Reviews You Can Rely On

How We Tested Best Cargo Bikes

Tuesday December 13, 2022
cargo bike - we test each bike in real-world situations to emulate the consumer...
We test each bike in real-world situations to emulate the consumer experience.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

We buy each model, do any assembly necessary, and start a weeks-long testing period for each bike. Each bike gets at least 35 miles of riding, and most get a lot more. We use them as our commuter bikes for real-world testing, as well as perform a series of tests to tease out their differences. Our six metrics represent the chief areas of performance we look at to assess and score each product. Below, we discuss how we assess each metric.

Ride


Riding a bike should be enjoyable, and a lot of that comes down to ride quality. The majority of the data here is compiled from time spent riding each model around town as a daily commuter bike, as well as some specific tests. We assess factors here such as comfort, handling, stability, and included features. We ride each bike through a weaving obstacle course of cones as fast as is safe for the rider to assess handling. We compare stability when riding free of cargo as well as loaded with significant weight. To check the brakes, we measure how controlled the bike handles quickly braking from max speed to a complete stop.

Comfort is measured by looking at the height adjustment range, and how easy mounting and dismounting the bike is. We take notes on the width of the handlebars, the comfort of the grips and saddle, and the seated body position. We use each feature and ensure it functions properly before endorsing it. All these assessments culminate in the score for this metric.

cargo bike
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Range


To test this metric, we fully charge each bike and use the same low-traffic course with the same rider to ensure weight difference does not come into play. We ride the test course non-stop until the motor dies completely. The ride data is collected and stored using the Strava mobile app, which records distance traveled, average speed, time, and elevation gain. During the test, we only use the throttle to remove the variability of the rider's pedaling effort. However, if the bike is a Class 1 e-bike, there is no throttle. In this case, we pedal at a consistent, moderate effort until the battery power ceases.

cargo bike - our range tests provide a baseline for comparing the distance you...
Our range tests provide a baseline for comparing the distance you can expect to travel on each bike with a single charge.
Credit: Laura Casner

Power


Acceleration, top speed, and uphill power output combine in our Power metric. For acceleration, we time how long it takes to go from a complete stop to the bike's top speed when using the throttle on a flat, open road. We max out the bike and check our speed using the Strava mobile app in conjunction with the onboard speedometer on the display to confirm top speeds. We use the same hill located near our GearLab headquarters to test uphill power output, observing max uphill speed and how much it slows in the steepest section. All of these measurements are done using the same test rider and without carrying any extra cargo.

While assessing the pedal assistance modes, we look at the number of modes, how well they work, and how much speed increases from one mode to the next. We check their acceleration, looking for any jumpy accelerations that try to throw the rider out of the saddle. We note how much of a pedal cycle is needed before the assistance kicks in, and how much effort it takes from the rider to reach to top pedal-assist speed.

cargo bike - we assess power with the bike's throttle and with the pedal-assist...
We assess power with the bike's throttle and with the pedal-assist modes engaged.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Cargo Carrying


For this metric, we check the manufacturer's claimed weight capacity, looking at the total weight and the weight the rear and additional front racks can support. We measure the size of the cargo rack, too. We then weigh down each bike with a heavy load and see if it has any effect on the handling or stability of the bike. Lastly, we research what additional add-on items the manufacturer offers to max out carrying capabilities, especially looking for kid seats and other convenient cargo accessories.

cargo bike - we occasionally have some fun testing carrying capacity.
We occasionally have some fun testing carrying capacity.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Interface


This metric assesses the quality of the onboard power controls and the display screen. We manipulate the controls while riding to see if they negatively affect our riding ability, checking for intuitive buttons and controls that do not have a big learning curve and do not distract the rider. We toggle through all the settings of the display and ensure that the data on the display screen is readable at a glance. If there is an app that integrates with the bike and display, we download it and test it out. We also ensure that the battery can be removed easily for off-bike charging, and that it can be locked into place on the bike for security.

cargo bike - the throttle is shaped more like a shift lever, which we found to be...
The throttle is shaped more like a shift lever, which we found to be more comfortable and ergonomic than other designs.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Assembly


Any bike that doesn't come pre-assembled, we assemble ourselves. We unbox the bike and see if it can be done as a single-person job and which tools are required. We watch tutorial videos and read and follow instructions until the job is complete. We time the entire process and compare how challenging it is to assemble each bike.

cargo bike - part of assembly is adjusting the seat post to the correct user...
Part of assembly is adjusting the seat post to the correct user height.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Ad-free. Influence-free. Powered by Testing.

GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.

Learn More