Family Cargo Bikes, Are they Safe to Ride with Kids?

Woman riding Yuba cargo bike with kids in cargo box

I’ve been seeing something new around Jackson lately. It looks like this (without the palm trees and beaches, of course):

Jackson parents (and parents in other Western cities, I’m told) are jumping on the carry-your-kids-in-a-cargo-bike bandwagon. Every time I see it, it makes me wonder if it’s a good idea. It doesn’t look especially safe.

So I thought I’d look into it.

Cargo bikes made for carrying kids

Turns out that tons of cargo bike companies pitch their bikes as good for families. Companies like Yuba, Xtracycle, Bunch, Urban Arrow, and a whole lot more have cargo bikes that can be fitted for hauling kids around.

Bikes that come with big carrying boxes on the front are obvious choices, but longtail cargo bikes can be converted with rails, child seats, and footboards. Seatbelts, canopies, and bench seats are available, too.

Urban Arrow cargo bike with canopySeriously, check out this canopy. It’s like riding in a tent. Or a spaceship. Image credit: Urban Arrow.

In short order, family cargo bikes have become big business. It seems like every cargo bike company touts its bikes’ ability to carry kids. Some of them are purpose-made (like many of the Bunch bikes) while others can be fitted with accessories to make it possible.

And those bikes and accessories are expensive. Electric cargo bikes can set you back up to $6,000 (and probably more). Accessories are often a couple of hundred bucks apiece.

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But if you can replace a lot of car trips for your family with a cargo bike, that’s money well spent.

Are cargo bikes safe for your kids?

This was the real question I wanted to answer. When I saw people riding around with their kids on the back of a cargo bike, I thought it was super sketchy. It doesn’t look safe at all. But, as it turns out, it might actually be a great choice.

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Cargo bikes vs. kids’ bike seats

The first thing to compare a cargo bike to is the kids’ bike seat. Sometimes they’re mounted behind the saddle, sometimes they’re on the top tube, sometimes they’re on the handlebars. But wherever they are, they’re super dangerous. If you crash, your kid is going down hard.

Scared child in bike seatThere’s a reason this kid looks so terrified. Image credit: Hamax.

Is a cargo bike safer than a child seat? Absolutely. Your kid’s weight is lower on the cargo bike, making it more stable. They won’t fall as far if you go down. If they’re in a cargo box, they probably wouldn’t hit the road at all if you crash.

If they’re on the back, the bars that keep them on the bike act as a bit of a roll cage, decreasing the chance of serious injury.

But everyone knows that these child seats are a terrible idea. The real test is if a cargo bike is safer than a trailer.

(Note: small children, if they’re not in a cargo box, should probably be in a child seat on the back of a cargo bike. Yuba likes the Thule Yepp Nexxt Maxi. Are child seats safer on a cargo bike? Yes. They’re lower to the ground. But if you can, it’s probably better to use a cargo box for kids who can’t sit on their own.)

Cargo bikes vs. bike trailers

Before cargo bikes became popular, bike trailers were the way to go. They’re way safer than child seats, they’re easier to ride with, and they double as strollers or joggers.

Burley Bee bike trailerBurley’s signature yellow makes their trailers instantly recognizable. Image credit: Burley.

Burley is one of the biggest names in bike trailers, and they list some of their safety tests on their product pages:

  • Drop test:  trailer is dropped on its nose to test the safety harness under extreme stress.
  • Crush test: simulates force applied to trailer in a rollover to ensure strength and integrity of frame.
  • Curb test: front forks are tested to simulate repeated curb impact over the life of the trailer.

In short, Burley trailers are super safe. The entire thing is encased in an aluminum roll cage and the center of gravity is super low. If you tip over and the trailer goes with you, your kids will be shaken, but almost certainly unharmed. Want to learn more about Burley?  Check out our
Burley D’lite Bike Trailer Review for more info.

So how does a cargo bike compare?

It’s probably not as safe. Yuba’s Monkey Bars, for example, provide a good handhold for kids and keep them from sliding off in turns, but don’t provide a whole lot of protection. They’ll keep children from flying off in a crash, but that’s probably about it.

A cargo box is a better comparison. And while it does keep kids firmly belted in, there’s no protection on top. So if you have a catastrophic crash, things could get bad. Even the bikes that offer toppers for the cargo box don’t have a full roll cage like a trailer. And good luck fitting older kids in these boxes.

So cargo bikes probably aren’t as safe as most bike trailers. That settles it, right? You should get a bike trailer if you have kids.

Not so fast.

Some other factors you might not have considered

One of the most interesting discussions of cargo bike safety comes from Brooke Miller, a former national champion cyclist. She was skeptical of riding an Xtracycle with her kids, but after some time on the bike, she’s a huge proponent.

For one thing, she says, the way her cargo bike is built makes it very stable. It’s really low to the ground, and the smaller rear wheel puts heavy loads (i.e., three children) closer to the ground. And the fact that front racks attach directly to the frame instead of the fork or handlebars improves stability even more.

Woman riding uphill with cargo bike and three kids on backBrooke Miller is a cargo bike convert—and she feels super safe hauling kids around on it. Image credit: Xtracycle.

Another thing that makes her feel safe on her cargo bike loaded with kids is the electric assist. It lets her take hilly routes to avoid high-traffic streets, get going quickly to cross intersections, and keep up with traffic so she can use a full lane.

Of course, not every cargo bike has electric assist. But it can actually make your ride safer.

Should you haul your kids on a cargo bike?

After looking into it, I’m more convinced that cargo bikes are pretty safe for riding with your family. In fact, they’re quite a bit safer than the bike seats that lots of parents use all the time.

And they have one huge advantage over pretty much every other option: they’re really convenient. You can haul two, three, even six kids on a cargo bike. Which means you can replace a lot of car trips. The added convenience isn’t just for hauling kids, either. You can get groceries, commute to work, and do just about anything else you want on a cargo bike.

And that’s awesome.

No method of transportation is totally safe. But a cargo bike is probably on the safer side (especially considering some of the crazy things I’ve seen people do here in Jackson). And if it reduces car trips and gets people exercising, I’m all for it.

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About the Author

Mike Hardaker
Mike Hardaker grew up surfing and snowboarding in Orange County and followed his love of surfing to Hawaii before eventually moving to the mountains to concentrate on snowboarding and join the Freeride World Tour. When not on a board, Mike worked for Snowboarder and later oversaw TGR's online publication. He went on to found Mountain Weekly News where he is still CEO and Editor in Chief.

1 Comment on "Family Cargo Bikes, Are they Safe to Ride with Kids?"

  1. Nice write up on cargo bikes. Safety has a lot to do with the rider and where you’re riding. Riding a cargo bike on a dedicated bike path is generally safer than riding on the road. Using bells and signals to communicate is important too. How about the fun factor and exercise. Wind in your hair, sun on your face and learning to balance with your load are all positive aspects to riding a cargo bike vs. driving.

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