How to turn your ebike into a cargo-hauling car replacement
Let’s get this out of the way: an ebike can never fully replace a car. At least, not in the sense of carrying four passengers and a trunk full of groceries while being shielded from the rain. There will be times where having a car is more convenient.
But sometimes bikes are the more convenient vehicle too. As a city-dweller who used to occasionally drive, not having to park and cutting through traffic saves me a bunch of time. I’ve been riding ebikes for transportation almost exclusively for the past couple of years, and I’ve come to realize that for almost all day-to-day tasks, and even some irregular ones, an electric bike is more than enough.
Yes, you’ll have to be a little bit creative, especially if you haven’t got yourself a proper cargo ebike. But in my case, the biggest barrier for getting stuff done on two wheels was really the mental one. When I started testing ebikes, I was a noob to cycling in general and had no idea of the wealth of accessories available to help make carrying stuff easier.
What follows are some of the most useful accessories I’ve found for carrying stuff on the ebikes I’ve tested. Most I have tried myself, but for those I haven’t, I’ve done research thorough enough to be comfortable recommending them.
Some disclaimers first: this guide was written with the assumption that you’re a newcomer riding an ebike. So while all of the accessories here work just as fine on a regular bike, I’m giving little consideration to things like weight or aerodynamics. Practicality is my only concern. I also know this list doesn’t include every cargo accessory in the world, sue me.
A rear rack
The rear rack is the go-to cargo accessory because it allows you to carry stuff without affecting control over your bike too much. You can hang panniers from them (essentially tote bags meant to be attached to a bike rack, more on these in a bit), and they usually have a flat top for carrying more stuff — like a pizza. Alternatively, you can attach a bag or basket to the rack top; for a cheap DIY setup, attach a milk crate with some zip ties.
If you bought an ebike, there’s a good chance your bike already comes with a rack. If not, check with the manufacturer for compatible models; it might have one it’s tested to be compatible with your bike. In any case, there are about a bazillions racks on the market, so you’ll almost certainly be able to find one for your bike.
Many, if not most, bikes come with mounting points for a rack, but if not, there are racks designed to be virtually universal too. There are racks that can attach to your bike’s seatpost, others that attach to your wheels like the heavy-duty Old Man Mountain racks, or the Thule Pack N Pedal, which wraps around your bike’s seat stays.
Bungees and straps
If you want to attach stuff to the top of your rack, you’ll need some kind of strap to tie it down. Bungee cords are the classic choice, keeping items under tension; you can find whole kits of them for cheap. There are also cargo nets that can help tie down larger, more pliable items, or cover up a basket.
Personally though, I’m a big fan of ROK straps. These are a bit more expensive, but attach securely to your bike’s rack and only have a small elastic portion to them, keeping your items more secure than a typical bungee strap.
Panniers are probably the easiest ways to carry a small to medium set of groceries on your bike. These bags hang off the sides of your rack and are quick to attach and detach.
They usually come with some kind of handle so you can use them as shopping bags, and some also double as backpacks or messenger bags for commuters. They come in a myriad of shapes and sizes.
A front basket or rack
Rear racks are super-versatile, but they don’t allow you to see your cargo. That’s why I prefer carrying stuff on the front of my bike whenever possible.
Many ebikes have mounting points on your bike’s headtube that fixes a front rack or basket directly onto the frame. If these are available, they are probably your best bet for front cargo, as they will be more stable than accessories that attach to your handlebars or forks; those will sway when you turn the bike, making it trickier to balance.
If no frame mount for a rack is available, I’m a big fan of Wald’s quick-release front basket. This lightweight basket attaches to your handlebars and can be used as a fairly sizeable shopping basket when you arrive at your destination. Being able to remove the basket also helps keep the bike more maneuverable if you need to squeeze it through a tight staircase like me. Alternatively, there are about a million handlebar bags out there.
If going with a front basket, I definitely suggest keeping a cargo net on your bike — it’ll help prevent stuff from flying out and allow you to carry a bit more than you might’ve dared otherwise.
