Cargo Bikes and Stone Tablets, Pt1

Cargo bikes. They’re a big hit with huggers, and there’s been an industry buzz for them for the past couple years. You know, they’re supposed to allow a cyclist to do carry heavy loads, reduce dependency on the auto, cut down greenhouse gas emissions, allow people in Third World regions to be bring goods to market… maybe even save baby fur seals. But what are they, and do you actually need one?

In Part 1, I first want to tackle the taxonomy of cargo bikes. Right here I’m going to name these bikes so that everyone understands what we’re talking about, before anyone else decides that he’s got a catchy name for something that has existed for decades. And believe me when I say that there is no revolutionary developments in cargo bikes; it’s just the refinement of details that make these new bikes better, more capable, and/or cooler. As such, there are names that are commonly used to describe the different forms of cargo bikes; I didn’t invent any of them. You may have heard of them, or not. Nevertheless, you should adhere to the names I shall now give as if I were Moses descending from the mountain and these monikers inscribed on a fucking stone tablet.

Current rage in cargo bikes centers on longtails: frames that essentially have very long chainstays (let’s say, longer than 60cm where 40-46cm is normal) so that a large payload can be carried behind the rider. Longtails thus have a long wheelbase similar to tandem bikes. Typically, these bikes will ride on 26” mtb wheels or sometimes 700C (29er). As such the load may either fit on either side the rear wheel or on platform above the wheel. Popular examples of this include the Kona Ute, the Yuba, and the Surly Big Dummy. Also, Xtracycle makes a bolt-on unit that converts a standard bike into a longtail.

You probably already knew about longtails, but there is another type of long wheelbase cargo bike.

Hmm, if the load’s not behind the rider, then that means this other type puts the load in front. And you would call this perhaps a “long-front” or “long-nose”?

Absolutely not. The established name for these would be Long John, since that is the name a Danish manufacturer had used for its popular model 70 years ago. Others have copied and perhaps improved on the basic design, so perhaps we should come up with a new general term to replace the branded product name? Again, please refer to fucking stone tablet.



Long Johns have a front wheel (smaller in diameter than the rear) that uses a different steering axis than that of the handlebar; the rider’s steering input is transferred from the handlebar stem axis to the fork via a linkage arm. This allows a long, low platform between the rider and the front fork steerer.

A third variation on the cargo bike is the Truck Cycle/Butcher Bike. These are bikes with a large rack above the front wheel attached to the bicycle frame, as opposed to the fork (which would make them porteur bikes). In the early 20th century, these bikes became closely associated with butchers (especially in Great Britain), but this type of bike was used by people of many different trades to carry goods. Later on the Schwinn company in the states would create a bike with a smaller front wheel so that the rack and its payload would be carried lower, and they called it the Cycle Truck. The British tend to use the term butcher bike rather than cycle truck, and Americans the opposite. For clarification, we’ll say butcher bike when 26” or 700C front wheels are used, and cycle truck when the front wheel is small like 20” (the rear may be regular-sized like the original Schwinn Cycle Trucks or the same smaller size as the front).

truck cycle 1.jpg


Porteur is French term for a bike that had been associated with paper delivery workers in the first half of the 20th century. A large rack was affixed to the fork to carry stacks of newspapers. The line between porteur and “a regular bike with a big ol’basket” is a little vague. Perhaps the nuance lies with the seriousness of the rider’s intent…whether the basket was just a nice accoutrement or something closer to a means of making a living. Further eroding the validity of the porteur nomenclature is the fact that it’s no great feat of engineering to put a big rack on a fork but let’s try to reserve the term for bikes equipped to carry over 15kg on that rack and with geometry optimized for that (mainly more rake on the fork).



Finally, can we put a rack on any bicycle and call it a cargo bike? Um, no. It’s just a bike with rack. Sorry, we can’t all be special. There might be some dissenting opinions but I’ve got this fucking stone tablet to back me up. Remember, I didn’t choose this role, God chose me.

Next week I’ll discuss why you might want one of these things. (Click here for Pt2)


Allthough these are all variations of cargobikes, there is a three wheeled cargo bike that hauls the load over the front axle and these were also designed in denmark and are commonly called Christiana Bikes named arfter a large anarcist settlement in denmark that took over a old military base called christiana, and to make a living the people that live here started a cargo bike company

So what does the Stone Tablet have to say about bakfiets? Are they just another iteration of the Long John, or do they deserve a category of their own?

Alan @ EcoVelo


yes, we’re putting Bakfiets into the general category of Long Johns since long johns seem to pre-date the Bakfiets version. Also, Bakfiets make other models beyond bikes with a low front cargo section and a front wheel on a steering axis separate from the handlebar and stem, thus Bakfiets as a term isn’t exclusive to cargo bikes.  When talking about sportscars, we wouldn’t say Chevy when we mean Corvette.

I agree, the porteur is good for nothing. The load tilts the fork with the front wheel, which is really annoying in everyday use for so many reasons.
Nice article. :)

The Dutch company “” invited confusion when they named themselves the generic dutch word for “box bike”, and their flagship longjohn model the equally generic “Cargobike.” Competitors have returned the favor with names like “Boxbike.” Now you have to clarify whether you are talking about a Bakfiets bakfiets, or another kind, or whether “bakfiets cargobike” is like “paper tissue” or “kleenex snotmaster(tm)”.

Anyway, while the Bakfiets Cargobike(tm) may be similar in basic engineering to many antecedent long-johns, it has revived the category commercially by being designed expressly for the carriage of small children, a family bike rather than a commercial delivery vehicle. Christiania did much the same thing for trikes, designing specifically for kid carriage while others were more generic in intended application.

btw, a “three wheeled bike” is not a BIke. it is a TRIke. definitely a different category if you ask me.

