The Trunk of the Car(less)

Pictures of human-powered hauling.
This post is 26 in the series: The Year of Living Car-lessly Experiment


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.




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.  

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  1. jeffy says:

    Glad to see your mention of Xtracycle, Alan.I love mine and would have a hard time being car-free without it. It’s amazing how much you can carry while still having a bike that handles like a bike. The downside is that the longtail won’t fit on the standard bus bike racks.Here’s a gallery of pictures of loads I’ve carried with my xtracycle-equipped bike.BTW, the Xtracycle company is in the Sierra Nevada foothills in California.

  2. Alan Durning says:

    Jeffy,Your photo gallery is incredible! Among other things, it shows me that you’re a better photographer than I am.Some of your shots were incredible in the literal sense, too. As in, are you serious that you carried an extension ladder? Those huge lopsided loads didn’t topple you over? Didn’t the lumber interfere with pedaling?And how did you get the bike to stand upright, fully loaded, to be photographed?Everyone—you must go look at Jeffy’s slideshow.

  3. Ron Sporseen says:

    I’m with Alan… Jeffy’s slide show is incredible. I’ll stick with my trailer for now, but the xtracycle is cool!

  4. jeffy says:

    Wow, thanks.One of the accessories for the Xtracycle is what they call a “long loader” which lets you carry long stuff at an angle so that there’s clearance for pedaling. You can see it in some of my lumber pictures. It also helps keep the weight of long stuff more closely centered on the bike. Honestly, my loads are pretty minor compared to some of the ones in the galleries on the Xtracycle site.As for taking the pictures with loads, some (like the ladder) I just used the kick stand, the rest are leaning against some convenient thing.Feel free to email me if you’re going to be in Issaquah, I’d be happy to offer a test ride.But I don’t want to draw attention away from what the Durnings have done with their Burley! You’ve got some pretty respectable loads there yourself. And being able to take the trailer off and even use it as a cart are pretty nice benefits.

  5. Alan Durning says:

    Jeffy,And how do you manage to stay upright with loads that are on just one side of the Xtracycle?

  6. Anonymous says:

    hi, for lumber and heavier loads you might consider a Bikes at Work trailer. We’ve had one for five years and love it. For lots more information please read the article I wrote about the trailer for the Bicycle Fixation web– patrick

  7. jeffy says:

    Alan,Since the Xtracycle carries loads so low, center of gravity isn’t affected that much. Of course I’m a 200 pound guy. For someone smaller it might be more of an issue, but for me I’ve never felt in danger of tipping over. With offset loads my only worry has been that it’s putting more stress than necessary on the bike. If I were going to carry more than this I’d want to buy another long-loader/wide-loader set and balance the load on both sides.Here are a couple other northwest xtracycle links: Olympia photographer Derek Pearson has beautiful photos of his fleet of Xtracycle-equipped bikes.Aaron’s Bike Repair in West Seattle is the main place to get one in the Seattle area. That page even has a picture of an xtracycle towing a Burley! Talk about long tail!

  8. Alan Durning says:

    Patrick,The Bicycles at Work trailers are intriguing. I’ve seen one or two on Northwest roads before. Thanks for the article link.The photos of people hauling mattresses and furniture put a smile on my face—sort of like how I felt as a child when my mom or dad read me Dr. Seuss’s book about “and to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street.”These are exciting times to be a bicyclist. Jeffy,Thanks for the additional info and for the photo links for D. Pearson and Aaron’s. I especially enjoyed the payload pictures on Aaron’s.

  9. Alan Durning says:

    Patrick,MORE: The sequence on moving a refrigerator is especially amazing, as are the various house moves documented.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Alan, I’m glad you enjoyed the links. We use our trailer a little less now that we live in a neighborhood with an amazingly rich walkshed. But today, for example, we’re going to pick up two cases of copier paper for our home office—a job uniquely suited to a low-COG trailer with 300-lb capacity. Regarding household moves by bicycle: these are a growing phenomenon here in Portland and apparently elsewhere. A brief search on Flickr turned these photos up. Also, The Portland bicycle organization Shift 2 Bikes hosts a Move By Bike calendar on their web site, to help coordinate these co-operative efforts. by the way, thanks for enabling html in these comments– it’s very useful! cheersPatrick

  11. MichelleV.P. says:

    Great photos, everybody!Now I want a Burley cart, and a bike trailer, and a longtail! All of them! I can’t decide!Also, I noticed that Bikes at Work has tips for living carfree. Maybe you could get them to link to your Car-free Experiment, Alan, since you’ve garnered lots of useful tips, too, over the course of a year. (And to think that they found it on Sightline.):-)Cheers,Michelle

  12. Alan Durning says:

  13. Arie v. says:

    Hey Alan, that’s Hiratsuka! I spent a year teaching English near there.Unfortunately they banned the boards from some of the train lines in the mid 90’s. I visited a friend there in June and walked the beach, the cyclists with the board carriers amounted to a good portion of the surfers there. Parking rates are roughly akin to downtown Seattle even down the beach away from the city.

  14. MichelleV.P. says:

    That is a great photo of the cycling surfboarder, especially with all those aquatic blues that are even on the bikepath!And in case my blogospheric (re)translation of Dr. Seuss came out sounding a bit like green eggs and ham salad, well, of course I was speaking figuratively of Sightline and not literally :-)

  15. Kathryn says:

    Father,Our lack of car is really getting a lot of unwanted attention. Please purchase a car immediately.jk jk.The attention is not unwanted Kathryn

  16. Bike Hugger says:

    Hey, check what we’re doing with Bike Hugger Bettie, a sport utility bike. I just posted a long-term update. We use Bettie to reduce car trips—it’s a cargo bike for us.

  17. Ginny says:

    I’m wondering what’s come of the experiment since late March. We’re a family of three (2 grown-ups, 1 toddler) in Central Seattle that has just made the 1 year car free mark. We haul the kid and groceries in a Burley trailer and my husband often uses an xtracycle. Things he’s carried on the xtracycle include: another bike, Christmas tree, desk, and me with a sprained ankle (good thing the hospital is close). Some pictures of these exploits are at our website: .

  18. Alan Durning says:

    Thanks for asking, Ginny, and for the link.And congratulations on your car-less anniversary. (Cue applause!)Nothing terribly interesting to report on our car-less life. As my kids say, “it’s just not that big a deal.” I’m mostly exploring the bicycling aspects of carlessness this spring in our new Bicycle Neglect series. (In a way, this blog post got me started on the bike theme.)But we’re still thoroughly car-less. In fact, we’re more car-less than ever, because the half-ton pickup my son Gary was borrowing for a while has now gone back to its owner.

  19. Alan Durning says:

    I just happened upon this great little video of moving houses by bike, on Watch it here. There’s something utterly impractical and completely charming about bike moves.

  20. Alan Durning says:

    The NY Times covers Oregon’s emerging bicycle industry <a href=''>here.

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