My cargo bike arrives

This isn’t the cargo bike I was expecting to be riding this summer (that bike will get its own post at some point), but a cargo bike kit I backed on Kickstarter in 2016.

It took a long time for its creators to bring it into production, and I’m honestly surprised it ever shipped to backers.

So here’s the Argo Cargo Bike kit attached to my trusty Trek Verve 3, parked at the library:

My Argo parked at the library

My Argo parked at the library

I took it out earlier to return all the video gear I’d borrowed from Provincetown Community Television for a weekend shoot. Into the cargo box went:

  • two tripods

  • a mic stand

  • two cameras in a giant camera bag

  • a sandbag.

That was a lot of gear for a first outing. I discovered that the seat in the cargo box needs to go (I won’t be carrying kids), since it takes up valuable space. I also noted that the sides of the cargo box are kind of low so I still needed to use bungee cords to keep long item (tripods) from rattling around and falling out.

When I usually haul this amount of stuff, some of it gets strapped on my back, messenger-style; some gets put in pannier bags; and some gets bungee tied to my bike frame or balanced across my handlebars. If there’s lots of people in town it makes for a precarious ride through the usual throngs in the street. It is so much easier to put it all in the cargo box and just set off.

Trips like this are why I got interested in cargo bikes. I enjoy shooting video, especially in multi-camera, so that requires a lot of stuff that doesn’t easily fit on a regular bike, even with panniers and lots of bungee cords. After a couple of close calls with the bike falling over when overloaded with expensive cameras, I thought a cargo bike might be an answer.

Its maiden voyage to go get some stuff (since that’s the point of a cargo bike!) was to the garden center. It’s kind of late in the planting season, so I decided to just get some veggie plants to put in my community garden plot:

Garden center run to pick up a bunch of pepper plants

Garden center run to pick up a bunch of pepper plants

That’s eight 4-inch seedlings and a my pannier tossed in to hold them upright for the ride. It was unusually windy with gusts up to 35 MPH, so I got some early experience seeing how the box affected handling in the wind.

So what is this thing?

The Argo is a front-end kit that you attach to your bike. That’s it. You need a “donor” bike, so I used my Trek Verve 3. It’s a former rental fleet bike from Ptown Bikes that I bought a couple of years ago. It sits outside year-round and gets two tuneups a year, so I know it’s in decent shape.

The kit weighs 43 pounds and comes in a box which is filled with more boxes, the frame components, the kickstand, and a box with the cargo box parts. It was nicely packed and arrived in good shape via FedEx.

The box the Argo arrived in

The box the Argo arrived in

There are pages and pages of detailed assembly instructions online in a password-protected web site. But to do the assembly myself, it turned out I’d need about $100 in tools that I don’t have (and probably would not use again).

I decided to take it to the bike shop and have a qualified mechanic put it together. I’m glad I did, since it took Jeff at Ptown Bikes about 5 hours to put the thing together. I’m sure I would have given up much sooner. Apparently the instructions are not great, since they don’t show what the assembled bits should look like as you go along. At least there weren’t any extra parts at the end of assembly.

The kit attaches to the bottom bracket, so the pedals have to be removed to install what Argo calls the “BBKit”. That’s the assembly that includes a quick-release lever so you can remove the cargo kit and put your front tire back on. It also requires cutting the brake cables and installing an adapter so you can switch between the Argo front tire’s brakes and the bike’s brakes if you put the original wheel back on. There’s another quick release lever where the bike’s fork attaches to the steering linkage.

How does it ride?

It’s a bike, and it rides like a bike. It has a big turning radius since it’s so long (total of 9 ft end to end). I was concerned that the box would bottom out on turns, but it doesn’t. Handling is far more nimble than I expected. It’s more of a workout than a regular bike, since you’re pushing another 43 pounds along in front of you, but for short rides I doubt I’ll notice that much.

Braking was fine. It seemed to stop just a as readily as without the cargo kit.

