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Ditch the car

5 July, 2012

A cargo bike can do most of the errands for which people use a car, but with greater health benefits, less cost and reduced environmental impact. Simon Vincett and Jon Miller tested 14 options available in Australia.

The school run, grocery shopping, weekend sports, BBQ in the park: check, check, check, check – a cargo bike has them all covered. That big box or those capacious panniers can take a huge load – it’s a good thing there are also some strong, low-down gears to get you underway.

The development of these bikes comes to us from those most transport-advanced countries of Denmark and the Netherlands, where for decades families have zipped about and proprietors have conducted their businesses using cargo bikes. Most models on test here come with seats and harnesses for kids and boxes that can be configured for many different commercial purposes. Luggage racks, handbrakes, lights and locks are usually included – not to mention mudguards and chainguards – because these bikes are intended to provide the amenity of a car.

We’re using a general term of ‘cargo bike’ but there are really three main types:

  1. Box trike: two wheels in front either side of a big box
  2. Box bike: a box behind the front wheel and in front of the rider
  3. Long bike: an extended rear rack carries the load behind the rider.

The long bikes ride the most like a conventional bike. The extra length has no impact on handling, though it can catch you out in constricted space though, such as lifts or tight chicanes of bollards.

The box bikes are the next most conventional in handling, though they take a little getting used to. They are a bit twitchy to steer and this requires you to concentrate when taking off. The longer the wheelbase the more wobble they have. They also have a wider turning circle than a long bike or conventional bike.

The box trikes are completely unlike conventional bikes. They are stable when stationary but when in motion and turning they feel like they will tip over at any speed greater than walking pace. They also feel unstable if the ground is not level. The steering is also surprisingly twitchy and this increases to something like speed wobbles when your speed picks up, such as enjoying a downhill. These are surely characteristics that a box trike owner will get used to but initially at least there’s little scope or motivation to go fast in a box trike.

Cargo bikes generally give a more stable ride when you are carrying a bit of weight rather than nothing. The boxes are extremely convenient for throwing your cargo straight in rather than tying it to the long-bike rack or putting it in panniers. The boxes come with removable benches that also provide harnesses for kids. Of the long bikes, only the Yuba Mundo offers accessories for carrying children, including an infant seat but not harnesses for kids sitting on the padded rack.

Even without loads, all cargo bikes are heavier than ordinary bikes and are low geared to deal with this and the loads you will carry. Most come in a version with an electric motor or have the capacity to be converted. This reputedly cancels their extra weight, making them as easy to ride as a conventional bike but with load-carrying capacity.

The higher cost of cargo bikes compared to conventional bikes comes primarily from the high number of components required for each bike but also from the quality of components used. Carting big loads takes a toll on gear, so parts have to be better than base quality in order to last. The cheaper cargo bikes have lower quality parts and consequently can’t guarantee to be as durable and trouble free as a more expensive model.

That said, the distributors we visited take personal interest in every bike they sell and they make sure to choose the best components they can get within the cost constraints of their bikes. Most distributors were also amenable to customising their bikes. Many had produced boxes to accommodate wheelchairs and seats for kids with special needs. Most had adapted their bikes to become a coffee cart or flower vendor or some other business. Some offered alternative or upgraded parts as desired by the buyer.

Once purchased, the bikes can be picked up from the distributor or delivered either to the customer who must complete the simple, final assembly of the mostly assembled bike or delivered to the customer’s local bike shop.

Ask the distributors listed here if they know of a cargo bike picnic happening near you for a chance to test ride different brands at one event.

