We are supremely lucky to now be a two cargo bike family. Just a sec, I need to go and count my lucky stars… After having both bikes for a few months now, I thought that I would consider the pros and cons of each to help you figure out which bike you should get first for your family while you, too, are on your way to two cargo bike awesomeness.
Cargo bikes for family riding
Cargo bikes have been around a long time so there are many options to choose from. Cargo biking in North America feels like it is on the rise as many permutations have emerged on the market since we started hauling kids on bikes about 3.5 years ago. Baby bike seats and then trailers were popular for kid hauling for a long time here, but midtails, then longtails, sometimes bakfiets, and occasionally trikes, seem to be becoming staple options for those who ride and add kids into the equation. You can read about our journey into cargo biking here, including why we made the jump from trailer to cargo bike; read on to explore the pros and cons of longtails vs. bakfiets style cargo bikes to help you make the best decision for your family.
Longtails are what they sound like: the rear end of the bike is longer than normal which means that you can haul more stuff on the deck and/or beside the deck. In short, they ride how people expect a bike to ride; they “feel like a bike” is what most people will say after riding one.
We have owned both a Yuba Mundo (2012-2016) and an Xtracycle Edgerunner (2015-current). There are several other models on the market and new ones every day, including folding options now (!), like the Xtracycle/Tern Cargo Node. And, there is always the classic bolt-on option, Xtracycle’s Free Radical, now reinvented as the Leap.
In Dutch, bakfiets simple translates to ‘box bikes’. Some people liken them to wheelbarrows. For kid-carrying purposes, they usually have a (wooden) box attached to the flat front deck which has a bench seat and, possibly, some basic clips as harnesses. This style of cargo bike is driven by linkage steering, which means that the front tire is connected to the steering tube by way of a link, or long metal bar. So, instead of your handlebars directly controlling which way your front tire moves, the response to your handlebar movement in a bakfiets is amplified by this link. Sounds weird. But, to be completely honest, after watching a kid learn to ride a bike this past year, it reminded me that if you let go of your expectations of what a bike should do, and focus on where you want to go, you will re-learn how to ride this style of bike very quickly as you have all the tricky things about bike riding down pat: balance, braking, and pedaling. You just have to let your monkey mind take over a bit and let your adult self relax and it’ll all be good, so don’t let that fear of the unknown scare you out of the bakfiets if it seems to be the right choice for your family.
We have both tried a Bullitt (2015) and we own a CETMA Largo (2016-current). There are many other options here, too, with the CETMA and Metrofiets being two classic American options and the Canadian WIKE a newer choice. And, then there are the plethora of European options, etc.
Our experience so far
I could write prose on different aspects of longtails and bakfiets, but I am going to leave it up to my pros & cons table to do the talking.
