Cost of a Cargo Bike FAQs

Cargo bikes are a relatively small niche in the bike industry. Although fairly common in Portland, Oregon, and easy to find with the right search term on the internet, most people are not familiar with cargo bikes when they start shopping for one. Many are regular cyclists yet have never purchased a new bike or bought a bike from a bike shop. That's means sticker shock is fairly common.

While we think it is unfortunate that the expense of good quality cargo bikes does limit their accessibility to many families, there are reasons for the expense. Generally, when it comes to bikes and e-assist systems you do get what you pay for. Too, cargo bikes by their nature need to be tougher, stronger, and more reliable than bargain pricing may allow.

Still, despite the expense, we have many customers who have two (or more) cargo bikes in their family fleet. When we opened Splendid Cycles we didn't really expect to have too many return customers. At least, we didn't expect customers to buy more than one bike from us.  Yet, we actually have examples of customers now purchasing their third cargo bike from Splendid Cycles.

Most of our return customers are families and reasons for their multiple purchases are many:

1. Once one cargo bike is in the family, both parents see the benefits of cargo biking. With the first bike in the family, they learn how fun it is; they see how much the kids love it; and they learn the tricks. Joel and I have long had two cargo bikes in our garage. Sure, we both own and work at a cargo bike shop, but I'm convinced this would have happened no matter what.

2. Needs change as a family grows. Often we sell a second bike to a family when something changes in their family routine. That change may be a new family member, a new job, or a new house. While one bike was serving two parents, now one parent may need the cargo bike in the morning, the other in the afternoon. Having learned the joys of going car-lite from the first cargo bike, it's hard to go back to driving so a second cargo bike is the solution to making that new routine work.

3. Many of our bikes replace an automobile. We've had customers buy a bike after their auto is totaled. We've also seen customers struggling with expensive repair bills on for their car. For example, yesterday, one family came in considering their third cargo bike. They have two different cargo bikes now (his and hers) but neither is ideal for carrying a 70lb dog that they recently adopted. Their car needs expensive repairs (about $2000) so rather than fix the car, they're considering selling it and investing in a e-assist cargo bike that will fit their needs.

Clearly, these customers are finding that the expense of a quality bike is worth it. But, let's back up and assume that you're still trying to justify the expense of your first cargo bike. The following Frequently Asked Questions may answer some of your concerns:

Q: How much will it cost? 

A: There are many factors that influence the price of a cargo bike at Splendid Cycles. With all of the options for customizing your cargo bike, it can be hard to be specific but we can provide a general range. Most of our customers are hauling kids so most of our bikes sell for about $2500-$7000, complete with kid-carrying accessories. That's a big range, but there are so many good options and every family is a bit different in what fits their needs. We're always happy to provide specific quotes after discussing your needs in more detail; so, if you need to know where in that range your budget needs to land, don't hesitate to contact us for advice.

Q: I've seen cheaper cargo bikes. Why are your bikes so expensive? 

A: We understand that cargo bikes are an investment. Based on our decades of experience selling and repairing bikes we've weeded out the models that we feel are not reliable or functionally sound. There are also brands sold locally which we don't want to duplicate so we choose to have a niche within a niche: high quality cargo bikes. That means that frames are well-designed and produced with quality materials and workmanship. Components are reliable and durable. Brakes not only work, they work very well.

All of our bikes are professionally assembled. And we mean professionally: all of our mechanics have decades of experience. We work hard to make sure bikes ready to ride and rely upon, and experienced mechanics assure that happens. All of these factors mean that the bikes we sell ride well, are reliable as daily transportation, and will hold up well with daily use.

Something else to consider is, "expensive" compared to what? Many of our customers are selling or parking cars - going car free or car-light. If a bike is your primary transportation and carrying kids, it needs to be trustworthy, and higher quality makes that happen. If you compare the cost of a cargo bike to other quality bikes or to the costs of an automobile you'll find that they are priced appropriately.

Speaking of comparing these bikes to cars;  let’s compare the cost of operating bikes and autos.

First, how much does it cost to operate a vehicle?

For auto costs, we’ll use AAA’s 2015 Your Driving Costs study, the average cost per mile ranges from $.44 to $.71 per mile. The study factors in the cost of fuel, maintenance, tires, insurance, license, taxes, depreciation and finance charges, but not the initial cost of the vehicle (or monthly payments).

