“Vie Bikes” Looks to Make Cargo Biking Accessible for SF Families

Photo: Vie Bikes

More San Francisco parents are discovering that cargo bikes are the new family minivan. But while it’s increasingly common in SF to spot a parent pedaling their helmeted offspring around, cargo bikes and motorized bikes remain off the radar of most families looking for better ways to get around the city.

In leading bike-friendly cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, cargo bikes are no secret — they’re ubiquitous. Now, utilitarian biking in SF could get a leg up with the impending public launch of Vie Bikes, a company that will let families test out cargo bikes and bikes with electric motors.

Vie is currently testing out its services before the big public reveal next month, providing access to family-friendly bikes without the expense and hassle of having them shipped overseas. Vie staff will also offer consultation and maintenance services to customers.

“We’re trying to knock down barriers,” said Kit Hodge, one of Vie’s three co-founders, who was previously the SF Bicycle Coalition’s deputy director.

Vie will deliver bikes to the customer’s door and offer on-street consultation on how to use the bikes. The bikes can also be rented for trial periods, and the company will accept trade-ins for “when your life changes.”

Photo: Vie Bikes
Photo: Vie Bikes

The consultation services will include everything from advice on how to convince your skeptical partner to an online map of “Family Routes” laying out the network of streets that feel safe and comfortable for most parents and their kids. As the founders noted in a blog post, those streets don’t always match up with the official bike routes:

Maybe you saw that there was a marked bike route on Masonic Avenue or 5th Street and gave it a try, only to pull off as soon as possible because it was extremely uncomfortable. There’s no way that you want to take your kids on those kinds of streets, so how do you know where it actually feels comfortable to bike with your kids?

Vie’s map marks just about every avenue on the west side, while the eastern neighborhoods offer fewer calm, bike-friendly routes.

As far as Hodge knows, Vie may be the first company of its kind, at least in the U.S. The company is currently in a “private beta launch” period, testing out their services with a handful of clients, but plans to launch to the public sometime in April. The company won’t have a storefront, providing services at the customer’s doorstep.

Ultimately, Hodge hopes to spark a cultural shift as more parents’ eyes are opened to a fun, healthier, and more affordable alternative to buckling kids up in the backseat. She said she regularly encounters curious parents — in cars, on bikes, and on foot — with questions about her cargo bike.

The cargo bike market certainly has room to expand in SF. “People don’t even know what to call them,” she said.

  • If I were to redo my early children-rearing years (three kids!), I would get an electrified cargo bike in a heartbeat. Biking is so much more enjoyable (and often quicker) than driving and parking, it would’ve increased all our happiness levels considerably. As it was, I drove thousands and thousands of miles in San Francisco schlepping children around. I didn’t electrify my Xtracycle until my youngest was a preteen and only got a few years with her before riding on the back of mom’s bike was too uncool. These days I’m seeing more parents with children on the backs of their bikes in Noe Valley. I hope this business can expand their number.

    If you’re curious about the pros and cons of electric bikes, this might be helpful:

    http://karenlynnallen.blogspot.com/2013/04/the-pluses-and-minuses-of-electric-bikes.html

  • joechoj

    What a cool service. I look forward to checking them out.

  • AnnieC

    To knock down barriers, this needs to be a safe city to ride in – it’s not. I love the concept and we’re seeing it more in Noe and Bernal but SF isn’t Amsterdam or the Netherlands where high priority and access are given to cyclists. In this town, where is everyone is so checked out on their phones while driving, I would never put my children into a jalopy so they can face traffic head first – no way, no how. Also, the photo of mom riding in stiletto heels while pushing at least 25# of her precious, live cargo in front of her — come ON! This is an accident waiting to happen but luckily this post was made possible by a law firm that represents cyclists in accidents.

  • 94103er

    Sigh. You know car crashes are the 3rd biggest killer of kids, right?

    Also, plenty neighborhoods in this city have pretty safe, quiet enough streets that make sharing w cars not a big deal. Plenty.

    No one’s going very fast in that style of rig so I really wouldn’t worry about that mom’s choice of footwear. You’re far more likely to cause an incident *driving a car* with those kinds of shoes in any case.

  • AnnieC

    I hope this company will work with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. They really, really know their stuff about the streets of SF and bike safety. It looks like Vie is working hard on that aspect. As I said, some neighborhoods are safer than others, but in general – SF is a highly urban environment that is not altogether bike friendly and has an inordinate amount of people who are totally zoned out. I’d love to see more established bike lanes and community awareness of cyclists the way there is in other cities and countries.

