A few weeks back we had the opportunity to stop for a chat with Diego Brunello the designer behind the Alpacargo longtail cargo bike from his Cargobike Works in Italy. While mostly when we think about cargo bikes, it is about heavy & somewhat clunky solutions that really only makes sense in an uber bike friendly city where you can safely lock it outside or in a garage. But Alpacargo is a bit of a different cargo bike. By keeping the bike itself light and agile with full-sized wheels it is able to navigate even car-focused traffic – and maybe as important – the bike is just as easy to maneuver and store in the tight confines of the apartments, stairwells, and elevators that most urban cyclists actually live with…
The Alpacargo bike doesn’t look so unique at first glance. From the front it shares essentially the same oversized lightweight aluminum main triangle, disc brake carbon fork, and wide flat bar you’ll find on many of the current crop of fitness and modern commuting bikes. And from the back its platform over the rear wheel isn’t so strange of a configuration from even the completely different concept Big Fat Dummy we just saw last week.
But by combining a really light (for a cargo bike) full aluminum frame and integral base rack with the quick handling of the 700c front end, you get a bike that feels much quicker moving through the city, loaded down or not. The bike’s wheelbase is kept relatively in check at 1293mm/51″, and the smaller 20″ rear wheel allows for a stable rear platform that can handle most cargo loads without affecting handling too much. The compact & light design, and the flat bar commuter fit also does a good job of tracking well when loaded.
I was able to spend a little time on it, riding with a sizable load on the back (~20kg/44lb) through tight spaces, and even at low speed it maneuvered well with the wide bar. Having the cargo out of sight meant I could kind of ignore it and since the weight is centered over the rear wheel and not so long, it really has almost no impact on steering or overall handling until you lean the bike over at a steeper angle. I have to say when compared to most small front wheel porteur style bikes, other longtails, or the even longer box bikes, I was surprised how much easier it was to manage the Alpacargo.
Sure it isn’t going to replace the giant box Bullits for the super heavy lifting, but for day-to-day hauling groceries or kids (Alpacargo had a bike fitted with a pair of kid seats, one in front of the other on the back of one bike, but was still in the process of finalizing the official safety certificates when we last spoke) it could be a more manageable solution for many urban dwellers.
I was especially drawn in by the vertical storage option, the stability, and the ease of carrying the bike (say up a set of stairs.) The layout of the wide rack frame just above the rear wheel means that you can very easily tip the bike up on its tail to take up less floor space, being very stable standing in this position. The bike also gets a quick, easy-to-use center stand that means you never really have to lean the bike over when you stop, keeping your heavy load easy to manage. Just step off, push the stand down and as you roll forward it sits up on the stable base.
The complete bike including the base frame claims a weight of just 15kg/33lb with a Shimano Deore build. To be honest the blue bike in the photos here felt even lighter. While weight and a place to store it at home has always been the biggest reason that I’ve never seriously considered owning a cargo bike, the Alpacargo has me thinking again about riding one bike to drop my small kids off at school before rolling to our Prague office. I’d just have to clear out a corner to it to stand up in.
The Alpacargo frame & fork sells for 1250€ +VAT (~22% more for sale from Italy to EU buyers). Its 62 x 54cm (24 x 21″) platform is rated to haul up to 100kg/220lb. A complete bike spec’d out similar to the blue bike with a Deore drivetrain will run 1800€ +VAT. The bike is available now all over Europe, and parent company Cargobike Works is working on certifying the fork to expand sales into the US in 2017.
The Alpacargo we rode was also fitted with a nice light, expandable luggage bag custom made for the bike by REDO Upcycling. That bright yellow carry-all can be bought for another 100€ +VAT when you purchase a frame or complete bike.
Besides its hauling capacity, the real benefit of the Alpacargo bike seems to be the lightweight and quick handling that make it a breeze to both get around the city or even the hallways of buildings once you pull the load off.