Cargo Bikes

I’m looking to get an e-cargo bike to help reduce my reliance on cars. Does anyone have any experience with a Tern GSD vs a Bakefiets like the Bullitt or a more traditional style Amsterdam Bike? I have two kids and would need to transport them around in addition to getting groceries. I know I would prefer a gates belt drive and internal hub. I’m more interested in the interactivity with the kids on the bike, as in having them behind me VS in front. Thank you

In my experience having load at the back is always more annoying and less stable than at the front.

I’ve been using a Triobike Cargo for three years now to do daycare dropoff / pickup, groceries, park trips, etc. Not a true car replacement as I’ve never owned my own car, just used public transit / carshare. Montreal has good (exceptional by North American standards) options for both.

The bike was a fantastic purchase. The kids have a blast. They’re now 4 and almost 1, and can sit side-by-side in the front. Sometimes I throw on a rack and paniers and go camping with the 4 year old. I have friends who do the same with a longtail and seem to manage fine, though they do get whacked in the butt sometimes. =D

Other than the steering system, all the parts are totally standard (groupset is a mix of shimano mountain bike parts, mostly SLX 11-speed), so it’s great to work on. I also added a front wheel hub motor (Grin All-Axle) controlled by a thumb throttle and tweaked so it feels like you should be pedalling (motor limited to 300w with 1 second ramp up time). This way I can convert between e-bike and regular bike just by swapping the front wheel and mounting/removing the battery. My wife wanted the e-bike, but it was important for me that all the electronic side be modular. I have full confidence that, barring any catastrophic failures, the bike will age well and I’ll use it often even when the kids are too big; not so for the electronics.

If I were to do it again, the only thing I’d change is to get the Bullitt instead of the Trio Cargo. They’re the same design, but the Bullitt appears to be a bit more solidly built, probably with better QC (I could go into a lot of details here with little things I’ve noticed about the steering system, the bottom bracket, etc), and Triobike seems utterly useless when it comes to support.

I’ve done a few longer bike tours so packing the rest of the bike isn’t much of an issues for me. If I get a front loader I’ll get a rack for the back as well.

Thank you for your opinion, I have a 5 and 2 year old. The kiddos getting wild behind me is a bit of a concern. We have a trailer and they nearly tipped it this past weekend. Thank you for your thoughts on the electronics as well, it’s something I haven’t thought of.

Having ridden (and owned) a bunch of cargo bikes now, I can emphatically say I’ve been happiest with a front-loader.

I only have one kid, but even when she was getting to be around 4 or 5, I started noticing a lot more how the weight of her on the back affected the handling of the bike. And while we could have conversations while on the road, it was never great because she had a hard time hearing me. I also never grew entirely comfortable not being able to see her, especially when she was younger.

But with the front loader, she’s down low so the weight really doesn’t affect the bike’s handling much at all, she has a much more expansive view of her surroundings, and she also just has more fun since there’s more room for her and her stuff in there. If she needs to get something out of her backpack, she can just reach over and grab it; no can do with a longtail.

I can only fit her and one of her friends in the box now (I have an Urban Arrow with the optional front bench), but when she and her friends were smaller, I’ve had up to four kids in there with no issues.

Downsides: this bike is massive, massively heavy, and can be cumbersome in terms of general storage and maneuverability. The steering linkage is a little imprecise, and the front wheel has a tendency to shimmy at high speeds (25+ mph). The turning circle is laughably big. It’s also stupidly expensive.

That all said, the only thing I’d change at this point is I wish I’d gotten one of these sooner.

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What is the environment in which you will be using your cargo bike? For me, this drove a lot of the decision-making:

  • Flat vs hilly: I saw a lot of three-wheeled cargo bikes in Munich (flat), but wouldn’t want to use them in hilly Seattle
  • Climate: where I live it rains often, so I value having a canopy over the kids. They are better integrated into a Bakfiets type bike, which led me away from a Tern GSD
  • Storage: as @James_Huang says, Bakfiets type bikes are huge. If parking / storage is an issue that might be a showstopper

I ended up going with a hagenbikes steel Bakfiets (similar to a Bullit), because they offered good value for money and the customization I wanted (step through frame, belt drive). An Urban Arrow would have been my other choice, but they are prohibitively expensive in the US - much more expensive than in Europe.