Yuba Mundo v4

$1,250 ($1669 as pictured)

2150mm long x 500mm wide (900mm with full panniers); 22kg

  • Steel frame incorporates rack and is “practically unbreakable”
  • 48-spoke rear wheel with a 14mm axle allows a 200kg carrying capacity, not including the rider
  • Room for two child seats or padded seats without harnesses
  • Panniers are supported underneath by extra frame pieces
  • Panniers are sold separately and lack straps to minimise width
  • Many accessories sold separately

96%

An outstandingly versatile bike

www.cargocycles.com.au

Christianiabike Model Light

$3,400

2080mm long x 865mm wide; 31kg

  • The original box trike, now in aluminium
  • 10-year warranty on frame and box, three-year warranty on equipment, gear and brakes, one-year full service
  • Disc brakes, Schwalbe tyres, Spanninga rear battery LED light with incorporated reflector and sensor mode
  • 24-inch for every wheel
  • Fabric bench seats and 3-point harnesses for two children
  • Box canopy sold separately ($300)

94%

The outstanding box trike

www.psbikes.com.au

Christianiabike 2wheeler

$2,800

2500mm long x 600mm wide; 23kg

  • Most stable-handling box bike
  • Disc brakes, Schwalbe tyres, Spanninga rear battery LED light with incorporated reflector and sensor mode
  • 24-inch rear wheel, 20-inch front
  • Aluminium frame and light overall weight
  • Big carrying capacity of 80kg in box and 250kg overall
  • Bench and three-point harnesses for two children, with seat and three-point harness for a third child sold separately
  • Pedal and stand can contact ground when cornering
  • Box canopy sold separately ($300)

92%

The outstanding box bike

www.psbikes.com.au

Bakfiets Cargo Bike

$3,150

2040 long x 630 wide; 35kg

  • Very solid design but heavy in steel
  • Big carrying capacity of 80kg in box plus 50kg on rear rack
  • Rear drum brake, front rim, Schwalbe tyres
  • Hub dynamo powers front and rear lights
  • 20-inch front wheel and 26-inch rear
  • Comes with bench and three-point harnesses for two children
  • Box canopy sold separately ($300)

86%

Very good box bike is steel

dutchcargobike.com.au

Bakfiets Cargo Trike

$3,450

1740mm long x 720mm wide; 45kg

  • Narrowest box trike at 720mm
  • Tough steel frame but heavy, hard work to push up hills
  • Rear drum brake, front rim, Schwalbe tyres
  • Hub dynamo powers front and rear lights (front light on left side)
  • 20-inch front wheels and 26-inch rear
  • Comes with bench and three-point harnesses for two children, with bench and harnesses for two more sold separately
  • Box canopy sold separately

81%

Very good box trike is steel

dutchcargobike.com.au

Kona Minute

$1,099

1830mm long x 400mm wide (650mm with full panniers); 18kg

  • Rides like a normal bike, no learning curve
  • Aluminium frame is short enough for bike to fit on a train
  • Least carrying capacity: 130kg and shorter rack than the Yuba Mundo or the Kona Ute
  • Could take one child seat
  • Comes with panniers but they are not weatherproof and sag when full, with no support underneath them.
  • Under geared. Needs a third chain ring

79%

Great shopping and basic-utility bike

www.konaworld.com

Winther Wallaroo

$3,750

2630mm long x 790mm wide; 33.5kg

  • Longest bike on test at 2630mm
  • Aluminium frame
  • Hydraulic disc front brake, coaster rear, Schwalbe tyres, SRAM S7 hub gear and shifter
  • Comes with seats and five-point harnesses for two children
  • Made by the Larry vs Harry factory; Winther may not be available in future in Australia
  • Box canopy included

78%

Deluxe box bike if transporting children is main concern

www.kornart.com.au

Larry vs Harry Bullitt

$3,750

2450mm long x 470mm wide; 24kg

  • Easiest of the extended wheel base bikes to ride
  • Light aluminium frame still carries 50kg in the box
  • Hydraulic disc front brake, Alfine 8 hub gears and shifter, Schwalbe tyres
  • Lots of different configurations available for carrying gear
  • Room for two children sitting on floor or seats (sold separately)
  • Expensive considering box and canopy sold separately

