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. If you are curious about other options for carrying kids by bike, please read my overview on the topic.
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), an Xtracycle Edgerunner (2015-current), and a Bike Friday Haul-a-Day (2017-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 otherwise seems to be the right choice for your family.
We have 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. Please note that I am referring to the general long-john style of box bike when I write “bakfiets” and not the brand “Bakfiets.nl”.
Read a more in depth piece about bakfietsenor long-john style cargo bikes built with kids in mind, here (including a comprehensive list of current models on the market).
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 table to do the talking:
|Feature||Longtail||Bakfiets||Best for Feature|
|Weight & Size||Usually much, much lighter & easier to move around||Heavy! Especially once you fill it with (live) cargo.||Longtail|
|Bike Friday Haul-a-Day is likely your lightest version||Larry vs. Harry Bullitt is likely your lightest option|
|Length||Long, but 20" wheel versions are shorter||Long||Tie
(except for 20" wheel longtail models)
|BF Haul-a-Day, Tern GSD, etc. all shorter options||Some models have shorter boxes||*Both models need extra space to store them, relative to a 'normal' bike.|
|Top Tube & Stepover Height||Many have high top tubes making it trickier for shorter riders to dis/mount especially when fully loaded.||Most models have low, step through style top tube||Bakfiets|
|20" wheel models have lower stepover, plus newer Xtracycle Swoop is step-through||The Bullitt is an example of a bike with a higher top tube, if you prefer that (see note)||*Note some (but not all) taller riders prefer having a top tube that is high enough to use their legs to help balance the bike at a stop.|
|Centre of Gravity, with cargo||When loaded on sides, can be kept nice and low||Very low||Tie|
|*LT has more choice for loading different sized packages, but bakfiets wins for ease of being able to dump groceries right in box!|
|Centre of Gravity, with live cargo (i.e. kids or dogs)||High||Very low||Bakfiets|
|Better on models with smaller rear wheel, eg Xtracycle Edgerunner, but never as low as bakfiets||*Even if we tip our bakfiets, the kids don't touch the ground, just the box does.|
|Cost||Much more affordable, but it can get quite spendy once you start to add on a bunch of kid-carrying accessories||Expensive up front, but there aren't a bunch of extras to buy||Longtail|
|BF Haul-a-Day and Radwagon are some of the cheaper options on the market||*Bigger used market for LTs in North America as there are more of them.|
|Weather||Exposed||Protected with canopy||Bakfiets|
|Some people use WeeHoo or Moped covers to rig up all-weather bubbles||Easy to tuck kids in with blankets, etc, too; but must be creative with sun protection.||*Bakfiets are my preferred choice for winter riding due to lower centre of gravity & weather protection.|
|Snacking & Toys||Meh, not great with little kids.||Great, and even better with a canopy on.||Bakfiets|
|You can mount water bottle holders and use tethers but that's about it.||Still risk of kids chucking things over board, but it's never been a big issue for us.||*My kids prefer the bakfiets box for eating, reading, etc.|
|Communications & Behaviour||Tricky chatting with kids behind you (better than trailer though).||Easier chatting with kids in front of rider (but can still be tricky when canopy is on)||Bakfiets|
|*It's also easier to see what's going on in Bakfiets if kids are being grumpy with each other.|
|Napping||Ideally, kid must be in a child seat.||No problem, whatever the age.||Bakfiets|
|Learning Curve||"Rides just like a bike!"||Some models are easier to learn than others. Likely proficient within a few days to two weeks. Very comfortable after a month (but weird to switch between linkage-style and regular steering). Easy to go back-and-forth after a month.||Longtail|
|However, does take some getting used to having that extra weight up high; best to start with smaller children and get used to their extra weight as they grow!||Tip: Find a gentle decline and point your wheel down the hill, let gravity do the work and look where you want to go. Don't look at the front wheel (if you can see it).||*Note it's easiest and safest to have your first rides (live) cargo free!|
|Biking with Babies||Only good for older babies (once they're necks are strong enough for a front- or rear-mounted child seat)||Can ride from Day 1 with an infant, if you're comfortable, by mounting babe in the box in an infant bucket car seat.||Bakfiets|
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.
Initially, the longtail was 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!
Now that we have added an e-assist to our bakfiets, I consider it to be our ultimate family bike. The only thing that I need to make better is its kid bike-hauling abilities, likely by adding a FollowMe Tandem for my older child’s bike and just throwing my youngest’s bike in the box.
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