If you prefer a front rack that attaches to your fork, Soma’s PortFolder is pretty neat. When folded, it keeps a minimal profile and can carry some front panniers(they make those too), but it’s also able to unfold into a large flat surface for carrying multiple pizzas (you can tell that carrying pizzas is a concern of mine).
Another advantage of a front rack (as opposed to a handlebar bag or basket) is that it keeps your cargo’s center of gravity lower, helping keep your bike more stable.
And if your fork doesn’t have mounting points for a rack, the aforementioned universal Old Man Mountain and Thule Pack n Pedal racks can actually be attached to the front rack too.
I almost never go grocery shopping on my ebike without a backpack. While on a regular bike carrying a backpack in warm weather will likely mean a sweaty back, this is much less of an issue on an ebike.
You probably have a backpack lying at home somewhere. Use it. If not, and you want something fancy that can double as a travel bag, I absolutely love Henty’s Travel Brief. It can fit 30 liters of stuff, which in my case often mean fitting a 12-roll pack of toilet paper with some room to spare. It also really is quite a nice travel bag.
A reusable bag or two
I always keep a reusable shopping bag or two with my bike that I can hang around the handlebars. The goal isn’t to use them regularly — the aforementioned accessories are all for that — but rather to serve as an overflow buffer. There’s nothing worse than going to get a bunch of groceries, realizing that you wanted to get more stuff, and then not being able to fit that last box of croissants on your setup.
You could just take a bag with you before you go shopping, but I recommend keeping one with your ebike at all times. Having an extra shopping bag handy is useful for fitting those last items — preferably lighter ones so your weight distribution doesn’t get too wonky.
A cargo trailer
But what about those times you need to just carry a lot of stuff — or something really big? That’s when a cargo trailer can be a lifesaver.
Bike trailers come in all shapes and sizes, from flatbeds to big ol’ buckets, but my favorite as a city dweller is the Burley Travoy. I reviewed it a while back, but suffice to say it’s a cross between a cargo trailer, a handtruck, and a granny cart. It folds up compact when not needed, but I’ve also used it to carry anything from groceries…
…to office chairs…
…to a pair of large dog crates.
The Travoy comes with tie-down straps, but for larger items, I replaced them with heavy-duty cam straps. It’s an incredibly versatile trailer that only requires a little creativity for carrying oddly shaped items. Plus, you can bring it into a store to use it as a shopping cart.
It’s also a great option if you have multiple bikes, as it attaches directly to your seat post and the process only takes a few seconds. Likewise, it’s a useful accessory if you want to keep your bike light or aesthetically minimalist; it does not require anything to be permanently affixed onto your bike.
I like this thing a lot. If I had to make just one purchase for cargo purposes, it would probably be the Travoy.
Just about the only thing it’s not so great at is carrying items that need to be flat (like a bunch of pizzas) and people (well, you probably could if you really wanted to, buy tying someone down onto a bike trailer might look a little suspicious).
A child/pet trailer
Want to take your child/dog/cat/iguana with you? There are trailers for that too.
I have a dog and two cats, for which I requested a review unit of the Burley Tail Wagon — it’s a sturdy trailer that folds compact and can double as a pet stroller. The brand has built a reputation for the safety of its trailers, so it’s among the few I’d trust to haul my fluffy ones around.
Okay so, truth be told, I actually haven’t used the Tail Wagon for its primary purpose much, because my dog has extreme separation anxiety and we’re slowly working our way towards acclimating her to it.
But it’s been really great for carrying larger items, including for stuffing even more groceries and large boxes. Although it might be a little cumbersome to attach compared to panniers or the Travoy, it can fit a lot more stuff without needing tie-downs, and feels super stable over long rides.
So much more
This list only scratches the surface of how to carry stuff on your bike. There are small saddle bags, top tube bags, large bikepacking seat bags, frame bags, child seats, sidecars, and even surfboard racks. Not to mention that there are cargo bikes specifically designed to haul stuff, like the compact Tern GSD or the Long-John Urban Arrow Family.
You might have to get creative to carry some larger items, but after spending the past couple of years carrying all sorts of stuff on ebikes, it’s clear that where there’s a will (and a few useful accessories), there’s a way.
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