The local movers arrived at Barbara Ross’s apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan one Friday last month, grabbing bags of clothes and shoes, framed pictures and boxes of CDs. They carried the items downstairs and loaded them onto four long-framed cargo bicycles parked on Ridge Street.
As the number of objects atop the slender frames increased, the bikes brought to mind a train of pack mules preparing for a frontier crossing. Cargo, including a seven-foot-tall wood bookshelf, was cinched with thick canvas straps and crisscrossing bungee cords. Passers-by gazed curiously as the movers helped fit oddly shaped items onto a bike’s cargo platform.
When moving from one apartment to another, people in New York City have paid moving companies, loaded packed possessions into cars or rented vans, or even transported boxes and pieces of furniture on the subway.
Ms. Ross, 52, a video training manager who had just bought a co-op apartment near Union Square, hired members of the Cargo Bike Collective, a loose-knit group of people who own and ride the extra-long bikes, which they use for both paying jobs and volunteer projects.
Ms. Ross, a longtime bicycling advocate who has joined the collective, already knew many of its members. She paid the four who showed up a discounted price of $400 for their help in moving her possessions. The regular price would have been $600, or $150 per hour for a group of four people doing four hours of moving, according to Joe Sharkey, a founding member of the collective.
“I have always been a big supporter of bicycles over cars,” Ms. Ross said. “So if I could find a way to move my apartment using cargo bikes instead of a moving truck, of course I was going to do it.”
The members of the collective transport various objects regularly, Mr. Sharkey said, but they handle apartment moves only about a half-dozen times a year.
While loading the bikes outside Ms. Ross’s home, Corey Farach, 29, gave a short description of each. There were two Danish-designed bikes: a white Bullit nicknamed Kon-Tiki that featured a cargo platform between its handlebars and front wheel, and a black Omnium with a platform above its front wheel. There was also an orange Freighty Cat towing a Surly trailer, and a mint-green Birota that had been enlisted for the occasion.
Members of the collective said that over the years they had used cargo bikes to carry boxes of macaroons, stacks of newspapers, loads of mulch and, once, a cat on its way to Kennedy International Airport. Ryan Backer, 27, said that in 2013 he had transported a five-foot fully stocked freezer.
The collective was founded in 2012 by a group of people who had used cargo bikes for such diverse purposes as hauling construction equipment and taking young children to school. According to its Facebook page, the group aims to achieve “a radical reduction of New York City’s dependency on automobiles.”
Mr. Sharkey, 34, said the collective functioned as a “fraternal beneficiary society,” and that members were discussing how to form new chapters and provide health insurance to themselves and other members of the bicycling community, including mechanics, couriers and frame fabricators. He said the group also helped people learn how to ride cargo bikes, which can be tricky because of their length and their weight when fully loaded.
“It’s all about balance and momentum,” he said. “But it helps to be fearless.”
On Ms. Ross’s moving day, the cargo bikes took off at a stately pace, first heading west on Rivington Street, then north on Avenue A and across 15th Street toward her new home. She accompanied them, riding a Worksman tricycle that held items in a wire basket between the two rear wheels.
The ride went smoothly, though a bus loomed suddenly at one point behind the bikes like a tall barge moving close to a line of tugboats. At another point, a cargo bike had to swerve to avoid a pedestrian who practiced virtual yoga who emerged, head down, from between two parked cars.
The local movers members unloaded their bikes outside the building on 15th Street and carried the items upstairs. Then after a short break to drink cans of coconut juice and blow on frozen fingers, they returned to the Lower East Side to start a second run.
“I used to drive a Zamboni,” said Justin Smith, 29, on the return trip up Avenue A, while weighed down with a mirror and a glass desktop, both wrapped in towels, and an aluminum step ladder, among other items. He said the experience on the ice rinks had probably helped prepare him for the task of navigating a loaded cargo bike through the crowded streets of Manhattan.
“In both cases all the weight is in front of you,” he said. “And in both cases you have to be precise with your steering.”