What is a Cargo Bike? A Comprehensive Guide to Cargo Bicycles

what is a cargo bike

What is a Cargo Bike?

A cargo bike, also known as a freight bicycle or a bakfiets, is a bicycle designed to haul cargo rather than just transport riders. Unlike a standard bicycle, a cargo bike has a larger frame and wheels to support extra weight. The most distinguishing feature of a cargo bike is the large cargo area, which can come in different styles like a box or platform in the front or a long extended trunk in the back. This allows you to carry groceries, kids, pets, packages, and more. Cargo bikes come in human-powered and electric-assist models. They provide a greener alternative for urban transportation and delivery services.

Different Types of Cargo Bikes

There are several main types of cargo bikes:

  • Long John: These cargo bikes have a large box or platform in the front to carry cargo and kids. The smaller front wheel allows cargo to sit lower.
  • Long tail: The cargo space extends far back over the rear wheel, good for oversized or odd-shaped loads.
  • Front Loader: Similar to a Long John but with two same-sized wheels for better handling. The cargo box is in front of the rider.
  • Midtail: A shorter version of a longtail with cargo space behind the rider.
  • Trike or Tricycle: Has three wheels for greater stability under heavy loads. Many models have a large front cargo box.
  • E-cargo bike: Any of the above models can be electric-assist, with a battery to help power the motor.
what is a cargo bike

Benefits of Cargo Bikes for Families

Cargo bikes provide many benefits for families:

  • Carry Kids: Cargo bikes easily transport 1-2 kids in front or rear seats or the cargo area. It’s a fun alternative to driving.
  • Haul Stuff: The large cargo space and electric assist means you can haul a week’s worth of groceries or other cargo. No need for a car.
  • Save Money: Cargo bikes are cheaper to buy and maintain than a car. You also save on gas, insurance, and parking fees.
  • Convenience: Cargo bikes are easy to park, great for short trips, and provide door-to-door service not possible by car.
  • Healthy: Cycling is a great exercise for both kids and parents. It promotes an active lifestyle.
  • Environmental: Cargo bikes run on human power with zero emissions, reducing your carbon footprint.

Cargo Biking for Business Uses

Use CaseDescription
Local deliveryUsing cargo bikes for making local deliveries in urban areas. Allows accessing areas cars can’t and reduces traffic congestion.
Mobile servicesService providers like plumbers or electricians can transport tools and equipment by cargo bike instead of a van.
Food and cateringRestaurants, caterers, and food trucks can use cargo bikes to transport ingredients or food orders.
Promotional marketingCargo bikes with branding can be used for mobile advertising and promotions at events.
TransportationCargo bikes used to move people and goods short distances around corporate campuses, hotels, or urban areas.
Waste and recyclingCargo bikes used for pickup/drop-off of waste, recycling, or composting by businesses.
Maintenance and repairMaintenance crews can transport tools, equipment, and supplies by cargo bike.
Mobile retailPop-up shops, mobile boutiques, food carts and other retail can be mounted on cargo bikes.

Limitations of Cargo Bikes

However, there are some limitations to consider with cargo bikes:

  • Weight Limit: Cargo bikes can typically carry up to 400 lbs or more, but they have lower limits than cars. You may need an electric-assist model to manage real heavy loads.
  • Weather: Cargo bikes leave you exposed to the elements. Rain or snow can be challenging. Fenders, rain covers or fairings help.
  • Distance: Average electric cargo bikes can go 15-30 miles on a charge. Longer trips may be better suited for a car.
  • Hills: Heavy cargo bikes require more power to climb hills. Electric models or mid-drive motors can help considerably.
  • Maneuverability: The longer wheelbase of cargo bikes can make them less agile. You need more space to park and turn.
  • Cost: Cargo bikes are more expensive than standard bikes, with electric-assist models ranging from $2500-$5,000.

Key Parts of a Cargo Bike

Cargo bikes contain some specialized components to handle heavy loads:

  • Frame: The frame is stronger and larger to accommodate cargo weight. Steel or aluminum frames provide durability.
  • Wheels: Wheels are 20-26” and often have puncture-resistant tires and rim brakes or disc brakes to stop heavy loads.
  • Drivetrain: Mid-drive electric motors and lower gearing provide extra power to pedal with cargo. Internal hub gears are low maintenance.
  • Cargo Area: Made from steel, wood, or composite. Some have modifiable covers, seats, and tie-downs.
  • Hydraulic disc brakes: Give greater stopping power compared to rim brakes. Important for controlling a loaded cargo bike.
  • Linkage steering: Some long John models have linkage bars instead of a front fork. This can provide more stability.
  • Child Seats and Safety: Integrated front/rear seats or cargo area child restraints are available. Safety flags help visibility.

Test Riding and Purchasing Considerations

If interested in purchasing a cargo bike, it’s highly recommended to test ride multiple models first. When test riding:

  • Evaluate carrying capacity and handling with cargo loaded.
  • Assess comfort in the seat and pedal position.
  • Try different electric assists and gearing options.
  • Examine the ease of loading cargo in different areas.
  • Look for high-quality components like puncture-resistant tires.
  • Consider useful accessories you may want like lights or child seats.
  • Opt for hydraulic disc brakes for stopping power.
  • Choose a reputable brand that offers service and support.

