Types of Cargo Bikes
A cargo bike is essentially any bicycle, tricycle or pedal-powered four-wheeler which was designed specifically to carry a load – large or small. In its simplest form, a cargo bike can be a bike with a built-in, reinforced front basket for heavier-than-normal daily transportation needs. In its most complex, it could be an electric-assist box trike with refrigeration capabilities. While these days, the variations of cargo bikes on the market create a bit of crossover between the categories, most cargo bikes fit roughly into the following six types:
Utility bikes are built with a traditional wheelbase, but with reinforced frames that enable them to carry larger loads than a standard bicycle. They often have metal front baskets and/or back racks built onto the frame, and are designed to be nimble and easier to ride than larger cargo bikes while still maintaining considerable carrying capacity.
Cycle trucks have the same overall size of a standard city bike, but they have a smaller front wheel (typically 20″ compared to a 26″ rear), with a front rack affixed to the frame over the wheel. The rack either has a box mounted to it, or has mounting options for when you need the box, and space for when you don’t.
Longtails have an extra-long wheelbase at the back, which accommodates an extended, built-in deck to carry cargo or children. Longtails typically come with open-top panniers to hold cargo at the sides, have hooks for webbing to secure cargo on top, and have options for handles or backrests to transport children.
Yuba, Xtracycle, Surly, Bike Friday, and Kona Bikes all make longtails, which range between $1,000 and $2,000 USD. Madsen Cycles is notable in that they make a longtail with a box. Tern and Xtracycle collaborated to make the Cargo Node, the world’s first full-sized folding cargo bike, which retails for $1,800 USD.
Long Johns/ Bakfiets/ Box Bikes
Long Johns were developed in Denmark in the early 20th century. They have an extraordinarily long wheelbase at the front and a smaller front wheel, with the cargo area or an attached wooden basket sitting low to the ground between the handlebars and front wheel. Today, the Long John design has more or less been absorbed into the category of Bakfiets, or Box Bikes, which were developed in The Netherlands in the late 19th century. While Bakfiets were originally a cargo tricycle with a wooden box between the two parallel wheels, modern bakfiets can be either a trike or a two-wheeled Long John design with an integrated box. A few of the brands below make both box bikes and box trikes.
Cetma Cargo, Metrofiets, Wike, Fiets of Strength, Larry vs. Harry, Babboe Cargo Bikes, Christiana Bikes, Nihola, trioBike, Douze Cycles, Urban Arrow, and Bakfiets all make box bikes, which range between $2,500 and $6,000 USD.
Cargo Tricycles/ Cycle Rickshaws
Tricycles or Cycle Rickshaws usually feature an elongated frame with two wheels at the front or back for added stability, with a cargo platform, box, or seat between the two wheels. Cycle rickshaws are common in parts of Asia and Africa as bike taxis, while cargo trikes (often with a box) are common in Europe for personal use, and are becoming increasingly popular in North America.
Wike, Pashley Cycles, Butchers & Bicycles, Johnny Loco, Bakfiets, Boxer Cycles, and Virtue make cargo trikes, which range in price from $3,500 to $5,000 USD. Cycles Maximus is a global manufacturer and distributer of cycle rickshaws, which start off at £3,375.
Electric Cargo Bikes
When bike commuting enthusiasts point with longing at the well-developed cargo bike culture in The Netherlands, they are often shut down with the all-too-common dismissal, “Easy enough in a small, flat country. But I bike up a hill to get home every day, how is that practical for me?”
And honestly, fair enough. While it’s all very well and good that the cargo bike itself can carry up to 300 lbs of cargo, it’s the rider who will be doing the work to get it to move. Most people are not in good enough shape – or are understandably unwilling – to pedal three kids and a load of groceries straight up a hill every day.