For an auto traveling 5000 a year, at $.44 to $.71 per mile anticipated costs are $2200-3550 depending on your gas mileage...but remember that does NOT include car payments!

For bikes, economist Todd Littman of the Victoria Transportation Policy Institute estimates the costs of operating a bicycle at about $.05/mile. Based on my own experience. Those figures seem to be fairly accurate, but just to be the devil’s advocate, I’d say that could be a tad low. So, just for the sake of discussion, let’s double that. Some cyclists are harder on equipment and need more repairs, and then there’s the fuel for the rider, or the electricity expense if you have electric assist (also about $.05/mi). So, on the higher end of the range $.10 a mile is possible.

For a bike traveling 5000 a year, at .05-.10 cents a mile anticipated costs are: $250-500.

For our average customer, it takes 9 months to 2 years for a cargo bike to pay for itself. Considering these bikes are built to last many years, that means your annual transportation expenses will drop dramatically and stay low for years to come.

Then, consider some other costs.

The benefits of cargo biking are many and we've discussed them in other posts in more detail. But, how do you put a value on the quality of experience? How can you quantify the mental and physical health benefits? What's the appropriate measure for spending more quality time with your children? Cargo bikers share the transit experience with their passengers while a driver is (hopefully) focused on the road and primarily interacting with children via voice the rear-view mirror. The additional quality time spent with the kids: that's priceless!

Q: I'm only using the bike for short trips, so I don't want to spend much.

A: I know, that's not really a question, but it is a common customer statement. We've sold hundreds of cargo bikes since opening in 2010. In that time I'd say we have seen the majority of our customers use their cargo bikes far more than they anticipated. It's common to hear a shopper state, "We just want the bike for neighborhood trips." Then, post-sale, when that customer returns for their free-maintenance visit, they are telling us stories of using their car so frequently that they are planning to sell it.  Of if they are not talking about selling a car, they are talking about how they went camping, or rode across town to an event, or how they use the bike as a daily commuter. Bottom line: almost every customer uses the bike more than they anticipated. It's very unlikely that you'll only do short trips once you discover how fun and easy it is to use your cargo bike.

And, one thing is almost guaranteed; your kids will make their preference for going by bike well known. Most kids prefer bike riding to car trips and make that clear by requesting to go by cargo bike. I've witnessed this first hand! One of our neighbors owns a cargo bike. We're good friends so we help out with the kids often. One morning I could hear Mrs. Neighbor getting the kids strapped into their car seats. The youngest was not having a good morning and I could hear him crying loudly. I stepped out the door to go help out only to hear, between sobs, "But I want to take the bike!"  So, be warned in advance, your kids will make sure you ride the bike as often as possible. That means you'll put in plenty of miles and so spending a little more will pay off in the long run.

Q: Are Cargo Bikes more expensive to maintain?

A:The bikes we sell at Splendid Cycles use the same parts as a typical mountain bike, hybrid, or commuter. That means that repair costs are similar.

The maintenance schedule for a cargo bike is similar to any other bike. You'll need to lube the chain and inflate the tires regularly. Chains, brake pads, and tires need to be monitored for wear and tear, and replaced as needed.  Most of our bikes have puncture-resistant, long-wearing Schwalbe tires. We see varied mileage on tires but have one customer who rode over 10,000 miles on one set of Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires - and with only one flat! Again, that initial investment in quality made the difference. Annual tune-ups and safety checks are advisable on any bike that's used regularly, but again, it's the same rate for a cargo bike as it is for a non-cargo bike. So, overall we'd say that cargo bikes are no more expensive to maintain than any other bike.

Q: What is the resale value of a cargo bike?

A: The demand for cargo bikes is still growing, even in bike-crazy Portland. That means that a quality bike, in good condition will hold its value. We've seen some of bikes sell within hours of being listed on Craigslist. We've seen others take a few weeks. The variable is how aggressively you discount the bike for sale. Still, the market is small enough that quality cargo bikes being offered for resale are few, and so respected brands usually sell quite quickly. Generally, based on what we've observed, the cargo bike brands we sell hold their value better than non-cargo bikes.

I hope this post has helped answer some of your questions about buying a cargo bike and why they are worth the investment. And, we do think of a cargo bike as an investment; an investment in your family's future. Invest in a quality cargo bike and that investment will pay dividends by: saving you money (reducing car trips and expenses), reducing fossil fuel consumption, increasing your fitness and time outdoors, and providing quality family time.