Side-by-Side Buyer's Guide: Trailers vs. Longtails
One beautiful thing we love about bikes as transportation is that there are so many options these days when it comes to carrying kiddos. Bike trailers, bike seats, longtail cargo bikes, mid-tails, box bikes, oh my! But which bike is best for you and your family?
While we here at Xtracycle sell long and midtail cargo bikes as well as conversion kits, our goal as a company is to help you find the right bike for you. If that’s an Xtracycle, awesome! We can help get you rollin’. But maybe the best bike to meet your needs is a bike and bike trailer or a box bike. Equally awesome! We can help send you in the right direction.
In this Side-By-Side Guide, we will be comparing regular bikes paired with common bike trailers and longtail cargo bikes. The goal of this guide is to highlight the pros and cons of both kid-hauling rigs to help you determine which set up will meet your needs best.
If you have additional questions after reading this guide or if you have helpful edits we can make to improve it, please don’t hesitate to email us at email@example.com!
In this article, you will find summaries at the beginning of each section. We wanted to share all the info we could find on each topic but if you are short on time, reading the summary can give you a quick overview of each topic until you can come back later and read the rest of the juicy details.
Summary: Most bike trailers recommend you carry children 7 years old and younger or 41.25″ tall and shorter. There is no maximum age range or height for a passenger on a longtail cargo bike.
MAXIMUM PASSENGER AGE – Bike trailer: The maximum age recommended for many common bike trailers is 7 years old or 41.25 inches tall, with a maximum weight of 80 – 100 lbs (which varies depending on the trailer). The minimum age varies by state – it can be as young as “newborn in a safely secured car seat” or, in some places, “9 months old, when neck stability is safe enough to sit in a bike seat unassisted”. Burley, a high quality bike trailer manufacturer, specifically recommends children be no younger than 12 months old when riding in their trailers. Be sure to check with your pediatrician for more information on the safest minimum age for your child to ride as a bike passenger.
That said, there are specialty trailers for hauling children older than 7 years old through adulthood like the Wicycle, but this is not something a common bike trailer can accomplish.
MAXIMUM PASSENGER AGE – Longtail cargo bike: There is no maximum recommended age for rear passengers on a longtail cargo bike. The only number that would be an issue is the rider weight + the passenger weight. For an Xtracycle longtail cargo bike, the maximum rider weight plus passenger weight is 400 lbs total. As with bike trailers, the minimum age for passengers varies by state but most longtail cargo bike riders wait until their child is 9 months old and their neck stability is strong enough to sit in a bike seat unassisted. Be sure to check with your pediatrician for more information on the safest minimum age for your child to ride as a bike passenger.
Summary: Bike trailers can carry 1-2 passengers whereas a longtail cargo bike with hand rails installed can carry 1-3 passengers.
PASSENGER CAPACITY without child seats – Bike trailers: A bike trailer can carry between 1 – 2 children depending on their age and combined weight. Typically, a bike trailer can carry one older child or two younger children.
PASSENGER CAPACITY without child seats – Longtail cargo bike: A longtail cargo bike set up with a hand rail can carry 1 – 3 passengers. Most families can comfortably carry 2 older children, an adult and a child or one adult on the back. The 3 passenger set-up works best with smaller children.
Summary: With the use of child seats, both a bike trailer and longtail cargo bike can carry up to 4 passengers.
PASSENGER CAPACITY with child seats – Bike trailers: With a front mounted child seat, a rear rack mounted child seat and trailer, a bike and bike trailer can carry up to 3 children (in the trailer and rack seat) and 1 baby (in the front mounted seat).
PASSENGER CAPACITY with child seats – Longtail cargo bike: With a front mounted child seat, and three children on the back deck, a longtail cargo bike can carry up to 4 kids, depending on the ages and sizes of the children.
Summary: When a bike trailer is installed on a longtail cargo bike, you can carry up to 6 children.
PASSENGER CAPACITY – Bike trailer + Longtail cargo bike: When a bike trailer and bike seats are installed on a longtail cargo bike, a bike can carry 4-6 passengers, depending on ages and weights.
Summary: Bike trailers can carry some small and medium cargo whereas longtail cargo bikes are capable of hauling everything from small up to extra large cargo.
