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Fourteen questions to ask yourself when buying a cargo bike

A young family contacted me and asked for some advice on picking a cargo bike for their transportation needs. Over the course of messages on Facebook, email and a great discussion over Skype we narrowed down to a few options for them to try. 

I have reviewed cargo bikes and even shared ideas on how to afford one. What is overdue is a list of questions to ask yourself when trying to pick one. So here are fourteen issues to consider when selecting a cargo bike.


What are you able to spend on the right bike?

After evaluating your situation the RIGHT bike may be more expensive or different that what you expected. Pay for the right bike.

Are you open to a used cargo bike or strictly new?

Often people grow out of their cargo bike or they didn't consider their needs properly before purchasing. This leads to good deals on Craigslist. Do your best to make sure it's not stolen. If the deal is too good there is a sad family somewhere near by. 

Where will you do most of your riding? City, country, streets with car traffic, cycle paths, hills or flat terrain.

Adding electric assist makes a big difference in the price point. It will also increase your enjoyment and range of use. Fortunately there are quality aftermarket options, so you can make that investment later if necessary.

Cargo type & Capacity:

Will you be replacing a car or purchasing this instead of a car?

A high capacity cargo bike with electric assist can replace many a car trip. If you need a car a smaller cargo bike may fit the bill for a car-lite life.  

What will be your typical loads?

Think about the age and or special needs of your kids, the type of boxes and bags you will typically carry. Some longjohns have the advantage of low CG of the cargo area and the ability to be used as flatbed transport.

Storage & Security:

Where will you store the bike? Garage, shed, in your home.

All the value and uses of a large cargo bike aren't worth it if you don't have a safe weather proof place to store it. 

If storing inside your home, will you have to carry the bike up any stairs? 

There is something to be said for a bike that has a small footprint and is lightweight. 

Are you able to or will you travel on the Tube, train or buses with the bike?

If you are multi-modal get a bike that fits on bus bike racks and in trains. You'll still be able to carry all the groceries home. 

Cycling Experience / Lifestyle:

How much experience do you have cycling as an individual?

If you're not comfortable with two wheeled options while carrying kids and cargo there are trikes that instill confidence. What you gain in stability you will loose in agility. This can actually present a tipping hazard for some. Ride a trike to get a feel of it for yourself.

What bike best fits your body type and strength level?

Cargo bikes are not light and your point is to haul stuff and or kids on them. I've seen lengthy conversations amongst mostly smaller women about how to get on and off certain bikes without falling or dumping their kids in the process. Test ride

How comfortable are you with DIY bike maintenance or are you close to a good bike shop?

Basic bike maintenance is pretty straight forward. If you really don't want to get greasy look for models with internally geared / infinite rear hubs with belt drives. The other grime free option is an enclosed chain guard. Your skirts and right pant leg will thank you.

What type of set up have you used to bike with cargo or children thus far?

Think about the pros and cons of what you have experience with. Make sure your cargo bike selection has or improves upon the pros and address the cons. A nifty looking concept may not keep you happy over the long haul.

Do you want to make cycling as transportation a long term lifestyle?

Some people start because of kids then once the children are riding their own bikes they go back to a standard single person bike.

What cargo bike options to do you have access to for test riding now?

While there are some very good cargo bikes and trikes that can be purchased online a test ride is always recommended. Unfortunately, options are still limited in many areas. 

Taking an hour plus drive could be a great last use of your car if that's where the nearest test rides are. Otherwise, keep reading user experiences and reviews here on CBL. Find owners near you on forums and FB groups. Many are willing to let you take their bike for a spin.

I'm happy to talk one on one about your specific situation. Are their any other factors a newbie should consider when trying to pick a cargo bike.