An Electric Cargo Bike Can Replace the Family Car

My only regret is not getting one sooner.

riding cargo bike
Delivering Christmas cookies and soup to neighbors on the RadWagon e-bike.

K Martinko

A little over a month ago, a FedEx truck delivered an enormous box to my door. Inside was my long-awaited electric cargo bike from RadPower Bikes. Within an hour and a half, it was fully assembled and ready to ride, thanks to a battery that came partially charged. A friend and I took it for rides around the block, marveling at its smooth, silent power and speed. 

I never thought I'd own an electric bike of any kind, let alone a big hefty cargo bike. I have a perfectly good conventional bike that I ride on a regular basis. But after watching an excellent documentary called "Motherload," recommended by my cousin who doesn't own a car and hauls her young children around the notoriously frigid city of Winnipeg on a cargo bike, something shifted in my thinking. I realized that cargo bikes are actually more of a car replacement than a bicycle upgrade and can totally change a person's approach to transportation. 

When RadPower Bikes heard that I was curious about cargo e-bikes, they offered to send me one to try. Their bikes are designed in Seattle, manufactured overseas, and shipped out from distribution centers across North America. It took several months for my RadWagon 4 to get here, due to high volume of orders (e-bikes have suddenly become popular during the pandemic), reduced inventories, and delayed shipping from its overseas production facilities – and its arrival coincided with a blast of cold weather hitting the Lake Huron coast of southwestern Ontario, where I live – but I was happy to see it nonetheless.

RadWagon box
The attractive compact box in which the bike arrived, 85% pre-assembled.

K Martinko

Even though our relationship is only five weeks old, I already find it hard to imagine life without Bolty, the name my 9-year-old has given it because "it's made with so many bolts and it takes off like a bolt of lightning." He's right about there being a lot of bolts; the bike comes 85% assembled and the remaining 15% mainly consists of reefing on Allen keys to put it together. Not all of these were as perfect a fit as I would've liked and required plenty of cajoling and cursing; but once in place, everything operated smoothly.

I'm not sure what I love more – having an electric motor or extensive storage capacity – but combined, the two make for a bicycle that truly replaces my car. There have been so many times in the past when I've taken my car somewhere because I didn't have a way to carry groceries, sporting gear, beach toys, etc. on my bicycle, or because I was in a hurry, but the RadWagon solves both of these dilemmas simultaneously. I never have to worry about where I'm going to stash things and, when traveling around town, I get places as fast as I would in a car.

bike assembly
Assembly became a spectacle, with several friends dropping by to watch and help.

K Martinko

The RadWagon 4 is what's known as a longtail cargo bike. This means that it rides just like a regular bike, except that it has an extra-long wheelbase that extends out behind the seat. From the perspective of the rider, it doesn't look any different than a regular bike because the cargo portion is located entirely in the back. This longtail extension is where various accessories can be attached, screwed into the frame that houses the back wheel, in order to carry cargo and children.

RadPower Bikes sent me several accessories to try, including a padded bench and small handlebars for children, running boards for them to rest their feet or to support saddle bags, two large metal baskets that hold padded waterproof basket bags in the back, and a rack to hold another smaller basket and bag at the front of the bike. There are numerous other accessories available on the website, such as railings (a "caboose") to keep small children contained, pet carriers, child seats with 5-point harnesses (the bike can carry two), panniers, fancy pedals and fenders and cushy seat upgrades, and more. 

Each accessory has to be installed using Allen keys, which means it's not easy to switch back and forth. Nor can they all be used in conjunction with each other; for example, attaching a rear basket requires removing the deckpad seat altogether. So, I've had to figure out what the most useful combination of accessories is for my current needs and use those ones. I can change it if necessary, but I won't be doing it on a regular basis. 

My preferred combination of accessories is to have one spot for carrying a child, located right behind my seat, and a large basket mounted behind that. I have another rack and basket mounted in the front. If I don't have a child with me and I need to carry extra goods, I can set a second basket on top of the deckpad and use Velcro straps to attach it to the rack behind, but this isn't very secure and I wouldn't use it to carry anything heavy.

The 500W geared hub motor kicks in as soon as you start pedaling and gives as much assistance as you want, based on whatever one of five levels you select on the LCD display screen. There is a half-twist grip throttle that allows the rider to accelerate immediately from a full stop – a helpful feature because the bike is heavy, weighing 77 pounds/35kg, and takes a fair bit of effort to get moving. I wouldn't want to ride it without pedal assist, as I discovered one night when heading to a friend's house on a very low battery; suffice it to say, I'd had a real workout by the time I got there and was happy that the ride home was all downhill.

