Safety risk cargo bike
The pictures were horrible: In Cologne, a cargo bike rider with her child is hit by a turning car driver. According to police, the woman was on the wrong cycle lane opposite to the prescribed direction of travel and severely injured in the collision, the child got away with a fright. Prior to that already, the government of the Netherlands had banned a specific cargo bike model for the transport of kids, which for unknown reasons had not stopped in front of a railway crossing. Four kids died. It is news like this that is more and more found in the newspapers. And nevertheless: Many users of cargo bikes report that they feel more at ease on them in the road traffic than on conventional bikes. There is no doubt that the transport of the offspring in a cargo bike is safer than on a conventionally mounted child seat on the pannier rack. The reason: The offspring sits by comparison much lower in most of the cases. This not only reduces the height of fall, but also makes it easier for the cyclist to keep his balance.
But: Due to the design, new users should make themselves familiar with the peculiar riding challenges before using it every day. Cargo bikes are much heavier, longer and wider than conventional bikes. Their turning circle is accordingly large. Three-wheeled models cannot tilt in bends. This requires practice. Especially cargo bikes with considerable additional load have a different behaviour during braking than conventional bicycles with partly severe consequences, as the above-mentioned examples show.
Keyword brakes: Prior to buying, customers should seek advice from a specialist and inform themselves about the manufacturer. It is an open secret that Dutch products are equipped with spare brakes due to the topography in the Netherlands. This may be sufficient in cities like Amsterdam, in Stuttgart with its hilly topography it no longer is. Dirk Zedler, bicycle and e-bike expert, explains: “Take a Dutch cargo bike with roller brakes and ride downhill. You will not come to a stop.”
In spite of rising accident casualty figures
A lack of space and an increasing number of cargo bikes cause problems. Particularly at intersections where traffic routing is not clearly defined, there was an increasing number of accidents involving pedelecs, i.e. e-bikes with a pedal assistance up to 25 km/h. While the number of road fatalities among utility vehicles, motorcycles and pedestrians dropped between January and November 2019, it rose among bicycles with electric motor, often the basis for cargo bikes, by 32.6 percent. The share of cargo bikes involved in the accidents cannot be gathered from the statistics. But it would be so important to have these figures for an informed debate. The road traffic accident statistics, however, only make a difference between bicycle and pedelec. It is therefore not only the German association of traffic participants (Verkehrsclub Deutschland e.V.) that calls for a separate recording. This sounds plausible, but according to Siegried Brockmann, implementation may still take time. “This is a legislative process in which the German Länder have an important say,” says the head of the insurers’ accident research sceptically.
Dirk Zedler also sees need for improvement as regards the police. They would lack the necessary sensitiveness: “Too often, traces are documented insufficiently, the bicycles are quickly cleared away.” Just as one has to wait for meaningful statistics, there is a lack of specific safety regulations for cargo bikes. A DIN standard issued at the beginning of 2020 for the first time stipulates requirements for the transport of children by cargo bikes. For commercial use there is only an information of the German Social Accident Insurance available. Both serve as orientation for manufacturers, retailers and consumers and present shortcomings. The so-called DIN standard 79010, for example, does neither contain any specifications for the safe transport of babies under the age or nine months nor specifications for heavy loads on multi-track cargo bikes with a permissible total weight of more than 300 kilograms, not to mention the obligation to wear a helmet or seatbelt.
Zedler also sees the need for action: In his opinion the standard is a good approach, but some issues were forgotten. A test of the steering post was also missing. According to the expert this is enormously important, because considerable forces are acting over the post on the frame. After all, the DIN standard 79010 is only the smallest common factor on which agreement could be achieved in the sector. Zedler concludes that the bar is set so low that almost everyone can pass it. At present, more cannot be achieved, because there are also manufacturers in the Standards Committee which produce cheap goods. "
Does little light cast a lot of shadow?
Clear words. But Dirk Zedler is the one who should know. He manages a big, internationally operating laboratory with more than 50 testing systems. He and his team are testing cargo bikes of more than 60 companies with their focus on user safety. “We perform the tests for almost all customers clearly beyond the generally recognised standards,” Zedler defends his customers. But it seems that not for all manufacturers safety comes first. The cargo bike market is still a young and dynamic field, the number of suppliers is now in the high double-digit range. Especially in the young start-up scene there are still some black sheep. Zedler is quite clear: “In some companies the test pilot is the cyclist.” The German association for cycle logistics (RLVD) tries to conciliate: “The cargo bike market is only evolving and so does the technology.”
Among the positive examples are certainly companies like Riese und Mueller. The premium supplier and the brake system manufacturer TRP have the first disc brake system in their product range especially designed for cargo bikes and intended to stop a cargo bike safely even with heavy additional load. The equipment includes not only full suspension and depending on the model bull beam and brake light. For a safe transport of the kids the manufacturer from Darmstadt developed a flexible child seat concept with five-point belt system. Ca Go Bike still go a step further and replace the wooden box still usual in the industry with a plastic box including crush-collapsible zone and an optional headrest for kids. According to RLVD, cargo bike suppliers had meanwhile come to understand that cargo bikes were in need of stable components. In times, where cargo bikes are becoming interesting for the masses, this were urgently necessary.
Author: Martin Ehrenfeuchter