Update 2022: I wrote this in 2012 when I had all three bikes, and reviewed and refreshed it this year. The basic differences between these models remain unchanged. Enjoy!
Cargo bikes are increasingly viable as car-replacement vehicles, but there are some significant differences between the options to choose from. The Surly Big Dummy is lighter, while Workcycle’s bakfiets puts kids front and center with a large box for cargo up front. Yuba’s Mundo EP8 (formerly "elMundo") is one way to add electric assist to the equation.
I have not had my own car for a decade. Instead my family replaces a second car with a number of bikes and other gear. Our bikes have included WorkCycles bakfiets, an electric Yuba Mundo and a Surly Big Dummy. Here’s how they compare with each other based on our experience riding each as part of our regular routines.
The basic details about each are readily available online, and won’t be repeated here, although the photos below will give you a sense of each.
Electric Yuba Mundo
For babies The bakfiets has the unique ability to easily fasten in a rear-facing car seat into the large box, placing the child in front of you where you can see her. While there are possibilities for getting wee-ones on the other bikes at a very early age, I would not feel nearly as comfortable with an infant riding behind me. So, up until about a year, the bakfiets is the clear choice here.
For kids 1 year old+ At about a year old, the kids can go on any of the bikes. My three year old prefers the bakfiets for the front-seat view, but a BoBike Mini provides the front-seat experience for smaller children on the other bikes. For all the bikes I recommend the stability of a center-stand for loading and unloading children. The bakfiets comes with a super-stable 4-point kickstand, while the others both have centerstands that are designed particularly for their bikes.
For rain The bakfiets has a unique weather canopy made out the same kind of clear, thick plastic that roll-up Jeep windows are made of. When I can, I take my children in the bakfiets to keep them completely out of the rain. The weather canopy also blocks the wind and has a greenhouse effect, keeping children comfortable in colder temperatures. Keeping kids dry on the other bikes is possible, but involves more work to change them in and out of rain clothes. (Update: now Yuba sells a weather canopy which fits both the Mundo and the Dummy. See Cargo Bikes vs Bike Trailers for details!) The bakfiets also comes with a fully-enclosed chainguard to keep the rain out. A fully enclosed chain solution is not even available as an after-market product for longtail bikes currently. This is another reason I reach for the bakfiets when it is raining. There is one odd design flaw with the weather canopy that I’m surprised has not been fixed yet. The interior supports are flexible fiberglass pieces that are at least four feet long. If tent-pole style of connectors were used, the support beams could easily fold up and whole thing could fit under the bench seat if the sun came out. As it is, there is no reasonable way to dis-assemble and stow the weather canopy mid-trip.
For snow and cold The properties that make the bakfiets good for rain also make it good for snow and cold weather. Weighing in at 100 lbs, it handles like a pick-up truck. There’s no derailleur to get gunked up with snow, and the drivetrain continues to stay clean. The “greenhouse” property of the weather canopy is really impressive in cold temperatures. We had a successful cross-town trip at 15F where my daughter stayed plenty warm under the weather canopy. I put my hand under canopy and could tell it was significantly warmer under there. She was more comfortable than I was! However, it’s not a slam-dunk for the bakfiets in the snow. The electric assist of the Yuba Mundo is great benefit in the winter simply because getting their faster means less time in the cold. I also added Schwable Marathon Winter studded tires to the Yuba Mundo and Bar Mitts to make an excellent winter vehicle out of it. Because of the speed and snow tires, the electric Yuba was my first choice bike last winter. To keep my 3 year old warm on the Yuba, we used a snowboarding helmet with ear flaps, ski goggles, a balaclava , and other warm winter clothing including snow overalls which could easily be taken on and off. The Mundo chain did get hampered snow and ice in the drivetrain sometimes, but in those cases the electric assist allowed me to keep going on the secondary power source. While the bakfiets may keep kids warmer on average, the ability to get out of the cold quickly with the electric motor is also a significant boost to safety and comfort.