CARGO CAPACITY – Bike trailers: When using a bike trailer that has no passengers on board, you can definitely haul some cargo like small or medium furniture, groceries, or a bail of hay. Keep your trailer’s weight limit in mind when loading up. This limit is typically 80 – 100 lbs depending on the trailer. Adding passengers can limit the cargo space in a trailer since the cargo would need to be placed where the passengers are sitting or in the small space behind and under their seats. For an additional cost, a rider can up their cargo carrying capacity on a regular bike by adding a rear rack, a front rack and crates.
CARGO CAPACITY – Longtail cargo bike: Longtail cargo bikes can carry everything from small to extra large cargo, in some cases even with passengers on board. Kayaks, multiple bales of pine straw, large furniture, lumber. There are few things you might need to haul that a longtail cargo bike couldn’t handle. Max weight capacity on an Xtracycle is 400 lbs, including the weight of the rider. Assuming the rider weighs 180 lbs, this means 220 lbs of passenger weight and cargo can be carried on the rear. The Hooptie can help contain cargo on the rear deck and the U-tubes can help support the weight of cargo stored lower on the bike.
Summary: Bikes paired with trailers tend to weigh less than a longtail cargo bike.
BIKE WEIGHT – Bike trailer: A bike and bike trailer set-up will more than likely weigh less than a longtail cargo bike set-up to haul kiddos. Here is a typical bike and bike trailer weight combination:
20 lbs trailer (weight of the Burley Bee 2) + 30 lbs bike (average weight for a hybrid bike) = total 50 lbs.
While the weight of a bike and trailer set up is lower, the weight of the trailer and the weight of the children and cargo is being pulled behind your frame as opposed to on your frame. Imagine carrying a backpack on your back. In this analogy, that would be like using a cargo bike. Now imagine putting your backpack on a trailer and tying the trailer to your waist. That “pulling” feeling of the backpack behind you is similar to the pulling feeling or drag of carrying a trailer behind you as opposed to carrying the weight on you.
BIKE WEIGHT – Longtail cargo bike: The weight of a longtail cargo bike can vary greatly depending on what accessories you include. While the stock weight of most longtails is around the same as a bike and bike trailer, once you add the needed accessories to carry children, the longtail cargo bike will end up being heavier. In the case of a Swoop set up to carry children, the total weight would be 30 lbs more than a bike and bike trailer. This added weight is balanced out by the lack of drag (rear ward pull): extra weight of the cargo bike plus the weight of children and / or cargo on your frame vs the 20 lb weight of the trailer plus the weight of children and / or cargo being pulled behind your bike.
Here are the weights of the various Xtracycle longtail cargo bike set ups for comparison:
Stock weight of a Swoop* = 45 lbs.
Weight a Swoop set up for kids** = 80 lbs.
Electric Bosch EdgeRunner set up for kids and 1 battery**= 95 lb
*This stock weight includes: LT2 FlightDeck, V-racks, and WheelSkirts.
**The kid set up includes: KickBack 3 , SlingSet , 2 CargoBays , LT2 U-tubes , MagicCarpet (full) , LT2 Hooptie , RackLocks , LT2 FlightDeck , V-racks, PorterRack, and PorterPack.
Summary: Bike trailers tend to have a lower entry cost whereas cargo bikes require a larger upfront investment which can pay off over time due to the versatility of a cargo bike.
COST – Bike trailer: A trailer and bike set up can greatly vary in cost but assuming you invest in a high quality trailer, like a Burley Bee 2 (MSRP $350), your initial investment into a new trailer could be as low as $350 if you already have a bike that will work with the trailer. If you need to invest in a bike as well, this could add $200-$400 to your costs, bringing your grand total to around $550 – $750.
The absolute lowest cost option would be to find a second hand bike trailer. Trailers are pretty common finds through local freecycle groups or as hand-me-downs. If getting a used trailer, be sure to do a thorough safety check, which is something your local bike shop can help with as well. Also be sure to check for any recalls on the model you are buying used. When buying second hand, keep in mind that the trailer will come with no warranty since warranties only apply to the original owner. This article, from Way 2 Good Life, has some great info on things to consider when buying a used bike trailer.
While lower in initial cost, a bike trailer owner will start to run into limitations, especially if using the trailer to haul children. For example, once your kiddos reach a certain age, you will no longer be able to use the trailer to haul them and will need to invest in other options.
