Ditching the car

It’s five minutes until the morning school bell rings, but you’re still in the car with your kids in the back, silent and sullen. After crawling through peak-hour traffic, you turn the final corner to find a line of dozens of cars waiting to drop off dozens more children. And then something breaks you out of your traffic trance: a family pulls up at the front of the queue on a strange looking bicycle, powered by a smooth and silent motor, with two laughing kids on the back, school bags on the front,and piloted by a healthy, and serene-looking parent.

Your kids notice this strange sight as well, and you’re suddenly bombarded with pleas of “Can we please get one?”. After thirty minutes in the car, having travelled just two kilometres, you’re probably thinking the same.

Welcome to the world of electric cargo bikes.

What is an electric cargo bike?

A cargo bike is a bicycle designed to carry large loads of people and goods, usually up to 125 kg in weight, or up to 250 kg including the rider. Cargo bikes were traditionally a non-electric bike that required a fair amount of fitness to ride, but they have recently been swept up by the electric bike (e-bike) revolution to become a convenient, practical and affordable means of transport, especially when compared to car ownership.

Is a cargo e-bike right for my family?

An electric cargo e-bike can be a life-changing investment for your family, making for a healthier, more enjoyable and affordable way to get around. Here are some of the benefits your family may realise:

  • They are cheaper than purchasing a new or used car, especially when considering long-term fuel and running costs. Selling a car will likely give you plenty of money to buy a quality, fully-equipped electric cargo bike, with money to spare.
  • Avoid parking hassles, particularly at school drop-off and pick-up, weekend sport and at shopping centres.
  • A chance for parents to include some physical exercise into their daily child commute, albeit with the option of generous assistance from a motor if the morning coffee hasn’t kicked in.
  • A bonding experience for the family, as you share a conversation and take in the sun and fresh air, all at a safe speed that gets you to your destination on time whilst being present in your surroundings.
  • Cargo e-bikes can even take an adult as a passenger (within the bike’s weight limit), so that date night can now include a romantic ride together.

That being said, you should consider a few important realities of owning and operating a cargo e-bike before purchasing one:

  • The bikes are naturally heavier than a normal bike (especially when loaded with children) and handle differently when riding. That being said, riders often become fully comfortable with riding one after just a few hours.
  • They will ideally need to be kept in a secure, accessible indoor space, to avoid the bike being stolen, damaged by rain, or under-utilised. Nonetheless, cargo e-bikes can still be locked up outside under a purpose-made rain cover.
  • Riding a bike on roads, especially with children, presents additional risks, but these can be managed by learning and practising safe riding skills, including indicating, choosing routes with bike paths, steering clear of the space near parked car doors, as well as only riding on the footpath when absolutely necessary (and doing so along quieter footpaths at walking pace). It is also important to ensure your children are safely secured and comfortable on the bike.
  • There are routine maintenance costs to factor into electric cargo bike ownership. Expect to pay about a $200 labour fee for a general service (recommended at least once per year), plus an extra $100 per general service for replacement parts (such as brake pads and chain), depending on how much and where the bike is ridden. Despite these costs, you will still be financially better off than owning a car in the long run when compared to the costs of car registration, insurance, fuel and servicing.

The rapidly growing number of cargo e-bikes on Australian roads suggests that, all things considered, they are becoming a worthwhile choice for many Australians increasingly disillusioned by car ownership.

Types of cargo e-bikes

Cargo e-bikes come in as many shapes and sizes as members of a family. We supply two main types at Glow Worm Electric Bikes:

Long-tail cargo bikes:

These bikes have a long, sturdy rack on the back of the bike for carrying kids and cargo. The rack is either built as part of the frame, or is a separate component bolted onto the frame. These racks can usually carry around 60-100kg or up to two children.

In terms of wheel size, one common type has two 20-inch wheels, which are smaller than the 26-inch or 28-inch wheels found on most conventional adult bicycles. Smaller wheels give these bikes a lower centre-of–gravity for greater stability and are easier for kids to get on and off the back, or for parents to lift smaller children on and off. The smaller wheels also make for more sensitive, ‘twitchier’ steering, which can be an advantage for tight, quick turning, but can feel less smooth at higher speeds. These bikes are great for shorter adult riders, but can still be ridden by riders over six-feet tall as they can include a long seat post and quickly adjustable handlebars. Examples of 20-inch wheel cargo e-bikes are the Tern GSD (up to 100 kg, two children or one adult on the rear) and Tern HSD (up to 60 kg, one child or a small adult on the rear).

