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Join Cambridge's first cargo bike carnival this weekend

Clare Cordell and her sons: Joshua Cordell, 6, and Samuel Cordell, 3 Picture - Richard Marsham
Clare Cordell and her sons: Joshua Cordell, 6, and Samuel Cordell, 3 Picture - Richard Marsham

Cambridge will host a Cargo Carnival on Saturday, a celebration of the much-love cargo bike. We spoke to Clare Cordell about her love of the bikes and how it made life as a busy mum just that bit easier.

Clare has even taken a son to A&E in her cargo bike... one of many uses
Clare has even taken a son to A&E in her cargo bike... one of many uses

On Saturday (September 22) there will be a parade of bikes weaving its way through the centre of Cambridge. Nothing unusual about that in this city. The parade of cargo bikes will be part of the Cargo Carnival, which in turn is part of Camcyle’s Cambridge Festival of Cycling.

Why focus on cargo bikes? Well, the answer is simple: they are the bike world’s equivalent of the pick-up truck, coming in all sorts of guises and being used for all sorts of enterprises and journeys. From delivering items and to coping with the school run, to being kitted out as a food and drink kiosks, the cargo bike seems to be only limited by a person’s imagination.

Its practical uses in a city like Cambridge are being explored and exploited, but one of the important ones is as a replacement to the family car. Clare Cordell, 43, has been the proud owner of a cargo bike for about 18 months and in that time it has proved invaluable in ferrying around her three boys – Luke, eight, Joshua, six, and Samuel, four – including a dash to Addenbrooke’s when Joshua broke his arm.

It was a dark, winter’s night when the Cordells started their journey to cargo bike ownership.

“When I had my first child we used to walk everywhere,” said Clare, who has lived in Cambridge since moving to the city as a student in 1993. “He would go in the buggy and we would walk to Histon, Cherry Hinton... everywhere. There was no school and no time pressure and I was on maternity leave, so we just had all day.

“The we had two children, then three and then you start adding in the school hours, with the drop off and pick up, and suddenly you’re limited on time and it was just not practical to walk everywhere anymore.

“It was literally one night when we were coming back from swimming with the three kids – it was winter, it was February, it was cold, it was dark, it was wet and we had a mile-and-a-half to get home. My oldest one said you can put me in the double buggy, put the youngest one on the sling and then you can walk. I said ‘no, it’s not happening’.

“I got home and said to [husband] Mat we have got to do something about this – it’s ridiculous.”

The family had to look at other ways of getting around and bikes were top of the list as Clare’s poor eyesight means she cannot drive.There were trials with a bike and trailer (Clare hated it – you can’t talk to the kids, you feel the drag and it was too heavy) as well as a tricycle (the lack of anything to protect her children against the elements killed off this set up). Having seen plenty of cargo bikes around Cambridge, the Cordells headed for the School Run Centre on Mill Road which rents out the bikes for the weekend.

After a few days Clare, who works as an accountant, was hooked. “We just loved it, it was amazing. I said ‘yes, this is the way definitely to go.’”

They took deliver in March last year of a long, electric assist version of the cargo bike – something large enough to transport the three boys. The trio can site in the front or there is room on the back for Luke, should he want to escape his siblings.

It was not cheap – the electric version sells for more than £3,000, but the Cordells “consider it a cheap car rather than an expensive bike”.

It has been used pretty much every day since, with Clare clocking up about 4,500 miles.

“We go all over. We went to St Ives down the busway recently which was great,” she said. “It has given us absolute freedom that we didn’t have before. We can get from A to B and we know how long it’s going to take – even in a car you don’t really know how long it will take. With the bike we just stick the children in and you know you’re going to be able to get there. The speed is also brilliant compared with walking or getting the bus.”

One downside can be parking.

“Parking in some areas is not brilliant,” Clare explained. “You can usually find somewhere but it’s not exactly what you would want it to be, especially in town.”

However, as Clare says, her boys love it, it has carried everything from a vacuum cleaner and child’s bike to the Christmas shopping, its resell values are good, it has a rain cover and can park closer to destinations than a car. And it doesn’t get stuck in traffic.

The cargo bike is also a firm favourite with city businesses with both local and national firms turning to pedal power. Homebase has a cargo bike that customers can borrow to transport their shopping, and there are a few small businesses using the bikes to take their coffee and snacks on the road (or should that be cycle path?).

Steve Puleston has been running his carpentry and handyman business, Bespoke (bespoke cambridge.com), by bike for more than three years now.

“It has been a cycle-based business from conception,” he said. “I was keen to make the business as environmentally friendly as possible. I have always loved cycling and woodwork and was keen to combine the two passions.”

Steve has a Pashley 33 classic cargo tricycle which he uses for the bulk of his work “although a bit of forward planning is needed to take the relevant tools for the task”.

For smaller jobs, Steve has a bike and trailer.

“Cambridge is perfectly set up for a bicycle-based business with very few hills,” Steve said. “Once you have a good knowledge of the cycle paths and roads, it allows you to cut through or avoid traffic completely, decreasing travelling time. I have also found that there is a huge support network for cyclists within the city.

“Other advantages are running and start-up costs, access and parking – for example I have taken on narrow boat work on the River Cam and the bikes have allowed easy access up the tow path to the client’s front door.

“It can be really financially trying within the first few years of setting up a business. Using bikes has made the business more financially viable as there are no costly parking fees, fuel or tax bills.”

He added: “I’ve never looked back on my decision. The financial, environmental and health benefits outweigh any adverse weather conditions I’ve encountered... you just need to invest in a good pair of waterproofs.”

The Cargo Carnival, Saturday, September 22, at Lammas Land, 11am-2pm. A parade of cargo bikes will go through the city centre to Lammas Land where there will be a small festival of cargo traders and specialists. Sponsored by Outspoken, Power to the Pedal and Greater Cambridge Partnership.

Throughout the festival, which is supported by the Cambridge Independent, Camcycle is carrying out a survey of cyclists. Take part at cambridgefestivalofcycling.org.

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