Bike-buyers’ guide to non-standard cycles

By Emily Kerr

Emily is a Green Party city councillor

Cargo? Long-tail? Tag-along? Which should I buy? This article explains the difference between some different types of city cycle we see on Oxford’s streets.

Bike vs trike? (two vs three wheels)

Emily Kerr riding an adult tricycle

Adult trikes are great for people who never learned to ride a two-wheeler and can offer additional stability. You can stay seated on them when you stop, and the big baskets are great for shopping. However, trikes are ‘dynamically unstable’ – the faster you go, the more wobbly they are (the exact opposite to two-wheelers). So they’re less suitable if you go fast and far.

E-bikes vs acoustic (non-electric) bikes

E-bikes are a game-changer. Research shows people actually exercise more on e-bikes, because they’re so easy. Most of the bike types below are available in e or non-e versions. You can also get a conversion kit to upgrade your acoustic cycle (around £1k fully fitted in-store, cheaper self-fit kits available) .

Folding bike

Brilliant for taking on trains and also bringing inside if you don’t have secure outside storage. Folding bikes start at around £400 new and e-bikes at around £850. Decathlon and Halfords do good ones, Brompton brand is the gold standard.

Trailer

Trailers are both cheap and versatile – they can be used for kids or light cargo. They clip to an adult bike, and get pulled along behind it, with the child protected by a metal cage. Many people attach large flags to make them extra visible. They fold up so they can be easily stored inside. They range from about £40 second-hand on eBay to about £300 for a new Burley brand.

Tag-along/follow-me

An attachment which fixes to an adult bike and allows children aged around four to eight to pedal behind the adult. The adult provides most of the power, and as the child’s bike is attached to the adult bike you don’t have to keep checking their road position. Tag-alongs are an extra bike, and follow-me is a conversion kit which allows the child’s existing bike to be used.

Bucket cargo bikes and trikes

The traditional cargo bike has a large box at the front, and is generally either by businesses or by people transporting children. The key choice is two vs three wheels, and the same dynamics apply as bike vs trike, but heavier loads are easier with a trike. They’re hugely versatile and can carry loads, but they require parking space and are relatively expensive (around £600 for a second-hand acoustic, up to around £4k for a brand-new e-version).

Long-tail cargo bikes

These two-wheel bikes have space for children to ride on the back. There’s room for up to three children and a number of different possible configurations depending on their ages. Huge carrying bags are also available, you can fit a lot of stuff on them. They can be wheeled inside to be stored overnight. Mostly e-bikes, they range in price from about £2–5k new. Tandems are an alternative option – check Onderwater and Helios.

Which do I choose?

Ultimately, which bike will suit you depends on your situation. The Family Cycling UK Facebook page has more info, and many shops let you try before you buy. We replaced our car with a bucket cargo trike as we have three kids under age seven. But my husband doesn’t like it, and, as he’s a football coach who sometimes has to carry a lot of equipment, I’m going to buy him a second-hand bike trailer for Christmas.

Avoiding theft

A final note. Buy really good (Sold Secure Gold rated) locks, remove your battery if you have an e-bike, consider a motorbike cover, and think about customising your cycle (stickers, hi-viz tape, paint, nail varnish).

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