How to Choose the Best Cargo Bike for You

July 19, 2016

Here we overview two types of cargo bikes: box bikes as well as longtail cargo bikes. Find out the differences and advantages to each, read below.

You’ve done your research. You want to do it all. Carry kids. Carry cargo. Get rid of your car. It’s clear that a cargo bike is a good choice for your lifestyle.

Now what, though? There are lots of cargo bikes out there. Lots of different makes and models. Lots of different styles. What cargo bike will fit your bill?

As with anything, you’ll want to start with your preferences and where you live. Are there lots of wide open spaces? Is there good bike infrastructure? Is space a little tight in your area? How comfortable are you riding a bike? How comfortable will you be riding a larger bike that handles quite a bit differently from your regular bike?

I’ll be up front and say that any cargo bike can work in pretty much any environment. Just like cars and bikes, the type of cargo bike you buy doesn’t limit where you can take it. I saw a fellow the other day tooling around downtown Guelph on a fat tire bike. This may not seem strange but fat tire bikes are designed for snow, sand, and serious off roading. They are beasts to use on pavement with a massive amount of friction from their balloon-like tires. But this fellow was using it all the same. Maybe he liked it. Maybe he didn’t have the cash to buy a second bike better suited to the urban environment. Maybe he only took it on pavement rarely. Whatever the reason, he made it work.

So, knowing that you can’t really go too wrong when you buy a cargo bike, we’ll look at the pros and cons of the bakfietsen/box bike and the Long John. These are two of of the main cargo bikes you’ll see on the road.

Bakfietsen or Box Bike

Two wheels up front, one in the back, and cargo up front. I would personally guess that this type of cargo bike is the most popular out there. But is it right for you?

The Bakfietsen / Box Bike is an extraordinarily stable piece of equipment. The two wheels up front make it virtually impossible to tip over. Of course, you could tip it if you were motivated enough but generally speaking, you’ll be hard pressed to get one of these on their side. The two front wheels also make it a very good choice for snowy climates. I have no problem riding my bike in the snow, sleet, or rain but I have also tipped over on a mild corner in slippery conditions. I have a recumbent bike with two wheels up front and one in the back just like a Bakfietsen / Box Bike and I can tell you that I am much more confident it in slippery conditions. Two wheels up front definitely make things much more stable in snowy climes.

Of course, the Bakfietsen / Box Bike keeps the load nicely centred between the wheels making it that much more stable.

Downsides? Well, the Bakfietsen / Box Bike definitely takes up more space. The box might be similar or even identical dimensions to a Long John box but the front wheels obviously need some space. Bakfietsens / Box Bikes are also a little more complex to build and will weigh more because of this. With a regular bike, your handlebars are directly connected to your front fork. Turn the handle bar, turn the fork, turn the bike. Bakfietsen / Box Bikes have to turn two wheels at once when you turn your handlebars so they are not quite as straightforward from the mechanical side. They operate similar to a car, really.

Bakfietsen / Box Bike pros: Great stability, great in less than ideal cycling conditions.

Bakfietsen / Box Bike cons: Heavier and more complex than a Long John. Need extra space to both use and store.

Long John

The Long John has a very long wheelbase with the cargo perched between the rider and the front wheel. Initially, these look precarious and difficult to ride but rest assured, they are stable and any rider with a decent amount of cycling experience will quickly master the Long John. Knowing that, is the Long John your dream cargo bike?

With the single wheel up front, the Long John is very manoeuvrable. Yes, it will definitely have a much wider turning radius than your regular bike but it will turn quickly and easily. The cargo is nicely centred on the frame so balance is good. Be sure to even out your load to help with balance, though.

On top of manoeuvrability, the Long John is narrower than the Bakfietsen / Box Bike. If you’ve got limited cycling infrastructure, narrow bike lanes, or tight spaces on your route, the Long John may suit you better as they often aren’t much wider than a regular bicycle with panniers (what some call saddle bags).

Downsides to the Long John are their length and the fact that you are rolling on two wheels instead of three. And I’ll always say that the Long John is easy to learn how to ride and has similar handling characteristics to a regular bike. But if I lived in an area where I was delivering cargo on snowy weather, I might think twice about a Long John over a Bakfietsen / Box Bike.

Long John pros: Highly manoeuvrable (relatively speaking), smaller footprint

Long John cons: Still need some practice to ride properly, pretty much as stable as your regular bike but not as stable as a Bakfietsen / Box Bike.

So there you have it! Two of the most popular cargo bike styles out there. If you’re looking to buy a cargo bike, either one of these should fit your bill.


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