For a lot of people, family life is synonymous with shuttling kids around in a minivan. But thanks to the increasing availability of spacious bicycles designed specifically to carry kids and stuff, combined with a growing network of bike routes in many Canadian cities, parents are discovering there’s a better way to get around: cargo bikes.
A cargo bike, also sometimes called a family bike, is a bike made to carry more than just a rider, usually extra passengers as well as loads. Hauling groceries and packages in a cargo bike is pretty standard, but a quick look at the "carry shit olympics" hashtag on Instagram shows all that is possible, from Christmas trees to couches.
Families who use cargo bikes often choose electric bikes, also known as e-bikes or e-assist bikes. The bicycle has a battery-powered electric motor that offers assist, a helpful feature when pedalling the extra weight of growing kids (and their stuff) around. On some bikes, the assist automatically kicks in when you’re pedaling, while on others you use a throttle.
There are two common configurations for cargo bikes. Front-loader bikes, also known as long johns, box bikes or bakfiets (the Dutch word for cargo bike), have a box in front of the bike’s handlebars. Inside can go kids, groceries, even the family dog. The longtail layout, on the other hand, is just like it sounds: a long tail on the bike’s rear accommodates cargo such as passengers or gear.
It really depends on the bike, and there are a lot of different bikes out there. Some models have space for three kids in the front box, plus a fourth on a rear rack, while an extended rear cargo rack can fit up to three smaller children. There’s even a school-bus yellow model that fits six kids.
Cargo bikes are versatile and customizable; you can conveniently carry multiple kids of different ages in many configurations. For younger children, child bike seats can be attached. There’s even an infant car seat adapter available for some box bikes, making it possible to secure an infant car seat and get an early start to family rides.
Talk to cargo bike families and you’ll hear an abundance of advantages, from sharing the joy of a bike ride with kids to replacing trips otherwise made with a greenhouse gas-emitting vehicle. A cargo bike’s size brings visibility, making some families feel more comfortable biking with little ones, plus having kids closer makes conversations easier. Other parents say they’ve reclaimed time and reduced stress by riding outside, rather than sitting in a vehicle in traffic.
Lisa Brown describes riding her Urban Arrow Family cargo bike in Edmonton with her young daughter as a beautiful experience. Brown, an environmental engineer, first saw moms zipping around with kids on cargo bikes in 2012, when she spent a week in Copenhagen, Denmark. “They were so cool,” she says. “I remember saying to myself, if I ever have a kid, I'm getting something like that.”
Now her 18-month-old daughter, Adora, sits buckled in the front bucket, where she can interact with her environment in a much different way than a car ride. “Being able to experience the world together and see it through your child’s eyes is so rewarding, and it builds connection with your child,” Brown says.
Brown also likes how riding a cargo bike incorporates fresh air and exercise into her daily routine. Brown and her partner plan to bike Adora to daycare year-round.
Buying a new cargo bike in Canada costs anywhere from about $2,400, for Rad Power Bike’s mail-order RadWagon, to $10,000 for an Urban Arrow Family cargo bike. That may seem steep, but as cargo bike converts will tell you, these bikes can realistically replace a vehicle, and they don't come with the additional costs of gasoline, insurance or parking.
Plus, provinces, territories and municipalities are starting to offer e-bike rebates. So far rebates are available in Yukon, Nova Scotia, P.E.I., Banff, Alberta and Saanich, B.C.
There’s the aforementioned Urban Arrow, a premium brand, and the more affordable Rad Power Bikes. Other popular bike brands with kid-carrying options are Larry vs Harry, Surly, Tern Bicycles, Yuba Bikes and Xtracycle Bikes.
When picking the best ride for your family, consider factors like the terrain where you’ll be riding, the bike’s weight and maneuverability, and your budget.
Yes. Still, like everything when it comes to parenting, expect at least a few raised eyebrows.
Consider safety gear, too. While the Canadian Paediatric Society doesn’t have cargo bike-specific recommendations, they do recommend children wear a helmet while riding a bike. Some provinces require helmets for cyclists under 18.
Numerous cargo bikes also have safety accessories you can add on. For kids on a back rack who have outgrown bike seats, monkey bars or hold-on bars keep them secure, and there are also running boards for little feet. Weatherproof covers are available, providing protection from the sun, rain, snow and wind.
Another consideration is where you are riding. Biking feels safer and more accessible in numerous cities and towns, thanks to a growing network of bike lanes, cycle tracks and trails, as well as reduced speed limits on streets.