What Is An Electric Cargo Bike?
Posted Monday, March 14, 2022
Last Updated: July 29, 2022
Electric cargo bikes are fun, practical, financially-accessible, and save people time and money. Over 500,000 electric bikes were sold to in the US in 2020.
People are using electric cargo bikes for all kinds of things instead of cars: transporting kids, grocery shopping, deliveries, adventure trips, even going on dates.
An electric cargo bike meets the following criteria:
- has an extended frame
- designed to carry one or more passengers in addition to the rider
- designed to carry the extra weight or cargo (groceries, tools...)
- has attachment points on the frame or racks to attach racks, baskets or seats
- has an electric motor to provide pedal assist and throttle-only assist.
Benefits of An E-Cargo Bike
The primary benefit of electric cargo bikes is that they are fun. That extra pedal-assist makes you feel like a kid again. You will ride more often, go a little faster, and ride further.
Gotta run an errand? Get your kid to practice? Get to the grocery store? Check out this video of Car Versus Electric Bike to see how one rider saves over 10 minutes of time riding an electric bike.
Electric cargo bikes are saving people gas money, parking fees and other expenses related to automobile use. You might not ditch your car completely, but with an electric cargo bike, you’ll ride more and drive less.
As New York Times opinion columnist Jamelle Bouie comments on his Twitter account: “since getting my ebike (I) almost never drive. (I)t has really transformed my daily life.”
(What's that, Jamelle, a 50-lb bag of charcoal?)
Most electric cargo bikes are setup to carry adults as passengers. If your passenger is a smaller child, you can easily attached a child bike seat to the rear platform.
Want to really haul some gear? Attached a flat bed bike trailer to your e cargo bike.
Perhaps most importantly, electric cargo bikes are helping people get more movement and exercise.
How To Buy An Electric Cargo Bike
When you start your electric cargo bike buyers journey, think about what is most important to you. Consider:
- Type of frame style
- Fat tires versus skinny tires
- Components (motor, battery, brakes, etc)
- Quality of frame finish, styling and personalization
- Factory-assembly versus USA hand-built quality
Types of Electric Cargo Bikes
Electric cargo bikes fall into three primary categories:
- extended frame longtails,
- front-loading box-bikes
- and three wheel trikes.
Longtail electric cargo bikes are the most similar to regular bikes, with an extended frame behind the seat to allow for a longer rack to support extra riders or cargo. These perform most like a regular electric bike, and are more versatile than box-bikes or trikes.
Since longtails are by far the most common electric cargo bike found in the US, we’ll focus on those.
Image: Longtail electric cargo bike.
Fat Tire Versus Thin Tire Electric Cargo Bikes
Think of thin bike tires as up to 2.5” wide, and fat tires as those over 3” to 4” wide.
Thin tires are the tires you are likely used to riding. Thin tires are cheaper, lighter, and have less air and road resistance than fat tires. The upside is that you can achieve higher speeds with less effort (human or electric). The downsides are you have less traction, longer emergency stopping distances, and are limited to smooth surfaces.
Many people fear the extra weight of fat tires on bicycles. With an electric cargo bike, that issue becomes moot, as you have the pedal assist and throttle options to help you pedal your electric cargo bike from stops, up hills and across further distances.
Image: 4" fat tires give your electric cargo bike comfort, traction and stability when braking.
Fat tires provide more comfort and safety for electric cargo bikes:
- More comfort due to lower tire-pressure requirements
- More traction on all surfaces
- Shorter stopping distance, and more controlled emergency braking
- More puncture-resistant
With fat tires, you will ride with more confidence over all surfaces.
Components For Electric Cargo Bikes
As with any complex machinery you buy (cars, dishwashers), there is a balance between quality and price of components that make up that item. For your electric cargo bike, you want quality and long-lasting components right at the ‘sweet spot’ of performance and price.
Electric Cargo Bike Motor and Battery
While mid-drives (motors positioned in the middle of the bike) may provide a smoother feel to the pedal-assist, they put a lot of strain on the chain and gear set. You’ll break chains and get stuck out there, unable to pedal or power home.
Rear-hub motors eliminate strain on the drive train. You can still power the bike with a broken chain (again, less likely to happen). We recommend going with a rear hub-drive motor for your electric cargo bike.
A 750w motor will provide ample power and torque to help you move your cargo.
Battery: Most of your cargo bike riding will be relatively close to home, though may use more juice than a standard electric bike. We recommend a 48V, 14.5 Amp/h battery, unless you expect longer rides with a lot of cargo, then upgrade to a 19.2 Amp/h.
Most electric cargo bikes come with disc-brakes. Hydraulic versus mechanical brakes? For your electric cargo bike, we recommend mechanical disc brakes as the best value for the purposes of your cargo bike. That said, hydraulic brakes will generally feel a little smoother, so you can opt to upgrade to a hydraulic option.
