What Is a Cargo Bike?
Cargo bikes are sturdy bikes built to carry heavy loads and often two or more people. The bikes vary in sizes and shapes, may have two or three wheels, and commonly have a longer wheelbase than a standard bicycle, with space for hauling cargo either in the front or back. Electric cargo bikes are equipped with pedal assists to make carrying big loads more comfortable and climbing hills easier. You can accessorize cargo bikes to fit your specific carrying needs, including adding child bike seats, panniers, boxes, rain covers, footrests or even racks to hold a surfboard or paddle board.
Why get a cargo bike? Cargo bikes allow you to do all the things you would do on a bike, but its sturdiness means you can haul more stuff without throwing everything and everyone off balance. The beefiest bikes have a cargo capacity of up to a few hundred pounds. (Check bike specifications for the maximum carrying capacity.) Families use them to haul kids (and all their stuff) to school, parks and other places in the neighborhood; they’re versatile because you can carry a smaller child and an older one at the same time. Cyclists are choosing them as an easy, environmentally fun way to zip around town without the hassle of finding parking.
Different Types of Cargo Bikes
There are three popular types of cargo bikes:
Longtail bikes: These let you carry children and other cargo on an extended rear rack that sits over the back wheel. They’re popular with families who have more than one child. Kids can ride in child seats that are mounted on that rack or sit on a bench on the rear rack.
Mid-tail bikes: These compact utility bikes are shorter than longtails. Some are about the same length of a standard bike but with better hauling capacity. They’re easier to store, transport and maneuver; some fold up. They may not be able to handle multiple kids so may not be as versatile for larger families.
Front-loading cargo bikes (sometimes called bakfiets, Dutch for “box bike”) let you carry your cargo in a box or container that sits low in the space between the handlebars and the front wheel. Families enjoy these bikes because they can carry kids and pets in the front where they can keep an eye on them, and conversations tend to be easier. Riding them takes some practice, but they’re surprisingly easy to maneuver.
Cargo Bikes: Electric Assist or Not?
The addition of electric assists has made cargo bikes more practical and approachable for many cyclists, especially those pedaling in hilly areas or those who aren’t accustomed to taking on heavy loads. On the plus side, electric cargo bikes allow cyclists to pedal farther and faster. Some cyclists find they ride more often because of it, and that it becomes just as easy to hop on an e-cargo bike than jumping into a car for a quick trip around town. Parents are also finding it easier and less of a hassle to ride an electric cargo bike than to tow kids in a trailer or carry them in a bike seat.
The downside of e-bikes is that they’re pricey. Some are nearly twice as expensive as a standard cargo bike, ranging from $2,000 to $5,000. They’re also heavier, so carrying them up a flight of stairs, fitting them on buses or transporting them on a vehicle can be challenging.
Depending on where you live, you may need a license for an e-bike, and the class you choose will affect where you’re able to ride. In the U.S., most e-bikes are categorized into three classes—1, 2 and 3—based on their top assisted speed and whether they use a throttle. People for Bikes, an advocacy group for cycling, keeps a state-by-state e-bike guide that describes e-bike regulations around the country. To learn more about e-bikes, read Intro to Electric Bikes.
Tips on Riding a Cargo Bike
While riding a cargo bike may feel different at first, most people pick it up pretty quickly after a few rides out. Here are some general tips as you ride:
For more information, read our series on Bike Maintenance Basics.
Cargo Bikes for Hauling Kids or Other Passengers
Families are embracing cargo bikes as a new fun way to explore on two wheels with multiple children. The bikes are sturdy enough to haul more than one child at a time; some can handle multiple kids. Kids can be carried in a number of ways, depending on the bike: Older kids can sit on a bench or shelf on a rear rack, in a front bucket, box or container; younger ones should be strapped into a bike seat.
Reference: REI Co-op