Are e-cargo bikes any good? 8 things to know before you buy

The pros and cons of buying an e-cargo bike – can it really replace your car and is it worth the high price?

Clock15:58, Thursday 14th March 2024

Electric cargo bikes, or e-cargo bikes, are becoming increasingly popular for city dwellers. They combine the functionality of a car with the accessibility of cycling in a way that marries up the benefits of both, largely with few downsides.

E-cargo bikes make use of a pedal assistance motor to provide up to an additional 250 watts of power. This allows them to carry heavy loads or extra passengers as the motor can take care of the heavy lifting.

With all of these advantages in mind, there are still some things to consider if you’re thinking of buying one. As a regular e-cargo bike user, here are Simon Richardson’s eight things that he wishes he’d known before getting one.

1. Electric cargo bikes replace more than just car journeys

A lot of the marketing spiel around e-cargo bikes focuses on how they can replace car journeys and while this is true, they offer more versatility than just this.

E-cargo bikes and, more broadly speaking, e-bikes make cycling a viable option to get from A to B without the associated hassle that typically accompanies cycling. The ease of use of an e-cargo bike and its increased carrying capacity means that it can quickly replace a lot of journeys that would otherwise be made on foot.

2. E-cargo bikes cost less to keep on the road than cars

There is currently only a very small second-hand market for e-cargo bikes, as they’re still a relatively new concept. So the likelihood is that if you’re looking to purchase one it will be brand new. Which means a price tag that reflects that – typically a few thousand pounds, euros or dollars. However, once you’ve made that initial investment, the savings it can provide almost immediately become apparent.

Cars are inherently expensive to run, with fuel prices close to an all-time high. Then factor in the need for road tax, MOT and insurance and soon you’re looking at a cost of hundreds of pounds per year. In some cities, there are also additional charges for driving into their clean air zones as well as high parking fees.

With an e-cargo bike, once you’ve made the initial investment the only real cost is charging the bike which amounts to around 20 pence per full charge. The only other costs are any insurance you might choose as an optional extra and occasional routine maintenance. However, this is typically significantly less than that of a car.

3. Parking an e-bike is easier than parking a car

Cities are more congested than ever and finding somewhere to safely leave your car can be a mission in itself. That is not to mention the cost of parking, which in some places can feel like daylight robbery.

Replacing a car journey with an e-cargo bike removes the stress and cost of needing to find somewhere to park. There are plenty of bike racks scattered across most cities for you to lock your bike to or failing that using any suitable sturdy structure will also suffice.

With more and more people using bikes as a mode of transportation the need for the availability of bike storage to match the demand is something that local councils will need to keep up with to prevent issues.

4. The weather can be an issue for both rider and bike

One obvious advantage a car has over an e-bike is a roof. There is no denying that in climates like the UK, the weather is a key consideration for anyone looking to ditch the car in favour of a bike. Cycling on any type of bike does expose you to the elements more but on an e-bike it can be far easier to protect yourself from them.

It’s advisable to invest in some all-weather gear, but this doesn’t need to be cycling-specific. With the motor capable of doing a lot of the work for you there is less need for ultra-high-tech fabrics that can keep you dry from the rain but are also lightweight and breathable. This makes wrapping up and protecting yourself from the elements a comparable task to going out for a walk in the rain. A waterproof jacket and trousers will keep your body dry and a pair of waterproof shoes or even rubber boots will protect your feet.

The bike, on the other hand, might need a bit more love if it is consistently used in wet conditions. Giving the bike a clean and looking after the drivetrain components with a good lubricant will help keep things ticking over. If your bike did not come equipped with a set of mudguards these are also a worthwhile addition to your bike as they can keep road spray away from you and your bike.

5. Sitting in traffic is largely a thing of the past

Thanks to an e-cargo bike’s pedal assistance, riding a bike through a city can often be as fast, if not faster than driving, even on hilly terrain. This is because there’s no need to sit in traffic and you can make the most of cycle lanes or by filtering through traffic.

Si has also found that even on journeys that take longer than they might do in a car, it doesn’t matter. Being out in the fresh air, and moving your body is a great investment in return for some extra travel time. Not to mention that the couple of minutes a car might save on longer journeys can easily be spent trying to find somewhere to park.

6. There's an e-cargo bike for every type of person

There are plenty of e-cargo bike variations available on the market. From front-loading options to people-carrying and everything in between. This also means that getting the right type of bike for you might not be as straightforward as you might have hoped. Working out what you need from an e-cargo bike most will help narrow down your search.

If you’re looking to replace any of your car journeys with an e-cargo bike then ease of use is an important factor. E-cargo bikes can be cumbersome and difficult to store, especially in a house. If the bike is more trouble to use than jumping in the car it can quickly fall to the wayside gathering dust. Making sure that the cargo bike you go for fits your needs and your living space is crucial.

7. E-cargo bikes feel safer to use than you might think

One of the advantages of an e-cargo bike is that the electric motor can help propel you up to speed quickly. This is great at traffic lights or roundabouts where moving off from a standing start can feel unsafe with other road users behind you.

Using an e-cargo bike will see your regular routes change slightly around the city compared to that of a car. This might be to incorporate cycle paths or simply to use quieter or slower roads that all promote the feeling of safety.

Anecdotally at least, something Si found when cycling in the city is that people tended to notice him more, especially when carrying his kids on the back, giving him more space and interacting positively with him.

8. There are a few drawbacks to owning an e-cargo bike

As overwhelmingly positive as an e-cargo bike might seem, there are some considerations to take into account before buying one.

Firstly, the initial cost. This is potentially the biggest barrier to accessing an e-cargo bike with it taking a few years to fully recuperate the cost through the savings they can offer.

Secondly, there is the issue of storage. If you live in a flat without a large lift, then keeping your cargo bike somewhere safe might become an impossibility.

Lastly, e-cargo bikes are still relatively novel, which in turn tends to draw a lot of attention. This might not bother you but it is something to consider. If you aren’t getting stopped and asked about the funky-looking bike it’s at least guaranteed to turn heads.

Have you been considering an e-cargo bike or do you already use one? Let us know how you find using them in the comments below. For more information on e-bikes make sure to check out our e-bike section linked here.

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