Cargo and Work Cycles

Pedal-power has massive potential for carrying loads. You can carry more on a bike than you ever imagined possible, and manufacturers are continuously developing an astonishing range of carrying solutions. Letters, groceries, computer equipment, sacks of cement, small trees, half a ton of iron, canoes, ladders, canoes, you name it, a cyclist somewhere will have shifted it. Here are a few of the best ways to carry loads big and small.

Finding the ideal technique and equipment depends on the weight, volume and also the type of load you need to carry. If you're taking glass to the bottle bank or aluminium cans for recycling your priorities are only capacity and ease of handling – the faster you load and the more you carry, the more worthwhile your trips.

Bags:

The choice is between loading your body or your bike. Cycle couriers use shoulder-bags or backpacks because they are convenient for frequent stops – no time is lost detaching and remounting panniers – and because they can adapt easily to different loads.

On bumpy sections of road you can use your body as active suspension by standing on the pedals to isolate a load from the shocks and vibration. The largest courier bags hold more than 20 litres, although to carry that kind of load in comfort you need to be big and strong. A simple courier bag is the cheapest practical load-carrying device. A sheet of bubble-wrap in a bag will stop sharp items digging in your back, but for longer journeys the stress of anything more than a couple of kilos on your back soon becomes irksome.

A handlebar bag is a useful option for touring. You can easily get access to it on the move for food or sun-block although it won't be stable enough for rough tracks where a small rucksack, bum-bag or pouch under the seat works better. For heavier loads a rack-pack mounted on top of the rear rack is less likely than panniers to snag on vegetation or rocks.

Once your baggage exceeds the capacity of a handlebar bag, a rack pack or a saddlebag, your next option is a pair of panniers which can be mounted front or rear. On reasonable roads and paths front bags have least effect on the handling of a standard bike. For short journeys they can be used singly because on a two-wheeler the rider will compensate for any imbalance in the load by leaning to one side.

Luggage hanging from a bike is dead-weight so for heavier riders it can potentially lead to broken spokes or bent or breaking axles. The next option is to spread it over more wheels by getting a trailer.

Trailers:

A trailer can be an alternative to a full set of panniers. It's main advantages are ease of loading and ability to deal with large items. It's much simpler and quicker to chuck  cargo into a trailer, than squirrel the same load evenly into a set of panniers.

One wheel or two? A one-wheel trailer leans with the bike so will never roll over by itself. Its high speed performance makes a one-wheeler favourite for touring or long-distance picnics. An empty or lightly loaded two-wheel trailer can flip over if corners are taken too fast or if one of the wheels hits a bump, but it can be used as a practical hand-cart at the end of a bike journey which is useful for local purposes such as shopping, gardening or recycling. If you have small children consider a child-carrying trailer. When it's not carrying your children you can fill it up with groceries, perhaps on the way back from the nursery run.

Trailers designed to carry less than 50kg may hitch close to the rear-axle. Heavier loading models usually attach around the seat-pin where anchorage is easier and the bike less delicate — although seat-post-mounted trailers do affect the bike's handling more than chain-stay mounted ones. A hitch needs articulation to allow for cornering and crossing kerbs and bumps. The further back the articulation point is, the more faithfully the trailer will follow the bike.

Very often the stable load platforms which these trailers provide are perfect for custom modifications, but here is a limit to what can be carried: Manufacturers will specify a maximum load, and this should be respected. Another limit is the power in your legs: your bike may have very low gears, but do be realistic about hills when full-loaded. Check the brakes before you set off, and take a few moments somewhere safe to get used to the ‘feel' of the loaded vehicle. Riding with big loads is a great experience and superb fun, especially if you take it seriously.

A big trailer is cheaper to buy than a new freight-cycle, for hauling heavy cargo infrequently but if you often move loads in the hefty domestic/light commercial range a purpose-made freight-cycle is a better option.

Delivery bikes:

You can still get old-fashioned delivery bikes. Grocery-store or butchers bikes, postal bikes and ‘site' bikes are still manufactured by specialists all over the world. Special long wheel-base bikes with extra large load areas front or rear have been used for years to transport gargo and are still made in small numbers. Even bolt –on kits are available to extend the load capacity of your existing bike.

Delivery trikes:

Both recumbent and upright tricycles provide a stable means of load carrying greater than the capacity of a regular delivery bicycle. Many can carry children with little adaptation.

Three and four-wheeled heavy goods cycles:

These vehicles take the possibilities for cycle-freight to new levels. Commercial fleets of pedal-powered trikes and quads operate in many cities worldwide. With lockable glass-fibre reinforced cargo boxes, heavy freight-cycles can go where motor-vehicles can't, and park in restricted areas. Pedal power is now accepted as practical for light commercial haulage in urban centres. The technology exists and is being refined year by year.