78%

Flat-bar roadie of the box-bike world

dutchcargobike.com.au

Zeitbikes Shorthaul

$1,599

2350mm long x 650mm wide; 34kh

  • Steel frame with smaller box and shorter overall length
  • Components suitable for most reasonable usage
  • Box 400–720mm long x 510–630mm wide (at top)
  • Comes with bench and three-point harnesses for two children
  • Box canopy included

76%

Best priced smaller-capacity box bike

www.cargocycles.com.au

Zeitbikes Longhaul

$1,699

2580mm long x 650mm wide; 38kg

  • Steel frame with full-capacity box
  • Components suitable for most reasonable usage
  • Box 690–1000 long x 510–630 wide (at top)
  • Comes with benches and three-point harnesses for three children, all forward-facing
  • Box canopy included

76%

Best priced full-capacity box bike

www.cargocycles.com.au

Winther Family Bike

$3,960

2180mm long x 860mm wide; 44kg

  • Aluminium frame with torsion-bar suspension
  • Hydraulic disc front brake, coaster rear, Schwalbe tyres, SRAM S7 hub gear and shifter
  • Comes with seats and five-point harnesses for two children
  • Only box trike with a nose stand to prevent kids overbalancing the bike forward
  • The child seats slide forward or come out to make room for luggage
  • Hydraulic steering assistance but handling is still surprisingly wobbly
  • Box canopy included

75%

Deluxe box trike if transporting children is main concern

www.kornart.com.au

Kona Ute

$1,299

2150mm long x 400mm wide (700mm with full panniers); 23kg

  • Avid mechanical disc brakes
  • Comes with panniers but they are not weatherproof and sag when full, with no support underneath them.
  • Could take one child seat
  • Under geared. Needs a third chain ring
  • Back end moves around a bit when heavily laden.

73%

Very capable shopping and medium-utility bike

www.konaworld.com

Mk3 Cargobike

$1,495

2220mm long x 880mm wide; 59kg

  • Heaviest bike on test at 59kg
  • Components suitable for moderate usage (3–5 kilometres a few days a week)
  • Includes free Netti Helmet
  • Front wheels 20 inch, rear 26 inch
  • Comes with bench and 3-point harnesses for two children, with bench and harnesses for two more sold separately
  • Box canopy included

72%

Good budget, moderate-use box trike

www.cargobike.com.au

Mk2 Cargobike

$895

2330mm long x 855mm wide; 55kg

  • Economical eye-catcher for a business if parked more often than ridden
  • Components suitable for light usage
  • Relatively high above the ground due to 26 inch for every wheel
  • Comes with bench and 3-point harnesses for two children
  • Box canopy included

68%

Very good value light-use box trike

www.cargobike.com.au

See also

Gazelle Cabby

Surly Big Dummy

Xtracycle Radish

Trisled Maxi

Pegasus Tandems

Buddy Bike

Onderwater Family Tandem

Can’t decide which cargo bike fits your needs. Try this flowchart.

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21 Comments leave one →
  1. 9 July, 2012 11:08 am

    Some fab looking bikes and lots of good options for carrying cargo with the bike. If only we had more cycleways so it wasn’t such as drama getting around more. I have a trailer for the kids and it’s good to be able to take on or off. I haven’t tried these bikes, but I wonder if they’re harder to ride than a conventional bike and if you don’t need to carry cargo all the time if you need two bikes?

    • 9 July, 2012 2:55 pm

      The long bikes aren’t much different to riding a conventional bike – just a bit heavier. Even the extra length is rarely noticeable. The lighter box bikes you might ride as your everyday bike. They have some higher gears for cruising but their turning circle is much greater than a conventional bike. I don’t reckon too many people would use a box trike for getting around without cargo. Both types of box bike take a bit of getting used to riding. There’s more about that in the article.
      And yes, bring on better networks of cycleways for making getting around a breeze for any rider.

