Home > Cargo Biking > Family Bike: Cargo Trikes

 

 

There is so much to sift through when looking to buy a cargo bike. All of the many ways to carry kids by bike was covered in our Cargo Bike Dictionary overview. One such way that is still quite an anomaly in North America is the bakfiets (plural, bakfietsen), a compound word that translates to “box bike” from Dutch. These boxes are usually located in the front of the bike found rider-side of the front wheel in the case of a “long John” (or two-wheeled style box bike) or sandwiched between the two front wheels in the case of a trike!

That’s right: front wheels. Your typical cargo trike is the inverse of your childhood trike (or adult-size gomier trike) and the box lies between the two front wheels.

But how do you steer it with the wheels significantly in front of the handlebar? This style of tricycle uses linkage steering connected to a metal tie rod that synchronizes the movement of the wheels.

In North America, when people use the word bakfiets they are often referring to a two-wheeled version. The word trike or cargo trike is more commonly used to distinguish 3-wheel cargo bikes from two-wheelers here.

Let’s run through the vocabulary quickly to make sure we are on the same page!

 

Cargo bike dictionary: trike

  • 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
  • tricycle – like a two-wheeled bicycle, but has three wheels
  • trike – short for tricycle (above) and often what three-wheeled box bikes are referred to (in North America, at least)
  • delta trike – one wheel in front, two in back (like children’s tricycles or gomier trikes)
  • tadpole trike – two wheels in front, one in back (like most child-carrying cargo 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 a metal rod (or “tie”) between the front wheels (kind of like a car) — that is the ‘link’ in linkage steering
  • tilting – when the front has been designed to tilt in order to keep the rider vertical, otherwise when you ride a trike the rider tilts as per the road slope

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 are looking for.

And, if you want to learn more about tricycles, in general, I will point you to Sheldon Brown’s authoritative page. The focus here will be family cargo trikes.

bakfiets dagkopie” by Harriet Damave is licensed under CC by 2.0

 

Why a tricycle cargo bike?

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

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

It is no secret that I am a big fan of two-wheeled bakfietsen, but I see the beauty in cargo trikes, too. In particular:

  • some are designed to carry even more than your average two-wheeler,
  • easier to balance heavy (wiggly) loads at slow speeds, and
  • very, very stable when stopped.

When you see non-motorized school buses carrying more than four children, they are always trikes!

 

Convenient method of transportation

Bakfietsen are load-and-go which is extremely convenient year round. By “load-and-go” I primarily mean that there is no trailer to hook up. They are also great for napping, being cozy, reading books, or snacking. And there’s enough room for gear or groceries (or both).

For many models the box of a three-wheeler is bigger than on a two-wheeler, except for maybe the Babboes, Trios Mono, and Butchers & Bicycles.

 

A cozy weather bubble

Many models of front loading cargo bikes are aimed at families, so they have good accessories like an all-weather canopy. Canopies can act like little greenhouses to shield the kids from wind, rain, or snow but also keeping them warm in very cold weather.

 

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. And any kid shenanigans in a three-wheeler will not be throwing off your balance because they are so stable.

 

Flexible configurations

All box bikes are good at carrying cargo. 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, sometimes even two benches in a trike, 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 of 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. Steering & tipping

 

Cost of a trike cargo bike

Cargo bikes are not cheap, it is true, and front load cargo bikes are the worst offenders, especially e-cargo bike versions. However, they are relatively inexpensive when you examine your transportation costs, especially if you drive a lot. They are inexpensive based on mileage cost 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.

 

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 wide bike. Once we had that space (and another baby) the scales tipped and we made the leap.

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

Cargo trikes tend to be wider than two-wheel bakfietsen, something to consider if you plan to store it in a building with a standard-sized door. But, cargo trikes are usually much shorter than the two-wheelers — another consideration for storage.

 

How do you ride that thing?

Most cargo trikes seem to have a wide integrated handle bar connected directly to the frame or box in front. Some operate with a regular handle bar.

Try out both styles if at all possible because people really seem to have a preference of one over the other.

 

Road camber & tilting

When we first started looking at bakfietsen, I thought that I would want a trike because I was afraid of balancing a big load, slipping out in winter, and just wanted something super solid and sturdy — to me, a cargo trike fit the bill.

Then, I learned that the bike leans with the camber of the road; whereas, with a two-wheeler the rider can still ride vertically even if there is a slant in the road because the rider can lean into the slight slope so as to remain vertical. It really weirded me out to think that I would have to ride around sort of lop-sided all of the time because where we live, even the majority of the off-street pathways have a slight camber in them to shed water and all of the roads definitely do.

However, there are a couple of models of cargo trikes that have figured a way around this (and I would highly recommend it): they have a tilting mechanism! Like the Butchers & Bicycles MK-1(E) and the Babboe (e-)Carve. Very cool and a necessity, in my opinion.

Without the tilting mechanism there is a learning curve at higher speeds and when cornering. Surprisingly, even with their three wheels on the ground, this style of tricycle can be unstable and tippy at higher speeds and/or when cornering! Who knew.

