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Cargo Bike Buying Guide

You can use any bicycle to carry stuff, thanks to panniers, front and rear racks, trailers, etc. With the right accessories, you can even carry a kid or two. A cargo bike is different. Designed to carry more than an average bicycle can, cargo bikes are built to handle heavy loads with more room for cargo.

Tern GSD electric cargo bike

Cargo bikes have the capacity to carry large and bulky items, proving you don’t need a car to do a Costco run.

Types of Cargo Bikes

A cargo bike can carry more and accommodate taller kids than a trailer can. Midtail cargo bikes, longtail cargo bikes, front loading cargo bikes, and cargo trikes are the easiest types of cargo bikes to find and buy in the US. Electric versions are pricier but worth it if you’re looking to replace a car or replace car trips. The main cargo area will either be in the front or back, depending on which style you choose.

Tern GSD cargo ebike

The midtail isn’t much longer than the average bicycle, but it’s made to haul a lot more. The Tern GSD can carry up to 440 pounds including the bike, rider, cargo, and accessories.

Midtail Cargo Bike

  • 72” to 76” in length or about 4” to 8” longer than the average bicycle
  • Fits 1-2 kids
  • Stuff goes in bags and/or on front rack/basket
  • Passengers sit behind the rider--best for taller kids
  • Less cargo capacity than a longtail or front loading cargo bike
  • Tern GSD, Tern HSD, Yuba Kombi, Benno Boost
  • Rides like a normal bike
  • Easiest to transport, store, and lock-up

Yuba Spicy Curry electric cargo bike

The longtail has a longer extended rear rack than a midtail, so it fits more people on the back.

Longtail Cargo Bike

  • 80” to 84” in length or about 12” to 16" longer than the average bicycle
  • Fits 2-3 kids
  • Stuff goes in bags and/or on front rack/basket
  • Passengers sit behind the rider--best for taller kids
  • More cargo capacity than a midtail but less than a front loading cargo bike
  • Yuba Spicy Curry, Surly Big Dummy, Xtracycle EdgeRunner Classic
  • Rides like a normal bike

Yuba Supermarché front loading cargo bike

As the name suggests, front loading cargo bikes carry cargo in the front. Front loaders like the Yuba Supermarché give you quick access to your stuff and the ability to keep an eye on the little ones.

Front Loading Cargo Bike

  • 96” to 102” in length or about 28” to 34” longer than the average bicycle
  • 1” to 4” wider than a midtail or longtail cargo bike
  • Fits up to 4 kids
  • Can accommodate infants
  • Stuff goes in front, usually in a box
  • Passengers sit in front of the rider--best for shorter kids due to the handlebars
  • More cargo capacity than a midtail or longtail cargo bike
  • Yuba Supermarché, Yuba Electric Supermarché, Urban Arrow Family
  • Lower center of gravity (easier to handle with lots of weight) than a midtail or longtail cargo bike
  • Easier to load/unload compared to a midtail or longtail cargo bike
  • Linkage steering takes getting used to
  • Least convenient to transport, store, and find parking for
  • The bike’s size might be an issue for some repair shops

Cargo Trike

  • Has 3 wheels instead of 2
  • Fits up to 4 kids
  • Stuff goes in front, usually in a box
  • Passengers sit in front of the rider
  • Triobike Mono
  • No need to balance at a standstill
  • Requires more deceleration than two-wheeled bikes on hills and when turning
  • Best for very flat terrain with wide paths

Why Midtails & Longtails are Awesome

There’s virtually no limit to what a longtail can carry. Longtails can haul kayaks, Christmas trees, stand up paddle boards, step ladders, bicycles, and other long objects. With the right accessories, you can put kids on the back and still have room for groceries. A longtail can accommodate Costco-sized packages, so you can buy in bulk when shopping. You can load it up with lumber, kitty litter, potting soil, you name it. You’ll never run out of uses for it. Cargo that’s obstructive on a front loader won’t be on a longtail, and there’s more legroom for older-kid and adult passengers.

What midtails lack in cargo capacity compared to longtails, they make up for in storage and transportability. Midtails can haul a lot more than regular bikes, but they aren’t much longer. Because of their small size, midtail cargo bikes are the easiest to store and transport. The Tern HSD and GSD can be stored vertically. Fold the handlebars, and they fit in the back of a small SUV.

Tern GSD in vehicle

Not every cargo bike can fit in the back of a small SUV, but the Tern GSD can.