Despite the bike's weight, it doesn't feel heavy when riding. It turns quickly and easily, brakes effectively, and feels generally nimble. I'm barely aware that there's a long frame traveling along behind me. A reviewer in the Electrek video shown below says this is because of the new smaller 22" wheel size: "It goes a long way to making this bike feel like a typical city bike. It doesn't feel like this weirdly long cargo bike, which it is, but masquerades as a nicer-feeling, easier-to-ride bike."

bike with accessories
Bike with racks mounted (L) and basket bags inserted (R); child's handlebars and running boards installed, but no deckpad yet.

K Martinko

There are three main ways in which this bike has changed my lifestyle so far. First, I can now pick up my children from school, play dates, and appointments, even if they don't have their own bicycles with them. In the past this has been a real issue because I'll want to ride to get them, but cannot because there's no way to carry them home. The e-bike allows for spontaneous trips and last-minute pickup arrangements that, in the past, would've involved the car, so this is wonderful.

Secondly, I can go to the grocery store on a bike. I couldn't do this in the past because my family of five needs more food than I can fit into a backpack or regular bike panniers. But now, between the two rear baskets and front basket, I can carry a week's worth of groceries without an issue. This is a real game-changer.

Thirdly, I can use the bike to commute to my gym that's 5 miles (8 km) away. Some might say that's a short distance to ride on a conventional bike (and it usually is), but after an hour-long weightlifting and CrossFit session, the last thing I feel like doing is biking home; I'm often pressed for time, too. With the e-bike, though, it's no big deal. It takes me 18 minutes to get from door to door on the bike, and that's impressive considering that I usually give myself at least 10 minutes to go by car and likely 30-40 minutes to do it by regular bike.

Come summer, the e-bike will become my "beachmobile," transporting kids, chairs, towels, food, shovels, and skimboards down to the beach at Lake Huron where we go most sunny afternoons after work. I always want to bike, but there's too much stuff to carry; this cargo bike will make it possible. 

rainy ride
A cold, wet ride on the e-bike prompted me to order a pair of good rain pants. Now I feel invincible.

K Martinko

One challenge is parking the bike. With its wide 3-inch tires, it doesn't fit in some older-style bike racks and I have to lock it to the outside of the rack. This hasn't been an issue in cold weather, when nobody else is riding bikes in my small town and I have the whole rack to myself, but I can foresee problems in the summer when it gets crowded. The bike is heavy and hard to maneuver into certain positions. I'm also glad to have a garage in which to park it. It would be an awfully awkward bike to haul up apartment stairs or have to stash in a backyard.

I have now ridden it on icy, partially snow-covered roads and it was skittish. I had to be careful about not pedaling too hard because then the motor would kick in rapidly and the tire would slide a bit. But once I got a feel for it, the ride was comfortable and solid, thanks to the bike's weight and wide tires. I wouldn't ever want it to slip and go over, though, because it would be a lot of weight landing on one foot and would likely cause injury, nor will I take the kids out when it's really slippery.

One month into e-bike ownership and all I can say is I wish I'd gotten one of these bikes years ago. I think back on the many hours spent hauling my children around in awkward chariots and mounted seats and tagalongs, and how this would've been so much more enjoyable for everyone.

It's astonishing to me how, as soon as the need for cargo space is addressed and a bit of pedal assistance is provided, opting for the bike over the car becomes a no-brainer. In fact, it's more attractive than the car because it feels so good, getting you out in the fresh air and giving you mild exercise and a flood of endorphins. Now I find myself looking for reasons to ride. 

If you're curious about e-bikes or on the fence, stop hesitating and try one! They will make your life better in so many ways. I can't compare RadPower's bikes to others because I haven't tried any other cargo bikes at this point, but I am thoroughly impressed with the product this company produces, especially at its very reasonable base price of $1,699 (CAD$2,199). Clearly others are impressed, too, because the RadWagon 4 was voted best electric cargo bike of 2020 by, and RadPower's bikes won in a total of seven categories – the most of any electric bike company.

Learn more about the RadWagon 4's specifications here and read any of the nearly 900 five-star reviews from happy riders.