It was perhaps the first time in my life I’d been in control of a vehicle, rather than a passenger, and truly experienced the frustration many drivers caught in a traffic jam must feel. I was on Fulham Palace Road, stuck in a queue of traffic heading towards Putney Bridge, and for once I had no quick or easy way to get round it.
Of course, I’d encountered gridlock as a car or bus passenger countless times before. But this time felt different, because I was in charge of a vehicle and had no option but to wait for the traffic ahead of me to start moving.
The origins of my rare participation in a traffic jam came a few days earlier when I mentioned to a friend that I had a large chest of drawers in my storage unit I wanted to sell.
Quite how our conversation had strayed from usual subjects such as music, cycling, football and generally putting the world to rights, and onto bedroom furniture, is unclear.
But by happy coincidence, he was looking for exactly such an item, and we quickly agreed the price.
The only problem? How to get it halfway across London from the place I had it stored to his house. We both have plenty of friends, but neither of us could think of one with a car or van who might be free to help out.
Using commercial services to move it was out of the question too, since even if we split the cost it would tip the price way beyond what he was willing to pay, and well below what I was willing to accept.
Then the answer came to me literally in a flash as a rider from the online grocery delivery hub down the road went by – if I could get hold of a cargo bike, I could transport the chest of drawers under my own steam.
Some London boroughs do now have a fleet of such bikes that residents can book for occasions such as this, though where I am there is a waiting list, and while there are also businesses that hire them out, I couldn’t find one nearby.
While I was investigating those options I also asked on Twitter – or X, as we have to call it nowadays – whether any friends living on this side of London had one I could borrow for half a day.
The following lunchtime I picked up an Urban Arrow cargo bike from my friend Tim Lennon of Richmond Cycling Campaign, and after a quick spin round the block to familiarise myself with the handling, controls and gears, it was back to Acton to load up.
Given its size, it made sense that the chest of drawers was the very first thing I put into my storage unit when I moved stuff in last year. Which now meant I had to take everything else out to access them, then restack it all back, which took a chunk of time.
Next, I needed to get them onto the bike itself, achieved with the aid of a chair and a decent idea of how gravity works, before securing the load with a number of strategically placed bungee straps, some with carabineers rather than hooks for extra peace of mind.
Then came possibly the most sketchy part – negotiating the storage facility’s narrow corridors and their 90-degree angles to reach the goods lift to get me to the ground floor.
Now, I’ve ridden cargo bikes before, indeed I’d ridden this one over from Richmond to Acton just an hour or so beforehand, but what I’d never done was ride one with a bloody great big bit of furniture on board.
So as I set out for Stockwell, I did wonder what the hell I’d let myself in for – indeed, whether I’d make it at all. But from the first pedal stroke – the welcome e-assist from the Bosch motor kicking in immediately – it didn’t take long for my worries to subside.
The load was very well-secured – at no point did I have to stop and readjust the straps – and equally well-balanced, with no problems with the various potholes, speed humps and occasional cobbles I would encounter en route, and it never felt like I was having to make a massive effort to move forward.
What I hadn’t quite thought through, however, was that since I was now on something that took up around the same roadspace as a small car from the Sixties or Seventies, the quiet route I’d planned was out of the question.
This became apparent when, shortly after coming off Cycleway 9 at Hammersmith, I encountered a very solid, and very impassable, modal filter for a decades-old low traffic neighbourhood near the Thames in Fulham.
Thinking ahead to all the other bollards, tight turns and narrow paths that lay ahead on my usual route towards my destination, I clearly needed a rethink. Fulham Palace Road, over Putney Bridge, through Wandsworth to Clapham Junction then on to Stockwell on the A3 it was then.
Usually these are the kinds of roads I’d avoid, or at least the sections without bus lanes, but today there was no chance of drivers not seeing me, and the reaction was overwhelmingly positive one, with surprised – and sometimes sympathetic – looks quickly turning to smiles.
Indeed, I don’t think I’ve ever had so much attention on a bike, whether from drivers, pedestrians or fellow cyclists, and that includes the time my pup was in the basket dressed in a festive jumper under the Regent Street lights on Christmas Eve.
Luckily, I had plenty of time in hand since my friend was out for the afternoon, and while I’d expected to have a bit of a wait outside his house, those traffic jams, due to a combination of roadworks and the southwest London school run, meant I rolled up at the exact same time he arrived – perfect timing to unload, then go for a well-deserved beer before heading back.
I’ve done hundreds of 10 mile-plus bike rides to various bits of London over the years, but this is definitely among the most memorable – and one that highlights how e-cargo bikes provide a viable alternative to a van for many trips.
Not that I’m planning on shifting any major kitchen electrical appliances any time soon, but contrary to the “What if you have to transport a fridge freezer?” mob on social media, I’m pretty confident now that I could handle that, too.
Postscript: Since writing the above, I’ve taken on a job delivering groceries by cargo bike across west London, covering 40 miles or more on a seven-hour shift in all kinds of weather. I love it.
The only fridge freezer I’ve encountered so far on my travels, however, is one that was abandoned in a street near Gunnersbury Park that I use when heading towards Ealing, and which was taken away after several days by the council.
I’d like to think they used a cargo bike to take it to the tip.
Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.