BikeParts Wiki

Traditional Dutch cargo tricycle or "bakfiets"

File:Bakfiets openluchtmuseum.jpg

Old-fashioned Dutch freight tricycle


Modern long-wheelbase freight bicycle from Amsterdam

File:Long John.JPG

Danish Long John freight bicycle

Freight bicycles, carrier cycles, freight tricycles, cargo bikes, or bakfietsen, are human powered vehicles designed and constructed specifically for transporting large loads. Vehicle designs include a cargo area consisting of a steel tube carrier, an open or enclosed box, a flat platform, or a wire basket. These are usually mounted over one or both wheels, low behind the front wheel, or between parallel wheels at either the front or rear of the vehicle. The frame and drivetrain must be constructed to handle loads several times that of an ordinary bicycle. Other specific design considerations include operator visibility and load suspension. Many, but not all, cycles used for the purpose of vending goods are cargo bicycles.


The first freight bicycles were used by tradesman for delivering mail, bread and milk amongst others.

An early example of freight bicycles was heavy-duty standard bicycles, with heavy carriers at front or rear, sometimes with a smaller front wheel to accommodate a large front carrier. During the early part of the 20th Century these were commonly used by tradespeople for local deliveries (in the UK this style is still sometimes known as a butcher's bike or delibike, although the Post Office have by far the largest fleet). Modern freight cycles vary much more widely, often being tailored to particular applications.

With the domination of the combustion engine in the industrialized countries after World War II, freight bikes were relegated to factory floor duties and public park novelties such as ice cream bikes. In the rest of the world, they continued to be manufactured and heavily used. In the 1980s in Europe, and the 1990s in the US, ecologically-minded designers and small-scale manufacturers initiated a revival of the freight bike manufacturing sector.

A more recent development is the 'longtail' bike. It has a very long wheel base, with the additional space behind the rider, for more space on the rear luggage rack, and strong frame and wheels to carry more weight on and around the rear wheel. This avoids the complications of a steering linkage found on cargo bikes with front loading cargo area, but does not provide a single large storage area. It is also more stable due to its long wheelbase. As of 2009 Kona (the ute) and yuba (the mondo) manufacture complete bicycles; Surly Bicycles a frameset called the Big Dummy; and Xtracycle offers a kit to convert a regular frame into a longtail.

Pros and cons[]

An obvious limitation of a human-powered utility vehicle is the relative weakness of its "motor", leaving a very narrow scope for balancing tare weight, payload, geographical and topographical range against each other. Because of the unavoidable physical demands on a driver who also has to propel the vehicle, and the lack of protection against either the elements or other traffic, there is also a potential for working conditions becoming a serious problem. This can be very real in the Third World, which also has by far the greatest proportion of human-powered transport. Technical efforts to improve conditions are hampered by the need for low weight and sturdy simplicity to achieve low costs in small-scale operations. In some countries the use of cycle lanes is restricted to two wheelers and small width trailers only.

Yet, they have much to commend them. Non-motorized vehicles are particularly attractive where motorized vehicles would:

  • become stuck in traffic congestion
  • create air pollution problems (e.g. enclosed warehouses and industrial plants)
  • create safety problems (e.g. crowded pedestrian areas)
  • cost too much to operate at a profit
  • be limited by fuel availability
  • be limited by the availability of on-street parking
  • be restricted for environmental reasons (e.g. protected lands)
  • prove inefficient for short order production or distribution schedules or for the last mile phase of delivery

Non-motorized vehicles do not generate sparks[citation needed] (having no electric components or combustion engines), therefore, they are used in refineries, chemical, petrochemical, and many other industries where due to fire hazard and presence of combustible chemicals, only non-motorized bicycles or tricycles can be used for transportation.

Common uses[]

File:Workhorse Trike.jpg

Industrial trike produced by International Surrey Company

  • Delivery services in dense urban environments
  • Food vending in high foot traffic areas (including specialist ice cream bikes)
  • Transporting trade tools, including around large installations such as power stations and CERN
  • Airport cargo handling
  • Recycling collections
  • Warehouse inventory transportation
  • Mail (The UK post office operates a fleet of 33,000 bicycles, mainly the Pashley MailStar)
  • Food collection,
  • Child transport; it is estimated that 90% of the freight bicycles sold in Amsterdam are used primarily to carry children.

In Amsterdam it common to rent a worktrike to move one's belongings, have a party in a park or promote a new product. Furniture retailer IKEA is also testing a freight bike rental program[1] to allow residents of Copenhagen to transport new purchases.

Because of the strong economic advantageous realizable by widespread proliferation of freight bicycles, Oxfam has designed the OxTrike and established local production at community workshops in non-industrialized countries for use in non-industrialized countries worldwide. Dangdang, China’s biggest online bookseller, uses 30 bicycle courier companies in 12 cities to deliver goods and collect payments. Karaba, a free-trade coffee co-op in Rwanda, uses 400 modified bicycles to carry hundreds of pounds of coffee beans to be processed.[2]


In Amsterdam, Netherlands and Copenhagen, Denmark freight bikes are extremely popular. In Amsterdam many residents simply fit large front carriers to sturdy city bicycles. There is also a broad variety of specially made freight bikes including low-loading two-wheelers with extended wheelbases, bicycles with small front wheels to fit huge front carriers, tadpole-type three wheelers with a box between the two front wheels. Varieties used elsewhere include a platform, basket etc. instead of the box, the loading area between two rear wheels (delta-fashion), small-wheel two wheelers loading both back and front. An occasional four wheeler can also be seen, especially within a plant, warehouse or the like, where demands on stability and loading capacity are higher than on range. In the USA Worksman has built strong delivery bicycles since 1898 and they are still popular in factories and NYC street delivery work.

See also[]

Designers and manufacturers:

  • Pashley Cycles
  • Jan Van Der Tuin
  • George Bliss
  • Mike Burrows, designer of the 8 Freight
  • Zigo, designer of Zigo Leader.


  1. Template:Cite web
  2. Template:Cite web

External links[]

Media coverage:

Template:Human-powered vehicles

de:Transportrad es:Bicicleta de reparto fa:سه‌چرخه باری fr:Triporteur nl:Bakfiets pl:Rower transportowy ru:Грузовой велосипед