    • 11 July, 2012 9:52 am

      I own a long bike (Big Dummy) and put about 2500 miles per year on it. I own three other bikes, but the Big Dummy is the one I usually ride. It has the best fenders, best chain guard, best lights, and most comfortable ride. It’s nice to have other bikes, but the long tail is a great choice 90% of the time, and perfectly adequate the other 10% of the time.

      It goes everywhere — on road, off road, jumping curbs, snaking through stopped traffic.

    • rudi permalink
      13 July, 2012 8:34 pm

      Hi there- A cargo bike is like one of the family – and one that it can’t do without . re-read the article sums it all up really well.
      for the bakfiets (box bike/trike) I do recommend a second bike if you tend to get the kms up yourself, especially with little or no cargo – its easier for the bike paths and roads and hills here in Melbourne than long distances in hills with a bakfiets. It would be fine if all the world were flat :) The other thing with the bakfiets is they take up quite a bit of room when parked, so you would need good storage space.

      Depending on where you live and your bike use, and how old your kids are, if you want just the one bike from the cargo bikes mentioned in the article – get a long bike, or alternatively a strong heavy bike with a good pair of panniers (the newspaper size) is also sufficient.
      Have a look at dutch bikes, but dont be fooled by cheap products with lesser quality (and less)components especially if you want to carry cargo. 3 gears is generally enough for hills – I have something similar but not like the ones above (not a long bike)- but It is amazing what you can fit in those panniers, or on the back or a front rack: kids, bags, crates, esky whatever. theres lots of info or pictures online. Looks like you missed the cargo bike picnic, but definately have a look around. Those taga bike/paslo young kidgcie. What ingenius innovation! perfect for melbourne too.
      Keep safe on the roads. Good luck with your options. happy riding!

  2. tammy permalink
    9 July, 2012 7:38 pm

    I did own a Christiania trike but found it hard to transport if i wanted to ride anywhere else but from my own house. I now own a Taga trike so i can either fold it up and fit it in my car or i can use it in pram mode and take it onto the bus.

  3. deb permalink
    11 July, 2012 10:44 pm

    I have a christiania trike, great for getting the kids around and for carrying groceries, but I still have a regular hybrid and a road bike that I would use for any distances over a few km, particularly if I didn’t need to be able to carry anything.
    The cargo bike has to be one of the best things I have ever bought!

  4. 13 July, 2012 6:17 pm

    Simple beautiful :) !

  5. Jaime permalink
    14 August, 2012 12:23 pm

    Great article, very informative for someone like me just looking at getting a cargo bike. I have noted that most of them are suitable for riding only short distances. I will be riding up and down some pretty big hills, with three kids (2 almost 4 year olds and 1 2 year old) and sometimes a small dog! The minimum distance I will be doing is 16 kilometre round trip twice a day when the bigger kids start kindy next year, does anyone have any experience riding this kind of distance (up and down hills) that they are happy to share?

    • Steph permalink
      3 April, 2013 9:57 pm

      Aaron from Canberra has a lovely blog – life with a trike. Have a read. I’m sure you will find it (&aaron!!) very helpful. :)

    • 17 September, 2013 9:53 pm

      Hi Jaime,
      You’ve probably already got something figured out by now in the year since you posted. But if it is of interest, I ride a bakfiets long with our 2.5 and 5.5 year olds on board for the school run, and then ride up a steep 130m climb to work. It is hard work climbing the hill without an electric assist, and very hard if I have one or both kids in there. For 16km return twice a day, you would be very wise to get an electric assist. Even if the bike weighed 0kg, the mass of yourself and kids will make it a hard slug unassisted. That said, the bakfiets long handles well with a load and at speed. Do be aware that the stopping distance on any heavily laden bike will be longer than you are used.

  6. 13 February, 2013 7:30 pm

    Hola! I’ve been reading your website for a long time now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Dallas Texas! Just wanted to say keep up the good work!

