Tired of idling in the car pickup line after school?
Jealous of the folks who pull right up to soccer practice with all their kids and gear - while you're still hunting for parking 4 blocks away?
Ready to start making your everyday errands easier, more sustainable - and a lot more fun?
If you've started thinking about a cargo bike - CONGRATULATIONS! Your family life is about to get a lot more awesome. (-;
But which bike style should you choose?
Check out a busy commuter trail in a bike-friendly city and you’ll see lots of different options rolling by – family bikes with kids on the back, in the front, on a bench, in a box, on 2 wheels or 3, side by side or in line.
If you’re transporting just one small child, you can probably mount a seat on your regular bike or ebike and call it a day. A bike trailer can also work as an inexpensive short-term solution.
But if you’re looking to ride more, with more kids, bigger kids, babies, or cargo, you’ll probably want a sturdier vehicle that’s designed for family transportation.
Our most important suggestion is to test ride several different bike styles.
In many cities, you can find a local family biking community on Facebook or Nextdoor with folks who will be happy to let you take their bikes for a spin. Some brands (like Bunch!) can hook you up with local test ride options as well.
Different bikes feel right to different riders - and nobody wants to invest in an expensive bike that ends up gathering dust in the driveway.
The bike that makes you feel comfortable and confident – that makes you eager to ride more – is the right bike for you.
Let's consider the options!
Longtail cargo bikes
A longtail bike is just what it sounds like – a two-wheeler with an extra-long rear “deck” that can seat two or even three kids if they’re willing to squish a little. Bigger kids can sit right on the deck; most longtail brands can also carry toddler seats for littler riders as well as pannier bags for cargo.
Longtails are great because they are…
Fast and agile
If you want to weave in and out of traffic, carve sharp turns, or barrel down a narrow dirt path with your kids, a longtail will get you closer to the agility and speed of a regular two-wheeled bike.
Easier to store
Since it’s only a little wider than an individual bike, a longtail can be parked indoors or in a small storage area more readily than a box bike. If you have limited bike parking options, you can even store a longtail vertically. You can’t do that with a box bike!
Potentially less expensive
There are thrifty and spendy options in every category. But if you need the cheapest possible family bike, you’ll want a longtail.
More like a "normal" bike
After you drop the kids at school, commuting to work or running errands will feel just like riding a regular e-bike, and you won’t get the extra “looks” and questions that the box bike attracts.
Box bikes, front load cargo bikes & cargo trikes
A box bike, sometimes called a bakfiets (BACK feets), carries a cargo “box” that’s a little like the interior of a cart or stroller wagon. The cargo area is bigger and wider than on a longtail bike, and it’s typically located in front of the parent rather than behind.
This is the typical “Dutch bike.” It’s less like a normal two-wheeler and more like a car replacement.
Box bikes come in two flavors: two-wheelers like the Bullitt, Urban Arrow, or Madsen, and three-wheel cargo trikes like the Bunch Bike. The tricycle style typically has two wheels in front, with the passenger area between them.
Box bikes are great because you can…
See your kids
Unlike on a longtail, your kids ride in front of you, so you can see them and talk to them easily and enjoy the scenery en route - you're really spending time together while you ride.
Grab your gear
A box bike makes it easy to bring along all the backpacks, sports equipment, snacks, books, coats, bikes, and whatever else your family needs for the road. You and your kids can just toss things in rather than needing to pack stuff carefully into pannier bags or figure out how it will fit or balance.
Keep passengers safe and cozy
In a box bike, kids sit on a bench seat inside the cargo box, typically with a seatbelt. Many kids find this setup more comfortable than riding “astride” for long periods. You can easily fit a rain tent or sun shade over the entire seating area.
The kids are enclosed inside the cargo box, which helps protect them in case of a fall or accident.
Carry infants and pets
Carrying a baby in an upright bike seat, as you do on a longtail, is not recommended until age 1.
In a box bike, many families install mounts that will hold a bucket-style infant car seat. There are no official US recommendations for this setup, but it's fully reclined and shock absorbing, much like putting the car seat in a stroller base. I personally started taking short rides with my baby at around six weeks old! Definitely not possible on a longtail.
Dogs and other pets can also ride easily in the cargo box, with little in the way of special equipment.
Two-wheeled cargo bike or three-wheeled cargo trike?
If the box bike style suits you, you’ll want to test ride both two-wheeled and three-wheeled models. They handle very differently, and riders do tend to have a strong preference for one or the other.
The major advantage of the two-wheeled box bike is speed.
You can ride faster and (especially) turn faster than you can on a trike. If you are already an experienced bike commuter, and you prefer to travel at 18+ mph, you may be more comfortable on a two-wheeler.
However, these bikes can feel unstable and hard to handle at lower speeds, for less confident riders, or when starting to pedal from a standstill.
They are also more liable to feel tippy if your kids move around a lot. Parents of wiggly kids may be more comfortable in a 3-wheeled setup.
The major advantage of the cargo trike is stability, especially at lower speeds.
A trike will “stay put” while you load and unload, or stop and start at intersections. You never have to worry about keeping your balance or putting your feet down.
The trike is also much more likely to stay upright in a collision with a car door or another cyclist. The cargo box keeps kids safely contained inside. It can feel safer and easier for less confident cyclists (like me!) to navigate, especially on busy roads and trails.
However, it is possible to tip a three-wheeler - especially if you try to turn aggressively or at high speed. Trike owners need to be ready to take turns slow and wide.
