The most valuable feature of a car is often its trunk. It’s easier to move yourself through a typical day in a compact community than it is to move your stuff.

For local outings, my car-less family has found that a workable substitute for the trunk is our bike trailer/stroller. Our ten-year-old Oregon-made Burley is so incredibly useful that it deserves a pictorial ode. It’s one of a raft of Northwest inventions that are breaking down barriers to low-car life.

Burley garage 150w

Like any family, we try to shelter our trusty wagon from weather and theft. We keep it in our bicycle garage, which my father-in-law and I built four years ago in our back yard. There’s room inside not only for the Burley but also for our tandem and five regular bikes.

Burley toilet tank sm 112w

We routinely load the Burley with groceries and library books, but its large capacity and smooth-running wheels make it superb for more challenging loads, too. For example, we’ve used it to pick up a replacement toilet tank from a neighborhood plumbing outlet. The shock-absorbing fabric design of the Burley kept the fragile ceramic unit intact.

Burley dog 150w

It was equally successful as a dog carrier last summer, when we took a friend’s pet three miles by bike to a picnic. Little Rodriguez enjoyed the wind on his nose, and the Burley’s straps made a serviceable canine seat belt.

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We brought a dried-out Christmas tree along when we took our tandem to the beach for a bonfire. The tree stayed put through some high-speed hairpin turns on the descent to the shore. (A burn ban meant we had to pedal it back home again.)

Burley camp-out 150w

The Burley’s biggest load of the year was wheeling outdoor gear to a rental truck, when our middle-schoolers went on a school camp-out at Mount St. Helens. The weight of the cargo was over the rated capacity of the trailer, but nothing bent or ripped.

Still, the Burley is limited in both the weight and volume it can handle. It’s inadequate for furniture and many home-improvement and gardening supplies. It’s strained by a large grocery run.

Funk ecotrak 175w

Which has me mooning over “longtails.” Longtail bikes are designed to carry up to 220 pounds of groceries or kids or both (video—scroll down). They’ve been pioneered on this continent by Oregon-based Xtracycle, among others. Coupled with a human-electric hybrid drive like an Oregon-made (are you starting to notice a pattern?) Stoke Monkey, a longtail might extend our car-lessness even farther than it’s gone to date.Stoke Monkey 112w

(The Stoke Monkey, according to its marketers, is for “riders who want to become more completely independent of cars in their daily lives. It’s for people who want to transport their spouse, their child, and their camping gear a dozen hilly miles offroad and back. It’s for picking up a friend with two checked bags at the airport.”)

Bicycle innovators (many of them in Oregon) are creating a whole new level of possibilities—chipping away at the limitations on car-less life. An electric-assisted longtail might even convince me to emulate on Cascadian streets some of the amazing feats of human-powered hauling I’ve seen in places like India (all photos found on flickr):

Like this haystack on twowheels . . .

 Bike and hay load in India_Flickr_Mrs Hilksom

Or this pedaling arborist . . .

Tree load on bike in India_Flickr_yumievriwan

Or this teamster with his longtail tricycle . . .

India biker with heavy load and passenger_Flickr_BriceFR

But for now, we’ll stick to our beloved Burley. It’s the trunk of the car-less.


Photographs of loaded cycles in India courtesy of Flickr users Mrs Hilksom, yumievriwan, and BriceFR under the Creative Commons license.