Cargo Bikes

In this guide we investigate, score and rank the ethical and environmental record of 11 cargo bike brands.

We also look price, electric cargo bikes, conflict minerals and give our recommended buys. 

About Ethical Consumer

This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

What to buy

What to look for when buying a bike:

  • Is it multi-purpose? Pick a bike that has a long lifespan, is fit for purpose and is going to be used regularly. (Steel bikes are your safe bet from a lifespan point of view).

  • Is it second-hand? A well-built second-hand cargo bike will help cut emissions from production, as well as waste.

Subscribe to see which companies we recommend as Best Buys and why 

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying a bike:

  • Do you need a cargo bike? If you are not going to cycle often, perhaps consider borrowing a cargo bike, at least to try it out first.

  • Is it easy to fix? The simpler a bicycle is mechanically, the easier it is to maintain and, in theory, the longer it should live.

Subscribe to see which companies to avoid and why

Score table

Updated live from our research database

← Swipe left / right to view table contents →
Brand Score(out of 20)

Our Analysis

Cycling is undoubtedly better for the planet than getting in your car. Greenhouse house gas emissions for a bike are over ten times lower. But opting to cycle often becomes harder once children, groceries, work gear and pets are thrown into the mix. 

In more and more countries across Europe, cargo bikes are providing the solution. These bikes are specially made to carry anything you may need to transport, and come in different designs according to your usual load — pet-friendly options included.

The rising popularity of cargo bikes is helping to cut down on our use of cars — and with it the associated emissions, pollution and congestion, particularly in big cities. A recent survey of cargo bike users found that 46% of those involved in cargo bike sharing schemes (these schemes have begun cropping up in Germany) would have made the same journey by car, had the scheme not been available.

Cargo bikes for deliveries

The British Post Office used the first carrier cycle in 1881. Many shopkeepers used to rely on the cargo bike to make local deliveries of bread, meat, milk and other products. In the UK, this mode of delivery has long since been replaced by the car. But in many places in the world, bikes continue to be used for transporting all sorts of everyday goods – India’s rickshaw taxis being one obvious example.

Some countries in Europe are also returning to this mode of transport, both for personal and professional use. They have seen a recent growth in popularity in Denmark, Germany and France, as well as the Netherlands. Most of the brands in this guide are from these countries.

The UK cargo bike market is growing, but they are still under performing in terms of their potential here. A recent study suggests that 30% of the energy used in transport in European cities goes into the delivery of goods. It also found that 25% of these journeys could be made by bike instead of motorised vehicle.

Cargo bike vs bike and trailer

So why are people opting for cargo bicycles over attaching a trailer to their bike? Well the big benefit to a cargo bike is the sheer amount of weight it can take without dragging you down. The placement of the trailer section is designed to allow the weight to impact less on your efficiency.

Image: bike and trailer
Bike and Trailer

Electric cargo bikes

If you live in a hilly city or have a posse of small children to cart around, a cargo bike might sound like hard work. For this reason, more and more brands are offering electric models. In fact, all of those included in this guide now provide electric options.

As we discussed in our guide to electric bikes, these have a lot of advantages. The bikes alone don’t differ much from normal pushbikes in terms of greenhouse gas emissions once you take into account the extra food the pushbike rider needs (based on average EU diet and electricity grid mix).

Our guide to electric bikes has lots more information on how to chose an electric bike.

Price

There are lots of different types of cargo bikes: from boxbikes and longtails to pedicabs and other types of trike. At least two British companies make bespoke cargo-bikes: Really Useful Bikes, and Cargo Bikes.

Prices vary almost as much, but they don’t come cheap. When we looked, the cost seemed to range from around £900 to almost £4,000. The top end is for electric models. There is also the cost of maintenance and repairs.

On the other hand, a ‘cheap’ car, if bought new, will cost upwards of £6,000. Babboe also reckons that once petrol, maintenance and value decreases are taken into account, a car costs £421 a month to run, compared to just £58.25 for its eCargo bike

There is no government grant for buying cargo bikes, which is a shame because it would be cheaper than the electric vehicle subsidy and would not only address air quality and climate change but would also reduce congestion and sedentary lifestyles.

There is, however, the Green Commute Initiative. This is the only cycle-to-work scheme that doesn’t have a £1,000 cap and therefore open to people wanting to buy a cargo bike for commuting. 

Table highlights

Unfortunately, none of these bicycle companies lived up to their products’ ethical credentials. As highlighted in the Ethiscore table, all of the companies we looked at scored a worst for Supply Chain Management, and all but one (Babboe) for Environmental Reporting. In fact, bar that one company, we couldn’t find any kind of policy or report for any of the cargo bike brands.

The up side is that almost all the companies in this market are small and family-owned, which means that they don’t do business in other, unethical markets.

Differentiation between Ethiscores, then, is mainly to do with the materials that the companies chose to use for their bikes.

Leather

Those using leather saddles or selling leather bags lost half a mark under Animal Rights.

PVC

Those using PVC (most usually for the ‘hoods’ for the cargo box) lost half a mark under Pollution & Toxics. Campaigners have been raising issues about the toxicity of PVC (polyvinyl chlorine) for years. Both Triobike and Winther specifically marketed several of their models as PVC-free.

Conflict minerals

All of the companies in the table produced electric bikes – and none of them had a policy for conflict mineral sourcing. Cobalt is used in the manufacture of lithium batteries and cobalt mining is associated with serious environmental and human rights abuses in the DRC. All the companies therefore lost full marks under both Habitats & Resources and Human Rights.

Likely use of tax avoidance

As small, family-owned companies, all but two other those in the cargo bike market scored a best for likely use of tax avoidance strategies:

Best  Bakfiets, Bullitt, Christiania, Douze, Kangaroo, Nihola, Triobike, Urban Arrow, Winther 
Middle Gazelle
Worst Babboe

Personal account by Joanna Long, Ethical Consumer researcher

Three years ago, before I had my daughter, I cycled everywhere. This didn’t change much after she was born – once she was big enough for a bike seat, we were off. It was harder in winter – partly due to the weather, partly due to a downgrading of my risk threshold – but I persevered. As the baby grew into a toddler it got harder still: her weight affected the bike handling a lot more and her strong opinions affected my ability to get her onto the bike without a struggle. In winter I increasingly opted to drive, despite the shamefully short distance (2 miles).

At first it was a relief not to have to think so much about each journey: whether I had all the right clothes in the right panniers, whether my passenger would be in a cooperative mood, whether we were visible enough to drivers. But as the months wore on I got increasingly depressed; depressed by the traffic, the lack of exercise, the blowing of fumes into human lungs.

By the time British Summer Time came around I was broken. I needed a bike to get me through the winter: something that could carry multiple things (children, shopping, work stuff), had some kind of shelter for the passenger and gave me a bit of help in a headwind. So I tried out an e-cargo bike.

By the end of day 1 it had changed my life. Gone was the thinking about the weather, about avoiding the school run traffic, about what we could and couldn’t take with us to the park. Balance bike? Sure! Ball games? Chuck them in! Picnic? No worries!

The decision to buy my own cargo bike was made on day 2. Of course, I still managed to agonise over it. ‘It’s a middle class toy!’ I cried, albeit a very practical one. In bike-terms cargo bikes can be expensive (the one I rode costs £2,500) but they’re vastly cheaper than getting a second car. Factor in the gym membership and psychotherapy I would need to survive another winter and I’m definitely saving money.

Image: Jo Cargo Bike
Joanna riding her Cargo Bike

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