Freight bicycle

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Modern long-wheelbase freight bicycle from Amsterdam
A modern cargo trike in use in London, featuring electric assist
Mother with two children in The Hague (Netherlands)

Freight bicycles, carrier cycles, freight tricycles, cargo bikes, box bikes, or cycletrucks are human powered vehicles designed and constructed specifically for transporting loads. Vehicle designs include a cargo area consisting of an open or enclosed box, a flat platform, or a wire basket, usually mounted over one or both wheels, low behind the front wheel, or between parallel wheels at either the front or rear of the vehicle. The frame and drivetrain must be constructed to handle loads larger than those on an ordinary bicycle.


The first freight bicycles were used by tradesmen to deliver mail, bread and milk amongst other things. Early freight bicycles were heavy-duty standard bicycles, with heavy carriers at front or rear, sometimes with a smaller front wheel to accommodate a large front carrier. During the early part of the 20th century these were commonly used by tradesmen for local deliveries. In the UK this style is still sometimes known as a butcher's bike or delibike, although the Post Office have by far the largest fleet.[citation needed]

With the domination of the internal combustion engine in the industrialized countries after World War II, freight bikes became less popular. In the rest of the world, however, they continued to be manufactured and heavily used.[1] In the 2000's, ecologically-minded designers and small-scale manufacturers initiated a revival of the freight bike manufacturing sector.[2]

Common uses[edit]

Freight bikes are used in a variety of settings:

  • Delivery services in dense urban environments
  • Transporting children
  • Food vending in high foot traffic areas (including specialist ice cream bikes)
  • Transporting trade tools, including around large installations such as power stations and CERN
  • Airport cargo handling
  • Recycling collections
  • Warehouse inventory transportation
  • Mail delivery (The UK post office operates a fleet of 33,000 bicycles, mainly the Pashley MailStar)[citation needed]
  • Organic Transit boasts that if their ELF is used in place of a car, it could prevent up to six tons of CO2 from spewing into the atmosphere each year. "There is nothing more polluting than driving our cars each day,"[3]


Freight bicycles have a number of advantages over motorized vehicles:

  • They do not create air pollution (e.g. enclosed warehouses and industrial plants)
  • They produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions
  • They are less costly to operate
  • They are quiet
  • They are not limited by the availability of fuel
  • They are less dangerous than other road vehicles and much less deadly for other road users
  • They contribute less to traffic jams

Some cargo bike makers and users utilize power assist motors to complement the power of the cyclist. Power assist can increase the payload and range of cargo bikes, but also increases the cost of the bicycle and requires an on-board battery.[4]


Cargo bike in Copenhagen

In Amsterdam and Copenhagen, freight bikes are extremely popular.[citation needed] In Amsterdam many residents simply fit large front carriers to sturdy city bicycles. There is also a broad variety of specially made freight bikes including low-loading two-wheelers with extended wheelbases, bicycles with small front wheels to fit huge front carriers, tadpole-type three-wheelers with a box between the two front wheels. Other varieties include a platform, basket etc. instead of the box, the loading area between two rear wheels (delta-fashion), small-wheel two-wheelers loading both back and front. An occasional four-wheeler can also be seen, especially within a plant, warehouse or the like, where demands on stability and loading capacity are higher than on range.

Many models are now available with an electric assist which can make them more useful for longer distances or for varied terrain, i.e. not flat cities, amongst other reasons, such as feeling more confident riding in car traffic due to faster acceleration from stopping.

Cycle truck[edit]

The Cycle truck refers to a type of freight bicycle with a smaller front wheel than rear, typically 26 inches (66 cm) rear and 20 inches (51 cm) front.

Butcher's bike[edit]

Typical 1930's Butcher's Bike, in the Forest of Dean

Also referred to as a Baker's bike, this style of freight bicycle was popular with a wide variety of trades during the first half of the 20th century, particularly in the United Kingdom. Typically, they would have a basket or storage box mounted within a framework which was fixed to the frame (not the fork) of the bike. Often, they would also feature a sign advertising the business concerned, which would be attached within the main triangle of the bicycle frame.[5]

Cycle truck typically also employed the same basket/rack to frame arrangement, as sold by Schwinn's cycle-truck.


A boda-boda (or bodaboda) is a two-wheeled bicycle or motorcycle taxi, originally in East Africa. Boda Boda[6] is also the name of Yuba Bicycles compact cargo bike introduced in 2012.

Long John bicycle[edit]

Danish Long John freight bicycle, 3-speed hub

The Long John Bicycle is a freight bicycle with the cargo area in front of the rider and some linkage connecting the steering to the front wheel, "linkage steering". Capacity is usually about 220 pounds (100 kg). A traditional Long John will have a smaller front wheel and a 23 or 26 in (58 or 66 cm) rear wheel, plus a 30–40 in (76–102 cm) long platform, basket, or box located low, in front of the handlebars.

The term "bakfiets" (which means "box bike" in Dutch; plural is "bakfietsen") is also used to describe this style of bicycle.[7]

Vintage Long Johns are becoming collectible. The last known manufacturer to still produce the original Long John is Monark. The history of Long John Bicycles is traced to Denmark c. 1923.[8] The Smith & Co. Company (SCO - founded by Ivar Smith and Robert Jacobsen in Odense, Denmark 17 October 1894) was the inventor and the first to build this type of cargo bicycle. The first Long-John was presented to the public at the Wembley World Fair & Exhibition in 1924.

