Top things to look out for when buying an electric cargo bike
Bikes come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and for families, a cargo bike might be the right solution to do the school run and to go on fun adventures as a family.
Electric cargo bikes have become a more common sight and you can use them for all sorts of trips, including cycling your kids to school or nursery but also do the weekly shop and run other errands. Depending on the type of cargo bike, you could transport up to four children.
But what do you need to think about before buying one?
This article is mostly about electric cargo bikes, because these are popular and more expensive, so more research is needed before purchasing one.
Different types of cargo bikes
To decide what kind of cargo bike is best for you and your family, the best thing is to test different types and brands.
The three main types of cargo bikes are:
A longtail bike is a two-wheeled cargo bike with a longer rear, including the rear rack.
The strong rear rack usually allows two (and sometimes three) children to be seated, either in bike seats or directly on cushions on the rack.
2-wheeled box bike
Box bikes are bikes with a box at the front that can seat two to four children in it.
When it’s a two-wheeled box bike you usually steer by moving the handlebars which are connected to the front wheel. This means you are not steering with the entire box.
3-wheeled box bike
Another type of box bike (or actually a trike) is one with two wheels at the front, on each side of the box.
This makes them very stable, although you can tip over if you take a bend too sharply.
These different types of cargo bikes (and trikes) are all very different to ride and the best thing to do would be to test ride as many different types as you can, so you get a feel for what is best for you.
Read more about the difference between 2-wheel and 3-wheel cargo bikes and go to our recommendations for electric longtail cargo bikes.
Cycling with an electric cargo bike
It is very hard to explain what riding a cargo bike will be like for you, because it depends a lot on your personal situation and the cargo bike you choose.
The most important thing to remember is that you will get used to it very quickly! And if you're struggling, there's probably support and training available through your Council or local bike/community hub.
Most cargo bikes are heavier than normal bikes, and adding your child(ren) to the bike will make it even heavier. So in general, manoeuvring a cargo bike will be trickier and slower than a 'normal' bike.
Because your bike is heavy and possibly bigger too, you'll have to adjust your riding stye to make sure you stay safe. What this means in practice is slowing down your pace and taking a more cautious approach to junctions.
Planning your route carefully is also very important, as well as understanding where you should position yourself on the road.
Cargo bikes are designed to be used by novices and to carry large amounts of cargo, so you'll find that they're very stable. The 'electric' in your electric cargo bike will help with this too. Clearing a junction will be no problem because of the e-assist on your bike.
Once you get used to riding your new bike, you will hit your stride and you can enjoy special family time.
Newsflash: your kids are growing
The age of your children is also very important, as well as the size of your family. Are you expecting to have another baby anytime soon?
You may have a 1 and a 3-year old at the moment, but in a couple of years, you may be a family with a baby, and a 3 and 5 year-old.
Do you want to be able to take any other children on your cargo bike for playdates or outings?
Look for versatility in a cargo bike so you can get the most use out of it.
Once you have a cargo bike you will be surprised by how much stuff you can carry on a bike, from weekly shops to Christmas trees.
You may also want to think if you want to be able to take the bike with you in a car or a train.
Some electric cargo bikes can be folded and some can go on a bike rack on a car. Longtail bikes can usually go on trains, while box bikes or trikes cannot.
Your family’s needs
A big purchase like an electric cargo bike needs to be right for your family, so think about your family’s specific needs.
- Who will be riding the electric cargo bike?
- Will you be riding long distances?
- Do you live in a hilly area?
- How many children will you be carrying?
- What other things would you like to carry on your bike?
- Will you also be using the cargo bike to get to work?
If more than one person will be riding the bike, look out for how easy it is to adjust the bike between users. This needs to be easy and quick, as you might be doing this every day!
How much does an electric cargo bike cost?
An electric cargo bike is an amazing piece of engineering that needs to be able to withstand some battering, and it therefore requires a strong frame as well as some other specialist features to give you a comfortable and safe riding experience.
Prices for electric cargo bikes range from around £2,000 to over £5,000, without accessories.
From what age can my children go on a cargo bike?
On some electric cargo bikes, you can carry a baby in a car seat. Most box bikes will offer adapters for car seats, and longtail bikes might offer the option to attach a car seat to the rear rack.
It is up to you to decide when your baby is ready to be taken in a car seat on a cargo bike.
This will depend on several factors, including your baby's development and health, your bike set up, and where you’re cycling.
On most cargo bikes, your children can go on the bike from the moment they are ready to go in a bike seat, which is around 9-12 months or when they can sit up unaided.
Longtail cargo bikes can fit bike seats on the rear rack so that you can carry your children in bike seats until they outgrow the bike seat when they are between 3 and 6 years old (this depends on the bike seat). When children are old enough they can sit on a cushion on the pannier rack.