    I am thinking too, of my friend’s toddler who was in a similar rig and got hit when a car door unexpectedly opened. He went through a year of recovery and facial reconstruction surgery. This will be an option for some and not others with lots of dependent personal factors!

  • murphstahoe

    When I read you write – “I hope this company will work with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. They really, really know their stuff about the streets of SF and bike safety”

    and note that this is in the article…

    ““We’re trying to knock down barriers,” said Kit Hodge, one of Vie’s three co-founders, who was previously the SF Bicycle Coalition’s deputy director.”

  • AnnieC

    Awesome! I read the article yesterday and didn’t recall the creds.

  • joechoj

    So Vie charges $25 for a 45-min test drive? You’re debating giving them $1500-$2000, for crying out loud. I can understand a credit card deposit, but…. That’s just tacky.

  • joechoj

    See if you can find pictures of ladies’ footwear on bikes in Copenhagen – you might be surprised!

  • Jimbo

    i would consider it child abuse to take any kid on a bike in SF outside of a park. why would a person intentionally endager their child. this is a major city. if you want your kid to bike on the street, living on a cul de sac in a suburb is great for that. or take them to GGP on the weekend. I

  • Kit Hodge

    Hi joechoj,

    Thanks for the feedback. To clarify, our test ride service brings a bike of your choice to your home, on your schedule. The service includes fitting, overview and hands on coaching for you and your children (and other adult riders). It’s not your typical test ride experience.

    We understand that a family bike can be a big investment. For that reason we provide the bikes we sell and lease as full packages (no missing fenders or lights, appropriate brakes and electric assists for SF, etc) at unusually good, discounted prices. We hope that you’ll give our services a try. But in any event, thank you for the feedback, and for your passion for biking!

    Best,
    Kit
    Co-Founder, Vie Bikes

  • joechoj

    Okay, thanks for the clarification. That sounds much more reasonable. We’ll be in touch.

  • @Jimbo – It is far more dangerous to put a child in a car.

  • Dave Moore

    Are there stats to support that statement? I’m thinking of risk of death or serious injury per trip, or mile, or minute comparing different choices specifically in San Francisco. I would be surprised to find out that bicycle travel on city streets is safer. But I’ve been surprised before. I’d like to see some data.

  • gneiss

    Nice trolling Jimbo. In 2011 in the US, more than 650 children 12 years and younger died as occupants in cars and more than 148,000 were injured. Why aren’t you telling parents who drive their kids around in cars that they are intentionally endangering their children?

  • gneiss

    Are there any stats to support Jimbo’s “child abuse” statement?

  • Dave Moore

    There may be a way to drill down more deeply, but at face value it’s not going to give me the answer I was looking for (rate of injury or death per distance or hour) for each mode in San Francisco.

    But it looks like the overall numbers show cycling to be more dangerous than driving nationwide. There were 726 pedalcyclists killed in 2014. There were 23,000 drivers and passengers killed. So that’s a little more than 30 people killed in cars for each cyclist. Certainly in miles cars are driven far more than 30X as much as bikes. But that’s not really fair, as people use cars to go farther. In time also I’m sure it’s way over 30X as much time spent in cars vs bikes overall. Even in the most aggressive mode share in SF (commuting) it’s about 30X and there’s no way the overall US is at the same level as that.

    I’ll look around for the SF specific numbers. I know they’re out there, and I seem to recall they showed something similar.

    Note this is about the risk to the person who chooses to drive / bike, not pedestrians. A person’s decision to drive puts others at far greater risk than if that person cycled, but that’s not really relevant to the argument at hand.

    BTW, motorcycle death rates are crazy high by this same approach. There are only about 4.5X as many car deaths as motorcycle deaths. Think about how many more miles are driven in cars vs motorcycles.

  • murphstahoe

    But it looks like the overall numbers show cycling to be more dangerous than driving nationwide.

    A person’s decision to drive puts others at far greater risk than if that person cycled, but that’s not really relevant to the argument at hand.

    http://simple.wiktionary.org/wiki/dangerous

    “If something is dangerous it causes danger; a dangerous thing could hurt you.”

    Cycling makes you vulnerable. It is not do cause danger – it exposes you to danger. People may disagree as to what extent we should mitigate that, but I stick to that assertion.

  • murphstahoe

    “But that’s not really fair, as people use cars to go farther.”

    The other unfairness of this conclusion is that we spend billions of dollars to mitigate the failings of drivers, and pennies to protect cyclists. In fact often times the measures taken to protect drivers expose cyclists to more danger.

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