Cargo bikes for families

What is a family cargo bike?

A two- or three-wheeled bike adapted to carry children, often in a sturdy box or cabin in front of the rider ​​or on an extended ‘tail’ behind them. Some are electrically-assisted to make it easier to pedal. They are great for the school run and weekend family outings. And they can be used to carry your shopping and dogs as well!

Why choose a cargo bike?

  • Transporting children by cargo bike is convenient and time-efficient.
  • It’s the best way to beat the congestion. You can travel in cycle lanes past stationary traffic or avoid the queues by using paths and streets where motor vehicle access is restricted.
  • Finding a place to park a car in Cambridge is time-consuming and stressful. It’s much easier to find a spot to leave a cargo bike.
  • Cargo cycling is much better for the environment than driving.
  • Using a cargo bike for everyday journeys keeps you fit and boosts your mood.
  • It is usually cheaper to purchase and run a cargo bike than a car.
  • Cargo cycling is fun! Children love it and families make happy memories together.

Types of bikes for families

Cargo bikes with boxes and cabins

These typically transport between one and three children aged between 3 months and 6 years. Some families continue to cycle with children aged up to 10, particularly if their bike is designed to accommodate older children. Specialist models can carry larger groups or even adults!

Three-wheeled cargo bikes (also called tricycles or trikes) suit some riders as they stay upright of their own accord. They remain stable while travelling slowly or when at a standstill. They have a small turning circle and can be ridden slowly around tight corners. Other families prefer two-wheeled cargo bikes, which handle more like regular bikes, especially around corners.

Cargo bikes are designed with a low centre of gravity for maximum stability. They hold well to the road and feel stable to ride.

It’s easy to keep an eye on children and interact with them when they are seated in the box or cabin in front of the rider. Seatbelts can be fitted to keep passengers secure and there’s plenty of room to fit belongings around the children in the cargo box or in panniers at the side of the bike.

Children can climb in and out of the bike safely thanks to the robust stand. A seat can often be mounted behind the rider to carry an extra child.

Cargo bikes are typically low maintenance. Some have puncture-resistant tyres and fully-enclosed chains. Specialist retailers often offer complimentary servicing for a year and collection services in the event of a breakdown.

Longtail and midtail bicycles

Longtails resemble normal bicycles, but are approximately 25cm longer, with a stretched rear ‘tail’ for cargo. Midtails are only slightly longer than normal bicycles, so are very easy to park and store. They can be fitted with one or two bike seats behind the rider for younger children aged 9 months and above. Older children sit on a padded cushion on the rear rack and rest their feet on running boards. A large front bag can be fitted to carry children’s belongings.

Child bike seats

Child bike seats can be mounted in front or behind the rider. Front seats are usually suitable between 9 months and 3 years; rear seats between 9 months and 6 years old. Some specialist rear seats are suitable up to age 10.

Remember to check the strength of the cycle’s frame and pannier rack before mounting a child bike seat. Then check that a child’s weight is appropriate for the seat in question.

So-called ‘mother’s bikes’ are specially adapted to carry child bike seats. They have more space between the saddle and handlebars and some have a longer pannier rack to accommodate child seats more easily. A double-leg centre stand keeps the bike upright when the rider dismounts. A steering damper or locking mechanism stops the front wheel swinging around while loading children onto the bike.

Trailers

Trailers can be hitched to the back of a regular cycle and used to transport one or two children aged 3 months to 6 years (a special attachment is required to carry a baby). Some trailers can be used as buggies when unhitched.

Some child bike seats and trailers can easily be removed and left at your destination then refitted on a different cycle. This is useful if a child travels to nursery or school with one adult but returns with another.

Tandems

Once children can balance reliably on a bike seat (usually age 4+, but sometimes younger), they can use a form of tandem (a bicycle for two) or triplet (a bicycle for three).

Follow-me tandem hitches connect a child’s cycle to an adult cycle. The child practises pedalling and using gears, while the grown-up controls the speed and direction of travel. The child’s cycle can easily be unhitched when required.

Tagalongs are single-wheel attachments with pedals that fit behind an adult cycle. Again, they can be unhitched when required.

