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Cargo Bikes 101: The Basics of Cargo

June 18, 2019 8 min read

So you’re thinking about entering the wide world of cargo bikes? That’s great! As New Zealand’s foremost cargo bike experts, we would like to be the first to welcome you to this colourful community. With cumulative decades of experience hauling everything from kids to pianos to camping gear to other bikes around by bike, we’re here to help you get started the right way. This Cargo Bikes 101 guide will walk you through comparing, test riding, and setting up your first cargo bike. Of course, our team is always keen for a lengthy yarn about all things cargo at our downtown Wellington shop when you’re ready, but we hope this guide will help you understand cargo bikes and how they can enrich your life.

Why ride a cargo bike?

Before we get started let’s layout exactly why we’re so passionate about cargo bikes.

They are the true car replacement, ready to replace your second car or your primary. We sell all kinds of bikes for people to ride every day, but almost all of them come up short of doing all of the work a car can do. Many passionate cyclers will ride every day but still break the car out for certain errands like big grocery runs, carrying the family around, or moving heavy things. Cargo bikes dispell these final, petrol-based needs allowing you to make every trip a fun adventure by bike. Skeptical about their ability? Poke your head into our shop and see how we do things here at Bicycle Junction. We have no company van so nearly everything has been brought on site by cargo bike from bikes and accessories to tables and cafe supplies to lumber and paint to build the place out.

They make a healthier you and a healthier planet. Since they’re able to truly replace your car on a day-to-day basis every trip you take makes you healthier and happier. More than any other bike cargo bikes allow you to fuel your trips with muscle power (and in some cases clean electric power) saving money at the petrol pump and getting you fit at the same time.

They build happier cities. Like all bikes, cargo bikes massively reduce congestion and pollution of all types on city streets. Those who ride make their city a better place every time they head out, our mission is to help everyone who wants to ride every day.

They knit together happier families. Instead of spending time locked in traffic with the kids jostling in the back seat, cargo bikes give parents and kids alike a new perspective on every ride to school and trip to a friends house. Gone are the days of "Are we there yet?", now kids love every trip because getting around town is a hoot. We all spend heaps of time getting around in life, why not make that time a valuable bonding experience with those you love?

Understand Your Requirements

How was that first sip of cargo kool-aid? Tasty right? Now that your interest is piqued let’s get into the nitty gritty on what you need to know to get the right bike. Understanding your key requirements will guide you through the process and make navigating this wide world almost as fun as riding.

What are you carrying? It’s a rudimentary question but is still the most influential in terms which bikes will suit you. Are you carrying kids? How many? Gear for work? What kind? Goods for your business? How heavy is it? Outline your carrying requirements with both cargo type and weight, this will be handy as you start to shop. Even if there are things you carry about regularly by car that you can’t possibly imagine taking by bike put it in your list and you’ll be surprised how many opportunities open up as you learn more about cargo bikes. This essential breakdown will help you pick both a frame style and storage solutions.

Who will ride your cargo bike? If it’s just you piloting the bike then the world is likely your oyster with a plethora of bikes available to fit riders of all sizes and abilities. However, if you’ll be splitting time on the bike with your spouse or co-workers you’ll need a bike that can easily adapt to fit both riders and allows the smallest rider a design that keeps them comfortable and stable. For example, shorter riders likely will require “low-step” frames to keep them stable with a laden bike so they may choose a low-step bike like the Tern GSD or Yuba Spicy Curry while taller riders may go for the Riese & Müller Multicharger or the Benno Boost.

Where will you ride? The two key factors here are terrain type and distance. Most of the cargo bikes we offer at Bicycle Junction are dedicated electric bikes, this is because we know having the electric motor takes cargo biking from being something you feel like doing a few times a week to being the easiest way to get around every day. Plenty of die-hard cargo-lovers crank happily away on their unpowered Yuba Mundos, which may be a great fit for you depending on your ride and fitness level. With an idea of ride distance and terrain type (along with carrying requirements) though we can establish what kind of gearing and/or motor assistance the bike will need. Be sure to beef this up with all regular rides you’d like to take even if it’s not possible now, no need for your new bike to hold you back. For example, if your regular ride is well-paved and only contains a few hills something with a simpler motor like the Benno eJoy will do you just fine, whereas if commute over a mountain or would like to head off-pavement every day something with suspension and a full-powered motor like the Riese & Muller Multicharger may be the solution for you.

Where will you store your cargo bike? For years storage was the cargo bike’s Achilles heel as some models can sit larger than a big motorcycle. But thanks to a flurry of innovations in frame designs, split cargo areas, and storage solutions there are heaps of options for both those with easily accessible garages and apartment-dwellers alike. Remember this includes both storage space and getting the bike into the space. Will it need to go upstairs, around a corner or down a tight alley? For example, if your bike needs to live up an elevator every day you may look at something like the Benno Boost that isn’t much longer than a standard bike and can be maneuvered easily in tight spaces.

