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What is a Cargo Bike? Meaning & Purpose Explained

What is a cargo bile? Blue and green cargo bike graphic.

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The Short Answer

Cargo bikes are specially designed bicycles for carrying cargo or passengers. They come in different types, can be electric or non-electric, and offer a practical alternative to cars. Brands like Babboe, Urban Arrow, Tern, Raleigh, and Radwagon offer a range of cargo bike options.

When we think of transporting cargo, cars, vans or lorries may come to mind but have you ever seen a bike with kids sat in the front, or carrying a ladder and tools on the back? If so, it would have been a cargo bike.

Practical, efficient and strategic, cargo bikes are built to get whatever and whoever you need to move from A to B. So whether you’ve already witnessed them in the wild or you’ve never heard of them, we’re here to give you the lowdown on everything you need to know about cargo bikes.

What is a Cargo Bike? 

As the name suggests, a cargo bike is a cycle that has been designed with carrying capacity in mind. While you can transport a considerable amount using a standard cycle thanks to pannier bags, straps, child seats and of course yourself, cargo bikes take this to the next level. 

What is a Cargo Bike Used For? 

Whether it is your weekly food shop, Amazon deliveries or taking the kids to the park, cargo bikes are incredibly versatile and have a wide range of uses.

Many families have been able to replace their cars with cargo bikes for the school run and more, and businesses such as this plumber Martin are switching their vans for pedal power. 

London based Pedal Me have taken it one step further and have even built their own organisation consisting of riders and cargo bikes that transport goods for businesses, as well as offering a passenger taxi style service to get from A to B in the city. 

Pets are also big fans of cargo bikes with the amazing Dr.Harrie Larrington Spencer aka Tricycle Mayor on Twitter going viral for carrying her now famous poodle Frida in hers!   

Types of Cargo Bikes 

Just like standard cycles, there are many different types of cargo bikes. As they continue to increase in popularity, the number and range of models has also shot up with market leaders like Tern releasing new models to meet the needs and preferences of users. 

IMAGE CREDIT: LUCY GIULIANO

Front loading cargo bikes

With this style, the carrying capacity is at the front. They may have two wheels with one on either side as well as the rear wheel making them tricycles. They typically have an open space at the front which can be long and narrow or shorter and higher for cargo or kids to occupy. If children are transported via this method some bikes like Dutch brand Babboe’s range even come with small seats and accompanying seat belts to keep them tucked in for the journey.    

Back loading cargo bikes

Otherwise known as long tail cargo bikes, in this case the load bearing section of the bike is at the back. This type looks more like a standard cycle and has a similar frame shape, albeit with a longer section at the rear. In order to carry cargo, or people, they can require additional accessories such as seats or these can be already integrated into the design. 

Delivery cargo bikes

Optimised for transporting cargo for businesses, this style of cargo bike tends to be front loading and mimic a big box. This means it can easily store stacked goods, and also be branded to represent the organisation en route. Often with lockable features to keep your cargo safe and secure, they are increasingly used by businesses to replace vans and vehicles so they can beat the traffic, reduce fuel costs and do their bit for the environment. 

IMAGE CREDIT: LUCY GIULIANO

Are Cargo Bikes Electric? 

Yes and no. Cargo bikes don’t have to be electric, and there are many options that come with or without pedal assistance. Your cargo load and fitness level will influence whether or not you need that extra boost, or if you can rely on your own power.  

As an example, a few years ago I spent some time cycling around France with bike powered cinema organisation CineCyclo. We used this non-electric front loading Douze cargo bike which worked well as we established that we could manage cycling with the load manually on the routes we were riding. 

IMAGE CREDIT: LUCY GIULIANO

Comparatively, having an electric cargo bike is invaluable when I am getting a lift to the train station on the back of my partner’s Tern GSD as I am definitely much heavier than a compact cinema! 

Cargo Bike Pricing 

Due to their specialised design, cargo bikes do cost much more than a standard cycle with prices ranging from £1,500 right through to the highest specification models at £8,000. This means they can set you back more than the top range of carbon fibre road bikes but there are justifiable reasons for this. 

Why Are Cargo Bikes So Expensive? 

The high price tag is because of the need for quality and durable components. As cargo bikes have to withstand a much heavier weight than standard cycles, they need features like stronger brakes, a resilient frame and long lasting tyres. There is also less competition so this drives up the cost.

However, it is important to consider that although it is a significant investment your cargo bike can easily replace a car which costs a lot more to buy, and also to maintain on a ongoing basis. 

As cargo bikes increase in popularity, more affordable brands like this Decathlon model are emerging on the market. There is also the option to purchase a second hand cargo bike as for those who use them to transport kids, once the children are older and transition to riding their own bikes they may no longer need as much carrying capacity. 

What Are Cargo Bikes Like to Ride?

If you’re used to riding a standard cycle, switching to a cargo bike will feel different. Depending on the type of cargo bike, it may therefore take more time to adjust but either way you will be cycling as usual in no time at all. 

Are Cargo Bikes Hard to Ride? 