COST – Longtail cargo bike: One of the lowest cost ways to get a cargo bike is to buy a Leap conversion kit and convert a bike you already have. If your bike is able to be converted (more details on that here), this would roughly cost: $599 for the Leap kit with no additional accessories + roughly $100 for shipping (this would be $0 if you purchase from a dealer who has one in stock). An EdgeRunner Swoop set up to carry 4 years old+ kiddos (with a MagicCarpet, Hooptie hand rail, U-tubes foot rests) starts at $2,522.00. If you order this bike through our website and have it assembled by our staff and shipped directly to you through our BBOH program, this would add $400 to your total.
Buying a used longtail cargo bike would be another great way to lower the cost on your investment but as with bike trailers, there are some things to consider when buying used. Used cargo bikes tend to be sold in large metropolitan areas (New York City, San Francisco, Philadelphia, etc.) and can be difficult to find if you live in a smaller town or more rural area. eBay and AdHuntr (a site that lets you search Craigslist posting throughout the US) are ways to find used cargo bikes for sale outside your city but possibly close enough to drive and pick up.
Summary: Bike trailers can be bought from nearly any local bike shop whereas longtails can require placing a special order or going to a local dealer for that bike brand.
AVAILABILITY – Bike trailer: Bike and bike trailers are widely available in nearly any town and city. Craigslist, garage sales, big retail stores, local bike shops and online web stores are all purchasing options for bikes and bike trailers. Purchasing a higher quality bike and bike trailer would limit these options slightly but local bike shops tend to carry higher end bikes and bike trailers.
AVAILABILITY – Longtail cargo bike: Longtail cargo bikes are not as prevalent as bikes and bike trailers. Most longtail cargo bikes must be purchased or special ordered at a local bike shop that is affiliated with that cargo bike brand, or ordered online.
Summary: Bike trailers tend to offer more out of the box protection like a built-in rain cover whereas longtail cargo bikes require additional gear or aftermarket modifications.
WEATHER PROTECTION – Bike trailer: Most bike trailers come with a built-in rain cover which can be helpful if you get caught in a drizzle or flurries. The rider will still be exposed to the elements so the rider will require some kind of rain protection like rain pants and a good rain jacket. High quality trailers also come with water-resistant fabric but important cargo (like laptops) should be stored in water-proof storage bags. As with most bikes, if a rider finds themselves caught in a down pour, their best bet for safety and comfort would be to find cover until the rain lets up a little.
WEATHER PROTECTION – Longtail cargo bike: No longtail cargo bike manufacture currently makes a custom rear passenger rain cover. The Xtracycle team tested out a moped cover and we found that with some slight hacking, it was a wonderful fit for the rear of an Xtracycle paired with a Hooptie. You can find that article here: Ride on, Rain or Shine. Other options for rear passengers on longtail cargo bikes include high quality rain gear, like Muddy Buddy rain suits. Some aspects of riding in the rain on a longtail are similar to a trailer: the rider will still require some rain gear like rain pants and a good rain jacket; keep important gear or paperwork in water-proof bags; riders should find cover if they are caught in a real down pour.
Summary: Transporting a bike and bike trailer requires an external rack and space inside your vehicle. Transporting a cargo bike requires a hitch and cargo bike compatible bike rack or plenty of space inside your vehicle.
TRANSPORT BY CAR – Bike trailer: If you have a vehicle and you have plenty of storage space inside your car and are able to lift 30-40 lbs unassisted, you can store the bike on a bike rack outside the car (nearly any rack will do) and fold the trailer down to transport it inside your car. If you have a smaller vehicle, storing the trailer inside the car can be challenging, especially if you are also transporting kids or lots of gear. That said, some folks are able to transport trailers on their roof racks. Transporting a bike and bike trailer can be slightly more time consuming since it requires removing the trailer when loading and reinstalling the trailer when unloading.
TRANSPORT BY CAR – Cargo bike: Transporting a cargo bike on or in a car can require some additional effort. For exterior carrying, a hitch and specialized bike rack – like the Hollywood Sport Rider for Cargo Bikes – is required to accommodate the cargo bike’s longer wheel base. Some folks carry their cargo bike inside or on top of their car but this typically requires having a partner to help you load and unload, especially if you have a fully loaded or electric longtail cargo bike. Being able to transport the bike on the exterior of your vehicle can save interior space and time in that you will not have to remove and reinstall any accessories when taking the bike on and off your rack.
