made Saturday trips to the market a weekly tradition and says, “if we didn’t have the trike, I probably wouldn’t go. Or I wouldn’t take the kids with me.”

Cargo trike versus a two-wheeled bike

What would make the trike right for you? 

  • Slow & Steady: I would recommend a cargo trike if you are planning to use it at slow speeds, and in situations with frequent starting-stopping, such as outdoor festivals and markets. 
  • Match slow kid-rider speeds: The trike is also a great way to travel with a slow independent kid rider, as you can comfortably match the very slow speed of a young child rider or even walkers (which is more of a chore on a two-wheeled bike, and much harder with a front cargo bike). 
  • No balancing needed: The trike is also a great option for those who have trouble balancing on two wheels or who are prohibitively nervous about tipping their box of kids over. 
  • Good for snow? The stability of the trike may be especially relevant to those who bike more often in snow conditions–it’s pretty rare here, but I felt very comfortable slowly riding the trike on packed and slushy snow, while my two-wheeled kid riders were slipping and tipping. (Please comment, if you have more snow-riding experience).
  • Easy parking brake (no muscle needed): The trike may also be great for grandparents or anyone who has trouble engaging/disengaging a hefty double-brake on a two-wheeled cargo bike; this can vary by model, but I have found that engaging and disengaging the brake on a two-wheeled cargo bike takes some “oomf” and it’s a bit intimidating to wrestle with the brake while balancing a bunch of children in the box. My trike has simple hand-brakes for parking, which are easy to to engage, no “oomf” required.

If you are debating trike vs. bike, check back next week for my full comparison of the pros and cons.

In the meantime, enjoy the farmers market on whatever you pedal!

— View a video version of this story on Instagram.

Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)

Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)

Shannon is a 36-year-old mom of  five who lives in downtown Hillsboro. Her column appears weekly. Contact her via shannon4bikeportland@gmail.com

Thanks for reading.

BikePortland has served this community with independent community journalism since 2005. We rely on subscriptions from readers like you to survive. Your financial support is vital in keeping this valuable resource alive and well.

Please subscribe today to strengthen and expand our work.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest

6 Comments
oldest
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Kevin Machiz
Kevin Machiz
11 days ago

We found this video very helpful in explaining the different types of trikes out there. The unusual design of the Black Iron Horse actually enables a tighter turning radius than even a conventional two-wheel bike. Kind of flips what you might think of as a con of a trike into a pro. Let us know if you want to test ride the Black Iron Horse Shannon. https://youtu.be/GXFT3YyEkkU?feature=shared

Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)
Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)
10 days ago
Reply to  Kevin Machiz

Oooh, I am totally interested in trying the Black Iron Horse. If you have one to try, please send me an email (listed above) and I would love to connect and take a test ride. The video you posted of the rear-wheel steering (and explanation of different styles of trike steering) is really useful–Thank you!
The need for super slow turns and the excessively wide turning radius is one of my least-favorite things about my trike. (I love it anyway, but I miss the speedy and tight turns of a two-wheeled bike!)

curmudgeon
curmudgeon
10 days ago
Reply to  Kevin Machiz

Kevin, who’s the “we” / “us?” Are you brick-and-mortar in Portland with a Black Iron Horse on premises to look at/test?

Kevin Machiz
Kevin Machiz
9 days ago
Reply to  curmudgeon

I am not. We/us is just me, my wife, and our 3-year old daughter. We’re not involved in selling bikes. Unfortunately, there’s actually no dealers located in the US for this particular manufacturer.

curmudgeon
curmudgeon
10 days ago

Shannon, the farmers’ markets I visit are fairly crowded affairs and you and your trike rolling thru might raise a few eyebrows or generate some rolling of eyes. You don’t say in the piece but I’m confident you judge every time whether to roll thru a busy default-pedestrian space or park and enter on foot. . . .

Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)
Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)
10 days ago
Reply to  curmudgeon

BikePortland posted a video of us on IG walking and riding through the busy farmer’s market. We go very slowly, walking the trike very similar to pushing/pulling a wagon or large double stroller full of children. We stop. We wait. We go again. Maybe some are annoyed, but we try to be polite, move at pedestrian pace, and we have found most people come up to us with enthusiasm and encouragement to see a family out on a trike.