When you combine a regular bicycle with the convenience of a car, you get what’s known as a cargo bike. But aside from the occasional delivery person, few people here in the United States. are familiar with this mode of transportation.
We’ve created a complete guide to the cargo bike, from its history and uses to all the different types that you’d see in the streets. And when you finally see just how efficient it is, you’ll wonder why you don’t see it more often.
A Brief History of the Cargo Bike
The cargo bike as we know it was first created in Denmark during the 1930s. Delivery men used them to transport food, milk, and even mail through Copenhagen’s dense city streets. But its popularity truly peaked during World War Two, when the military used it to quietly cart soldiers and supplies without using up too much fuel.
To this day, people around many parts of Europe, Africa, and Asia continue to use the cargo bike for both work and daily errands. Unfortunately, its North American popularity declined in the 1960s thanks to the automobile and pickup truck. Although considering that climate change is now a growing concern, there’s still a chance that it can make a comeback.
What Can You Use a Cargo Bike For?
If you’ve ordered takeout before, then you might have seen your delivery person using a front-loading cargo bike. Yet this handy piece of equipment is much more versatile than you would think. Depending on their design, they’re also used for:
- Carting groceries
- Running errands
- Transporting pets and small children
- Carrying at least two people
You can also purchase separate accessories for bikes that carry passengers or to protect whatever items you have. And you don’t have to look far to get them, as companies like Ferla also offer:
- Toddler seats
- Floor mats
- Storage compartments
- Bike tables with cup holders
- Protective dust covers
With this level of convenience, it's easy to see why so many have swapped out their vehicles for a brand new cargo bike.
How Many Types of Cargo Bike Are There?
Although cargo bikes come in a wide range of designs, they all fall into three different categories: front-loading, long-tail, and mid-tail. And finding the right one for you will come down to both your personal riding experience and the bike’s intended use.
Front-Loading Cargo Bikes
Front-loading bikes, like the ones sold here at Ferla, are most similar to the earlier European models. Each one features either a large box, a basket, or an extended front area that allows you to store and transport large loads. Some are technically considered cargo tricycles, as they have two large front wheels on either side of the box.
If large enough, these front boxes can often include seats and seatbelts to keep passengers safe and comfortable during the ride. This particular set-up also makes for a great touring cargo bike.
While front-loading bikes are better for larger cargo, they can also be more difficult to maneuver if you’re not used to riding them. In that case, you may want to consider the following two options instead
We’ve already compared front-loading and long-tail cargo bikes in a previous blog post, but just to recap:
Long-tails are traditional bicycles with an extra 12 to 16 inches of extra space at the rear. This set-up allows you to attach racks, baskets, bags, and even a seat or two for extra passengers, yet is easier to ride than a bike with cargo in front. They are especially useful if you either work in local delivery or frequently travel with at least one small child.
If you want a bicycle that can carry some extra cargo but won’t take up a lot of extra space, then consider getting a mid-tail model. This version comes with an extra four to eight inches in the back, providing enough room for a few small bags and a toddler seat. They’re also a good option if you have limited storage space at home or are new to cargo-bike ownership.
Electric vs. Non-Electric Cargo Bikes
When you research modern cargo bikes, you’ll notice that there are two different types on the market: ones with electric assist and ones without. And if you don’t know the difference, it can be hard to determine which one you should purchase. For that, let’s do a quick comparison of the two to help you see the pros and cons of both versions.
Electric-assist cargo bikes, or e-bikes, come with pedal-assist electric motors that you charge ahead of time to help transport heavier loads for greater distances. They can take you anywhere between 50 miles and 300 miles on one charge, and up to 30,000 miles in total before their batteries need replacing.
Non-electric bikes, on the other hand, function just like any other manual bicycle. While this isn’t exactly a problem, it can make transporting cargo or traveling long distances extremely difficult. Remember that cargo bikes aren’t meant for workouts, and using them should make life easier.
In the end, whichever one you pick depends on how much you plan on carrying and how far you’re willing to travel. Although if you want to enjoy the full convenience of a cargo bike, then we say go with electric assist.
The Future of Cargo Bikes
Despite being around for almost a century now, cargo bikes are still in use today and will continue to assist us for many years to come. They transport almost as much as a regular car, require less maintenance, and save you money that you would otherwise spend on gas. And because they’re designed to travel long distances, they also help to drastically reduce our carbon footprint.
With all these benefits, it’s a shame that cargo bikes didn’t catch on in America the way they did across other parts of the world. Yet as more and more people change their daily routines to help this planet, we’re confident that they’ll soon make their long-awaited comeback.
If you’re looking to make your life easier and more sustainable with help from a cargo bike, then check out our products today.