Summary: Bike trailers can be removed, folded down and stored along side a bike. Longtail cargo bikes require a slightly longer space for full storage.
STORAGE – Bike trailer: If stored with the trailer attached and fully unfolded, a bike and bike trailer would require more storage length and width than a longtail cargo bike. That said, most trailers are quite easy to remove from the hitch so typically folks store the bike and bike trailer apart from one another. The trailer can be folded to be almost flat, allowing you to store the bike and bike trailer next to one another, which would require slightly more storage width over just a bike but no additional storage length. Most bike trailers also allow one to remove the bike tires, which means the bike and trailer would require even less width to store.
STORAGE – Longtail cargo bike: Cargo bikes require a little more length than a bike and bike trailer. Cargo bike owners tend to try and avoid storing their bike outside long term so this means having a dedicated space like a garage, shed, carport, landing space in your dwelling, or cover / enclosed dedicated storage or bike storage area in your apartment building.
Summary: Bike trailers can be challenging to maneuver in crowded spaces and load onto public transit. Longtail cargo bikes are easier to maneuver in crowded spaces and some are easier to fit in elevators and on train platforms.
USING ON PUBLIC TRANSIT – Bike trailer: Maneuvering a bike + bike trailer in tight spaces can be a challenge. A bike and trailer combo might be difficult to use on trains, buses, in elevators and up escalators. Loading a bike + bike trailer onto a public bus would be additionally challenging since it would require removing the trailer, folding it down, and bringing it onto the bus.
USING ON PUBLIC TRANSIT – Longtail cargo bike: Because a cargo bike is essentially just a regular bike but a little longer, maneuvering in tight spaces can still present a challenge but is much easier than doing so with a trailer. The Xtracycle RFA (a mid-tail cargo bike) is especially great for those looking to take it on to public transit since it can fit in elevators and on trains. The longer Swoop or Stoker can also fit on a train but getting them in a small station elevator isn’t always an option.
Summary: For the most part, a bike trailer and longtail cargo bike ride like regular bikes but both also require a little extra care at first.
LEARNING CURVE – Bike trailer: A bike with a bike trailer installed rides very much like a regular bike. At first, the added length and width might take a little getting use to. A bike with a trailer attached will require a wider turning angle, it won’t be able to fit through narrow spaces as easily and the weight in the trailer might cause some drag (backwards pull) on your bike. The benefit of a trailer is that the trailer has two wheels so getting use to the new sense of balance isn’t an issue. Before heading out on a long ride with a full trailer, it’s best to take the set up for a ride around the block to get a feel for how the added weight and width will effect your ride.
LEARNING CURVE – Longtail cargo bike: A longtail cargo bike rides very much like a regular bike. The main difference between a regular bike and long tail is the added length of the bike and balancing the weight on the rear deck. For those not use to carrying a lot of weight on the rear rack of a regular bike, having a lot of weight on the rear of a cargo bike can feel odd at first but it’s something you can get a handle on in a very short time. Before heading out on a long ride with a fully loaded cargo bike, it’s best to take the set up for a ride around the block to get a feel for how the added weight and width will effect your ride.
Summary: Bikes paired with trailers and longtail cargo bikes require no special maintenance and can be serviced at your local bike shop.
MAINTENANCE – Bike trailer*: Because the bike hauling a trailer is just a regular bike, it requires no special maintenance outside of regular bike maintenance. Any local bike shop can repair and maintain a bike and bike trailer. When it comes time to replace tires and tubes, a bike trailer will require two additional tires and inner tubes.
MAINTENANCE – Longtail cargo bike*: Because a longtail cargo bike is essentially a regular bike – just longer – it requires no special maintenance outside of regular bike maintenance. Any local bike shop can repair and maintain a longtail cargo bike. When it comes time to replace the chain, a longtail cargo bike would require two chains to be pieced together to create a chain that is long enough. This is the only additional repair cost a longtail cargo bike would require.
*Please note that this applies to non-electric bikes. Any part of an electric bike that is mechanical (i.e. chain, chain rings, brakes, etc.) can also be serviced at a regular bike shop. When something involved with the electrical system on an electric bike needs repair, this can require more specific maintenance from a bike shop certified to service the system in question. For example, if a Bosch powered e-bike needs new brake pads, a regular bike shop could service this. If a Bosch powered e-bike is having issues with the speed sensor, a bike shop certified to service Bosch bikes would be needed to service this.