In box bikes, toddlers can sit on the bench in a toddler seat, and when they’re a bit older on the bench itself.
Always check the manual that comes with your bike or seat on age, height and weight restrictions.
When will my children be too big to go on a cargo bike?
This will depend on the cargo bike. Most cargo bikes can seat one adult, so your older child or teenager could still ride with you on a cargo bike.
Check the upper weight limit of your cargo bike to make sure your bike is fit to carry them.
How much will I need to spend on accessories for a cargo bike?
Prices for accessories for cargo bikes vary and can seem eye-wateringly expensive, but they will change your cargo bike riding experience for the better!
Longtail bikes may require more accessories compared to box bikes, because they usually don't come with seating.
A good set up will make you want to use the cargo bike all the time, so consider the price of accessories as well as the price of the ‘bare’ bike.
Keeping dry when it rains
If you’re going to cycle all year round you will probably need some accessories to keep yourself and your children dry on the cargo bike.
Some cargo bikes can be fitted with covers or canopies to keep your children dry. This can be particularly handy if you’ve got very small children.
Other options are ponchos which can be fitted over bike seats. There are many clever options out there!
And don’t forget to invest in a good lock, or two. These don’t come cheap but you don’t want your expensive new purchase to be stolen.
E-bike motor and battery
An e-bike comes with a motor that offers electric assist when you pedal.
E-bikes come with different motor options in terms of where they are positioned, what brand, and how powerful they are.
An e-bike is heavier than a normal bike and an electric cargo bike is even heavier, especially when you carry a couple of children on it, so you will need excellent brakes.
That's why we advise to look for disc brakes on a cargo bike.
Disc brakes have discs mounted on the hub of each wheel and when you pull the lever, the disc, or rotor, is clamped by brake pads from both sides.
Hydraulic disc brakes outperform mechanical disc brakes in performance and efficiency, because the fluid system is more efficient than a steel cable. A piston in the brake lever pushes hydraulic fluid through the brake cable when the lever is pulled.
Hydraulic disc brakes require less effort to pull the lever, so are easier on the hands because the levers are more sensitive. This can be particularly important if you’ve got small hands or have got a long-term health condition.
Most hydraulic disc brakes come with one piston on each side of the disc, but some come with two pistons on each side, allowing an even better braking experience.
The part that will need to be replaced most often on disc brakes are the brake pads. These are fairly easy to replace yourself, which might save you some time and money.
Other things to consider
Is the bike you’ve got your eyes on available for a test ride? A test ride is essential to find out if the bike is the right one for you.
Even if you’ve narrowed your choice down to just one or two bikes, riding them will help you decide which one is best for you.
If possible, make sure your partner or any other adults that will be riding the bike do a test ride as well, because a bike that suits you might not suit someone else (especially if they're taller or shorter than you are).
Make sure you take your time and ideally test the bike as you would on a normal day, so take your children along to the test ride and try out getting on and off the bike, parking it, as well as riding.
If you don’t feel comfortable doing this, make sure you add some weight to the bike where the children would normally be sitting, to give you an idea of how it would feel riding the bike with your kids on it.
In some places it’s possible to hire a cargo bike for a while, so you can truly test it, including in different weather conditions.
Storing options for a cargo bike
Depending on where you live, you may not have access to secure indoor cycle storage to store an electric cargo bike. And if you do, space might be tight.
Longtail cargo bikes are usually easier to store than other types of cargo bikes, because they are more similar in size to a normal adult bike.
With space being tight for most families, clever features to make your bike easier to store could be helpful, such as storing the bike upright, or folding the handlebars.
Think about access, are there any kerbs or steps that you will need to get the bike up? An electric cargo bike is heavy, and you may struggle getting it up steps.
Servicing at your local bike shop
Does your local bike shop service this type of e-bike?
Your local bike shop should be happy to service an e-bike with parts from well-known brands, but they might be hesitant to service an e-bike with a motor which is not by a well-known brand, for example.
For e-bikes with motors by well-known brands any software updates can only be done by certified mechanics.
Once you've invested in your cargo bike you may well want to make sure it's insured. Depending on the type of insurance, the value of your bike, and your location, insurance will start from around £100 per year to insure your cargo bike.
Another option is to look into your current home insurance, as some home insurance can sometimes include bikes. Check the maximum value of the bike and if it covers e-bikes.
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- Best electric longtail cargo bikes
- What type of cargo bike is best for my family?
- How much does an electric family cargo bike cost?
- Review of the Bike43 longtail cargo bike
- Decathlon's longtail e-cargo bike now available in UK
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- Can you solar power an electric cargo bike?
- 2 vs 3 wheeled cargo bikes; which is best for carrying kids?
- Mycle launch new accessories for cargo bikes
- How to charge the battery of your e-bike safely