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Cargo bikes: Is there anything they can’t carry?

Courtney carries her new dresser past Graceland Cemetery on her cargo bike.

One of the reasons I was drawn to electric cargo bikes was the ability to haul heavy items and/or another adult passenger with ease. This weekend I had the opportunity to put my bike to the test. A friend is moving out of state and was sharing photos of items they’re selling. I was drawn to a dresser. I shared a picture of the dresser on my Twitter account and asked my fellow cyclists if they felt the dresser could fit on my e-cargo bike. I was encouraged to purchase cargo straps. Ultimately I ended up going to a hardware store and purchased ratchet straps based on the recommendation of a Twitter user.

My friend lives in Pilsen, so I transported my cargo bike on the 'L' from Rogers Park to save time, my own energy, and my bike’s battery. When I arrived at my friend’s home, another person who had driven there from Lakeview was saying their goodbyes. They offered to carry the dresser north in their car. I considered it, but told my friend I at least wanted to try to get the dresser on my bike, since I had never used ratchet straps before. Thanks to tips gleaned from YouTube and help from my friend, I was able to secure the dresser to the bike with the straps. A few drivers passing by laughed as they passed us, but I was determined to transport the dresser by bike.

Courtney gets her footing in Pilsen.
Courtney gets her footing in Pilsen.

Once all 4 of my ratchet straps were around the dresser, I completed a test run down the block and had to pull over to recenter the dresser. Halfway through the test run a driver of a large van slowed down to stare at me. I let out a big laugh after he passed me and felt giddy at the idea of attracting stares and curiosity on my 15-mile ride home. 

I  headed east on the 18th Street bike lane for part of my ride and along this stretch I pulled over three times to push the dresser back to the center and adjust the straps. At one point the dresser tipped precariously close to the ground. I was able to catch it in time thanks to my intuition. I would get a hunch to pull over right before things were unsalvageable.

The third close call happened when an oblivious driver crossed the 18th Street bike lane to pull into a curbside parking spot without checking for bike traffic, bumping the dresser. Their passenger laughed, but I didn’t find that dangerous situation funny at all.

However, at Halsted Street, as I waited for the signal to make a northbound left turn, it did seem pretty hilarious to be sitting on my bike with a huge dresser strapped on the back. As I made my way through the viaduct between 16th and 17th streets, I felt uneasy about the drivers whizzing closely by to my left, the concrete wall to my right, and the huge piece of furniture I was carrying. Even during normal conditions this overpass makes me anxious, so you could imagine my unease with a large and wide load.

I had another close call near Roosevelt Road. As I made my way to Taylor St. the dresser again tipped to one side. I caught it in time and adjusted my cargo straps.  I kept advancing north on Halsted. As I was advancing to W Fulton Street, a driver prepared to park curbside. A passenger in the vehicle noticed me and the driver moved slightly to the left but not enough. The driver still bumped my dresser, which caused my bike to tip. I  jumped off and was able to prevent the dresser from hitting the ground. A cyclist behind me offered a hand, helping me to stabilize the dresser. He then offered to lend me a bungee, which I gratefully accepted. Once I felt confident enough to continue, the Good Samaritan, whose name was Kumar, kindly offered to "spot" me along my route, in case the dresser started slipping again.

At the base of the overpass between Fulton Market and Hubbard Street, a driver was parked in the bike lane. I found myself wishing  that instead of just paint, the bikeway had concrete protection to help prevent motorists from mis-using it.

But having a spotter riding to my left made the trip much more relaxing. Perhaps thanks to the bungee, the dresser stopped tipping and I was able to have a fairly calm ride the rest of the way. We took Halsted to Broadway, headed west on Irving Park Road to Clark Street, and took that north to Hollywood Avenue, where we jogged east again to the Glenwood Avenue Greenway

I had planned a path that would avoid speed humps that could ruin a package of eggs carried by bike, and would definitely not have been great to carry a dresser over. So at Thorndale I headed west, then continued on Greenview, Pratt, and Ashland avenues through Rogers Park.

My dresser safely at its destination.
My dresser safely at its destination.
My dresser safely at its destination.

Kumar eventually told me he works for the city of Evanston on "sustainability and resilience" projects. This exchange restored my faith in the goodness of people and in small miracles. Of all the people to cross paths with in the bike lane, I came in contact with someone who was headed back to the Far North Side area I live in and shares my passion for the environment and fighting climate change.

Kumar and I parted ways a few miles from where I live. I felt confident I could make it home without incident and didn’t want to take him too far from his home in a bordering neighborhood. Once I made it home I did a celebratory dance and felt a little sad that none of my neighbors could witness this miracle. I’m so glad I persisted in carrying my dresser by bike. I now feel like I can take on the world.

Big thanks to Kumar for being my bike angel and capturing me in action.

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