A trike also handles very differently from a "normal" bike. It's easy to turn, but avid cyclists will find that it feels awkward and counterintuitive at first, and the turning radius is quite wide.
The box trike also has more carrying capacity.
You’ll want a three-wheeler if you need to carry an adult, or 3+ kids, or bigger cargo like a wheelchair.
It’s possible to squeeze three kids onto a two-wheeler, but they’ll be less comfortable than in a trike that’s designed to hold four or even six passengers.
The trike style can also be particularly useful for families with disabilities or medical needs – click here to learn more about those options.
Box bike riders, in their own words!
We went with a box bike for the "grab and go" convenience. Kids inevitably want to bring 5 extra things with them at the last second, with the box bike you can just be like "sure, fine, throw it in the box," with a longtail you have to find a place for it, or say "no.” - Chris S.
I went with a box bike over a long tail because it seems like injury to my kids is less likely if the bike is dropped or tipped over. Mine are also very young, so I wanted to be able to see them while riding without looking back. - Michael J.
We went with a box bike after going into our cargo bike search more interested in long tails. We wanted it to really be instead of a second car, and we realized we would get that more with a box bike. It easily fits our now three year-old plus groceries, and I definitely think we use it more outside of just commuting to work/nursery school than we would with a long tail because of that. We've been really happy with our decision. - Lauren
I have three kids, which makes the options a lot more limiting. With a long tail, I had balance issues, had a hard time getting going from a stop and my kids were anxious the few times we tried to ride together. After getting the second stimulus check, I pulled the trigger on a Bunch. Am happy with the purchase and wish I had held out and gone with a box bike in the first place. It feels much more stable and secure and I like not only being able to see kiddos but actively engaging with them on our rides. - Julie M.
My specific goal was to find a cargo bike to accommodate two medium-large sized dogs. That didn’t seem practical or safe with a long-tail. - Robert G.
We went with a box bike because our kids were little and were best protected from the elements in the box under the cover. The box can also accommodate a car seat for our then-infant. We can keep an eye on them and interact more when they're in front of us. They can drop their toys (or food) in the box and it's not lost forever. Ours happens to have a tray that they use extensively for food, toys, and even a Bluetooth speaker for tunes! - Laura S.
We got a box bike because I wanted it easy for groceries and kids. - Lauren M.
I got a box bike because I have three children and still need room for bags and gear. - Stephanie H.
Longtail cargo bike riders, in their own words!
Storage space was a huge concern for us. We maybe could have squeezed a box bike in our shed but the long tail fits much easier. Easier = more likely to use it. - Erin S.
Storage and use beyond kids were the major factors in our decision to go long tail. Also, I felt a long tail would be easier to maneuver on sidewalks that are sometimes narrow or have two-way traffic. - Maren P.
I tried a box and ultimately decided I didn't like riding something that felt so bulky after I dropped off kids. I loved that my longtail felt like a normal bike when riding without kids. I felt much more comfortable with the steering on a longtail than with the boxes. - Sierra F.
We needed a bike that was on the low end of the price points because we weren’t sure how much we’d use it and whether we would all like family biking. For that reason, we went with a Radwagon because it was the cheapest entry point into cargo bikes. - Theresa W.
I wanted a box bike but after trying one out, felt like it would be more difficult to manage on my pretty urban commute, so went with a long tail. Price/ease of parking was also a concern. - Stephanie
As avid adult bikers, we wanted something that seemed the closest to a “normal” biking experience, especially when we didn’t have kids on/in it. Box bikes are very functional, but I can ride around and do errands on the long tail (like after I drop the kids off for school) and feel like I’m on a more or less normal bike. - Danielle
I went for a small longtail (GSD) over a box bike because we didn’t have great storage, so I didn’t want the unwieldy-ness of a box bike. - Abby N.
Local infrastructure helped in deciding. I’ve got to go up and down sidewalks and around lots of narrow entrances or awkward pedestrian poles that make a narrow bike a better fit. – Megan H.
We couldn't decide so we got both 🤪. And we use both based on the situation, # kids, what we haul. We almost never use our car so it's nice to have 2 bikes and choose based on the scenario. - Kasey V. (That's her crew in the photo below - and at the top of the page!)
We were deciding between a box bike (Babboe city mountain) and longtail (Tern GSD), and we got both! The advantage for the front box was that it was easier to keep an eye on both kids and greater cargo space, and we bought that first. The advantage for the longtail was its agility and speed, so it was better for a longer commute to work after dropping off the kids. (My wife has a shorter commute to work so she takes the Babboe; mine is longer and on more dangerous roads so I take the Tern) - Jonathan W.
What are the advantages of a longtail cargo bike?
Easy to maneuver, easier to park and to carry, feels more like a normal bike. Can also be a less expensive option.
What are the disadvantages of a longtail cargo bike?
Harder to balance. Can’t see kids. Can only fit two, or three as a tight squeeze. Packing cargo takes more careful planning.
What are the advantages of a box bike or front-load cargo bike?
Fit more kids and more stuff, including infants and pets. Can see and talk to your kids. “Grab and go” cargo without packing into pannier bags.
What are the disadvantages of a box bike or front-load cargo bike?
Bigger, heavier, less agile, harder to store. Less like a normal bike.
Why choose a two-wheeled cargo bike?
Agility and speed.
Why choose a three-wheeled cargo bike?
Stability, easier to stop/start and more carrying capacity.
Will I eventually become a cargo bike fanatic and end up talking to everyone I know about the joy of family biking and/or owning multiple bikes?
It's a real possibility!
Comment below to let us know what factors your family is considering!