 

Hills & climbing

I think that part of the reason trikes are not that popular in North America is that they are designed for flat cities and many bike-friendly cities on this continent are not flat. Montréal is surprisingly hilly, Vancouver and Seattle are notoriously hilly, San Francisco takes the cake for being hilly! Calgary is not a flat prairie town. Toronto and New York are relatively flat and possibly suitable for trikes.

Electric cargo trike options will help to revolutionize this issue, for sure.

Do not try to stand up and pedal while riding a trike, you will be woefully surprised! You might get there with some practice, but expect serious wobbles at first.

 

Riding style

Three-wheel cargo bike riding stance is always upright and the frames are frequently a complete step-through. This is good especially for smaller riders.

 

Steering

I cannot speak from experience but I have been told to try as many trikes as you can as they apparently all steer slightly differently and this is not just due to handlebar style (above). You may assume that you are going to like one brand over another, but your opinion could very well change dramatically after trying it.

Take this with a grain of salt coming from someone who mail ordered a two-wheeled bakfiets having only ever ridden one model and not the model that was purchased! I fully realize how hard it is to try out a cargo bike, period, in many locations in North America, let alone try out different brands/models of the same style of cargo bike for children!

Trying out as many cargo bikes as you can to find the best fit for your family is excellent advice. Unfortunately, it is often impractical advice for North Americans and you just have to ask around in Facebook groups, scour the internet for reviews, and jump with a leap of faith when you make a decision!

I will link to as many reviews as possible for the various cargo trikes in the table of brands and models, below.

 

Two-wheeled or three-wheeled bakfiets?

Many people, myself included, are initially drawn to three-wheeled bakfietsen because of the worry about a two-wheeler being tippy or unstable. The other unknown is long linkage steering in the two-wheeler. Yes, linkage steering takes some getting used to, but don’t assume that hopping on a trike will feel like a regular bike, because it’s not a bicycle: it’s a tricycle.

Yes, trikes are extremely stable when stopped, but so is a two-wheeler with a solid double kickstand. Perhaps the trike is a bit more stable, but it’s a toss up, really.

Yes, trikes are absolutely more stable at slow speeds, there is no doubt about that.

If you are dealing with hilly terrain, I would go two-wheeler or at the very least, seek out an e-assisted tilting/carving-style trike.

Expect to list due to road camber with a trike; this is not the case with a two-wheeled bakfiets because it is still like a regular bicycle in that regard.

Expect to have to re-teach yourself to ride a little bit with a trike, much like you will feel a bit weird on a two-wheeled bakfiets for the first week or so due to the linkage steering. Expect cornering and higher speeds to feel less stable than you expect. You will likely learn to ride differently because of it.

If you have four or more children to transport, you are limited for selection with two-wheeled bakfietsen; there are many more options that will fit that many kids in the three-wheeled category.

Every person I talked to who is experienced with riding trikes cautioned taking it easy at first! Slow speeds, try kid-free loads at first with ballast (like dog food bags), anticipate tricky steering with poor road conditions, some can’t imagine riding without a a regular handlebar setup (others are fine with the bar-style), lean into the bend, re-learn cornering — this is the consistent advice given. These folks like their trikes! This advice is given because of the common misconception stated at the start of this section.

I do think that e-assist and carving/tilting trikes are revolutionizing the three-wheeled bakfiets world. Because of these newer features, it boils down a lot more to personal preference. I think, above all, one is a bicycle and the other is a tricycle; both are awesome at getting you out of the car more and having great quality time with your kids!

 

Which brand of front loading cargo bike?

There are quite a few varieties of 3-wheel 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 (cushions, canopy, etc.)
  • electric assist or not
  • hub generated lights (choose, if possible)
  • 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 ones.

I strongly recommend an e-assist if you have any hills to deal with. It adds significantly to the cost — but also the 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 often doable if you are in the same boat but I suggest researching your options and asking around first to make sure that you can do that to the bike you decide on getting.

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 tricycle 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
ChristianiaFor childrenMomentum MagOne of (if not) the oldest cargo trike companies around
Hum of the City
vélocouture
Suburban Bike Mama [2011] (Electric Trike)
NiholaFamily or 4.0Hum of the City
BabboeBig, Curve, & CarveCargo Bike Life (Big-E)Tilting option available (Carve)
E-assist available
Five Little Stars (Babboe Curve Electric)
CycleSprog (Mountain Curve, e-assist)
Butchers & BicyclesMK1-EElectric Bike Review Tilting, e-assist only
Hum of the City
Bakfiets Family
TrioMono & BoxterPlastic shell
WIKESuper Cargo & Big BoxCanadian
Bunch BikeFamily Cargo BikeMore about Bunch Bikes [2018 podcast, not a review]The promo video is worth a watch even if you just want to be inspired to wear a fanny pack!
Bunch Bikes Promo [Video]
BellaBikeLadcykelCopenhagenizeDanish website
e-assist version available
Johnny Loco(e-)Cargo Cruisere-assist available
VeleonCargo bikeTilting/carving
WintherCargo bikes
TagaStroller bikeNo longer made
VelorbisElectric cargo trike
VirtueSchool Buse-assist version is "+"
ZigoLeaderCycleSprogCargo trike, stroller, jogging stroller, bike trailer, bike: 5-in-1
Bakfiets.nlCargotrike

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 or contact me at thismombikesatgmaildotcom if you would like to write 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!