My name is Manuel Cappel. I was born in West Germany in 1951, and emigrated to Canada in the mid 1950s with my mother. Within months my mother discovered Toronto Island, and captivated by its cottage-like atmosphere and lack of motorized traffic she swore that she would live there.
Within two years we’d bought our own home on the Island, where I’ve basically been ever since. After high school I sojourned back to West Germany for three years, working as a long-distance trucker, and during my undergraduate university years I was resident in British Columbia, but the Island has always called me back.
One of the charms of this place is the total lack of private motor vehicles--the same quality that so appealed to my parents. Historically, cars were unknown on the Island because for years there was no ferry boat capable of carrying them. Today that is no longer the case; Toronto Island is serviced by a vehicular ferry and service trucks and vans are now commonplace, but we residents prefer the old status quo and the notion of allowing private motor vehicles has never been seriously considered.
What that means, of course, is that bicycles have always been the primary mode of Island transportation, next to simply walking. Most Islanders own a bike; many have several and even a cursory glance into many a side yard will reveal several old steeds sliding into various states of decrepitude. Unlike their counterparts on the mainland, the majority of islanders commute to school or work at least part-way by bicycle, in any sort of weather, in every season.
With this awareness of bicycle culture as a backdrop, I have been interested for many years at addressing and rectifying some of the shortcomings that the bike presents when used as ordinary, everyday transit. Your average so-called safety bicycle, based on a frame geometry that is well over a century old, is really good at only one thing: carrying the operator. If you wish to transport all the various sundries of day-to-day life, like books, laptops, groceries, a case of tinned beverages etc. then you must use either a backpack, courier bag or your own pockets. It's true that you can mount a wire carrier on your handlebars but this is usually less than ideal: small items fall through the mesh, the carriers never seem quite big enough and the holding mounts jostle for scarce space on the bars already bristling with brake pulls, gear shifters, lights and bells. In addition, a large front carrier heavily loaded with, say, bags of milk will compromise handling at low speeds or in sharp turns.
One answer would be cargo hauling trailers. Many years ago I purchased a sturdy one, made of plywood over a steel frame, from an Islander neighbour who had quite a little sideline manufacturing them. I liked it so much that I used it virtually everyday for years; when it disappeared due to theft I promptly ordered an even bigger one from the original maker's brother ( who had by then taken over that speciality) This latter trailer was destroyed in a spectacular run-in with a CP locomotive and when I attempted to buy another one from the brothers it became clear that they had lost interest in producing them and that I was on my own.
I solved my dilemma by teaching myself how to weld and made my own bike trailer--a very sturdy ( and heavy) one that I used for a while and then sold to another Islander. I became interested in refining the design of the trailer overall and its various components and have in some seventeen years made over a hundred bicycle trailers, trying to fashion each one lighter, stronger and aesthetically more pleasing than its predecessors.
Some ten years ago I became the proprietor of the Rectory Cafe on the Island, together with some partners. This entailed a lot of shopping for supplies, as we tried to do the fresh food thing and minimize money tied up in expensive stock. Many days I would haul my bike and trailer to the market cityside, but I found out after a while that the demands of my cooks back at the cafe outstripped my carrying capacity. Even two freight trailers, one hitched to the rear of the other, were insufficient in terms of their capacity. At about this time I began to dream of owning a heavy-duty cargo bicycle as well as just trailers; my thinking was that I could load up the bike and still have trailer pulling capacity as well.
At first, I attempted to buy a cargo bike. All that I could find were used, some at the stage of ruined wrecks; and none of the owners would part with them for any amount of money. New ones were impossible to buy; no dealers in Toronto imported any from Europe or the UK, possibly due to custom duties and small scale demand. No commercial Canadian manufacturers could I find and after researching this field for a while I decided to try and make my own.
I had, after all, a welder and a metal shop. My scrap bin was filled with older steel bikes that I could readily cannibalize for parts such as bearings and tubing; and I had seen enough designs and styles to have formulated my own ideas about an 'ideal' geometry.
My first attempt was a variant of the English 'penny-ha'penny' design; i.e. a more-or-less standard upright bike featuring a small front wheel under a long headset tube that provided clearance for a deep, large carrier mounted directly to the frame of the bike. This type of bicycle is a huge improvement over a basket-on-the-handlebars type as the steering is far less twitchy. In my case I fabricated a workable approximation by grafting the front end of a child's bicycle onto a doctored frame of a regular adult model; the end result was a machine that looked somewhat Frankenstein-ian but handled well enough and had nearly a half a cubic metre of storage or carrying capacity. I eventually sold it to a neighbor; a somewhat back-handed testimonial to its utilitarian virtues is evident in the fact that it was promptly stolen! I subsequently built him a similar one (which is still around).