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Illustration by Robert Higdon
Cargo bikes come in a variety of styles. Tess Velo of Portland’s Joe Bike helps explain what you should know when buying one.
Consider what you will use your cargo bike for: transporting kids, hauling groceries, carrying diverse cargo. Will these needs change over time? Look for a bike that has the right amount of carrying capacity and flexibility to suit your cargo-carrying needs. Box bikes and longtails are good for transporting kids and goods. Cargo bikes can transport a lot of stuff, but each different type requires different carrying methods and handles differently depending on the size of the load. Check with your bike shop salesperson to troubleshoot which bike would best meet your needs.
Storing your larger-than-average-sized cargo bike can be a challenge. A big bike like a Long John or a trike can’t be carried down stairs. Make sure you have a safe and protected place to store it to ensure that your bike lasts for many years.
Some cargo bikes feature unique drivetrains and steering linkages that might make it difficult to take a flat off. Have a backup plan in case you run into problems, such as a friend with a truck or the phone number of a local shop or car insurance agency that can lend a hand.
Internal or External Gearing
External gearing means a derailleur and a chain and internal features planetary gears or epicyclic gears. External gears are easier to maintain and more familiar to work on at home. But for bikes with a longer drivetrain, that also means a lot of chain and perhaps sometimes sloppy shifting. Internal gearing is more intricate, but they’re low-maintenance. They require an overhaul once or twice a year, as most consumers don’t have familiarity with how they work, but much less overall work than external gears.
Since cargo bikes can carry quite a lot, it’s also possible for them to load and ride with varying weights on either side of the bike. Loading it as such with a standard kickstand would mean that your bike would pitch over, which could hurt your cargo, or, more seriously, your kid. Look for box bikes with two- or four-legged kickstands that will keep the bike perpendicular to the ground when loading.
Because of the fact that you’ll be riding with heavier loads, disc brakes are highly recommended for all cargo bikes.
If you are going to be hauling on a regular basis up any hills or distances longer than 5 miles then choosing a bike that has electric pedal-assist or throttle-assist built in or purchasing an add on kit will add $400-$1500 to your set up, depending on parameters such as how much assist you want and how far you want to go on a single charge. Batteries can have a lifespan of about 2 years. As battery technology is getting better, so will the lifespan. While there is a “gulp” factor in this investment, it will also be the investment that will keep you from choosing the car over the bike.