Where did you put the electronics for your motor? Under the cargo box us nice and unobtrusive, but there’s still a lot of wires and laying it on its side to work on it means clearing even more space for the bike.

I got that old Workcycles FR8 second hand a few months ago. It’s muscular (as I can’t afford a €4000 - 6000 bike now) and as I am strong enough to carry my 7 and 2 year old kids on it. Hills are an issue as the bike weighs more than 30 kgs (without kids, stuff and locks).

Use case is school drop-off (and / or collection) and commute (one km in stupid traffic to school, and then 6 kms of utterly stupid traffic from school to work).
I chose a long tail (and not a front box) because of stupid traffic and lack of cycling infrastructure where I live (west of Paris).


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There’s no getting around the size and weight (though I’d bet the Urban Arrow is exceptionally heavy even among cargo bikes).

In James’ review of the Urban Arrow, you can see some concerning things about the steering linkage, like the small weld area on the tab where the linkage connects to the fork, and the strange band that apparently prevents the linkage from rattling (!?). You’ll find the steering linkage on the Triobike and Bullitt is sturdier and can take a lot of abuse (they were both built to be put through the wringer as commercial delivery vehicles) and there are no problems with shimmying. I bomb down a short 10% hill with full confidence regularly.

The system I use (from Grin in Vancouver) has the motor controller inside of the battery housing like this, so the electronic components are just the front wheel, the battery+housing+controller which is mounted to the bottle cage bosses on the “rear head tube” (the vertical tube underneath the handlebars), and the thumb throttle which is on the handlebars.

This means I only have two wires to run, one from the throttle to the battery+housing+controller and another from the battery+housing+controller to the motor. Both just run along the same path as the hydraulic line for the front brake.

I’ve tried a handful of cargo bikes of different styles.

For dense city use, I really enjoy a longtail. The box bikes I’ve tried have left me having to awkwardly move forward at some intersections to check for oncoming traffic. This might be a problem unique to my city, which allows vehicles to park very close to intersections which reduces visibility.

And longtails are easier to garage and move around in tight situations, such as turning around on a sidewalk.

I would prefer to have kids in front, but you can still interact and hear them.

One tip I have if you buy a longtail is to experiment with rider position. Moving my saddle setback further aft than is typical for me and using sweptback bars vastly improved handling. I do have to move my weight forward when carrying very heavy loads though.

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Did you only need one motor extension cable or were you able to place the battery close enough? I used a Grin motor but 1 meter of extension wasn’t enough, so I spliced a cable because having their connector wasn’t useful for my setup anyway.

I forgot- throttle control means you don’t need the pedal and brake sensors. I’ve also got the controller display with its buttons. I also went for a more economical external controller, partially because the baserunner was out of stock at the time, mostly because it was much cheaper.

So my rats nest of wires is a consequence of my DIY setup of parts from different manufacturers instead of Grin’s more integrated system.

James,
Thank you for taking the time to share your experience with the UA, and front loaders in general. I really want this to be a good experience for the kiddos as well as my self. It’s mostly flat here in the Cleveland area but the winters are wet.
I do have a question or two if you have time. It would seem that if you get a flat it would be harder to fix do to the weight of the bike. Are the rims tubeless compatible? If so, could you or would it be worth adding inserts in addition to going tubeless?
Also I don’t have a dealer for UA in my area, do they deliver?

Seeing around cars is an issue in my area as well, but I avoid going those streets so I don’t think it would be an issue for myself.

No experience of cargo bikes myself but just wanted to say thanks for starting this thread as it may well be something I will be looking into in the next couple of years.

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Thank you Raphael,
That bike looks sweet. Classic Dutch bikes are so much fun to ride. It’s close to school for me and I have a faster bike I tend to ride to work because I tend to work out on my commute to work. I think I would need more cargo room to do the grocery shopping. I’ve also been saving for some time. How does your bike handle in the winter? We have ice and snow here, less snow then in the past but the roads are slick in the winter.

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Your welcome,
I’ve been think about them for a long time. The last weekly pod inspired me to ask.

