Our ELEVATE Researchers answer 7 questions you have about e-cargo bikes

Blog written by Dr. Ian Philips

The ELEVATE research project is a partnership between Brighton, Leeds and Oxford Universities. Our researchers are trying to understand the use of electric bikes, electric cargo bikes, and electric scooters including identifying the people, places and situations where they will be most useful to help reduce energy demand and carbon emissions and improving people’s health and mobility! We want to see if these are a useful transport method as well as why people would or would not use them.  A big part of our project is a one-month trial loan of an electric cargo bike, aka, an “e-cargo bike”. Our researchers want to see what happens when we support e-cargo bike use among households and families. Participants are given the chance to try out a high-quality e-cargo bike for one month, fully supported by mechanics and cycling instructors.  

For this blog piece, we chose to focus on a few questions we keep getting about e-cargo bikes including:  

  1. What are electric cargo bikes? 
  1. How is an e-cargo bike different from a pedal bike? 
  1. What do you do in the rain with an e-cargo bike?  
  1. How much can you fit on an e-cargo bike?   
  1. Where are you allowed to use them? 
  1. How long does an e-cargo bike charge last? 
  1. Why should I use an e-cargo bike? 

What are electric cargo bikes?

Photo by project researcher Dr Nicholas Marks of the ELEVATE Brighton Project

Apparently only 5% of people un the UK know what an electric cargo bike is…So here we go with an explanation!  They are a bicycle… kind of.  

Electric cargo bikes, aka, E-Cargo Bikes are “electrically assisted”, which means that any pedalling by the rider is matched or exceeded by the bike’s electric motor. The amount of assistance can be adjusted by the rider according to the terrain. Unlike a car where the motor runs the entire time you’re using it, the e-cargo bike motor only helps if you are pedalling, and you are going less than 15mph (25km/hr). 

They are specifically designed to carry substantial cargoes (up to 200 kg including the rider) – and that cargo might be something like shopping, leisure or work equipment, or it could be people (children or even adults).

Photos taken by Dr. Ian Philips of Elevate Leeds. Left- Shop goods filling shopping trolley. Right-E-cargo bike filled with shop goods.

Although some of the technology they incorporate – like hydraulic brakes, belt-drive transmission, hub gearing and the motor itself – is quite complex, the bikes require very little day-to-day maintenance.

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How is an e-cargo bike different from a pedal bike?

Photo taken by Dr. Ian Philips

There are lots of different shapes and sizes of things that can be called an e-cargo bike. E-cargo bikes can be bicycles (two wheels), tricycles (three wheels) or even quadricycles (four wheels). As well as having large racks and panniers and seating for children, there are other aspects of e-cargo bike construction that make them differ from conventional bicycles. They tend to have a sturdier frame, smaller wheels and a longer wheelbase to increase stability. The seat/saddle and handlebars can be easily adjusted to suit riders of different heights, and the e-cargo bikes will usually have a heavy duty stand so they can be parked easily. Some e-cargo bikes look a lot like an ordinary bicycle like this. They are just a bit longer at the back so you can get some shopping on there or carry the kids.

Photo of the Gazelle Makki Load bike taken in Oxford by Dr. Labib Azzouz of ELEVATE Oxford

There are some other common shapes of e-cargo bikes which have 2 wheels and a box or a place for the kids to sit in front of the rider (left).

All the bike shapes we’ve seen so far might get used either by a household or even by a business.  There are also some bigger vehicles which are still legally classed as bicycles but are definitely for business use… we won’t get into those here, though!


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What do you do in the rain with an e-cargo bike?

E-cargo bike with weather-proofed riders! Photo taken by Dr. Ian Philips


Many folks will tell you they don’t ride bikes because, quite simply, you get wet. It also rains in countries like Denmark and the Netherlands where levels of cycling are much higher, so the good news is that rain doesn’t have to prevent us cycling. In further good news– the Raleigh stride bikes which we use in Leeds and other similar “long john” bikes have rain covers which can keep cargo or children out of the elements.
Of course, you’ll need some water-proof gear which certainly helps.


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How much can you fit on an e-cargo bike?

The e-bikes we are using for the project can all carry around 100kg of luggage shopping or children in addition to the rider! (Most of our bikes have a gross vehicle weight of 200kg)!

Here are some of the e-cargo bikes we have been using for our participants:

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Where are you allowed to use them?

Anywhere that you can legally use a bicycle!

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How long does an e-cargo bike charge last?