Image: Mechanical disc brakes on front wheel of an electric cargo bike.
There are a lot of components that go into an electric cargo bike. Ask a lot of questions about the selections made for any bike made. Where do you install the controller? Why? Where is the kickstand positioned? A lot of these ‘little things’ can make a big difference in the long-term performance and your overall happiness with your bike.
Quality of Frame Finish, Styling & Personalization
Your electric cargo bike frame should last a lifetime. How it looks over time is another matter. Most manufactures use urethane-based paints, which eventually chip, fade and peel.
The best frame finishes are powder-coated for durability and long-lasting beauty. Powder-coating is also environmentally friendly, as it is a zero-waste process that doesn’t use any solvents. We recommend a powder-coated electric bike frame.
You will ride more often with fenders installed on your electric cargo bike. Fenders keep you - and your bike - clean from dust and dirt, and dry from rain or snow. Many companies give you plastic fenders. Yuck! While cheaper and lighter, these will fade, crack and ultimately break. We recommend a bike that has durable, aluminum fenders.
Seats and Grips and other Styling Options
Seats: Electric cargo bikes come with either velo-style or cruiser-style seats. Velo-style tends to give you more control, particularly during turns and riding on rougher terrain, while cruiser-style seats give you more comfort. Pick the seat style that best suits your style of riding.
Grips: You’ll also find round sport grips or ergonomic-shaped grips. We recommend ergonomic grips for long-term comfort.
Seat post: Most electric cargo bikes will come with a seat post you can manually adjust. Consider adding a dropper-seat post so you can make getting on and off your bike easier, while enjoying full-range of leg motion while pedaling.
Handle-bars: Most electric cargo bikes come with standard straight, or slightly bent handle bars. These give you maximum control over your front wheel, which can be great for rough terrain. Swept-back handlebars reduce the need to reach and lean forward, so you have a more comfortable ride. Pick the handlebars that will be most comfortable for you.
Lights: Look for bikes with brake lights and at least one headlight included. We recommend dual headlights for the highest visibility.
Mirrors: If you ride in traffic, mirrors help you not only see behind you, but be seen. We recommend dual mirrors for most electric cargo bike riders.
Regardless of your styling options, the important thing is to find an electric bike company that enables you to choose these options, so you aren’t stuck with somebody else’s decisions.
Overseas Factory-assembly Versus USA Hand-built Electric Cargo Bikes
Overseas factory assembly lines result in limited quality control, zero personalization, and bikes that have never been tuned by a professional bike mechanic. The bikes ship unassembled, with your to figure out the rest.
Bikes are part art and part mechanics. Ride a professionally tuned bike and you’ll immediately notice the difference. The brake rotors are perfectly aligned with the wheel rim for smooth braking. The motor is tuned with the main bracket for smoother pedal-assist... the bike runs and rides smoother.
Fortunately, you can get an electric cargo bike built in the USA. Not just ‘designed in the USA’, but BUILT IN THE USA by Master Bike Mechanics and tuned by Master Bike Mechanics.
A hand-built USA bike will feel better when you ride it, and the components will last longer. Budget a little more for a USA built and tuned bike and you’ll get a lot more and save money over time.
Image: Master Bike Mechanic building an electric bike in the USA.
"Bike Assembly Difficulty Meter? What?"
Many companies ship unassembled electric cargo bikes. That means either you build it and have an untuned bike, or you have to find and pay someone to do it for you. That’s extra cost and extra hassle.
We recommend buying a fully-assembled electric cargo bike, so you can ride on day one.
Frequently Asked Questions About Electric Cargo Bikes
Are Electric Cargo Bikes Hard To Ride?
Electric cargo bikes are much easier to ride than regular cargo bikes, especially when you have passengers and the extra weight of your cargo.
The pedal-assist of an electric cargo bike makes going up hills a breeze, and having a throttle makes starting up from a stop-sign or other stops much easier and safer, as you get up to enough speed to have balance much faster. Crossing four-way stops is faster and easier with an electric cargo bike.
Is it Hard to Pedal a Fat Tire Bicycle?
Fat tires add traction and comfort to your riding experience, though the added traction translates to added friction. Electric fat tire bicycles eliminate the added difficulty of pedaling a fat tire bike by adding electric-assist to your pedaling effort.
What are Electric Cargo Bikes Used for?
Electric cargo bikes are good for basic transportation like running errands, grocery shopping or transporting kids and friends to school or other events. You can even use your e cargo bike for work if you need to carry goods or tools around. Many businesses use electric cargo bikes for deliveries.
Are Fat Tire E Bikes Good on Pavement?
The lower air pressure provides a more comfortable ride and more traction, making fat tire e bikes excellent for riding on pavement, and ready to ride on other surfaces easily. With a fat tire e bike, you can pick your own routes, from pavement to dirt, gravel, sand and snow. The fat tires also give you shorter emergency stopping distance, if you need to stop quickly.