|*generally, much much lighter & easier to move around||*long||(*Bullitt is probably your lightest option)||*heavy! especially with kid carrying box, etc.|
|*need space to store it||*many models have low stepover height||*long|
|*higher centre of gravity, depending on model, but never as low as bakfiets||*very low centre of gravity for cargo load||*need space to store it|
|*few models have as low a stepover height as most bakfiets|
|Cost||*much more affordable options, new||*can get pretty spendy once you start adding on all of the add-ons you need to carry kids, eg. Yepp seats, monkey bars/hooptie, towing trays, etc.||*very few add ons required to make the bike very functional with kids (so the price of the bike is pretty much it)||*expensive up front cost|
|*bigger used market as there are more of them||*very few used in North America|
|Weather||*have seen people hook-up a Weehoo weather protector for some sun protection||*higher centre of gravity in winter||*low centre of gravity in winter||*few sun protection options, so need to get creative|
|*minimal weather protection available (can try rigging up a double WeeHoo weather protector)||*quite protected by box if do slide out|
|*can bundle with blankets for cold|
|*can add canopy for rain/cold protection|
|Snacking||*high risk of dropping anything with little kids||*kids find it easier to eat in box, especially good for early morning commutes (i.e. breakfast on the go) & snacking|
|*you can rig up water bottle holders but mostly you have to stop to give kids stuff||*most kids (toddlers & up) can self serve if you leave snacks in the box for them to graze on|
|*kids can face eachother if have Hooptie||*trickier chatting with rider as the kids are behind you||*easier chatting with rider as the kids are right in front of you|
|*can make both kids face forward if behaviour degrades||*can keep an eye on things|
|Napping||*must be in a harnessed kid seat||*best (& only cargo bike) option for young babies||*does not eliminate head bob issues in napping toddlers/kids, but they can sleep in bottom of box as an option|
|*major head bob (some people tie up head’s with a scarf or similar)|
|*we had to tow around a trailer for napping for our youngest from the time she was big enough for the Yepp until at least a year|
|Gear Hauling||*the best for bike towing (at least on the Edgerunner)||*some people claim you have to be more organized to pack a longtail (I argue no more organized than I need to be when I get to where I’m going)||*dump and go gear hauling||*surprisingly little storage space in box once kids are in|
|*so much room for kids, bikes, & stuff – it’s a bit mind boggling||*must add a rear rack if have a lot of stuff to schlep around|
|*carrying extra bikes not ideal unless you get a rack with towing trays…|
Any other aspects you are curious about? Comments you would add? Feel free to comment on this post or contact me directly.
Note: Forgive me for the obvious formatting issues! I will figure it out and clean things up so that it is easier to read the table!!!
Finding the right ‘minivan’ for your family
Hopefully you have a great local bike shop (LBS) where you can go and try out the bikes that you are thinking of. Ours is BikeBike, in Calgary. Or, if you are looking at a
bespoke bike like the CETMA, maybe someone in your neck-of-the-woods already owns one and the builder can connect you so that you can at least chat re: local specs and possibly take the bike for a spin. Either way, biking with your family is great, for you, for them, for raising awareness about cycling infrastructure (people can be much more compassionate towards kids on bikes than MAMILs!), and for the environment.
If you don’t have the chance to test ride a bike or talk with a local who has the setup you want and if you plan to ride on hills, I would highly recommend going with a standard 27-gear mountain bike style setup for your drivetrain – even if you have to deal with snow – with the option of refining it to an internal hub, etc. once you know what range you need – unless you are going straight to an e-assist, in which case I’d pull the trigger and get fancy with a NuVinci, right off the bat! Internal hubs are a godsend for heavy loads and ease of maintenance and kids.
So far, the longtail is my absolute favourite for beyond the baby years, especially since I am usually hauling two kids, a pedal bike, often a balance bike, and all of our crap (snacks, extra clothes, water, tools, etc.). But, the longtail will be put away for most of the winter months as I refuse to ride it in snow and slippery conditions for fear of dumping my perched, live cargo.
Bakfiets all the way for winter, what with the low centre of gravity, protective box, and options for keeping warm. Read about another family’s first cargo bike and explore their blog to see what bikes they ended up with — they’re now completely car-free, too!
Here are some other resources that we found useful when we were sorting out this decision making process. Food for thought – lemme know if you have any thing to add (above), questions, or other resources (below):
- Bike Shop Girl’s Bullitt Review
- Carfree with Kids’ Biking with Cargo category – they have two kids, an Xtracycle, and a bakfiets, like us
- Urkai’s parent perspective on Bakfiets Cargo (Box) Bike vs. Longtail Cargo Bike
- Travelling Two’s first tour with two kids and their cargo bike set-ups
- Hum of the City general advice on choosing your bike and who to trust, plus search the blog for lots more info, pros & cons, etc. on a bunch of different bakfiets (including Metrofiets and Bakfiets.nl) and longtails (including the Edgerunner and Yuba Spicy Curry).
- Momentum Mag’s Cargo Bikes: A Complete Guide for the USA and Canada