Over the last seven years, we’ve logged nearly 9,000 miles on our Bullitt, pictured above. It is a cargo bike design known as a box bike. From kid-hauler to farmers markets to camping, the bike has done it all. We’ve learned things along the way, and would revisit some decisions. For example, electric assist may not be that big a deal when kids are tiny. When their combined weight reaches 120 pounds, however, you may feel differently.
There are some key decision points when considering a cargo bike: the cargo bike design, electric versus manual, and what add-ons.
1. Cargo bike design: Box bike or longtail?
Cargo up front or cargo behind? We humbly put forward that box bikes are more fun than longtails. The kids sit side-by-side directly in front of the rider, making conversation easy as well as being able to see who hit who. Longtails are lighter, easier to park, and generally less expensive. One company, Tern, makes models that fit on a stand bike rack, including those on the front of a bus.
On the cost front, consider the following. Adding a cargo bike means you’ll be using a car far less frequently. Maintenance and gas costs will go down. One can decrease the annual mileage for insurance. One may even find after a few months that the cargo bike replaces the car – a huge cost savings. The other consideration is you get what you pay for. Cheap cargo bikes use cheap components. Cheap does not always mean bad. But if you’re riding a heavy bike with kids, cheap brakes may not be the best choice.
2. Electric or manual?
Electric assist does not replace pedaling. The motor boosts the force you impart while pedaling, hence the term assist. Most can vary how much assist is being provided. Energetic in the morning? Low assist. Tired and uphill on the way home? Lots of assist.
Why electric? Quite simply, you’ll probably ride it more. Riding the kids up a hill to school won’t be a deterrent. It takes less time to get from point A to point B. And should there be any aggressive drivers parked behind you at a stop light, the assist moves the bike quickly off the line. E-assist bikes are fantastic and household game changers.
Why not electric? Weight (an additional 20 pounds typically) and cost (an additional $2,000 typically) are the main factors. While one can retrofit a bike with electric, most bike designs now come with electric-assist specific frames. An electric retrofit will feel clunky.
If there is any doubt about what direction to go, pick e-assist. You won’t be sorry.
- Racks and panniers
- Frame lock
- Dynamo hub for those not going e-bike
Racks: Wait? Racks? I thought this was a cargo bike! It is. But as soon as you put kids on it, the cargo space gets filled. Diapers, soccer balls, groceries – those need to go somewhere. A rear rack and panniers are the best place on a box bike. Longtails typically offer a front basket for an additional cost. If you don’t buy one at first, it will likely be the first upgrade you make.
Frame lock: A frame lock makes the quick stop easy. A frame lock goes through the rear wheel. The bike must be picked up to move it. That’s quite an undertaking with a cargo bike. Running in for a cup of coffee or a loaf of bread in a busy urban environment is much easier with a frame lock.
Dynamo hub: E-bikes are usually equipped with front and rear lights. Lights are useful during the day to increase visibility and essential at night to see where one is going and be seen. But if one decides to get a manual bike, there’s no battery power for lights. People tend to forget to charge lights or bring them, making for frightening rides home when one misjudges timing or forgets about the fall time change. The simple solution? A dynamo hub paired to front and rear lights. The dynamo hub generates enough power as one rides to light the way and keep the bike visible. A simple and environmentally-friendly solution.
Good luck with the selection process and enjoy the ride!
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