A cargo bike can open your world. You can haul things you thought you never could by human power and leave your car parked (or even get rid of it!). You will avoid gridlock, get secret training miles, save money, and become a local celebrity.
Cargo bike is a loose category of bike; there are many variations of cargo bikes. There are cargo bikes with carrying capacity in the front, others in the back and some on the sides. There are also additions for your current bike to allow it to carry a larger load. Find what cargo bike suits you and get to hauling your groceries, kids, building materials, furniture, pets, camping gear, whatever you desire.
Cargo Bike Typologies
Long bikes are the most common cargo bikes you will see in North America. They look like a normal bike up front with an extended tail to the rear wheel. The tail accommodates larger panniers and seats for kids. The wheelbase is extra long, making for an extra stable bike, although you will not be able to carve the turns like a standard bike. Depending on the bike and cargo configurations, you can carry up to two or three small humans and four or five bags of groceries.
You can also convert your current bike into a long bike. It may be the economical choice if you already have a bike around that you are not using. Putting a few hundred dollars into a conversion kit will get you a cargo bike and save you a significant amount of money.
A utility bike looks very similar to a standard bike except that the frame is beefier to handle heavy loads with racks integrated into the design, be they front, rear or both. The benefit of this design is that it maintains most of the agility of a standard bicycle. The downside is that it will not be as adept at carrying heavy loads as some other designs.
A bakfiets, or box bike, is a Dutch design that puts a box (or platform) between the rider and front wheel. It creates a long wheelbase and a low center of gravity, making the bike incredibly stable once it is up to speed. Below that threshold it can be a bit cumbersome, but fortunately the speed of stability is generally very low. It is the gold standard for hauling anything. An additional benefit is that kids sitting in the box get an unencumbered view of their ride and they can easily pass things to you from their comfortable seats.
A trailer is another inexpensive way to convert your standard bike into a cargo hauling machine. It easily attaches and detaches from your current bike. It will dramatically alter your ride, though. You will feel like you are getting pulled back when climbing and pushed forward when descending.
What to Expect
Be aware that due to the extra weight you should temper your speed expectations. Give yourself extra time to travel; pedaling a seventy pound bakfiets is quite a different experience than an eighteen pound road bike. The same goes for stopping too; it takes a bit longer to stop so much weight. Give yourself a bit of a cushion.
Handling is also different. With the longer wheelbase of long bikes and bakfietsn come wider turning radii. Look out for curbs and anything else you need to get around and make sure you can get your rear wheel past whatever it is.
If you are riding with kids, remember that it is not only your skin on the line. Dial back any risk taking and be a good role model for proper cycling behavior.
Expect drivers to give you more room, or at least strange looks. People do not know what to make of a cargo bike because they are currently quite rare (although that is changing, and who would not want to see even more?). If it was in the sky, it might as well be classified as a UFO. Some people think it is cool, others not. Know that you will draw attention.
An option that comes on many models of cargo bikes is electric assist. This could be very helpful in hilly areas or if you are carrying large loads. That extra boost should get you over whatever difficulty you encounter without having to get off the bike. It will add more weight to the bike, but should be more of a help than hindrance.
Carry that Weight
Cargo bikes are a great way to haul whatever you need around town. The initial investment may seem like a lot, but when you factor how much less you will depend on a car along with how much time you will save not stuck in traffic and the bonus miles, it is a clear win.