Dr. Ian Philips, the Principal Investigator of the Elevate project and Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Transport Studies at the University of Leeds took our Tern GSD on a 100-mile test ride through the Yorkshire Dales.  He rode in the “tour mode” so not the highest level of assistance.  The route was very hilly and each 500 Watt-hour battery lasted for 40 miles (60km). The exact range depends on how hilly the route is, how much cargo is being carried, how much help you ask of the motor (Bosch motors on our e-bikes have 4 levels of assistance: eco, tour, sport and turbo). 

Dr. Ian Philips on his 100-mile test ride in the Yorkshire Dales

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Why should I use an e-cargo bike?

There are so many reasons as to why you should use an e-cargo bike. In our car dependent society we have reached the point where cars cost us money and sometimes make us ill. For example, e-bikes don’t produce exhaust pollutants that make people sick unlike most cars. Cutting air pollution would save the NHS money. Riding a bike is a healthier alternative for the rider so this helps them and cuts costs for society. E-bikes also produce much less in the way of greenhouse gasses than cars because they have much smaller batteries to charge than an electric car and they need much less energy to run compared to a car. In addition to this, our researchers from ELEVATE have their own reasons for why we should be using e-cargo bikes, e-bikes, and even e-scooters!

Dr. Ian Philips, the Principal Investigator of the Elevate project and Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Transport Studies at the University of Leeds says:

We have to reduce our car use as part of the transition to net zero. E-bikes and e-cargo bikes have far lower life-cycle emissions and are capable of replacing a significant number of vehicle miles1 . Add to that the fact that they can carry kids, luggage and other items. Additionally, they have a whole bunch of other benefits like: improving air quality in urban areas, making active travel easier in rural and hilly areas, helping some people get more exercise and taking up less space on the roads than cars.”

Dr. Mary Darking, Director of the Centre for Digital Cultures and Innovation at the University Brighton and Principal Lecturer Social Policy and Innovation in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, adds,

From our research we have seen that swapping car journeys for e-cargo bike journeys gives people a sense of fun and wellbeing that driving, or being a passenger in a car, can lack.  For adults this has potential to alleviate eco-anxiety and help them to “slow down and notice nature”2.  Passengers on e-cargo bikes, especially children, positively benefit from this shift in focus too.  We recognise e-cargo bikes aren’t accessible to everyone for lots of reasons, but for some they offer an alternative to cars that positively benefits us and our environment, and so should be actively promoted as a travel option.

Dr. Noel Cass, Research Fellow in Energy Demand Behaviour also at the Institute for Transport Studies at the University of Leeds, adds that we must transition to these modes of transport because

[of] the climate emergency! Although our research is showing that blanket statements like ‘75% of car journeys are less than 5-miles and could be replaced by e-cargo bikes’ are not so straightforwardly true, we are finding out about why people find this difficult, and it seems that people who are positively keen can replace more than they thought and appreciate doing so!

Dr. Nick Marks, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Brighton states,

Dr. Mary Darking (Left), Dr. Nick Marks (Middle). Members of the ELEVATE research team with their e-cargo bikes

E-bikes and e-cargo bikes offer the flexibility of private transport without taking up large chunks of public space. Their local environmental impact in terms of pollution, noise, danger and fear is miniscule compared to that of private cars. Any town planner’s utopian design concept will almost certainly have a bicycle or two in it, as bicycles have always been signifiers of certain civic ideals – simultaneous independence and integration; e-bikes take the concept of habitual social bicycle use one step further in eliminating the barriers of hills and wind

We hope this clarifies some of your questions about E-cargo bikes. What are your thoughts on the matter? Do you think that an e-cargo bike could be an alternative to car use where you live? Let us know your thoughts and questions! Further, don’t hesitate to send this along to anyone you think will be interested and be sure to follow our pages on Facebook and Twitter!

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1 Philips, I., Anable, J., Chatterton, T., 2022. E-bikes and their capability to reduce car CO2 emissions. Transp. Policy https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tranpol.2021.11.019

2 Adams, Matthew. “Eco-Anxiety: Climate Change Affects Our Mental Health – Here’s How to Cope.” The Conversation, 3 Apr. 2023, theconversation.com/eco-anxiety-climate-change-affects-our-mental-health-heres-how-to-cope-202477.

Acknowledgements:  Dr. Ian Philips is the main author of this blog. Dr. Theresa Nelson helped edit, format, and advertise the blog. Johnny Johnson contributed to an early draft of this blog.

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