This style of bicycle is useful for carrying freight, including children, and can function as a car replacement for many families.[9] It is possible to install a carseat in the box to for babies, and when children get older, they are often seated on a small bench and clipped in with a 3- or 5-point harness. Canopies can be affixed to the cargo box for protection from the elements, making a warm and inviting space for children to enjoy the ride.

Off-road Long John bicycle[edit]

Offroad Long John bicycle, 80x60cm cargoarea, twin motors
Offroad Long John bicycle, 80x60 cm cargo area, twin motors

The range of Long John style cargobikes extends to off-road applications.[10] Such designs can cover difficult terrain such as sand, mud, and snow, by using fatbike tires, electric motors, and suitable ground clearance. This brings cargobikes into farms, national parks, 1st-response situations, and immunization programs.

Longtail bicycle[edit]

A Surly Big Dummy with handlebars and foot rests for a second rider

Longtails have a longer frame wheelbase at the rear compared to a standard bicycle.[11][12][13] The extended rear facilitates use as a freight bicycle or carrying multiple or adult passengers compared with shorter bicycles. They tend to handle more like regular bikes than cargo bikes with linkage steering.

Xtracycle Free Radical as fitted to a Trek 820 MTB donor bike.

Xtracycle developed the first longtail product, their Free Radical,[14] which attaches to an existing 'donor' bicycle to make it a longtail bike in 1998. The growing popularity of Xtracycle inspired the Kona Ute,[15] launched for the 2008 season. Surly were asked by Xtracycle to build a complete Xtracycle-compatible frameset; the result was the 'Big Dummy', first released for the 2008 season. The chromoly frameset is designed for 26" wheels.[16] Buyers have the choice of frameset alone or complete bicycle. In 2008 Xtracycle documented the LongTail as an open-source standard.[17] This has helped individuals to build longtail bikes themselves such as the Xtravois.[18]

There is a sub-class of longtail bicycles referred to as midtails. As their name implies, they are not quite as long as a longtail, but can still often carry at least one if not two children. The Yuba BodaBoda is one such bike, as are the Tern GSD and HSD. The Bike Friday Haul-a-Day initially fit in this category, but can arguably carry as many kids as an Xtracycle Edgerunner (longtail). The Kona Ute is a longtail, and the Kona Minute is its midtail counterpart.

Wooden freight bicycle[edit]

Chukudu transporting bananas to market in the North Kivu province of DR Congo.

The chukudu (or chikudu, cbokoudou) is a two-wheeled vehicle similar to a scooter used in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is made of wood, and used for transporting freight.

Porteur bicycle[edit]

A modern bicycle styled after the classic French Porteur bicycle

A porteur bicycle has the rack on the front, and can carry as much as 50 kilograms (110 lb) that way.


Cycle rickshaw in Dhaka

Cycle rickshaws are used for the short range transport of both people and goods while tricycles with boxes or platforms are used to transport goods. A cargo tricycle with an open or flat platform might be used for low value goods or for trips where the rider is always with the goods. A fabric cover can be added to provide weather protection. Tricycles can also be fitted with a lockable weatherproof box, usually of aluminium construction, for valuable goods and where the rider has to leave the vehicle.

Cargo tricycles can typically carry 100–300 kilograms (220–660 lb) of cargo and have capacity of 1 cubic metre (35 cu ft) or more, which is about half the capacity of a small panel van. The weight capacity of tricycles is limited by available human power and the permitted power of electric assist by law.


Selected designers and manufacturers[edit]

Freight tricycle[edit]

Traditional Dutch cargo tricycle or "bakfiets"

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ "5 Reasons Cargo Bikes Are the Perfect Mode of Transportation". EcoWatch. 2015-02-25. Retrieved 2020-10-30.
  4. ^ Giddings, Morgan. "A Quiet Revolution in Bicycles: Recapturing a Role as Utilitarian People-Movers (Part II)". PeakProsperity. Archived from the original on 3 August 2012. Retrieved 15 April 2020.
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ Walker, Amy, ed. (2011). On Bicycles: 50 Ways The New Bicycle Culture Can Change Your Life. Novato/California: New World Library. pp. 127, 128. ISBN 9781608680221.
  8. ^ Dickson, Thomas (2006). Dansk Design. Copenhagen: Gyldendalske Boghandel. p. 392. ISBN 9781741963175.
  9. ^ "Biking With Babies". This Mom Bikes. March 28, 2018.
  10. ^ "Anywhere Berlin". Retrieved 2016-05-13.
  11. ^ "Blog Archive » Longtail Vanilla #1". Clever Cycles. 2006-10-04. Retrieved 2011-04-23.
  12. ^ Dave R. (January 10, 2008). "Kona Ute—Rock solid cargo bike". Bike Hugger. Retrieved 2011-04-23.
  13. ^ Justin Thomas. "The Best Cargo Carrying Bikes Of 2009: A Review >> MetaEfficient Review". Retrieved 2011-04-23.
  14. ^ "Xtracycle". Xtracycle. Archived from the original on 2014-12-30. Retrieved 2014-12-30.
  15. ^ "konaworld". konaworld. Archived from the original on 2011-03-03. Retrieved 2011-04-23.
  16. ^ "Spew | Removing and applying decals on our frames". Retrieved 2011-04-23.
  17. ^ "Main Page - Open Source LongTail Technology". 2009-03-13. Retrieved 2011-04-23.
  18. ^ "xtravois". Retrieved 2011-04-23.