Tern HSD stored vertically

The Tern HSD is a space saver. The rack doubles as a sturdy stand. The handlebar folds neatly out of the way.

Why Front Loading Cargo Bikes are Awesome

Yuba Electric Supermarché

A front loading cargo bike is also known as a front loader, long john, or bakfiets, Dutch for box bike. (Pronounce it bock-feets. If you’re talking about more than one, use bakfietsen.)

With front loading cargo bikes, you have quick access to your stuff, and since loading them is easy (like filling a giant bucket) you’ll spend less time packing your stuff. Your kids are seated in front of you where you can see them. You can chat with them. They can see where they’re going instead of looking at your back.

Urban Arrow Family electric cargo bike

When taking off from a stop, you can accelerate faster and get through intersections more quickly with electric assist.

Urban Arrow Family cargo bike

The Urban Arrow Family has a very upright (comfortable, easy to see what’s around you) position and an overall weight limit (bike, rider, passengers, cargo, and accessories) of 600 pounds.

Yuba Supermarché with rain canopy

Rain covers like Yuba’s canopy for the Supermarché protect cargo from the elements.

Cost

Yuba Kombi cargo bike

The Yuba Kombi has a small footprint and price tag.

Among the least expensive cargo bikes are non-electric longtails like the Yuba Kombi, though you’ll probably want electric assist if there are steep hills where you live or if you plan to ride with lots of weight for distances over 2 miles. Our lowest priced electric cargo bike is the Tern HSD P9. Though base price is lower, midtail and longtail cargo bikes generally require accessories to do what a front loader can. While quality cargo bikes can run several thousand dollars, they cost much less to own and run than the cars they can replace.

Accessories

Tern GSD with accessories

Tern’s kid and cargo accessories are well considered.

Accessories make a cargo bike more useful. You can customize a cargo bike for your specific needs by adding a front rack or basket, seat pad, rain cover, etc. You might want to add panniers, or a handle and footrest for a passenger. Some accessories (often lights and fenders) come standard. Others are sold separately. When you buy a bike from Clever Cycles, we install these at no charge. Cargo bike accessories tend to be brand-specific. For example, you can’t use a Tern Captain’s Chair on a Yuba Kombi, and the Yuba Bread Basket won’t work on a Tern GSD.

Child Seats

Urban Arrow Family with infant seat

The Maxi Cosi Seat Adapter for the Urban Arrow Family lets you bring along the youngest in your family.

One advantage front loading cargo bikes have over midtails and longtails is that they can accommodate infants. The Maxi Cosi Seat Adapter for the Urban Arrow Family was designed for Maxi-Cosi brand infant car seats. The adapter affixes to the sides of the cargo box, and the infant car seat clicks in place. Suspension in the adapter smooths out bumps along the way. As your child grows, there is an Urban Arrow Yepp Mini Adapter that works with the Thule Yepp Mini seat.

Tern GSD with child seats

The Tern GSD fits two Thule Yepp Maxi seats, and the Clubhouse+ handlebar can be used with the two child seats to create a comfy and protected space.

Thule Yepp seats are compatible with many cargo bikes on the market. The rack-mounted Yepp Maxi EZ Fit Seat fits cargo bikes with an EZ fit window, like the Tern HSD, Tern GSD, Yuba Spicy Curry, Yuba Electric Supermarché, Benno Boost or racks equipped with the Thule Yepp Maxi EZ Fit Adapter. The lighter-weight Yepp Nexxt Maxi clamps directly to a rear rack and is compatible with bikes the Yuba Kombi, Benno Boost, Tern GSD and HSD, as well as many non-cargo bikes.

Passenger Setups

Yuba Kombi passenger setup

The Yuba Kombi has a total cargo weight capacity (passengers, cargo, and accessories) of 440 pounds and can haul up to two kids, or one small kid and an adult.

When your child outgrows their Yepp seat then it's time for a passenger setup, like Yuba Monkey Bars, Mini Soft Spot cushions, and SideBoards. Front loading cargo bikes like the Yuba Supermarché can be outfitted with built-in benches.

Tern GSD with adult passenger

The Captain's Chair is the best seat in the house. Sidekick Joyride bars make it a complete passenger’s cabin.

Trailers

Trailers are generally compatible only with bakfietsen, but starting with gen 2, the Tern GSD will have an attachment point. A FollowMe Tandem Coupling joins a 16-inch or 20-inch wheel kids’ bike to a cargo bike like the Urban Arrow Family.

