Oct 25, 2023
Battle of the E
Gear-obsessed editors choose every product we review. We may earn commission if
Gear-obsessed editors choose every product we review. We may earn commission if you buy from a link. How we test gear.
Four popular cargo and kid-hauling e-bikes tested head-to-head
I have failed to contain my excitement about e-cargo bikes for months. However, as excited as I am about this segment, I am late to the game. Riders in Europe embraced cargo bikes decades ago. The rise of e-bikes dramatically accelerated cargo bike adoption in the U.S., making it easier to use cargo bikes for daily errands such as groceries, kid transport, and daily commuting. This allows these bikes to be viable car substitutes for many everyday trips.
Cargo bikes benefit immensely from the addition of pedaling assistance, more so than most other styles of bikes in how they transform the platform's potential. E-bike motors help cargo bikes overcome their added weight, size, and sometimes awkward handling traits compared to traditional bike options—removing most (though not all) barriers to cargo bike use.
Until very recently, e-cargo bikes were very expensive. Advocates often happily point out that even a $5,000 bike like the Momentum PakYak E+ Cargo is still far cheaper than a car— especially after considering the ongoing costs of gas, maintenance, insurance, parking, registration, etc. But while this is true, it also doesn't make the upfront cost hurdle of an e-cargo bike any easier to clear.
However, as e-cargo bikes have gained popularity, their prices have started falling. The most expensive bike in this story is the Specialized Haul ST at $2,800, and the cheapest is the Lectric Xpedition which starts at $1,400. The Aventon Abound and RadRunner 4 Plus slot between the Haul and Xpedition at $2,200 and $2,300, respectively.
Choosing which bikes we test and review for Bicycling is a multifaceted process. Our starting point for this story was that the Aventon, RadRunner, and Haul are consistently popular bikes with readers. The Xpedition has been suggested to us numerous times as an affordable alternative. All four bikes are priced reasonably well relative to their competition, with the Xpedition being the cheapest by $800.
These four bikes span a large gamut of features and e-cargo bike designs. The Haul is the most compact design being a short tail, while the Xpedition and Abound represent more traditional long-tail bikes. The RadRunner fits in between these two options; it most accurately could be described as a mid-tail bike. So while we are directly comparing these four specific bikes, we are also weighing up a few popular types of e-cargo bikes and their features.
The one kind of cargo bike missing from this story is the bakfiet (or box) style bike. It uses a large cargo platform or box (typically in front of the rider) for carrying cargo or transporting multiple passengers. These bikes can carry the largest and heaviest loads but are, in turn, very big, much more expensive, and suit riders with more particular needs. For example, if you need to transport more than two kids by bike—or a couch or maybe a fridge—a bakfiet is the way to go.
The main downside of this kind of bike is that unless you live in a building with a freight elevator, you’ll need to have a driveway, a garage, or some sort of secure bike parking that's ground level. Thus making them impractical for many riders, particularly in cities.
Regarding utility and cargo bikes, it's important to distinguish between standard accessories and optional ones. Typically standard accessories refer to things like lights, fenders, and a front or, more commonly, a rear rack. All four bikes we compared here come standard with lights, fenders, and a rear rack. This is great, but you need to purchase some optional accessories if you want to use them to carry groceries or haul kids, and you should budget for some of these. These accessories can take these heavy e-bikes and turn them into genuine car replacers for many everyday trips.
The main reason e-bikes don't come with more standard accessories is simple: Not every rider will want to set up their bike the same way. And setting up a bike for maximum cargo capacity involves different things than setting up a bike for maximum passenger capacity.
To maximize cargo capacity, look at accessories like a front rack, panniers (or side baskets), and front or rear baskets. And you’ll definitely want some cargo nets or buggies to tie everything down.
For reference, we tested the Haul, the most expensive bike in this bunch, with almost $700 worth of accessories. Total tested price of $3,490. That $700 got us a front rack, a front or rear basket, and four Specialized Coolcave hard plastic panniers with adapters. If you want to equip the Haul for passenger duty, there are two options. For passengers under five, you must buy a third-party child seat. For passengers over five, Specialized sells a passenger kit for $195. Using either will preclude you from mounting panniers to the rear rack.
Let's compare that to the cheapest bike in this story, the Lectric Xpedition. For cargo duty, Lectric sells a set of XL Cargo panniers for $150. These are extra long to take full advantage of the long tail of the Xpedition. So for a total tested price of $1,850, the Xpedition gets you 80% of the Haul's cargo capacity. Lectric offers several options for passenger duty as well. Riders can opt for two child seats for younger passengers at $200 each. For older kids, you can combine the orbiter cage ($120) accessory with the Essentials pack ($120), which includes cushions and footboards. To carry an adult-size passenger, Lectric offers the Plus 1 Chair for $90 in combination with the Barrow Bar ($60)—this essentially adds an extra seat to the back of the Xpedition.
