Home > Cargo Biking > Family Bike: Bakfiets or Long-John Cargo Bike

 

 

There is so much to sift through when looking to buy a cargo bike. So. Much. One that truly sticks out and is still quite an anomaly in North America (in my humble opinion), is the bakfiets (plural, bakfietsen). A quirky Dutch word that literally translates to “box bike”. These boxes are usually located in the front of the bike and the term bakfiets usually refers to front-loading wheelbarrow or long-John style two wheeled cargo bikes.

But how do you steer it with the wheel so far away from the handlebar? This style of bicycle uses linkage steering.

cargo bike

Woah. That was a lot of jargon. Let’s back up.

 

Cargo bike dictionary: bakfiets

  • bakfiets – Dutch for bak-=”box” –fiets=”bike” (or –fietsen=bikes)
  • bakfietsen – plural of bakfiets (a little confusing when compared to English because of the ‘-s’ at the end)
  • front-loading – the cargo (often children) goes in the front of the bike
  • wheelbarrow – well, the box shape often looks rather wheelbarrow-esque
  • long-John – according to BikeLaw.com this is the term in Denmark (bakfiets in the Netherlands; ‘Long-John’ in Denmark)
  • two wheel – there are also three wheel bakfietsen or box bikes (in North America, these are usually just referred to as trikes)
  • linkage steering – instead of the handlebars connecting directly to the front wheel via the steering tube/fork, they connect to a metal rod that runs between the steering tube/fork and the front wheel — that is the ‘link’ in linkage steering

As you research further, you may find people who pick a bone with the word bakfiets and its definition, but this info should help you smooth things over so that you can be on the same page and find out the info you were looking for. [Heck, I’m probably going to be refining this section due to some of that bone-picking, LOL! I’m okay with suggestions, so don’t be shy — my goal is to help people get more people on bikes so whatever I can do to help make things crystal clear, I’m all for it.]

 

Why a bakfiets cargo bike?

Cargo bikes are fantastic. Front loading cargo bikes are a family cargo bike dream. They’re:

  • convenient,
  • all-weather bubbles,
  • good for communication, and
  • flexible.

Here I go into more detail comparing bakfietsen, longtails, and trailers and my opinion of the ultimate bakfiets.

 

Convenient method of transportation

I dreamed about having a bakfiets but assumed I would just use a bike trailer because we would have one anyway for walking, jogging, and cross-country skiing. But, then winter hit and I would get stuck with helmets on, kids bundled, and a jog wheel frozen on to our Chariot after the dog walk, unable to convert it to bike mode. So, back into the house we would go and take the car instead, much to everyone’s disappointment.

Bakfietsen are load-and-go which is extremely convenient year round. They also are great for napping, being cozy, reading books, or snacking. And there’s enough room for gear or groceries (or both).

 

A cozy weather bubble

Many models of front loading cargo bikes are aimed at families, so they have good accessories like a canopy. Our Blaqpaks canopy acts like a little greenhouse to shield the kids from wind, rain, or snow but also keeping them warm in very cold weather.

maintenance

 

Chatting and parenting

It is somewhat easier to chat with your kids when they are in front of the rider, you. It is eminently easier to watch over a baby, relish in a toddler nap, or supervise cranky siblings when the kids are in a front box.

 

Flexible configurations

All box bikes are good at carrying cargo, some even have a removable box if a flatbed setup seems more appropriate for your load.

Box bikes are amazing for carrying kids. You can use a secured infant car seat for babies, other bike seats for older babies, a bench for toddlers and kids, your child can lie down and take a nap, and so on and so forth.

You can transport 2 or more children, depending on the model. You could put another child on a rear bike seat, trail-a-bike, or FollowMe Tandem. Brilliant.

In my experience, bakfietsen work best for babies but also growing children. I have reached a point where two bigger kids on the back on a longtail is tricky for me on my smaller 5’4″ frame, especially if I am not doing it frequently. But, due to the lower centre of gravity of the box, I find their weight no issue.

 

Why not?

In my opinion, there are three reasons people avoid front loading cargo bikes:

  1. Cost
  2. Size
  3. Linkage steering

 

Cost of a bakfiets bike

Cargo bikes are not cheap, it is true, and front load cargo bikes are the worst offenders. However, they are relatively inexpensive when you examine your transportation costs, especially if you drive a lot. They are inexpensive based on mileage costs comparisons, even when considering operating an electric cargo bike. For example, even if I only use our CETMA for school runs and the odd after-school program, I will more than pay for our bike plus its e-assist for the duration that my girls are in lower elementary school (K-4).

Cargo biking is inexpensive from another angle, too: the cost to society and your own health. The health benefits of cycle commuting and moving your body are undeniable.

benefits of bikes

Image from The Guardian.

 

If you can afford to take the plunge, I urge you to do so on an ideological level, but also a practical one, benefitting your own health and pocket book in the long run.

If you choke at the cost of a cargo bike and/or do not have the cash flow to make this jump to reduce your transportation costs over time, consider doing the math on a loan or financing for such a purchase. I despise debt but in this case, it makes sense to me.

Your least expensive option could be to do-it-yourself and build a bakfiets from another bike with some welding skills. Or, there is the Argo (formerly “Lift”) add-on kit that converts your bike into a long-John cargo bike.

 

Cargo bikes are big!