Electric Cargo Bikes vs Non-Electric Cargo Bikes

Yuba Spicy Curry AT

Having electric assist on a loaded-down bike is especially helpful when riding uphill or taking off from a stop.

It’s much easier to haul kids and heavy cargo when electric assist does some of the work for you. You’ll be glad to have it when you’re climbing a hill or traveling more than a few miles. That extra boost can mean the difference between using your car or enjoying all the benefits biking has to offer (e.g., more quality time with the kiddos, more fun for the family, and less wear and tear on the car). Electric cargo bikes have a bigger price tag, but if you’ll use it more, isn’t it worth it? We think so.

Yuba Electric Supermarché

If you have a wall outlet, you can charge an ebike battery. The annual electricity cost will vary, depending on your electricity rate and how much you ride, but it’s typically less than $4 per year.

You can read more about ebikes here.

Cargo Bike Maintenance

Routine maintenance and a little TLC will go a long way to keep your cargo bike running smoothly. Most of this will be done by a bike mechanic, but there is preventative maintenance you can do at home.

What to Do

Keep your cargo bike clean and dry. Dirt and grit can accelerate wear, and letting your bike sit wet for extended periods of time can cause parts to corrode. When your bike gets dirty, wipe it down using a clean rag. Don’t be tempted to spray with a garden hose, because water can cause corrosion. That doesn’t mean you can’t ride in the rain, but let your bike dry off when it’s been out in the rain, and store it someplace safe and dry. If you have an electric bike and you live in a cold climate, bring your battery inside at night, as cold temperatures can zap battery life. Take care of your bike and check it over regularly. New noises are usually a good indicator of when you need to see a professional mechanic.

Before You Ride:

  • Check the tire pressure. Inflate tires to the recommended PSI (pressure) as needed.
  • Squeeze the brakes to make sure they engage.
  • Make sure quick releases are fully closed.
  • Be prepared for an unexpected flat tire.

After You Ride:

  • Keep your cargo bike clean and dry. Recharge your ebike battery.

Once a Month:

  • Give your bike a thorough cleaning.
  • Inspect the tires and chain for wear.
  • Clean and lubricate the chain when dirty or squeaky.
  • Inspect the gear and brake cables for fraying and rust.
  • Drop your bike from a few inches. Any rattles or unfamiliar clunks might indicate loose accessories or components.

Regular Service

Cargo bike wheels carry all of the weight, and they’re built for that. When you bring your bike in for service, we check the spoke tension to make sure your wheels are up to the task. By keeping your tires properly inflated you can increase the life of your tires and prevent pinch flats. Pedaling will be noticeably easier if the tires are properly inflated vs if the tire pressure is too low.

A cargo bike can carry more weight than a regular bike. When you carry more weight, things wear out faster. All that weight and gear shifting and stress from the motor is hard on the drivetrain, and eventually the various components will need to be replaced. You can increase the life of your drivetrain just by keeping your chain clean and properly lubricated and replacing your chain when it wears out. Our mechanics have the tools needed to check how much life is left in these wear parts.

Many cargo bikes have hydraulic disc brakes. They’re more powerful, react faster, and require less hand strength than other brakes. They should feel firm and responsive. When they get soft, it’s usually an indication the brake pads are worn out. At this point, they will often need to be bled. Bleeding the brakes is a process that removes air bubbles from the brake fluid in the brake lines.

If you’ve purchased a bike from us, our expert mechanics will keep your rig running like new, starting with a new bike safety check after about 100 miles or 30 days of riding. After that, we recommend you bring your bike in every 6-12 months. If Clever Cycles isn’t your local shop, it’s good to form a relationship with a local shop that services cargo bikes.

Standard bikes can be serviced most anywhere, but if you have a cargo bike or electric cargo bike, it’s good to call ahead. First to make sure your local shop is willing to work on your bike, but more importantly to see if they’re familiar with the systems on your bike. Finding a shop that sells similar products is usually a good indicator. Something seemingly simple like fixing a flat tire can be difficult for a small local shop that isn’t familiar with hub motors or internally geared hubs. For service related to the electronics of your ebike, it is best to trust a shop that is certified to work on the electric system. Many electric bikes have updates that should be downloaded periodically. Bosch systems will need to be taken to a dealer for this service. Shimano systems can be updated using the app on your smartphone. It’s good practice to update ebike software/firmware once a year or whenever an update is available.

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