  7. 14 August, 2013 8:35 pm

    Excellent article. I test rode all of the long hauls and ended up buying a Cabby based on the reputation of Gazelle. I needed the folding cargo bay to get the bike into my little ol’ house, which is an excellent feature none of the others have. However, I was pleased to find the Cabby rides much better than all of the other long hauls (obviously, in my opinion :) and I very glad I went with it. It’s very practical. Human Powered try to keep one in stock I think, but Bike Life will also get them in. Ask them to put you in touch with Troy if you want to come and check mine out, or get in touch via the link on this comment.

    Around Melbourne, however (and Australia in general), with our lacklustre bicycle infrastructure, I’d recommend a longtail if that will meet your needs. Negotiating traffic and shit bike paths is just more of a chore with a bakfiets. With infant/toddlers and a dog, I need the longhaul, but when they grow up, I’ll probably switch to a Mundo or Big Dummy. The Cabby is an excellent family vehicle, but if you are hauling actual cargo or hardware, I’d suggest the HvsL or DutchCargoBike. I’d rate the Cabby up with the Model Light and Yuba Mundo – all three are top of their respective classes.

    Hope that helps!

    • Gavin permalink
      17 August, 2013 7:52 pm

      Hi Troy,
      I’ve been trying to find a Gazelle to look at in Melbourne, but can’t find one anywhere. It would be great to see yours. Where in Melb do you live? My email is gdoolan at gmail . com. Thanks Gavin

  8. bananabender permalink
    20 October, 2013 3:18 pm

    In theory cargo bikes are great. However most cargo bikes on the market emphasise (retro) style at the expense of sound engineering. To put it bluntly they are complete and utter rubbish – expensive, cumbersome, with very low load capacity and brick like aerodynamics. It is quite possible to to design an affordable ($1500) bike that can carry 300Kg, cruise at 25Km/h on the flat and handle and brake well. It would look absolutely nothing like these gimmicky outdated monstrosities.

    • 21 October, 2013 2:15 am

      I think you’re quite wrong. The cost of better aerodynamics is not small, and in all these cases the cost of the basic bike is at or above $1500, and everyone knows that cost is one of the main factors limiting their adoption (DIY box bikes are surprisingly common among cargo bikes in the US, largely because of the higher cost of the regular products).

      It’s an obvious modification to all the box bikes to fit them with an aero front end, but the market for box bikes is largely parents with small children, and achieving high speeds (high enough that aerodynamics is truly a major factor — I would put that at above 15mph/25kph) is not high on their list of desirable features. In some cases, they do customize their boxes, but oddly enough, not for aerodynamics:
      http://flic.kr/p/gCmroc
      http://flic.kr/p/9TemTq

      Furthermore, I do own a longtail and ride it often, and can report that in fact its cruising speed on the flat is in fact just about 25kph. Its list price, however, was over $1500, and I have never carried as much as 300kG (are you specifying cargo weight, or gross weight? Max GVW was 250 kilos). I suspect that a Yuba Mundo, perhaps with a tire upgrade, would do as well, and those hit your price requirement and are also known to have carried as much as 225 kilos (and in another case, a full sized washer and dryer).

      I would ordinarily suspect that the standard hack of converting to a recumbent design would allow superior aerodynamics; however, this would probably also require 3 wheels (it appears that being taller than your cargo is a substantial advantage on 2 wheels, and recumbent would negate that — though the Rans HammerTruck is a partial counterexample) and recumbent plus tricycle plus cargo sends your vehicle cost well into the sky. For example, the TerraCycle Cargo Monster is a FreeRadical-like longtail extension that can be added to an existing tricycle, but it is $770 all by itself, not counting racks and bags (another $200). It looks like it is even beefier than the stock FreeRadical, so perhaps it can hit your cargo weight goal. The tricycles to which you might add it all seem to sell for at least $2190, so the total price of this route is about double what you propose.

Trackbacks

  1. PBR Brake » Brakes : Disc Brakes For Road Bikes
  2. Cargo Bike Tests by Ride On Magazine : Sustainable Melbourne
  3. Cyclelicious » Bikes
  4. Bikes | Bicycle News

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