Bikes for Carrying You and Your Stuff

20 Oct

I recently posted about the cost of owning a car and options for going car-light or car-free.  There are lots of ways to get around other than by car, but traveling by bicycle has the advantages of being both low-cost, relatively fast, and more under your control than taking the bus.

If you are considering using a bicycle in place of a car, one issue that will probably come up is carrying stuff or people (especially little ones).  Depending on what you want to carry, it might just be a question of adding a child seat and/or racks and a basket or bags to your bike.  And people have been using bike trailers for kids and other stuff for a long time.  But there are now bikes that can carry a lot more stuff more easily are becoming more widely available in the U.S.  Check them out below.

Carrying Kids

There are quite varied opinions on how best to carry kids by bike.  The blog totcycle has a really great rundown of the different options and which ones to consider at different ages.

Yes, you can carry 3 kids on one bicycle!

Yes, you can carry 3 kids on one bicycle! With large bags that attach on the back you can carry lots of stuff too. This is a Yuba Mundo long tail bike, but several other manufacturers offer their own versions, and Xtracycle sells a kit that you can use to convert a regular bicycle into a longtail.

My family ended up not using the trailer on city streets after a couple of tries because we felt it was not as visible to motorists as we would like.  We prefer having our son in a seat on the bike itself despite the fact that he’s higher up that way — it’s better for communicating with him, and it feels better to us than having him trailing behind us where we have less control.  Other people are more concerned about the kid going down with them if they crash, so for them the trailer is preferable precisely because it rides low and will not tip over even if the bike does.


But if you want to carry a lot, or have a bike that’s really built to handle well with cargo or kids, a cargo bike (also sometimes called a utility bike) might be for you.  If most bicycles are more like a sports car or small sedan, these are like a station wagon.

The great news is that there are a lot more options in this area now in the U.S. than there were just a few years ago, and you don’t have to invest in a pedicab or ride an adult tricycle to do it.  Some of them are pretty much regular bicycles with integrated racks, but others are built to carry even 2 or 3 children or a bunch of groceries — or paint buckets or whatever else you can strap on or put in the bags.

Box Bike

Bikes built to carry stuff have actually been around a long time.  But in the U.S. they’re mostly a distant memory.  Not so in, you guessed it, places like the Netherlands and Denmark.  The Bakfiets or box bike has been around in the Netherlands for quite a while.  Rather than stretching out the bike toward the back, this design stretches it out in the front, placing a box between the handlebars and a small front wheel (steering works with a tie-rod that runs beneath the box).

A traditional Dutch box bike.  The Bullitt is narrower and lighter due to its aluminum frame.

A traditional Dutch box bike. The Bullitt is narrower and lighter due to its aluminum frame.

The nice thing about a box bike is that its cargo space is so versatile.  You can strap in one, two, even three kids of varying sizes, and throw their bags and yours in as well.  No special seats to outgrow.  Then by just flipping up the seat, you have room for a week’s worth of groceries.  The down sides are that traditional Bakfiets are quite heavy and obviously require a good bit of storage space, and they tend to be pricier than long tails, partly because they’re usually custom built or imported from Europe.

I’ve tried a racier Danish version of the Bakfiets called the Bullitt (you might have seen one or two in Richmond being used by couriers).  We ended up going with a long tail because its handling is hardly different from that of a regular bicycle, while the Bullitt takes a lot of getting used to.  I’m not sure if the learning curve would be as steep for a more traditional Bakfiets.  Click here for a guide on some further types of European cargo bikes and a list of U.S. retailers.

The Long Tail Option

Probably the most common and least expensive option in the U.S. for hauling a lot of stuff is a long tail bicycle.  A long tail looks a lot like a regular bicycle, but the back end of the frame is stretched out so that you can have a really long rack and big bags on the back.  I recently strapped a heavy 5-gallon bucket of roof coating to the side of my long tail and didn’t have any handling problems‚ even with my 45-pound son also on the back.

That’s the type of cargo bike my family opted for, partly because it handles very much like a regular bicycle.  Our Yuba Mundo is rated to carry up to 200 pounds in addition to the rider, and it has enough room on the rear rack that you can even attach two child seats — or have space for as many as two older children to sit.

Trek, Kona, Surly, and Xtracycle (Edgerunner and Cargo Joe models) all have long tail models too, with somewhat different configurations and carrying capacities.  Kona and Yuba also offer “mid-tail” bikes that offer good carrying capacity but are not as stretched out (and therefore not as heavy) as the full-on long tails.

A Madsen set up for rainy weather riding.

A Madsen set up for rainy weather riding.

Madsen also offers an especially striking long tail with a big plastic bucket on the back that can carry even 3 or 4 kids.  The least expensive option is the Xtracycle Free Radical kit, which can be used to convert a mountain or hybrid bike into a long tail.  Some people swear by the Free Radical, but since the “extra” part of the frame is bolted on, it can’t carry as much weight as some of the others.

If the idea of pedaling up one of Richmond’s hills with, say, a hundred pounds of kid or cargo on a 50 or 60-pound bike sounds nuts, there are two things to consider: it’s really good exercise and not as tough as it might seem; and you can get many of these models with an electric motor that will help.

How to Choose

If you get to the point of seriously considering making the investment in a cargo bike, the toughest part is getting the opportunity to try one out.  Richmond Bicycle Studio carries Yuba bikes, and there are local Trek and Kona dealers that might have one of their long tails in stock.  A super nice guy in the DC area sells Bullitts through Kasperscargos.  He leaves bikes in stores in various cities to sell on commission, but even brought one to us to try out when he was passing through Richmond.  The closest place I’ve been able to locate traditional Bakfiets is New York City.  There are also a good number of reviews on the web, so you can do some research in advance too.


3 Responses to “Bikes for Carrying You and Your Stuff”

  1. Stuart October 20, 2013 at 2:35 AM #

    I got a Civia Twin City this summer that’s an affordable all around daily driver. Its got an integrated rear rack sturdy enough to ride an adult, fenders, and an internally geared 5 speed hub. I prefer the shifting action of internal hubs over derailleurs and imho they require less maintenance. Not sure why more US bikes aren’t equipped with them. I put a Basil front carrier on it and attach a milk crate for grocery runs. Now no car needed for any trips in town, no matter the weather.


  1. Northside Happenings | Bikeable Richmond - May 27, 2014

    […] said, there are a growing number of good cargo bikes out there.  An earlier post on cargo bikes is here.  Check out articles from Momentum Mag here and here to learn more.  They also have a review of […]

  2. Day Two: Kindertransport | Subversive Suburbanite - May 13, 2014

    […] (Image pinched from a very relevant blog post – thank you […]

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