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The 6 most important points to consider when buying a longtail bike

08 Jul 2024

Longtail bikes are now common on the streets of European cities, attracting parents and children with a versatile, practical alternative to cars. You see them in school parking lots, you’re considering getting one yourself, but you don’t know where to start?

Here’s a detailed guide on how to choose your longtail bike, focusing on key aspects like payload capacity, ergonomics, motor power, maintenance, modular accessories, and spare parts availability.

1. Your Intended Use and Payload Capacity  

The first pillar before choosing the model that will suit you best is to ask yourself what your intended use of the longtail will be. A family with one child who wants to ride 10 kilometers on weekends will have different needs than a couple transporting three children every day for 30 kilometers.

  • Weight Limit: Check the manufacturer’s specified weight limit for the rear rack. A higher weight capacity means more versatility in carrying cargo or passengers.
  • Passenger Capacity: Determine how many passengers (typically children) the bike can carry. Some long-tail bikes are designed to accommodate one, two, or even three kids comfortably.
  • Distribution: Ensure that the bike’s frame and design allow for even weight distribution, which contributes to stability and safety.

Given the high price of cargo bikes, you might opt for a more entry-level model if you’re using it for leisure. However, if you intend to use it daily and intensively, it’s recommended to choose a longtail with specific features. Etienne, the founder of Bike 43, says: “To replace a car, the alternative must be at least as solid, secure, and reliable.”

2. Ergonomics and easy of ride

Ergonomics play a vital role in the overall riding experience. A well-designed longtail bike should offer ease of use, stability, and comfort.

  • Ease of Ride: Look for features that make the bike easy to ride, even when fully loaded. This includes a low step-through frame for easy hop on and hop off.
  • Stability: A stable bike is crucial, especially when carrying heavy loads. Check for a strong and sturdy kickstand to ensure the bike remains upright when parked, even when children are climbing on the rack by themselves.
  • Center of Gravity: A lower center of gravity enhances stability, makes it easier to balance the bike, particularly with heavy cargo.

Choosing the longtail that suits you best, getting the right advice, and testing different models with confidence are crucial points.

Long tail bike - Ergonomics and easy of ride

3. Motor power and reliability

For intensive use, it’s important to look at some details more closely to ensure your longtail will accompany you for many years.

First, let’s introduce some concepts with a mini glossary.

Power is measured in Watts (W). The higher, the stronger are the accelerations and bike speed going uphill.

Cadence is measured in revolutions per minute (rpm). It’s the number of turns that you’re doing with the pedals in one minute. In urban use you’ll want to ride between 55 and 75rpm.

Torque is measure in Newton-meters (Nm). For a given cadence, the higher the torque, the higher assist is given by the motor.

Power vs Torque : Motors delivering the same power (typically 600W in peak, 250 nominal) but different torques will feel different. Less torque will oblige you to pedal faster (higher cadence). If you prefer to pedal slowly you’ll want a motor delivery high torque. If you are used to sporty riding then less torque will be acceptable and you’ll enjoy pedalling faster. 

What will you need for your longtail bike?

  • Motor Power : A longtail will carry heavy cargo (up to 170kg), and you’ll need power. Cargo motors from Bosch deliver 600W peak, and Shimano deliver 500W peak power. And then there’s torque…Select a motor with high torque to ensure sharp take off from a stand still. In practice 85Nm is now the standard for this market, but 75Nm or even 60Nm are still very acceptable for flatter cities.
  • Internal Gear Hub (IGH) Rather Than a Derailler: With a bike of a certain own weight and an even heavier load, it’s recommended to have a quality transmission. A derailler is ideal for sports bikes because of the lightweight and mechanical efficiency. However, a derailler is not suitable for cargo use because of accelerated wear of the chain and cassette, chain breakage and misshifting. The chain can also dropoff, and it’s a terrible experience on a family bike. A derailler is cheaper to buy but more expensive to maintain after a few thousands of kilometers (1 or 2 years). The ability to change gears at a stop with internal hubs another huge benefit.
  • Possibility of Carrying a Heavy Load: Check the recommended load weight on your longtail. Regular overloading can cause problems with the tires and limit your bike’s usage. This is one of the reasons for choosing chromoly steel on the Bike 43, allowing for a total load of 200 kg.

For electric longtail bikes, motor power is a critical factor. You want a bike that offers sufficient power and torque to handle various terrains and loads without compromising reliability.Regarding reliability, choose a bike from a trusted brand known for having reliable motors to avoid being stranded without transportation. Ensure the bike has a robust after-sales support network, including access to local dealers for maintenance and repairs.

Long tail bike - Motor power and reliability

4. Maintenance needs  

Low maintenance is key to hassle-free riding. When selecting a long-tail bike, prioritize premium quality equipment and components to minimize the need for frequent repairs.

  • Avoid Derailleurs: Derailleurs can require frequent adjustments and maintenance. Instead, opt for internal gear hubs or other low-maintenance alternatives. A quality internal hub can help avoid mechanical problems and allow you to change gears at a stop.
  • High-Quality Components: Invest in bikes with premium tires, brakes, and other critical components. Quality parts not only last longer but also ensure better safety and performance.

Load Capacity: Check the recommended load weight on your longtail. Regular overloading can cause problems with the tires and limit your bike’s usage. This is one of the reasons for choosing chromoly steel on the Bike 43, allowing for a total load of 200 kg.

5. A comprehensive ecosystem of accessories  

Your longtail bike will follow you for years. Make sure it has the appropriate accessories to accommodate your family configuration today and in the future.

  • Modularity: Look for bikes that offer a variety of accessories, such as child seats, cargo paniers and rain covers. This versatility allows the bike to grow with your family.
  • Durability: Ensure that the accessories are durable and easy to install or remove, providing flexibility for different types of journeys.
  • Future-Proofing: Ensure your bike can easily accommodate your children as they grow (with pivoting bars when they are older) and offers appropriate bags for carrying groceries if necessary.

6. Competent dealer near you  

Having a dealer who will provide good maintenance and necessary advice over time to ensure a pleasant and durable usage is essential. Don’t hesitate to favor specialized cargo bike shops that are experienced and close to you for the best advice. Shops like Carry Me in London, Classic Bike in Helsinki, or Velophil in Brussels are excellent examples of expert stores.Buying a longtail bike online can make after-sales service rather frustrating. The number of longtails manufactured in Asia and “rebranded” in Europe, the quality issues and the follow-up problems in case of issues can often leave a bitter taste to the initial good deal.

Conclusion: Comfort, Safety, and Reliability  

The most important thing is that you should feel comfortable riding the bike with your children onboard. Take the time to test it with your family on your routes—this is the key to success. We wish you an excellent journey with your longtail.

Choosing the right long-tail bike involves considering various factors to ensure it meets your needs and provides a safe, reliable, and enjoyable riding experience. Focus on payload capacity, ergonomics, motor power, maintenance requirements, modular accessories, and the availability of spare parts. By carefully evaluating these elements, you can find the perfect long-tail bike that will serve you and your family well for years to come.