Why are cargo bikes so expensive?

A basic cargo bike in 1939 would set you back £18; the equivalent of £972 in today’s money. The relatively low price got us thinking about how a sub-grand cargo bike could help revolutionise the urban streets of 2023.

vintage cargo bikes

When it comes to moving people around a city, cars are distinctly sub-optimal. Quite apart from damage to the environment and road danger, it’s a matter of physics; most cities simply don’t have the space to accommodate one car per inhabitant – not to mention those used by visitors.

By contrast, every city can comfortably store a bicycle for every one of its people. It’s a fallacy that cars are a city’s lifeblood and that it’s impossible for households to carry heavy or bulky loads without them; you just need a cargo bike.

Why can’t I buy a cargo bike for less than £1,000?

As we’ve learned, there’s nothing new about cargo bikes, but why have they shot up in price over recent years?

Once you’ve taken inflation into account, the cargo bike of 1939 pictured above, cost £972. So why are cargo bikes so expensive now by comparison? A Babboe Big cargo trike with electric assist might set you back around £3,000, but an equivalent cargo cycle from China costs about one fifth of that price.

We’re not suggesting that everything about the two bikes is exactly the same. but there are plenty of people who’d overlook the differences to make use of a £600 e-cargo trike. However, despite our globalised world, don’t expect to get your hands on a sub-£1,000 cargo bike anytime soon.

So-called ‘anti-dumping’ measures (dumping refers to when a country exports at a price lower than it normally charges in its own home market) have seen tariffs of over 60 per cent applied to e-bikes from China. It’s a form of protectionism that safeguards domestic suppliers, but keeps prices higher than they might otherwise be.

The ETA office bike (which doubles as a ‘cyclo sprayer’ in summer) is an e-trike that retails for £2,200

Another reason electric bicycles remain beyond the reach of many is they’re not eligible for government grants in the same way as electric cars. It’s a missed opportunity because in terms of price, range and usability the bicycle is the most practical type of electric vehicle available today.

EVs of every description are currently in development; from small aircraft to jet skis. However, batteries remain expensive, heavy and troublesome to charge; unless you’re talking about bicycles, which are easy to convert to electric power and use batteries light enough to be carried into a house for re-charging. Oh, and e-bikes are the ultimate hybrid; if a battery runs flat, there’s always leg power to get you home.

Electric cargo bikes on a budget

A pedal trike with a cargo box like the vintage models pictured above costs from about £1,800 – count on at least another £500 to add an electric motor. However, what if you like the idea of a utility bike but can’t store a cargo trike?

tern GSD small-wheeled cargo bike

For many city dwellers a Tern GSD makes more sense than owning a car

The Tern GSD‘s slim width, high-spec and sharp looks kickstarted an urban love affair with the small-wheeled cargo bike, but at a price.

For those unable or unwilling to stretch to £5,000 for the GSD, French sporting goods giant Decathlon offers a cheaper alternative in the shape of its £3,500 D500 (about £1,000 cheaper if you buy it in France and bring it home yourself), and there’s now a homegrown alternative snapping at its heels.

The mycycle cargo bike starts at £1,999 for the entry level model, which boasts a range of 60km. To the basic specification you can add an impressive array of optional accessories as well as a battery upgrade that doubles the distance you can travel with power assist.

Mycycle cargo e-bike

mycycle cargo bike is designed to carry passengers

Cargo bike insurance

Cargo bikes offer a clean, quiet and cost-effective way to carry stuff that’s too bulky for a conventional bicycle. However, the fact they’re bigger and heavier can make a breakdown troublesome. Even the shortest journey comes to an abrupt halt in the event of a flat tyre, broken chain or buckled wheel and carrying kids or cargo adds an unwelcome dimension to being stuck.

Insure your cargo bike with the ETA and on top of other great benefits, you’ll get Cycle Rescue  – the first breakdown cover policy for bicycles and one that covers cargo bikes recumbents and tandems.

If you suffer a breakdown (including punctures) while out cycling, or are unable to continue due to an injury, our 24-hour Cycle Rescue team is on hand to arrange transport for you and your cycle to a safe location.

Every insurance policy includes the following as standard:

  • Theft, accidental damage & vandalism
  • Cycle Rescue
  • No devaluation of your bike over time
  • £2m third party PLUS £20,000 personal accident cover
  • Shed and garage storage
  • Low standard excess of 5% (£50 minimum)
  • You and your family on your bike

Read a full list of everything we include.

The ethical choice

The ETA was established in 1990 as an ethical provider of green, reliable travel services. Over 30 years on, we continue to offer cycle insurance , breakdown cover  and mobility scooter insurance while putting concern for the environment at the heart of all we do.

The Good Shopping Guide judges us to be the UK’s most ethical provider.



  1. Jonathan Hunt


    I have a Tern GSD from 2019 for £4K. I was astonished to see the current model is now £6,500 in my LBS! My kids are too big to be carried on it now but I still use it a lot for local errands. It was quite a boon a couple of Christmas’s ago when I bought and carried all my Christmas shopping on it on a leisurely cruise along a towpath instead of being backed up in gridlocked traffic. When they were younger, I rode around 60km with both the kids, carrying a scooter and a bike. They are great if you can afford one. It certainly would be nice to see them subsidised and become more affordable for the masses. There is no way I could get close to buying one today, as I’m now a recent homeowner once more.
    The GSD is a great model, by the way. I have the older derailleur gears and they have been just fine. I’ve had a puncture but that wasn’t overly difficult to fix. The stand was iffy but that got acknowledged and swapped out by Tern. The newer model have an even better one. I had a rear wheel bearing fail but dealt with under warranty (and uprated). Everything else has been spot on. Just need to keep the folding handlebar joint clean, as it tends to creak after a while.

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