For maintenance The bakfiets has been incredibly low maintenance over the past four years. I think I’ve oiled the chain twice, and had a couple of flats, The Shimano Nexus hub has needed very little adjustment and the drum brakes have not needed anything replaced. Both our Dummy and Mundo are also set up with an internal hub to decrease maintenance– they are both outfitted with the NuVinci N360 hub. I would describe neither the Big Dummy or the Mundo has “high maintenance”. (Update: The NuVinci N360 hub failed both cargo bikes and both were replaced with standard derailleur drivetrains!)
For sharing with a different-height rider I’m 6’4″ and my wife is a 5’4″– a foot shorter. We quite readily share both the one-size-fits-all frames of the bakfiets and Yuba Mundo by simply adjusting the quick-release seat height. Either “fits” us both just fine, although my wife prefers the even-more-upright position of the bakfiets. By contrast, my Surly Big Dummy is not sharable with her due to its large frame with a high step-over height. I’ve heard that some couples have been able to share a Big Dummy by starting with a smaller frame size, but I did not have the luxury of trying multiple frame sizes before buying. I’m personally a fan of universal fit cargo bikes. The frame length seems to be less of an issue with a more upright riding position.
On replacing car trips When it comes to the practical matter of replacing car trips, the electric Yuba Mundo is the clear winner in our family, and the electric assist is the clear reason for that. It allows my wife to commute to work quickly without sweating (but still pedal home for exercise). It’s easy when we’re lazy and need to get there fast. The electric assist extends the range, and makes hard things easy, including combining the weight of kids and cargo, going farther and getting up hills. While electric can be added to virtually any bike, it is especially well-paired with cargo bikes. Electric adds some extra oomph and the cargo capacity puts that oomph to use.
On Large and Heavy Loads Our largest and heaviest loads get assigned to the Yuba Mundo and the electric-assist motor. No surprise there. Some less obvious notes here: When you add more than about 200 lbs to the bakfiets, it gets hard to steer, as the weight is pressing down on the front wheel you that are trying to steer. The Yuba Mundo and Big Dummy can have the opposite problem: With a lot of weight on the rear, the front wheel can become unweighted and twitchy. With the longtails there are some options to add weight to the front wheel, but on the bakfiets there’s not much to be done about it. Also in the Yuba Mundo’s favor is its extra stiff and beefy steel frame, which give it rock-solid handling with the 200+ lb loads I’ve carried on it. By contrast, the Big Dummy frame has notably more flex in it. I noticed it was more challenging to control when I was carrying home “only” 160 lbs of concrete in two 80 lb bags. There are special hitches sold to use both the Big Dummy and the Yuba Mundo with the 8 foot long Bikes at Work Trailer. By combining the electric assist with the 8′ cargo trailer, the longtail cargo bikes have been able to easily haul couches and love seats, a home entertainment center, a table and chair set, 4×8 siding, a full-size refrigerator and other loads.
On Casseroles and Cream Pies A special type of cargo are objects that needs to stay level– like a pie, casserole or potted plant. The longtails could handle such loads with an accessory, like a trailer, a box on the rear or a bread basket up front. Here the simple convenience of the big flat box on the front of the bakfiets is a win. It’s large, flat and has walls in case the load is loose and needs to be contained. Just recently we got a Bread Basket for our Yuba, which will also be great for casseroles. Note that Yuba’s basket is very generously sized.
On Touring Before I looked up how much the bakfiets weighed, I took my 18 month old daughter on a 4 day, 240-mile bike tour on it. She enjoyed the view up front when she managed to stay awake, and I could lean over of her shoulder to point out cows and birds. She weighed about 32 lbs, and I later noted that the bike weighs about 100 lbs. I worked hard to average about 10 mph, while my riding companions enjoyed a leisurely pace for themselves. Our electric Yuba Mundo also weighs about 100 lbs. (Update: the modern Mundo EP8 weighs "only" 68 lbs!). With our particular components we get about 20 miles with heavy use of the assist, which could be stretched to 40 miles for touring. I expect the modern EP8 has even better range. I’m unlikely to attempt multi-day touring with the electric Mundo unless we end up with a second battery for it. However, we’ve enjoyed electric cargo-bike camping closer to home with the kids as a simple overnight trip. Personally, the Big Dummy will be my choice for touring with myself and my children in the future, due to it’s significantly lighter weight– merely about 55 lbs of base weight in our setup. I’ve only had the Big Dummy for about six months, but have already had the chance to take it on a three day tour. It was an enjoyable and convenient rig for that, and did not feel particularly heavy or slow. Update: Over the last 10 years, I did indeed take the Big Dummy and many short and long multi-day trips. See my Surly Big Dummy Long Term Review for more about that bike!)
