Ready to Ride

In a congested city starved for parking space, a bike is often the most convenient way to haul a load short distances. Witness bike commuter and chef Peter Hoffman of Savoy and Back Forty, who regularly wends his way from New York City’s SoHo neighborhood with a whole pig carcass strapped to his handlebars en route to the Chinatown butcher. But cyclists can handle longer commutes. Dana Vlcek pedals a 15-mile round trip along the Hudson River bikeway from Tribeca to Columbia University, where he works at the School of Engineering & Applied Science.

And shorter bike trips may pay the biggest green dividends. Gary Gardner, senior researcher for the Worldwatch Institute, who rides his bike every day, says, “First, when you take a car, it emits more pollutants in the first mile or so. Second, in the U.S., a very high proportion of the trips we make are three miles or less, so we’re ideally suited for cycling.”

Americans are responding. In the first quarter of 2009, 2.6 million bikes were sold in the U.S., compared to 2.5 million cars, according to Dennis Markatos, the founder of Sustainable Energy Trans-ition—the first time that bikes outsold motor vehicles.

Fold “n” Go

Foldable SwissBike TX. © SwissBike

For people who commute longer distances and would like to combine public transportation or driving with biking, a folding model makes sense. “You can drive partway with the bike in the car, park in a convenient free place, and ride the rest of the way,” says Dave Widing, part of Montague Bikes’ communications office, who commutes by bike nearly every day.

Most folding bikes are lighter weight, small-wheel versions such as the popular Dahon, which is made with an aluminum or steel frame and starts at $379 for the Eco3 model. Montague makes a full-size model, the SwissBike TX. Why choose a full-size foldable over a small one? In a word, standardization, says Widing. The parts are interchangeable with any other full-size bike, and you can add on any standard accessories, such as trailers and racks.” The SwissBike’s aircraft aluminum frame is light, strong and salt-water resistant, Widing says, and, at $699, competitively priced.

Another advantage of foldable bikes: While many cities ban bikes on subways during rush hour, some will allow a folded bike that’s tucked into its own carry bag.

Kid-and-Cargo Ready

When it comes to family bikes for carting kids, playthings and groceries, there are a variety of cool and clever models. The Bucket Bike by Madsen was inspired by the traditional container bicycles of the Netherlands, says founder and owner Jared Madsen, who used to live there. “Our first prototype had a wheelbarrow bucket on the front, just like in Holland, but their bike paths are perfectly smooth, with no curbs; so we swapped things around and put the cart on back for better maneuverability,” Madsen says. The rigid, low-density polyurethane bucket’s engineering is “just like a kayak”s, made to pop back into its original shape if hit,” Madsen notes, and the frame is high-tensile steel, the most widely recycled metal. Price: $1,300 with either a bucket or a rack.

Also aimed at the tandem parent and tot, the ingenious, three-in-one Zigo Leader is a bike plus front Child Carrier Pod that converts to either a stand-alone bike or a jogging stroller, starting at $1,349. For a basic cargo utility bike, check out the Xtracycle with an extended, low-rider frame and a bigger back wheel. The Xtracycle can be outfitted with a LongTail accessory kit, with capacious totebag holders, and its accessory trailers let you pull surfboards, ladders, musical instruments, whatever, with panache; price: $939 for the base model.

Of course, the greenest choice is to not buy a new bike at all. Many cities and colleges have bike-sharing programs. Old bikes can be bought for cheap from bike and thrift shops and annual city traffic department auctions; just make sure to get them tuned and safety checked, including tires.