Pick A Frame Style

Now that you have your requirements written on a handy cheat-sheet it’s time to get to know the different types of cargo bikes out there. You won’t want to get your heart set on a certain style until you head out on some test rides. But these are some pros and cons of the most popular frame designs.

Longtails. These are our most popular cargo bikes and are a great option for families. Our favorites: the Yuba Spicy Curry and the genre-breaking Tern GSD.

Pros: Ideal for carrying passengers, be it in kids seats or on ride-along platforms these bikes haul multiple riders no problem. Natural riding, with you up front they’re easier to ride for first-timers. Separate cargo areas, by putting on a dedicated front deck there’s no need to carry kiddos amongst the groceries.
Cons: Storage, longtails can be some of our longest bikes and may be tough to get into tight spaces. Cargo versatility, setting up the rear cargo area to carry things beyond other passengers can be tricky.

Midtails. Just like a longtail but not quite as, you know, long. Our favorites: The Benno eJoy and Boost E.

Pros: Easiest riding, you’ll barely be able to tell these are cargo bikes when you ride them. Easy storage, with similar footprints they can fit anywhere a regular bike can.
Cons: Low overall capacity, if you want to carry more than one kid you’ll need to look elsewhere.

Long Johns aka Front Loaders. Probably the bike you picture when you think about a cargo bike, with their distinctive front cargo boxes. Our favorites: the Yuba Supermarche and the Larry vs Harry Bullit.

Pros: Versatile carrying capacity, their front deck is a blank slate to load up however you like. High overall capacity, if you need to carry three kids or kids and heavy goods these are probably the ticket. Load stability, with a low center of gravity a heavy load never feels unwieldy.
Cons: Maneuverability, while riding these bikes is surprisingly natural, getting them into tight spaces takes some getting used to. Storage, like longtails these bikes are usually quite long.

Cargo trikes. With huge front cargo platforms if you can dream it you can do it with a cargo trike. Our favorite: the Christiania Trike.

Pros: Maximum capacity, these are our highest capacity offering. Maximum versatility, looking to do vending by bike or carry a whole gaggle of kids, these are the answer. Stability, the load is secure even at a standstill in traffic or with you off the bike.
Cons: Limited ride versatility, trikes naturally struggle in steep or off-camber situations as they can’t tip to keep their loads upright like two-wheelers can. Storage, trikes are surprisingly easy to maneuver in tight spaces but that doesn’t change how wide they are.

Take A Test Ride

Now you know what you’re looking for and you even have an idea of what type of bike may suit your needs its time to hit the road and see how these glorious machines ride in the real world. Here are a few tips for test riding a cargo bike.

Set aside time. You don’t want to rush this and will likely want to ride several bikes back to back on extensive loops to compare. That’s why we’re open 7 days a week, so you can come in for a ride when you have the time.

Setup for a first ride. If you’re nervous about riding a cargo bike for the first time, lower the seat so you can get one foot easily planted on the ground at all times. Additionally, take off any extras you can so it's just you and the bike. You will add cargo and raise the seat later as you get more comfortable.

Aim for a wide-open street and just ride back and forth to get used to how the bike reacts, be especially mindful of getting started and coming to a stop as you begin and leave a bit more space than normal for stopping and starting.

Slowly add more weight and different cargo. Once you’re comfortable it’s time to load up with some of the things you’ll carry on a regular basis whether it’s work gear or the kids.

Ride a representative route, don’t make it hypothetical! If it’s possible to ride all or part of your regular commute hit the road and see how it feels. Also, be sure when riding multiple bikes to ride the same route for super scientific comparison.

Budgeting For A Cargo Bike

The time is now. You know your requirements backward and forward, you’ve taken a series of informative test rides, and you’ve picked the brains of the Bicycle Junction crew clean of cargo info. The last piece to naturally consider is budget. We always recommend you leave about 10-15% of your overall budget free post-purchase to get set up properly for riding every day.

Most cargo bike base prices will be for the bare bike itself and not for the multitude of available seats, boxes, trays, hold-on bars, running boards, and canopies that can help make your new cargo bike the perfect mode of transportation for your exact needs. Additionally, you'll want to consider at a minimum a comfortable helmet you want to wear every day and a secure lock for your new beloved steed. If you work with our team in getting your new cargo bike we will provide you with a comprehensive quote to fit your specifications, but as a rule of thumb leave around 15% of your budget free for add-ons.

That's it for Cargo 101, now you have all the tools you need to confidently go forth and begin your own cargo bike adventure, but stay tuned! In future posts, we'll delve even deeper down the cargo rabbit hole with specific information on outfitting cargo bikes, getting the most out of them in your day-to-day life, and getting involved with the passionate cargo community as well as specific tips for families and businesses. Thanks for reading!

Check out our current stable of cargo bikes, then come in for a test ride

UP NEXT- Cargo Bikes 201: Living The Cargo Life

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