Although they can look a bit intimidating, as long as you’re already a competent cyclist who can start, stop, turn and balance then cargo bikes are not hard to ride. Remember that they have been designed to take a lot of weight so the bike does most of the work for you. 

Personally, I have found the back loading style much easier to ride because of how the weight is distributed and the similar style to standard cycles but it really depends on your individual ability and preference, as well as what you are using the cargo bike for. 

Are Cargo Bikes Safe? 

Safety is always a tricky topic when it comes to cycling. On paper, there is no reason why cargo bikes are not safe. In fact many models that can transport children are subject to high safety standards. 

Moreover, it is the surroundings you’re riding in that is more likely to be the source of any risk as the main issue is a lack of suitable and accessible infrastructure. For example, some cycle lanes may not be wide enough to accommodate cargo bikes, or they may not be separate from traffic. This is particularly relevant if you’re using your cargo bike to transport kids. 

In this situation, depending on your local cycling provision, the back loading style of cargo bike may be safer as the children will be in a less vulnerable position and the profile of the bike is more similar to a standard cycle so you can more easily navigate narrow lanes or barriers. 

The same logic applies to carrying cargo as the delivery cargo bikes can find themselves actually stuck in traffic due to not being able to get through gaps. This results in interacting more with motor vehicles, and also increased risk from air pollution. 

The global Kidical Mass movement calls for safer streets for our children, and organises family friendly cycle rides to lobby for politicians and decision makers to create better designs to make this possible. I’ve organised and attended many rides in my home city and each time there have been more and more cargo bikes as shown below which shows they families feel safe using them. 

IMAGE CREDIT: LUCY GIULIANO

How Heavy Are Cargo Bikes? 

As with cost, cargo bikes will inevitably weigh more than most standard cycles due to their design and purpose. The weight varies between models and also how much you need to transport as the greater the load bearing capacity, the heavier the cargo bike. 

Having said this, some e-cargo bikes are not that much heavier than standard e-bikes. As an example, my Tern HSD weighs 25.4kg which is actually lighter than Raleigh’s Motus e-bike at 28kg. 

An additional factor that will impact how heavy they are is whether or not you need to add additional accessories to be able to carry what you need. 

Is a Cargo Bike Worth It? 

In my experience, cargo bikes have been a complete game changer but there are alternatives if you need to carry kit or kids such as bike trailers which is what I previously used. We’ve explored how they compare to cargo bikes in this insightful post

We’ve also weighed up the advantages and disadvantages of cargo bikes below but if you’re still unsure, we have our quick quiz to help you to decide what type of bike would work best for you.  

Cargo Bike Pros + Cons 

PROSCONS
Enable the transportation of kit, kids and moreCan require some getting used to 
Worthwhile investment Can be a significant initial cost
Can replace carsNeed secure storage space 
Enjoyable and fun riding experience Can be difficult to ride due to lack of suitable cycling infrastructure
Available in variety of different typesCan be hard to know what model is best

Best Cargo Bike Brands 

Babboe

This Dutch brand has been producing excellent cargo bikes for 15 years. With a wide range of both non-electric and electric models, they have an option for everyone. In fact they even have models just for dogs that have built-in ramps! 

Urban Arrow

Whether it is for your family or business, Urban Arrow make sleek and stylish cargo bikes for all purposes. They also produce a neat compact model, as well as a three wheeler that can carry up to 270kgs! 

Tern

From the Quick Haul to the GSD (which stands for Get Stuff Done), Tern are market leaders in creating high quality practical bikes with a specific focus on enabling family riding. They also have many innovative accessories to make carrying cargo or passengers simple, smooth and comfortable.  

Raleigh 

Well known for being one of the best bike brands for commuting, Raleigh have entered the cargo bike market with a bang thanks to their three models which includes an e-cargo trike. 

Radwagon

Popular in the USA, Radwagon focuses on back loading cargo bikes with utility at the core of their designs. They are also easily customised so you make sure you have exactly what you need from your bike. 

Where to Buy Cargo Bikes

Buying a cargo bike is a big step so it is important you make your purchase from the right place. Due to demand and depending on your choice, there can be a long wait but it is well worth it.

Many of the above brands have comprehensive information on how to find your local dealer. It is really useful to be able to try before you buy if you can, or just check out the models in person by going to a shop that stocks cargo bikes. 

Tern has this useful world map tool for you to find your local dealer, as does Urban Arrow. Babboe has this map and list for where to find their bikes in the UK, and Raleigh have a similar breakdown for their electric cargo bikes.

If you’re in America, Radwagon has stores across the country where you can even test ride the bikes.  

You can also buy your bike directly online with brands like Surge Bikes offering their handy ‘Surge Boost’ of free accessories, as well as the option to visit their showroom in person to take a look or get a service. 

Alternatively, in the UK there are now cycle libraries like this one in Oxford that offer cargo bike rental so if you can’t get your hands on one just yet or you’re still deciding, you can give one a go for a day, a week or longer.

You’re now a cargo bike pro so whether you become the proud owner of your own cargo bike, or you start to recognise them out and about on the streets, I am sure they will bring joy and freedom both to those on board and also passersby as they never fail to make people, or dogs, smile. 

Ride in style

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