Accessories for Customizing Your Cargo Bike

There are many handy accessories to customize your cargo biking experience:

  • Child seats and restraints – Ensure kids are safe and comfortable.
  • Cup holders and phone mounts – Keep your stuff handy while riding.
  • Rain canopies and windshields – Protect cargo from the elements.
  • Baskets, boxes, and bags – Contain loose items in the cargo space.
  • Trailer attachments – Tow a trailer for even more capacity.
  • Rear and front lights – Enhance visibility and safety.
  • Fenders and chain guards – Keep you and your cargo clean from splashes.
  • Flooring and cushions – Provide more comfort for passengers.
  • Locks and alarms – Deter theft.
  • Solar panels – Tap the sun to charge electric cargo bikes.
Children riding on a family cargo bike
Source: Motrike

Transporting Kids on Cargo Bikes Safely

When riding with children:

  • Use integrated cargo bike child seats or restraints when available. Check weight limits.
  • Always wear a helmet and model good behavior.
  • Ride cautiously and avoid risky maneuvers. Accelerate and brake gradually.
  • Reduce maximum speed. Obey lower speed limits in neighborhoods and bike lanes.
  • Communicate with kids about safety. Teach them to lean on turns and keep their hands and feet inside.
  • Consider a child’s age and abilities. An older child may do fine riding independently alongside.
  • Bring water and snacks. Take breaks to check on kids’ comfort.
  • Dress kids appropriately for the weather. Seat covers or rain canopies add protection.

Integrating Cargo Bikes into Urban Transportation Networks

Cities worldwide are integrating cargo bikes into transportation networks through:

  • Dedicated bike lanes are wide enough for cargo bikes to safely share the road.
  • Bike lane priority/early signals to give cargo bikes a head start at traffic lights.
  • Bike boxes allow cargo bikes to move to the front at intersections.
  • Secure cargo bike parking areas.
  • Partnering with cargo delivery companies to reduce truck traffic.
  • Pilot programs to test feasibility and demonstrate benefits.
  • Public bike share programs specifically for cargo bikes.
  • Tax incentives or subsidies to promote business adoption.
  • Zoning laws require cargo bike loading/parking areas for new developments.

Cargo Bike Communities and Resources

Connecting with fellow cargo bikers provides support:

  • Local cargo bike groups on Facebook – Share tips and meetups.
  • Cargo bike blogs – Learn from other families using cargo bikes.
  • Bike cooperatives – Offer DIY workshops on cargo bike maintenance and repair.
  • Conferences like the North American Cargo Bike Festival – Hear industry experts speak.
  • Online forums and Reddit – Get advice from experienced cargo bike owners.
  • Check for local bike shops with expertise in cargo bikes – Test ride models.

Cargo Bike Maintenance Tips and Considerations

To keep your cargo bike rolling:

  • Inspect tire pressure and wear regularly when hauling heavy loads.
  • Lube the chain, gears, brakes, and any linkage parts.
  • Check belt tension on electric motors.
  • Watch for loose bolts that secure cargo boxes and racks.
  • Note any abnormal noises that may signal a problem.
  • Clean and wipe down the cargo area periodically.
  • Recharge electric batteries fully. Store indoors during extreme cold.
  • Schedule annual tune-ups especially for the drivetrain and brakes.

Future of Cargo Bikes and Sustainable Transportation

Cargo bikes represent a sustainable mobility trend for the future:

  • Cargo bike technology will continue improving – lighter materials, increased range and capacity.
  • Mainstream adoption is rising with families and businesses.
  • Cities are actively designing infrastructure around cargo bikes.
  • Environmental concerns and urban density will drive cargo bike use.
  • Integrating micro-mobility, cargo bikes help enable car-free lifestyles.
  • Cargo bikes promote more equitable access to transportation.
  • Electric assists will help cargo bikes scale challenging terrain.
  • Seamless integration with public transit through multi-modal hubs.

Notable Cargo Bike Trends Around the World

Popular cargo bike styles reflect regional cultures:

  • Northern Europe – Traditional front-loading “Long Johns” like the Bakfiets are common. Very bike-friendly cities.
  • USA – “Longtail” cargo bikes dominate with the ability to carry kids and pets. Works well for suburban life.
  • UK – Cargo tricycles are popular for urban delivery businesses to transport goods through congested city streets.
  • China – Human-powered cycle trucks with massive capacity are still widely used for freight transport.
  • India – High-capacity cycle rickshaws provide last-mile transport connecting rural villages.
  • Latin America – Homemade longtail cargo bikes built from used bike parts are affordable utility vehicles.

Getting Started with Motrike’s Cargo Bike

Motrike offers high-quality electric cargo trikes purpose-built to carry multiple passengers and cargo:

  • Generous carrying capacity up to 400 lbs. Large rear basket and passenger seats.
  • Powerful Bafang mid-drive motor and LG battery give 45+ mile range.
  • A sturdy steel frame provides stability and durability.
  • Integrated child seats and seat belts are available. Plus weather protection options.
  • Disc brakes deliver premium stopping power and handling control.
  • Customize with accessories like a trailer for expanded cargo options.

Check out Motrike’s models in detail at Motrike.com to find the right cargo trike for your transportation needs.


Continued improvements in technology along with dedicated infrastructure and policy support will only increase cargo bike accessibility and mainstream adoption moving forward. With their many benefits for family, business, and community use, cargo bikes are sure to play an expanding role in helping create greener and more livable cities for the future.

Contact Motrike to get the perfect cargo bike solution today!

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