It makes some new noises, which was expected. The steering mechanism is under the cargo box and makes some mechanical noises, and there’s some road noise when the cargo box is empty, but I’m assuming that’s normal.

The kickstand

The rear tire is about 4 inches above the ground when the kickstand is engaged

The rear tire is about 4 inches above the ground when the kickstand is engaged

This is a more critical piece than I expected. It’s very solid, it works easily, and it’s stable. When it’s engaged, the rear wheel of my bike is about 4 inches off the ground. It looks odd, but that’s how these things work. It feels weird to attach panniers of groceries to the rear of a bike that’s in the air, but it’s very stable and I haven’t had any trouble so far.

Carrying stuff

I can carry a lot more than I could without it. I like being able to see what I’m carrying in front of me, since streets here have a lot of odd obstructions that you can hit unexpectedly (telephone poles, bollards, shrubs, etc.). These conditions are why I didn’t go for a three-wheel cargo bike – they’re all just too wide! The cargo box is just about the same width as my handlebars or my rear rack when I have a pannier on both sides, so once I realized that I was no longer concerned about squeezing through traffic.

The box is a little small. And since the box is the point of the whole thing, I wonder why they didn’t make it larger. It’s not very deep. It’s also an odd parallelogram shape. I was surprised to find a cover hidden in the box. At first I didn’t know what the heck it was! Argo never mentioned it, so it was a surprise to find it did include a cover. (Original: And there’s no cover. For some reason people who visit here like to use bike baskets as trash cans, and I really don’t want to see my cargo box full of coffee cups and random trash. So some kind of cover will be necessary. It also rains and snows here, so if I’m going grocery shopping I’ll want to cover the box.)

The rain cover that I didn’t realize shipped with the Argo!

The rain cover that I didn’t realize shipped with the Argo!

The original Lift box dimensions are pretty close to the final version of the Argo

The original Lift box dimensions are pretty close to the final version of the Argo

About 50 pounds of stone pavers that I salvaged from a construction site for my garden. Not something I would be able to carry in a pannier

About 50 pounds of stone pavers that I salvaged from a construction site for my garden. Not something I would be able to carry in a pannier

There are lots of cutouts and a couple of hooks that made it into the final design. They seem to be intended for the seatbelts (which I don’t use), since the slots are too narrow for a bungee cord to fit through. The hooks help, but they’re only on one end. I’ll have to work on how to secure stuff (maybe a net?).

Parking

As you can imagine, parking a 9-foot cargo bike at a regular bike rack doesn’t work well (sometimes you see bikes with trailers attached sticking way out from a rack). But since I’ve been intimately involved in the project to expand bike parking around town, I was familiar with spots that can accommodate a long bike. I have an Abus rear wheel frame lock on this Trek, so that’s how I lock it up. There’s a loop on the front fork of the Argo for attaching a cable lock as well but I haven’t found it necessary to carry a second lock on my trips.

Summary

Reviews of this kit so far on the internet have been very positive. I’ve been happy with it, get lots of positive comments from people on the street, and can finally carry heavy and awkward stuff without breaking a sweat. It was way cheaper than a “real” cargo bike, and I can take it apart if I need to put it in storage.

I have no idea if Argo will survive as a company, but I hope they do. There seems to be a market for this lower-cost alternative to a dedicated cargo bike, especially in places where cargo bikes are not yet sold by bike shops (we have six bike rental companies here and none sell or rent cargo bikes).

You can buy this kit from Argo through their online store, and at this writing they’re saying they can ship in two days. A kit plus shipping to Provincetown is currently $950. You’ll spend another $250 getting it assembled and tested by a mechanic. You also need to factor in the cost of a tuneup for your donor bike and the cost of your bike itself. If that seems expensive, the nearest cargo bike for sale is a $4,000 Workcycles KR8 at Bicycle Belle in Somerville (120 miles away).