Cost kept us away from a bakfiets for a few years, but size was a factor too for us to not just jump in and go for it: we had nowhere to store such a long and wide bike. Once we had that space (and another baby) that tipped the scales to make the leap.

These sturdy bikes designed to carry large payloads are not lightweights. Good thing they’re on wheels and can roll!

 

How do you ride that thing?

Linkage steering really throws people for a loop! Please do not be intimidated by it and let that deter you from getting a front cargo bike, though. You can do it. Many people do it every day.

I know that I was very apprehensive but picked it up quickly.

 

Tips on learning to master linkage steering

Our back alley is ever-so-slightly sloped, so I pushed our bakfiets to the uphill side and hopped on. I did not pedal and I definitely did not have a load, I just let gravity do its thing. Our eldest was learning how to ride a pedal bike at the same time and I remember telling her repeatedly to “look where you want to go” so I channeled that mantra and let my monkey brain takeover.

It worked.

After a few laps of this, I got confident turning the bike around (the turning radius is way smaller than I expected — on our CETMA, at least) and riding back up our slight hill. Then I took a kid for a ride. Then both kids!

Within a week or two I was very comfortable on our usual routes but it was bizarre to switch between the bakfiets and our longtail or a regular bike. After about a month the switch was a breeze.

 

Which brand of front loading cargo bike?

There are quite a few varieties of cargo bikes available. They vary with respect to the following:

  • wheel size (front and/or back)
  • total length
  • stepover height (or step through)
  • box dimensions (kid or cargo carrying capacity)
  • kid carrying features
  • cargo carrying features (eg. removable box with flatbed)
  • electric assist or not
  • riding style (i.e. upright vs. more forward-leaning mountain bike stance)
  • hub generated lights
  • ability to mount a rear rack for panniers or child seat
  • brakes (go for mechanical or hydraulic disc if you have hills)
  • gears (the wider ranger the better, especially if you don’t get e-assist)

I wouldn’t be too concerned about wheel size or total length unless you have storage concerns. Often the rear wheel is bigger than the front, but there are now small wheeled bakfietsen on the market, which can help with overall size for smaller riders.

I strongly recommend an e-assist if you have any hills to deal with. It adds significantly to the cost and usefulness of the bike. We chose to add ours on later because we could not stomach nor afford the upfront cost — know that it is doable if you are in the same boat but I suggest researching your options and asking around first. [*This is a post that will come eventually…]

I also encourage a stepover height that is good for your body. In my opinion, step-through is best no matter what height you are when dealing with heavy loads; some people like to have a higher top tube that they can balance on their upper inner thigh when stopped at lights.

Everything else will depend on your budget, what is available in your area used, what your local bike shop sells, what you can test ride, or what will ship to you.

 

Cargo bike brands

Here is a table of all front loading cargo bikes available (that I am aware of) that cater to the kid carrying market, too: [Please feel free to comment below with further suggestions. Note that I have left out a few brands that do not seem to offer any features that make kid carrying easier, they seem more intended for non-live cargo.]

BrandCompany WebsiteReviews and/or Owners with a Web PresenceComments
CETMACETMA CargoReview: CETMA BakfietsBi-partable frame.
My Path to Cargo Bike Nirvana
Metrofietsn/aHum of the City ReviewNo longer building (2018). May find used.
Riese & MüllerRiese & MüllerPackster & Load ReviewsMultiple models available
Urban ArrowUrban Arrow: FamilyLovely Bicycle Review
Darker Side Review
Hum of the City Review
Larry vs. HarryBullittMomentum Mag Review
The Radavist Review
Hum of the City Review
BabboeBabboe (USA)This Twitter account has lots of pictures and comments on their 2-wheeler electric Babboe.
ArgoArgoHow to Install an Argo Video - BikeShopGirl.comFormerly Lift Cargo Bike
DouzeDouze-CyclesDutch Cargo Bike ReviewBi-partable frame.
TrioTrio Mono
bakfiets.nlhttp://bakfiets.nlHum of the City Review
Spokesmama uses one.
YubaSupermarchéBike Snob Review
GazelleCabbyReally Useful Bikes Review
PedalpowerLong HarryGerman website.
Electric version available, too.
RadkutscheRapid
VelolabKàro
Anywhere.Berlinanywhere.berlin #forgetroadsElectric, off road (fat tire) cargo bike!
ElianElian Cargo Bike
RetroveloPonyjohnMostly German website.
BerndsPackbernds
DollyDolly Family
VirtueGondolièreAlso available in electric; both models sold out at time of writing.
Christiana2-WheelerWell known for their trikes, they also have 2-wheelers.
WorkcyclesKr8
AchielleLong Achielle
VelorbisLong John
MuliMuli Cargo Bike
Oak Cliff Cargo Bicyclesthe Bonnie

I am especially interested in adding great reviews of these bikes so please let me know if you have written one or know of one! Thanks.

Other ways to carry kids by bike

We are pretty stuck on bike trailers and infant or child bike seats in North America, but check out the myriad of ways you can carry kids by bike if you haven’t already!

 

Other posts in this cargo bike dictionary series

 

Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with any bicycle brands, cargo bike or otherwise. The brands referred to within this piece are placed in no particular order. However, FYI, This Mom Bikes is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com and its partners. Amazon and the Amazon logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates. Never fear, most links in this post are not affiliate links!