New Cargo Bikes Could Replace Your Car

And city dwellers don’t really need to drive anyway

  • Cargo bikes can replace cars for most daily duties.
  • Electric bikes take the effort out of hills and heavy loads. 
  • If you really need a car, rent one or take a cab—it’s still cheaper than owning one.
Someone riding a bike in a busy city.

Lifewire / Charlie Sorrel

An average US commuter spends over $8,000 per year on driving to and from work. A new electric bike could pay for itself in weeks. 

Even a super-fancy electric cargo bike costs much less than $8K, and you can get a good electric bike for a grand or less. Ebikes make commuting, grocery shopping, and school runs easy, they take care of hills, save you money, and make you fitter. Unless you are the owner of a car company, there’s not a downside. And if you’ve switched to working from home in a city, then there’s almost no reason to keep your car. 

"About 75% of all car trips in the USA are less than ten miles, and the vast majority of these are less than five total. In urban and suburban areas, trips of this nature are often much faster by e-bike than by automobile." Will Stewart, an advocate for e-bike adoption and bike industry insider, told Lifewire via email. "[And] there are long term mental and physical health benefits you can gain from being a daily active e-bike commuter instead of seated in an automobile."

First Giant Step

You know how when you go out, you get in your car without thinking about it? That’s the step we have to overcome in order to make cycling the default. Regular bikes are cheaper and lighter and are one of the best ways to get around a city. Electric bikes cost more and maybe impossible to drag up to your walk-up apartment, but they take the heavy effort out of cycling. 

The Globe cargo ebike from Specialized.

Specialized

But once you’ve gotten into the habit, won’t you still need a car? If you live in a city, then the easy answer is no. Unless you have a specific task that absolutely requires a personal automobile to be on hand 24 hours a day, then there are plenty of options. A cab. A car-sharing scheme. A regular rental. The bus. Also, you might be surprised at how much you can do on a bike. 

Specialized’s new Globe range of ebikes—available beginning next year—is built to replace cars for urban dwellers. These electric cargo bikes are fat-tired, long-wheelbase load carriers with electric assist. But there are already plenty of cargo bikes available, electric or not. 

A cargo bike is designed to be stable under load. Whatever you’re carrying, it’s either between the wheels or slung down low. You can stow groceries in baskets and buckets, mount seats on the back for carrying kids, etc. You can even hook up a trailer. 

That might seem like an effort, but it’s no worse than circling the block in a car to find a parking spot. 

Outside the US, bikes are used for all kinds of things. In Berlin, Germany, where I live, the mail is delivered by bike, kids are ferried to school in cargo bikes or toted in trailers. 

Infrastructure

One big challenge for new cyclists is the aspect of danger. It’s true that you’re more vulnerable on a bike, and some drivers get road rage (from jealousy?) and want to take it out on you. But it’s really not so bad. 

Someone riding an ebike with a basket of vegetables on the back.

Westend61 / Getty Images

The single biggest change that cities can make is to put in bike lanes. Protected bike lanes, where car drivers cannot enter even if they want to, are best, but as soon as you start building a network of lanes, things improve. Not only do cyclists have a place to ride, but as cycling expands, other road users get used to our presence.

"Two factors have a big impact on the ability to cycle on a daily basis. One is the presence of cycle lanes. Sydney and Beijing are great because there are bike lanes everywhere. They are safe and fast for cyclists," cycling advocate and bike commuter Billy Chan told Lifewire via email. "The second, more important factor is motorists' awareness of cyclists. If motorists do not pay attention to cyclists or do not respect cyclists' rights, it can be very dangerous to ride on the road."

In Berlin, when cars turn right, they have to stop and give way to cyclists in the bike lane, and they mostly do. Delivery vans even usually stop in the innermost traffic lane, leaving the bike lane free. It’s pretty great. 

Switching to the bike is more of a mental flip than anything else. But once you’ve done it, you won’t want to go back.

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