Child-adult tandems and triplets specially designed for use by family groups are also available. These have one or two child-sized sets of saddles and pedals, as well as a seat and pedals for an adult rider. Some are designed to be quickly switched between carrying children and cargo.

Adapted cycles

A pupil at Castle School riding on a wheelchair-adapted cycleInclusive cycles make cycling accessible to all. There are many different designs.

On a wheelchair tandem, one rider pedals and the other sits in front in a wheelchair. A cycle rickshaw typically transports two people in addition to the pedalling rider. Side-by-side cycles allow riders to cycle in pairs seated next to each other. Tandems come in a variety of configurations, with three wheels, or one recumbent seat, for example.

Did you know…?

  • Babies can be transported by cargo bike from the age of three months, strapped into a car seat or specially designed baby bike seat.
  • Many women continue to cargo cycle while pregnant. The low stepover makes for easy mounting and an electric motor can assist with pedalling.
  • Rain tents keep children dry and warm, and shielded from the wind.
  • Babies and toddlers nap comfortably in their seats on cargo bikes. Car seats containing sleeping babies can be lifted out of the bike at your destination.
  • Cycles can often use routes not open to motor vehicles. This means families can adjust their routes, opting for a quieter journey if they prefer.

Myth busting

  • I’m not strong enough to ride that! Don’t you need to be a keen cyclist?
    Look around Cambridge at people cargo cycling! Their machines are easy to handle despite their size. Electric motors can reduce the effort required, especially on slopes, when setting off at junctions and cycling into headwinds.
  • That bike is too big to fit through the barriers on my route!
    Despite their length, cargo bikes can use the vast majority of cycle infrastructure. Two-wheeled cargo bikes aren’t much wider than regular bicycles. Three-wheeled cargo bikes are slightly wider, but most not greatly so: it depends on the model.
  • I won’t be able to cycle very far at all with the kids on board!
    You’ll be surprised! A two-mile trip should be no problem. An electric motor can also assist with longer journeys.

Inspired to try a cargo bike?

Try-Before-You-Buy Scheme

Outspoken Cycles is running an electrically-assisted cargo bike Try-Before-You-Buy Scheme until at least May 2024 for Cambridgeshire County Council, funded through the Department for Transport’s e-Cargo Bike Grant Fund. They have a range of e-Cargo bikes for both families and businesses to borrow at low cost.

The scheme is an exciting opportunity to trial a two- or three-wheeled cargo bike to see how it can work for you over an extended period, before committing to buy.

Mark Searle explained more about the scheme at our August 2021 monthly meeting.

Specialist retailers of family cargo bikes

Visit a specialist shop for information and advice, as well as test rides, cycle hire and loan schemes.

Circe Cycles
High St, Longstanton, Cambridgeshire
www.circecycles.com
Circe

Electric Bike Sales
Newmarket Rd, Cambridge
www.electricbikesales.co.uk
Babboe, Riese and Muller

Outspoken! Cycles
Cowley Rd, Cambridge
www.outspokencycles.co.uk
AddBike, Babboe, Benno, Circe, Gazelle, Larry vs Harry, Raleigh, Urban Arrow

Power to the Pedal
Acrefield Drive, Cambridge
www.powertothepedal.bike
Bicicapace, Nihola, Triobike, Veloe, Winther

Rutland Cycling
Barnwell Rd, Cambridge
www.rutlandcycling.com
Babboe, Cube, Raleigh

The School Run Centre
Gwydir Street, Cambridge
schoolruncentre.co.uk broken
Azor, Bakfiets, Bertus, BSP, Gazelle, Nihola, Onderwater, Tern, Urban Arrow

Training

Cargo bike training can help you to gain confidence and refine your technique.

Outspoken! Training
www.outspokentraining.co.uk

You Can Bike Too
www.miltoncountrypark.org/youcanbiketoo

Help to buy

Cycle to Work schemes can be used to reduce the upfront and overall cost of purchasing a cycle. Ask your employer if they are or could be a member of a scheme. For cargo bike purchases, request a scheme that isn’t capped at £1000. Some shops allow you to spread the purchase cost over several months. Cargo bikes also hold their value and are usually in demand secondhand.

Further reading

For more information about cargo bikes for families and businesses, including links to videos and further information, visit camcycle.org.uk/cargobikes.