Tern GSD (“Get Stuff Done”) - Up to two passengers, plus cargo

Tern HSD (“Haul Stuff Daily”) - One passenger, plus cargo

Another type has a larger 26-inch front wheel and slightly smaller 24-inch rear wheel, so the bike feels more like a conventional adult bike with smoother, more stable steering. An example is the Ezee Expedir, one of Australia’s most popular and trusted electric cargo bikes, which can take up to 100 kg, two children or an adult on the rear

The third type of long-tail cargo e-bike is the ‘Mullet’ setup, which has a larger front wheel and a much smaller rear wheel. This is designed to receive benefits of the two types described above: the smaller rear wheel provides easy access for children (“party at the back”), whilst the larger front wheel increases steering stability (“business at the front”). Examples include the O2 Feel Equo Cargo and the Yuba Spicy Curry

Rocking the mullet: O2 Feel Equo Cargo (top) and Yuba Spicy Curry (bottom)

Front-loading box bikes:

These bikes include a large box or crate at the front, allowing you to carry up to three children. The enclosed sides of the box also allow you to easily throw in groceries, boxes, instrument cases, sporting gear, dogs - whatever fits and can be secured! These boxes have more space than two pannier bags possible on the rear of a long-tail cargo bike, but the addition of a rear rack onto a box bike also allows you to have two smaller pannier bags (such as two 20L Ortlieb Back Roller waterproof bags).

Box bikes are often larger and heavier than long-tail cargo bikes and may therefore require more time for the rider to become comfortable with their handling, as well as a larger space to store the bike at home (a locked garage is ideal). Examples of box bikes include the Urban Arrow and the Bakfiets Cruiser. Some children also find box bikes make for a more enjoyable ride, as they have a full view of the world in front of them. Three-wheeled box trikes are also available, with two wheels at the rear providing maximum stability for low-speed riding.

 

Urban Arrow Family

Charged-up child carrying

Good quality cargo e-bikes are equipped with decent-sized batteries and sufficiently powerful motors, so you’ll never be stranded half-way to school or halfway up a hill with a troupe of unimpressed kids. Given the additional weight of a cargo bike and its passengers, expect the range to be less than that of a non-cargo bike, but still on the order of about 50 km, depending on how hilly your route is, and whether you ride in lower or higher power modes. One of the most powerful motors available for e-bikes is the Bosch Cargo Line, which provides up to 85 Newton-metres of torque and gets one of our happy customers and his two dogs up Sydney’s gruelling hills around Bondi.

The same electrical systems used on our other e-bikes (such as those made by Bosch, Shimano and Ezee) are also available on cargo e-bikes, which means you have the convenience of:

  • A handlebar display and buttons with the option to select different power modes and see ride information, including trip distance, battery level and range estimate
  • A lockable, removable battery for charging on or off the bike
  • Charge time of 4-6 hours, easily achievable overnight or during the work day

Passenger options: a bike that grows with your family

Cargo bikes are often sold as a ‘skeleton’ bike with a rear rack or front box that can be fitted with a variety of accessories to suit your passenger and cargo needs. For example:

  • Our long-tail cargo bikes are compatible with most child seats, including the safe and popular Thule Yepp Maxi and Qibbel Junior child seats for children up to 6 years old or 22 kg
  • Safety and comfort accessories, including wrap-around rear handlebars and under-saddle handlebars for passengers as well as rear wheel guards to protect little feet
  • Large rear pannier bags with a capacity of up to 52 L each, as well as a variety of front racks and baskets
  • Box bike accessories, including forward and backward-facing bench seats, rear cargo racks, and fully-enclosed passenger sun and rain covers. We offer a range of accessories for the Urban Arrow.

A cargo bike can also be modified as your family grows. For example, a family with one child may start with a child seat on the rear of a long-tail cargo bike, and then add a second when a new child comes along. When the older child grows out of the seat (over 22 kg or 6 years old), it can be replaced with a pillion cushion and handrails. When the other child is big enough, the second seat can also be replaced with a cushion. When both kids are too big, the bike can be modified into a complete grocery-hauler, with full-length pannier bags and a rear basket or box.

As another example, a family with three primary-school age children may be able to fit them all in the front of an Urban Arrow (two children front-facing and one rear-facing in the box).

Examples of Ezee Expedir passenger options

Try before you buy

Cargo e-bikes can be a large investment and can significantly change your lifestyle (for the best!), so it’s crucial that you see and test ride a variety of bikes, ideally with any passengers or special items of cargo you would like to carry. At Glow Worm Electric Bikes, we have demonstration models of the most common cargo e-bikes available for test rides. A test ride of up to seven days can also be booked so you can try riding, loading, unloading and storing your cargo e-bike multiple times over a longer period.

Glow Worm Electric Bikes have been specialising in cargo e-bikes since the business started over ten years ago. We’ve helped hundreds of families over the years make the switch to an electric cargo bike. We regularly see happy families ride by the shop on bikes purchased from our store and regularly serviced at our workshop over several years.

If you are interested in a cargo e-bike for your family, get in touch with either our Sydney or Melbourne stores to discuss what bike and accessories might suit your needs.

And now, off to sell your car!