Welcome to the wonderful work of cargo bikes! These unique machines take the efficiency of a normal bicycle and add the ability to carry more cargo for your family or business to help you replace car trips. Cargo bikes come in many shapes or sizes.
The types of cargo bikes listed below are very wide brush strokes of the options available in North America. Most of these are electric cargo bikes, are great at carrying cargo (whatever that is for you!), have front and rear lights, and carry heavy loads but make sure to check the max gross vehicle weight and various weight limits.
Let’s break down the main differences between types of cargo bikes!
Longtail Cargo Bikes
Longtail Cargo Bike Basics
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 and option front basket or rack. Some of the most popular longtail cargo bikes available are from 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″ wheels in the front, and 20″ wheels in the back.
Longtail Cargo Bike Pros
- It rides like a very long but normal bike
- You can fit 3 mid-sized kids on most Xtracycle and Surly models longtail models. Yuba’s longtail cargo bikes fit 2.5 kids well
- Non-electric versions are the most affordable cargo bikes available
- Most bike shops are equipped to work on these bikes compared to the bakfiets (box bike) style below
Longtail Cargo Bike Cons
- Hard to transport
- Harder to store than a midtail cargo bike
- Not as much space as a bakfiets box bike for easily carrying large loads but you can probably make whatever you are carrying fit!
Midtail Cargo Bikes
Midtail Cargo Bike Basics
Not too big, not too small – a midtail cargo bike is a bit like Goldilock’s porridge if your kids or cargo are the right sizes. If 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.
Midtail Cargo Bike Pros
- Not as long as a longtail cargo bike
- Easier to transport on a hitch rack or in a car
- Some even fit on the front bus rack or stand on end in a train!
- Easier to store and find parking
- They are designed to carry cargo compared to a normal bike but aren’t much bigger than one
Midtail Cargo Bike Cons
- They don’t hold as many kids as the other options
- Some midtails have a very low rear cargo (passenger area) weight limit
- I find them unsettling in the snow with kids on the back due to the shorter wheelbase and higher weight. Not unrideable but you have to get used to it at first!
- My three favorite midtail cargo bikes are the Tern GSD, Tern HSD & Xtracycle RFA – all 3 are only available with electric assist.
Boxed (Bakfiets) Cargo Bikes
Boxed (Bakfiets) Cargo Bike Basics
I stumbled upon bakfiets (which means “box bike” in Dutch; the plural is “bakfietsen”) for messenger use in 2012 but I didn’t realize their full potential until 2015 when I had my first child and realized that an infant seat could fit well in the front bucket of some of these. Bucket bikes, front loaders, bathtub bikes, or whatever you may call them are looked at as minivans in the Netherlands. Hopefully, you’ve started to see them in a town near you!
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. 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.
These all have 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 have 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 between your wheels.
Boxed Cargo Bike Two-Wheeled Version Pros
- “Throw it in the box” is wonderful. You don’t have to think too much about how to pack like the Longtail or Midtails that rely on cargo space in bags or a front rack.
- Cargo can potentially be covered from the elements with a rain cover
- Some bakfiets have an infant attachment device. The Maxi Cosi seat snaps into a suspended clip on either side of the box, much like you would snap in an infant seat to a stroller. This also allows 2 kids to still sit on the bench and put their legs under the car seat. This all works with the rain cover, too!
Boxed Cargo Bike Two-Wheeled Version Cons
- The steering can take some time to get used to. Article to come on this soon!
- They are large which means they are difficult to store, transport, and potentially find parking at your destination if you live in a dense place with terrible bike parking.
- Have a more expensive base price than the longtail or midtail bikes but once accessorized they aren’t too far from each other.
- Harder to find at shops across North America.
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 a 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.
I hope this jump-starts you into your cargo bike journey. Let me know what I may have missed or what questions you have below!