For commuters looking to go car-free, cargo bikes offer a number of advantages. They have higher weight capacities and more storage room than standard commuter bikes, so they can haul everything from a week's worth of groceries to a couple of kids. On the other hand, they are heavier and take up more space than most comfort bikes, which may be problematic for apartment dwellers. Cargo bikes are also more expensive than your average commuter bike, so you should expect to spend upward of $1,000.
Cargo bikes usually come as longtails, meaning there's an extended rear frame-mount for the back tire that allows extra room behind the seat and over the rear wheel. That extra space can then be outfitted with saddlebags (called panniers), a platform seat for kids or a basket accessory. Most cargo bikes are long enough that they need a double kickstand, which keeps the bike stable when loading and unloading.
One of the most affordable longtail cargo bikes is the Kona Ute (MSRP: $1,100). This aluminum-framed cargo bike is offered in 18- and 20-inch frame sizes and sports a wooden rear platform with waterproof panniers, a center-mount kickstand and fenders. Features include Avid mechanical disc brakes, a Shimano Deore Shadow SGS rear derailleur and Continental City Contact tires. The frame comes with limited lifetime coverage.
For the last several years, the Kona Ute has received good reviews for those who need more storage space than a typical commuter bike provides. Reviewers say the bike has a stiff, responsive frame and comfortable handlebars. It's also comfortable to ride and easy to load and unload. Most reviewers agree that the Kona Ute cargo bike is very stable. It's a little slow to accelerate, but it cruises and handles well when up to speed.
Although we haven't seen any reviews for the 2011 model, the Kona Ute hasn't changed much from last year's model, other than a redesigned aluminum fork and new front brake rotor. For 2011, the Kona Ute also comes in an electric version (MSRP: $2,730) that gets high marks from Road.cc. Editors say the electric assist is a welcome addition on hills, especially when the bike is fully loaded. "It's given me a glimpse of true, sweat-free utility cycling even in the hilliest bits of hilly Bath," says Dave Atkinson. However, he wonders if the high price tag is really worth it.
In many ways, Xtracycle helped launch the cargo craze with their popular Xtracycle FreeRadical (MSRP: $240), which converts just about any diamond-framed bike into a longtail bike using a bolt-on frame attachment. Given the popularity of the FreeRadical, Xtracycle also offers the Xtracycle Radish (MSRP: $1,000), an 80-inch-long, 45-pound cargo bike that sports a chain guard and fenders. It also comes with a "hoodie kit" that includes two V racks and a large cargo bag. The steel-framed Xtracycle Radish comes with an eight-speed drivetrain, Avid SD-5 V-brakes, a SRAM X-5 rear derailleur and CST tires. It can accommodate up to 350 pounds, including the rider's weight. We haven't seen any reviews of the 2011 model.
If you haul serious cargo, the Surly Big Dummy is worth a look. It's available as a frameset only or as a complete bike (MSRP: $2,450) with an Xtracycle snapdeck, V-Racks and Freeloader bags. The Surly Big Dummy was designed in conjunction with Xtracycle, so it fits well with all the Xtracycle accessories. It can also haul up to 200 pounds of cargo, so it's a good choice for heavy loads. Surly bikes have a three-year frame warranty, and components are covered for one year.
Most of the reviews for the Surly Big Dummy date back to the 2008 or 2009 models. Eric McKeegan at Dirt Rag magazine tests the 2008 Surly Big Dummy, finding it stable and noticeably stiffer than his Xtracycle FreeRadical-converted bike. BikeRadar.com gives it 4 out
of 5 stars, saying it offers a versatile and comfortable ride around town. Because the Surly Big Dummy is expensive, BikeRadar.com says it's a good choice if you plan to use it for seriously heavy loads on a regular basis. If you are only hauling small loads, the Kona Ute or a FreeRadical conversion kit may be a better choice. Surly offers custom builds and paint designs for the Big Dummy at HelloBigDummy.com.
If you don't want a longtail but you need more storage options than a typical commuter bike provides, the Civia Halsted (MSRP: $1,125) earns several recommendations. Billed as a "cycle truck," the Halstead has a large frame-mounted front rack that can accommodate up to 50 pounds. The steel-framed bike has a standard 26-inch wheel in the rear, but the front wheel measures 20 inches to make room for the large cargo rack. Other features include a nine-speed Shimano cassette, Shimano Alivio rear derailleur, a Tektro Aquila disc brake in the front and a linear-pull brake in the rear. Only one frame size is available.
Reviewers say the Civia Halsted is a good middle ground for those who don't want a huge longtail bike but need more cargo space than a typical bike provides. "We recommend the Halsted for anyone who wants a utility bike but for whom a large, heavy bike would be burdensome," says Bicycling magazine. Even though the bike only comes in one frame size, testers say the adjustable seatpost makes it relatively easy to achieve a good fit. In fact, in Bicycling magazine's test, both a 6-foot-7-inch and a 5-foot-5-inch tester are able to ride comfortably. Roy M. Wallack at the Los Angeles Times also finds it stable and easy to control. However, the front brake can be squirrelly when the bike is fully loaded. At 40 pounds, the Civia Halsted is no lightweight, but it is easier to carry than most cargo bikes.