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The latest in green transportation: Load up the two-wheeler!

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Don Lubach and his daughter, Jane, ride around Santa Barbara on the family's primary vehicle, a cargo bike.

The right bicycle can carry groceries, surfboards, children or even--with a trailer hitched to the back--a full-sized washer and dryer. When it comes to cargo bikes, Kipchoge Spencer sees it this way: “I can take my guitar, and my girlfriend.”

With environmentally conscious consumers becoming increasingly averse to wasting gasoline, more people have been turning to cargo bikes. After all, as the Union of Concerned Scientists has stated, “The vehicle you drive has the single largest impact on climate change of any action you take.”

Spencer is a co-founder of Xtracycle, a company in Northern California that sells bicycles outfitted with a long platform over the back wheel and saddlebags on either side of it. And while a form of cargo bike has been around as long as the bicycle itself, earlier models tended to be specialty vehicles geared toward the professional courier. Today, cargo bikes are for everyone.

“I’ve got parents who buy them to carry their kids,” said Jan VanderTuin, the director of the Center for Appropriate Transport in Eugene, Ore. “They are trying to get away from the minivan. You become a cargo bike mom.”

VanderTuin’s center manufactures cargo bikes, offers a delivery service and runs a youth program. Local teens who come to the center learn how to build and repair cargo bikes and produce a podcast, in which they do man-on-the-street interviews about the cost of gas and offer tips for safe cycling in cities.

Vic Gedris, a computer programmer in Toronto, said he and his friends were always interested in moving large objects and in seeing what could be accomplished with human power. Gedris, 30, is a member of the Human Powered Vehicle Operators of Ottawa, a group that strives to call attention to just how much can be accomplished with a bike. When one member had to move out of a one-bedroom apartment to another three miles away, they decided to go for it: a bike move.

“The loads can look pretty ridiculous,” Gedris said, describing the contents of an entire household being pulled down the street atop a cargo trailer. “But maybe if you see people moving house it’ll click, ‘I can ride to the store and buy my groceries.’”

While Gedris said he was into the “environmental edge” of a bike move, he had other reasons for going cargo. “There is also a little bit of showing off,” he said. “When people see a trike with a canoe on top, pulling a sofa down the street they stop and stare. It can be good for the ego.”

Andy Opel, a communications professor at Florida State University, says he likes to be car free because he can watch the seasons change. Opel rides a cargo bike to work and made a short film, “Cargo Bike,” in which a cargo bike comes to life and confronts commuters like a rude man driving an H2 Hummer.

In the film, which screened at a theater near FSU, the cargo bike doesn’t harm its prey, it just changes their polluting ways. At the end of the film all of the “victims” appear at a bike rally, carrying signs and chanting, “Two wheels good, four wheels bad” and “Out of your cars and onto our bikes.”

Alan Wayne Scott, 57, a bike messenger in Toronto, is also an important figure in the cargo bike movement. After realizing that as a bike messenger he was eating three times as much as he used to, he wanted to deduct food costs from his taxes the way an automobile driver deducts the cost of gas. Scott fought for many years in the Canadian courts until, in the late 1990s, the Canadian government agreed to allow the deductions.

“Both my grandfathers were ministers, and the idea that you should leave the world a better place than when you found it stuck with me,” Scott said. “I’ve tried to leave it not in worse shape at least.”

E-mail: mrk2105@columbia.edu