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We are living in a golden age of electric cargo bikes

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Photo by Carsten Koall/picture alliance via Getty Images

It’s a great time to be shopping for an electric cargo bike.

Not only are there a bunch of great, modestly priced models that have just been released from an assortment of really interesting companies, but there are also a growing number of states offering incentives to curious shoppers that could help bring the cost down even further.

It feels as if the industry and the government have simultaneously woken up to the enormous potential of cargo e-bikes to replace car trips and improve the environment, and honestly, it’s about time.

The planet-and-community-saving superpower of cargo e-bikes is widely known. They’ve been shown to decrease car dependency, save people money, reduce carbon emissions, and speed up delivery times for businesses. That probably explains why they’re so dang popular, selling at a more rapid clip than traditional bikes and even other electrified models.

That’s also why every company under the sun is tripping over themselves to release new cargo e-bikes. In just the last month alone, we’ve seen new models introduced by legacy bike makers, like Trek and Specialized, as well as newer direct-to-consumer brands like Aventon, Rad Power Bikes, and Lectric.

As more brands pile into the space, the knock-on effects for prices and the secondary market increase. Bikes get cheaper, more used bikes go on sale, and, in general, cargo e-bikes are more available and get more exposure, which in turn has positive implications for infrastructure and the overall reduction of car trips.

Previously, cargo bikes only represented a small sliver of the used bike market, according to Puneeth Meruva, a senior associate at Trucks VC and author of the truly great Flywheel newsletter that’s all about the secondary e-bike market. (Seriously, it’s a great newsletter. You should sign up for it.)

Consider this snapshot of January 2022, in which cargo bikes represented only 2.77 percent of the used e-bikes posted to Craigslist that month. Not a huge amount, but that predates the flurry of activity we’ve seen in the last few months, with new, less expensive models hitting the road.

 Image: Flywheel
Form factors of used e-bikes sold in major US regions since January 2022

According to Meruva, bike makers are waking up to several salient points about cargo e-bikes; most notably, they’re ridden a lot more than other types of e-bikes. Used cargo bikes clock an average mileage of 766.5 miles, almost double that of commuter, sport, or, performance e-bikes, Meruva found.

Another interesting point worth noting is that this surge of interest in cargo e-bikes isn’t being led by the legacy bike companies, but rather the direct-to-consumer brands, who, from the beginning, have crafted a marketing strategy that targets non-cyclists and seeks to convert them to the world of two-wheels with a wide swath of utility and cargo-influenced models.

 Image: Flywheel
The mean mileage of used e-bikes listed in major US regions since January 2022, broken down by form factor

“When you look at the DTC brands, like Rad Power or Aventon and a few others, their utility-focused bikes have always traditionally done really well because those brands started off by selling to people that never really rode bikes before,” Meruva told me. “Whereas Specialized or Trek, they’re selling e-bikes to the people that were already road biking in their spandex.”

Legacy bike makers have wrestled more with the question over how much to emphasize the potential to replace car trips. It’s never been a central message for most of those companies, and it makes sense that they wouldn’t embrace it as quickly as the DTC brands. It’s confrontational, especially as politicians and media types wring their hands about a “war on cars” — as if cars haven’t been waging war on cyclists and pedestrians for decades prior.

Of course, it helps that electrification and hauling lots of heavy cargo are positively a match made in heaven. If you’ve ever tried lugging around a couple of kids or a couple hundred bucks worth of groceries on a non-electric cargo bike, it’s not easy. But slap on a battery and a decent rear-hub motor, and those errands become so simple, so effortless, you wonder why you ever used a car in the first place.

“When you think about people that are actually thinking about riding a bike for their utility, and not just because it’s fun. You need these types of features,” Meruva said. “And so I think it’s about time. I’m honestly a little surprised it took this long for a lot of these companies to release cargo bikes, but I’m really excited by it.”

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