Great- we certainly need that stone tablet!

Items to think about for the Stone Tablet:

The Bakfiets is a Long John, just with a nice box on it.
Stick with Long John for all two wheeled cargo bikes with a long front and a steering column to the front wheel.

We need something for a long front but with a higher load (like the Bilenky).

I like “Baker Bike” or “Butcher Bike” instead of Cycle Truck for the ‘load above a smaller wheel’ since all these cargobikes could be considered Cycle Trucks and I like the historical aspect of Baker or Butcher.

Also, the Christiania is what is called a “Tadpole Trike

The other kind of cargo trike is a “Delta Trike” with the load in the back and steering in the front (fits Pedicab, trike trucks, and the like).

Trailers (not workbikes but they need a Tablet too):
-Single Wheel Trailer (ex: BOB)
-Standard Trailer (two wheeled) (ex: Burley)
or to be more specific maybe: Child, Cargo, and Pet Trailers.

Someone want to update the Wiki Workbike page to reflect the tablet?!
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And combine it with
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Have you ridden a bike that was built to be a porteur, or just a bike with a big front rack? With correct front-end geometry a true porteur handles just fine.

I’d like to see this so-called “stone tablet.”  The real moses had reflective mudflaps in stock at all times.

What happened to the “filibus” style?  It’s a distinct animal from the truck-type, based on the steering linkage, and from the L.J., based on the arrangement of the load _over_ the front wheel, rather than behind it.

The 8-Freight has the load behind, but isn’t the same as a typical longtail.

Great topic—see [this related post]( where we discuss cargo bikes and longtail design and where it’s going.


  Those bolt-ons preceded the other longtails.  Put that on the fornicatious stone tablet.


Actually, there was a “Little John” version of the Long John made by the same company, essentially the same as the filibus you described. But the important aspects are the linkage steering system and the forward cargo postion.  The long-n-low vs short-n-high is small potatoes.

@Alan Braggins
Freight-8 still fits in the longtail category, though it is a somewhat distinguished by the small wheels.


Xtracycle did a lot to fully realize the concept of the longtail, but I wouldn’t say they invented it.  Years ago I had seen a few pix of touring bikes built with super long chainstays.  And if you search enough historical photos, you can find examples of almost every configuration you can imagine.

And add the word “cargonista” to describe one that is very enthusiastic about cargo bikes.

We should also probably give some credit to all the unnamed people in various parts of Asia who modified their std issue bikes to become pedal-taxis or rickshaws.  I wouldn’t doubt that those animals made an impression on more recent Western longbike development.

I think the freight-8 is significantly different from most longtails, because the cargo area is one low platform (or low box) that sits within the wheelbase. That’s much different than most long-tails’ pannier-esque dividing of cargo to each side of the rear wheel, or having a narrow top platform above the wheel. The freight-8 is closer to a longjohn than it is to a longtail. Same low, boxy load area, just behind the rider instead of in front. Wheel size has nothing to do with it.

The filibus vs. long john is a bit stickier, it could be argued that a filibus is closest to a cycletruck (flat load area above the front wheel), just that the steering method is different. Whereas a long john may have linkage steering, the big difference comes from where the load is: low and between the wheels.

Lots of food for thought, fun post!

Nice to see a post with some attitude and humor, thanks. Just to add my $.02…

1. As Todd points out above “bakfiets” is simply the Dutch word for “bike with box”, unfortunately now confused by the popularity of the company’s (fine) bikes. A bakfiets in the Dutchman’s mind is a giant beast with three wheels and a wooden box on leaf springs. See:

2. Butcher’s bike is more often referred to as “baker’s bike. But to be specific the baker’s bike has a bigger carrier/basket than the butcher’s bike reflecting the density of the loads carried.

3. The “Filibus” type bike with load over linkage steered front wheel definitely needs it own category, though I’ve never heard of a “Little John” of this format. To my knowledge its a fairly recent invention.

4. How about the classic Dutch “transportfiets”? Its essentially the same format as the French “porteur”, except older, many times heavier duty, with giant front carrier and produced in infinitely greater quantities. See:

For those curious about the fiets/bakfiets/transportfiets etymology:

What British people know as “butchers bikes” are the bikes with a small front wheel. The version of the bike with a large front wheel is for postmen.

It’s not always been so, of course, and I have pictures of historical British delivery bikes here (including one with a sidecar arrangement which you haven’t referred to at all):

I know Mike Burrows and have ridden the 8-Freight. It handles quite differently from my Xtracycle, and the luggage space is also quite different because it is not split down the middle by the large rear wheel. It also has a much more practical stand. I think this is deservedly a different category.

I would also suggest that your concern about the difficulty of controlling a bike with an add on front rack attached to the steering is somewhat overstated.

Every day that I cycle through this city I see any number of Dutch grannies ride these things with ease despite being piled high with heavy loads. A skeptic myself before I tried one, I also now use one.

porteur style bikes are certainly not good for nothing.

I’ve got a big CETMA on my early 80’s bianchi road bike and i love it.  to death.

yes, the handling’s a bit piggish when loaded, but i find it to be much, much more versatile than a rear rack on the same bike.  i’ve carried loads up to forty pounds easily.  and this is with a standard road geometry fork.

i can carry almost anything of almost any size and almost any shape easily.  the same could not be said for the rear basket i had on there while i was waiting for my cetma.

and i personally detest using panniers for city use.  i find they’re too deep to be handy, and when i’m riding around town, i hate having to dig around in my panniers looking for stuff i need.  i like just strapping a box to the rack and filling the box with stuff.

i call my porteur a “sport-cargo” bike.  an elegant blend between practicality and riding really fast.


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