The Hamilton Spectator
Kendra Davidson-Bowen does not expect to do her errands quickly when she’s out on her Dutch cargo bike.
Far too many people stop her to talk about her Bakfiets bike. Kids climb right in the wooden cargo area that features benches and harnesses. The adults take pictures and ask questions.
Davidson-Bowen happens to know all the answers since she and husband Andrew Bowen have opened the area’s newest bike shop called Urkai. It sells some products found nowhere else in Canada.
Urkai in Burlington sells bikes designed and built by small manufacturers in Europe under the brands Pashley, Azor, Bakfiets, Milano and Brompton.
The bikes are built to carry heavy loads — children, pets, groceries. But they are also built for comfort, safety and durability.
“They really are vehicles,” said Bowen, pointing out that bikes form the primary transportation in many European cities. Most cyclists there don’t lock them up and leave them outside all the time.
“They are meant to be used and abused.”
The Bakfiets were patented in 2002. A large wooden cargo area made of marine-grade wood sits in front of the rider and between the front and back wheels. The bike will hold several hundred pounds of cargo and baby car seats can even be bolted in.
A three-wheeled version will hold up to six kids.
The funky Brompton bikes fold up into the size of a small suitcase that can be slipped inside a bag and taken into a restaurant or onto a commuter train.
Bikes like this last a lifetime, the couple says. They also have steep price tags compared to the bike aisle in the local big box. The large cargo bikes run about $3,300, while the fold-up bikes are $1,443. Commuter bikes run about $900.
Urkai (which comes from their son’s Russell’s pronunciation of star) offers monthly financing plans.
The couple fell in love with the bikes very unexpectedly on a trip to Europe while taking sabbaticals from their careers and lives in Vancouver.
“Bikes were everywhere. We saw moms and dads with Bakfiets, unloading their groceries, the kids were napping inside. Everyone seemed so happy,” said Davidson-Bowen.
They returned to live in Montreal but couldn’t stop thinking about the bikes. So Bowen negotiated a deal to be the exclusive dealer in Canada and they sold by organizing meetups online to demo the bikes.
They were delivering a bike to a customer in Hamilton and were immediately taken with Burlington. They opened the store about a month ago.
The couple’s four-year-old son Russell whizzes up and down a green “bike lane” painted down the centre of the Guelph Line store. He’s riding a First Bike, a moulded injection two-wheeler designed in Germany. It’s got a very loud bell Russell is extremely proud of, plus brakes. Bowen shows how durable it is by laying it on the ground and standing on it.
“We only sell products we would use ourselves,” he said.
The couple stresses they can customize a bike for anyone. Customers have included 4-foot-7 women, a 6-foot-7 man and an 80-year-old woman with a bad back whose physiotherapist recommended bike riding.
“It was like seeing a six-year-old’s smile on an 80-year-old’s face,” said Bowen. “She believed she couldn’t bike anymore.”
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