January 05, 2020
Oh hey, thanks for visiting! I'm Arleigh aka Bike Shop Girl and that's me with one of my kids. We are standing in front of my bike shop in Colorado a few days after signing the lease in July 2018. I opened Bike Shop Girl Family Cyclery after working in the bike industry most of my life but not finding a wonderful local bike shop that catered to families and cargo bikes. So I opened it.
My passion in life is helping your family leave the car at home. After being a lifelong cyclist to being stuck in my car driving my kids around, the cargo bike saved my sanity and is helping my family connect to their community outside of a car.
I hope this article helps you in your cargo bike journey and breaks down some of the basics of cargo bike types, questions you should ask yourself, and what to expect as you start testing riding bikes. This is a lengthy article but it is arranged in the fashion as if you were visiting my bike shop for the first time to learn about cargo bikes!
Technically any bike can carry cargo, from you to perhaps some additional goods but a cargo bike is designed around carrying more. Personally, I think it should be able to carry the primary rider and at LEAST 120 pounds of cargo. Other people's opinions may vary.
Here are the main types of cargo bikes you'll find in the United States listed by popularity.
Take a normal bike (68") and extend the rear end by 12-16" and you have a longtail cargo bike. Most of these can fit 3 children, some only 2. Your main storage is your bags which may be under kids legs or a front basket/rack. Some of the most popular longtail cargo bikes available are Xtracycle (the originator of the longtail cargo bike), Yuba, and Surly. Longtails are available in a few different wheel size configurations including 26" wheels front and back, 24" wheels front and back, 26" wheel in the front and 20" wheel in the back. (Each of these has pros and cons. I'll write another article and link it here when it is live.) This style of bike was initially developed by Ross Evans of Xtracycle.
Longtail Cargo Bike Pros
Longtail Cargo Bike Cons
Not too big, not too small - a midtail cargo bike is a bit like Goldilock's porridge. Back in 2018, I wrote an article about the Rise of the Midtail Cargo Bike. I claimed then that midtail cargo bike will fit into more people's lives, and I believe this has been proven true. You have one or maybe two kids but need to be able to transport the bike or maybe you don't want a huge Cadillac longtail on the days you don't have the kids - enter the Midtail Cargo Bike.
I believe (tell me if I am wrong) that Kona MinUTE or Work Cycles FR8 were some of the original shorter wheelbase bikes designed to carry cargo. Since then a lot of the main cargo bike players have entered the market and I would say the most popular as of writing this would be the Tern GSD, Yuba Boda Boda, and the Xtracycle RFA.
For public feedback, does anyone make a good midtail cargo bike with an amazing stock kickstand?
Midtail Cargo Bike Pros
Midtail Cargo Bike Cons
I stumbled upon bakfiets (which means "box bike" in Dutch; plural is "bakfietsen") for messenger use in 2012 but it wasn't until my first child was born in 2015 and I saw an infant carrier attached in the front of one did I realize the potential.
When I first started looking at the box style bikes, the only ones readily available in the United States were Larry vs Harry Bullitt Bikes, CETMA, and Metrofiets - the last two were custom with very long wait times. There were musings on the internet about the Urban Arrow Family as someone I followed on Twitter had one in philly but they were not available in the US when I was looking in 2015. These days there are MANY options for bakfiets in the United States and you are seeing them become more popular for car-replacement options especially with smaller kids.
On to the basics of just BOXED bikes (not two vs three-wheel, see below) - some style of "box" or front area that a box could be attached to. Your kids or cargo are sitting in front of you which is beneficial for you to be able to see them. Some boxed bikes are designed to hold cargo, baby seats, dogs, 3-6 kids, and accessories like benches, storage, rain covers, infant seat adapters and more.
Boxed Cargo Bike Two-Wheeled Version Basics
The front wheel is attached to your handlebar steering through a steering rod, cables, or even chains. The steering can take some time to get used to but once someone masters it the bike can feel the most stable out of all cargo bikes due to the length of the bike and your cargo weight being the lowest possible.
Boxed Cargo Bike Two-Wheeled Version Pros
Boxed Cargo Bike Two-Wheeled Version Cons
Boxed Cargo Trike Three-Wheeled Version Basics
The original style of this trike cargo bike can be found on farms decades old. The entire front half of the trike like Christiania or Bunch as pictured above turns, and the frame is independent. It is much like attaching fixed wheel shopping cart, or wheelbarrow. I hope to capture a video soon of how this works!
Other bikes like Nihola or Butchers & Bicycles have unique styles of making the front wheels articulate or turn instead of being in a fixed position to the box.
I found most customers either love or hate the trike experience. Turning them has a learning curve but there isn't anything to balance at a standstill which is very handy! They have the ability to carry the most amount of kids from 4-6 (Bunch makes a preschool cargo bike model!) under a rain cover. The Urban Arrow and a couple 2 wheel bakfiets can carry 4 kids but one child is on the rear rack exposed to the elements.
This will probably become a standalone article but let's just get started!
If you were to book an appointment and visit my shop to talk about cargo bikes I would give you a brief rundown of the bikes as I did above, and then I would start asking you questions to learn more about your life and goals.
Based on all of the above questions and conversations, I'll start you test riding bikes. Often you'll ride most of the options I carry because why not? Before you leave I'll probably have in my mind the 2-3 you'll be choosing between but sometimes I'm surprised and you may be to. I've had customers come in looking for a solo electric bike for their commute and end up buying an Xtracycle Edgerunner Swoop with electric assist.
This is where I suggest having an open mind and not too many biases (unless it is color which I do understand!) try all the things and ask a lot of questions. Please message me if you aren't close by and if there is something I can help with. I hope to continue to add to this article and the "Cargo Biking Resources" category!
I do add some warnings as you go through your cargo bike buying journey.
If you turn to large internet forums, be wary. Often your questions are going to be answered by people that don't have varied experience and only experience with 1, 2, maybe 3 bikes. Shops like mine and a handful of customers across the country that have multiple cargo bikes are unique due to our passion but also experience.
Not all cargo bike brands are created equal. I've tried dozens of cargo bikes, motors, and accessories for hundreds of miles, sometimes thousands. I've had to work on them, deal with warranty issues, and know not only the bikes but what the companies behind them are like. There are companies that I have decided NOT to work with because of constant warranty issues, failures, lawsuits, and more. I do not take lightly my role in helping people potentially put the most valuable things of their life, be it their children, pets or business cargo, in my hands. I need to be able to sleep at night and I ultimately only sell or recommend products that I would put my wife or own mother on.
Check out some of the cargo bikes I sell and book an appointment to start your cargo bike journey today!
January 17, 2020
“I have a wonderful set up for people to get used to the handling of a bakfiets 2 wheel bike and walk through people to get them started…”
Could you share this with us? I have to travel to another city for my test rides, and I’m not sure what to expect. It would be so helpful to have your insight.
Thanks so much for the super useful content you provide on this site. Really appreciate it!
Love it! Thanks for putting all this great information in one place!
January 12, 2020
January 11, 2020
This is a great guide!
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January 29, 2020
January 27, 2020
January 11, 2020
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