On Modularity The place where the Big Dummy shines compared to the others is its modularity. The Xtracycle system is not only extensible, it’s often quite fast to add and remove pieces to reconfigure the bike for different purposes. Both the Big Dummy and Mundo can be paired with a “Yepp Maxi” seat. It has a quick release that takes seconds to add or remove the ~ 10 lb kid seat. This quickly turns a dad-bike back into a rad-bike. Further, the 4 lb Xtracycle centerstand can be removed in a matter of seconds, and the rear rack, and side “V-racks” are easy to remove as well. In all, I can drop over 20 lbs of bike-weight if I want to take the Dummy on a “fast” ride. On a more minimalist tour, I could also take just one side V-rack and while leaving the top and other side at home.
On replacing an all-around bike While the bakfiets excels at hauling children, and the electric Mundo has great muscle, neither feels quite right on trips with simple needs. The Big Dummy is my choice when I want to get somewhere moderately quickly under my own power. The Big Dummy is light enough and enjoyable enough to also double as my all-around bike. It rides like a traditional bike, with added abilities to haul kids and cargo when called upon to do so.
On Go-Getter bags vs Freeloaders Yuba and XtraCycle have competing cargo bike styles. Yuba’s Go-Getter bag is an absolutely huge waterproof bag that could easily swallow 4 grocery bags. XtraCycle’s “Freeloaders” are a rather different critter. They hang as a “U” off the sides the bikes and are primarily an open design. Although they have a large waterproof pocket, the bulk of your cargo will be outside and has the potential to get wet. Both designs work well.
With Yuba’s latest update to their Go-Getter bag, I feel tied between them. I enjoy the light, open design of the Freeloader bags. The lack of a top flap makes them easier to load, unload and inspect, and the open ends allow long objects to hang out more easily. That came in handy when carrying home a 4 foot light fixture from the lighting store.
The Go-Getter provides superior rain protection and hides the contents of what’s inside. They also come on an off easier and offer a shoulder strap, while the Freeloaders are made to live on the bike. When Freeloaders get wet, water can pool at the bottom. There is a drain hole, but it rarely seems to end up at the lowest point, so it’s not always effective.
The good news here is that you should be able to mix-and-match the bags with either bikes if you desire. (I haven’t actually tested this myself). Update: I still like both big designs, but favor slings some for their versability and ease of use. I wrote a more about the topic in my Review of Carsick Designs slings for the Big Dummy Carsick Designs also makes slings for the Mundo).
On price If you are replacing a car with one or more bikes, it’s very difficult not to come out of ahead financially. For my family, each of the three bikes ended up costing close to $3,000 (around 2010) once accessories and customizations were factored in. The bakfiets costs the most up front, but it includes fenders, a bell, a dynamo with front and rear lights, and a bench seat and seatbelts for two kids. Special bags are panniers are not needed with the bakfiets, since the box serves that purpose. The Mudo includes fenders, but neither longtail includes a kid’s seat. In my view, they are all reasonably priced and positioned to save you money versus a car.
On getting ridden The bottom line is that the best bike for you will be the one gets ridden. For us, sometimes all three of our cargo bikes get used in the same weekend. Sometimes one is selected for its unique strengths, while other times my wife and I split up child hauling duties, with one child and parent on each bike.
Bakfiets, Yuba Mundo and Surly Big Dummy Photos
In closing, here are a few actions shots of each bike.
If you have more questions about how these bikes compare, ask in the comments below!