This article was published in 2006, in Newsletter 69.
If you’re reading this, it’s likely that the bicycle is already your preferred mode of personal transport, but what happens when you have children to carry or some bulky shopping? One solution is the Kangaroo Bike, which is actually a trike with a substantial weatherproof compartment between its two front wheels. This can carry up to 100 kg, including two passengers up to 1.5 m tall. Its seats can be folded flat to make more room for cargo, or rearranged to make a single central seat. There are a variety of zipped or studded access flaps at the front, back and sides, and enough space behind the seats to take a reasonable sized load of shopping.
Moving to pedal power for passenger and cargo carrying requires some investment in new skills, old virtues and, in the case of the Kangaroo Bike, the hefty purchase price. Steering two widely spaced front wheels with up to a tenth of a tonne of cargo between them and controlling the pull of all that upfront weight takes some getting used to. Meanwhile, transport planners and some road users have a tenuous grasp of the benefits or requirements of even conventional bikes, so riding anything that is wider, slower or less manoeuvrable requires yet more patience, anticipation and route planning. On the other hand, an unusual bike, especially one that might be carrying children, inspires more conspicuous consideration from many drivers and friendly curiosity from pedestrians. There is also the hidden benefit of extra exercise as pedaling and steering, even when unloaded, requires a lot more effort than a conventional bike.
The steering mechanism is very accurate at low speeds and its performance is consistent with different payloads and fidgety children. Turning extends the width of the trike on the offside, so you need plenty of space. The steering is also remarkably sensitive and therefore difficult to control with one hand, so signalling on curves can be tricky. You also have to fight the drift on cambered surfaces. At higher speeds, the best policy is to steer gradually in a gentle curve. It can take a push to get going, especially because the pedals can’t be spun into position thanks to the back-pedal rear brake. This isn’t usually a problem thanks to the trike’s stability and its low frame, which allows easy remounting. The design also means that your children are in front of you as you emerge from junctions with poor visibility or face oncoming traffic on a narrow street, but they are also more visible to the drivers. You can also keep an eye on the kids and even talk to them through the pod’s rear window, traffic noise permitting.
The Kangaroo Bike is able to squeeze through most of the barriers on cycle routes in Cambridge. The only exceptions are pram arms and the ridiculous staggered barriers on Cheddars Lane. The width of the trike is also an issue on narrower stretches of shared-use path and much of the Cam towpath where two trikes would have difficulty passing each other and most pedestrians, on hearing the bell, will politely step aside to allow just enough space for a conventional bike.
Many of the cycle lanes painted onto the road are simply not wide enough for the Kangaroo Bike, and the need to react early to obstructions such as parked cars means that it is better to sit well out from the kerb. When pushing the trike, uneven surfaces can prove a struggle. It is best to lift it onto the kerb back first and to avoid pedestrian bridges with sharp corners.
The Kangaroo Bike is sturdily built with nice details like an integrated lock, a simple but effective park brake, and plenty of reflective materials around the pod. The benefits of this purpose-built solution include its stability, the size of its payload and its relatively compact design. However, it remains slow and a little cumbersome even when it is not carrying a load. There are also some frustrating omissions. The seat backs don’t lock into position and there are no straps for secure stowage. Front lights can be placed on pegs near the base of the front compartment, which are too low and only suitable for narrow lights, or on a handlebar that sits either on or behind the canopy, well back from the front of the pod. Families with two children or a child with special needs are a major target market, yet there is not enough space for these passengers plus a bulky wheelchair or double pushchair. To be fair, a bigger pod would probably be unmanageable, but unless future versions have a detachable pod that doubles as a pushchair, users will have to carefully plan what happens when they reach their destination.
The Kangaroo Bike is a high quality, if expensive, beast of burden that does a very good job of carrying its cargo from A to B. Its specialisation for this task is both strength and a limitation. Using pedal power to transport passengers and cargo is not without its difficulties, but the fact that it comes as a ready to use and easy to maintain package is one less excuse for not taking the plunge.
Simeon Hill and Valerie Doerrzapf