I’d love a podcast or article about cargo bikes. Perhaps more of us can ditch the car.

Front flats are no big deal, but rears can definitely be a pain. I’ve gotten into the habit of propping the center of the bike up on a crate (sort of like how you’d work on a motorcycle) so I can remove the rear wheel when/if necessary.

The rims on my particular bike aren’t tubeless-compatible, but that may have changed. Not sure on that one. But I just run heavy-duty tires (Schwalbe Pick-Up front and rear), thicker tubes, and I run sealant inside the tubes, too.

As for delivery, I’m afraid I don’t have an answer for that, either! I’m fortunate to have a local dealer here.

A second hand bakfiets is the thing we have and do most of the things in a 10 mile radius around the house with this thing. Our area is mostly flat. Bridges and some hills are probably the biggest climbs 60-100ft. Good for exercise.

Ours is a previous model which is currently called a cargobike long. I think this is the one that started the whole frontloader cargobike around here by Maarten van Andel.
It has a 7 spd nexus, chain and it’s something like 90lbs, no electric motor. Ours is almost 10 years old and after recently changing the back wheel it rides like a dream again. I put a dropper post on it because my legs our longer than the misses. We used to have this contraption in the bak to put a maxi cosi in there for the baby, now we have an extra bench for an extra kids.

Because of the IGH, encased chain and the selected parts the bakfiets really is bullit proof. It has been standing outside for it’s whole life and apart from some rust on the frame everything functions. It has a hard life just like a car. The roads are held free with salt during the winters.

What I especially like is how easy it is to load it all up with kids/groceries/stuff and ride away. Because of the low centre of gravity the bike is easy to handle. I pick the bakfiets always above our Moederfiets eventhough that has a child seat on the tube. I once did around 40 miles on a day hauling the kids from kindergarten, swimming lessons. I had pillows and a blanket in the bak and they ate pizza in there.

We have a 7 year old and the other is 3,5 yrs. The 7 years old mostly does biking himself, but when he’s lazy he can go in the bakfiets and I’ll drive him to school. The 7yr old is getting a little big for the bakfiets, but it’s still manageable. Interaction with the kids is great compard to the back. You see the same things. They hand me a bottle of water or whatever they have. It’s so much more care free to put them in the bak and let them have their toys or drawings. If they don’t want to hold on, just put it in the bak. The young one even sleeps in the bak. We put in some pillows, a blanket and lay her down on the bottom of the bak and after some minutes she sleeps. When we arive back home and she still sleeps we put her next to the door.

For groceries the bakfiets is really great, we can move a week of groceries in the thing. Luckily we don’t haul soda or beer around. We used to live in the city and there I’d used the bak as the trunk of the car. We have a black screen/cover that keeps rain out, it’s convenient to put stuff from the baker underneath and then go to other shops. The cover is also good for the kids when its raining, we roll it up so their legs are underneath. We also have a tent for the kids to stay fully dry and out of the wind, but don’t use it that often. The weather has to be really nasty for us to use the tent.

Compared to other frontloaders I really the spaciousness of ours, a bullit is really small and even a UA is a little smaller. What I dislike is that safety: the bak on ours is just that a wooden bak. UA and others have a metal bars that feel safer in case of an accident with a car. I don’t know if they really are safer, but our wooden bak would probably disintegrate easily. People around here are accustomed to bikes so I don’t feel unsafe.
Another point I’ve tended to notice: the tire width is limited on our back wheel 1 3/8". I have the feeling that a smaller tire size is more sensitive to the right pressure at a certain load. Bigger tires have the same ride feeling after dropping 90lbs of kids and stuff.

Because our back wheel was broken down I had a discussion with the misses if we didn’t need an electric bakfiets like the UA. That was out of the question. Totally unnecessary for her. Roads are good around here and on the straights 15mph is doable. She told me to fix the wheel asap because she felt like a retard doing groceries with a car instead of the bakfiets.

Oh before I forget the most important part: get one as quick as you can. Kids love the thing. My nephews live on a tropical island where biking is dangerous. The visited us recently and the thing they remembered was driving in the bakfiets 2,5 yrs ago.

Sorry for all those words, I’m a bit tired.

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