What's worth noting is that even for bikes priced over a thousand dollars apart, the prices of accessories stay about the same. For riders looking at any of these four bikes, it will be all about the accessories. Even if you only plan on using one of these bikes for commuting, I’d highly recommend getting a set of panniers. The ability to not ride with a backpack and still have all your stuff (plus space to do a spontaneous side errand) is wonderful.
Unfortunately, for the most part, all the accessories for these various bikes are proprietary to the bikes or brands. So, don't expect to mix and match from one brand to another. Specialized has a bit of leg up here as its accessories. While proprietary to the Haul, the accessories are at least designed to work with other brands. For example, the pannier adapters for the Haul don't just work with Specialized Coolcaves but can be used with any standard pannier from a brand like Ortlieb.
All four of these bikes are "one size fits most," meaning they will work well for most riders. All of them use things like adjustable stems and telescoping seatposts. We’ve had riders as tall as 6-foot-2 and as short as 5-foot-4 test these bikes with good results. But somebody on the outer edges of the height range will inevitably have some issues.
This one-size approach is a common issue in the e-cargo bike segment as a whole. Even some of the most expensive models, such as the Tern GSD, use a single frame size to accommodate all potential riders. But crucially, bikes like the Tern and the Haul enjoy bike shop support and can be tracked down for test rides. With direct-to-consumer brands like Lectric, RadPower, and Aventon, riders need to order sign unseen or track down a friend or neighbor with one for a test ride.
There is a notoriously large gap between the maximum advertised range of any e-bike and what riders commonly experience. Typically those maximum range numbers are calculated or estimated based on a rider of average weight, riding an unloaded bike, on a minimum level of assist, over flat terrain. This means that all of the criteria that affect range—like rider weight, load, elevation, and level of assist—are combined in a very unrealistic way to generate the largest range estimate possible.
Having ridden all four of these bikes in the real world, with a variety of loads, over plenty of hills, and using mid to high levels of assist, I can confidently tell you that all of these bikes are capable of delivering between 25 and 35 miles of real-world riding on a full charge. It's certainly possible to get more range than that if you manage the assist levels by using lower assist levels on flat terrain, only turning it up for hills, and not using (or only sparingly using) the throttle. The fastest way to drain your battery is to exclusively throttle or ride these bikes on max assist at all times. And don't be surprised if your bike is out of juice in as little as 10 to 15 miles if you do.
If you’re considering the Xpedition, it's likely due to its very appealing price point. At just $1,400 for the single-battery version (or $1,700 for a dual-battery one), this is the cheapest bike in this bunch by $500 or $800 (depending on configuration). The good news is that the Xpedition is a genuinely good option for folks looking for a deal on an e-cargo bike or are perhaps not sure if an e-cargo bike is right for them.
Combined with the Lectric XL panniers ($150) and the essentials package ($120), I comfortably carried several days worth of groceries for a family of three or an adult passenger. Honestly, the fact that the Xpedition is as capable as it is surprised me. Because overall, the bike has a cheap feeling about it.
With the notable exception of the brakes, most of the bike's feel low-end. I give Lectric some props for equipping the Xpedition with proper hydraulic disc brakes with 180mm rotors front and rear. Granted, they are from a brand I had never heard of before, but they do stop well and have a decent lever feel.
The Lectric has the weakest and most erratic motor compared to the other three bikes in this test. It has a ton of pick-up from a stop but then tends to quickly peter out after hitting its peak output. It is a very jerky start-stop sensation where the assist always feels like it's kicking on just a bit too strong, but when you actually want that extra help (say up a hill or with a passenger on the back), the motor struggles. It's adequate if you live somewhere flat and don't need to carry two kids, an adult passenger, or very heavy cargo.
My main concern about the Xpedition is its long-term durability because the components used on it are essentially department-store quality. For example, the shifting on the 7-speed drivetrain that the Xpedition comes with was mushy, even when new, and needed adjustments after just a few rides. Also, the included lights and fenders are for show, at best. The lights fulfill the technical requirement of producing some light output, but they did not make me comfortable riding on an unlit path. The fenders are technically better than nothing, but like many stock fenders on bikes, they do not come nearly far enough down on the front to keep you from getting sprayed.
Despite these faults, if you’re on a budget and looking to ditch the car for errands and trips around town, the Xpedition is the cheapest e-cargo bike I am comfortable recommending. But if you can stretch your budget a bit further and are looking for something more compact with the feel and ride of a quality bike, consider the Haul. If carrying two kids is a must, then the Aventon Abound is a higher-quality option to consider.
The RadRunner 3 is a much updated and improved version of the brand's RadRunner 2. It's also significantly more expensive at $2,300 (a big bump from the $1,500 RadRunner 2). But the updates were much needed and honestly well worth it. I have zero hesitation in saying that the extra $800 is money well spent.
The most important update is the addition of hydraulic disc brakes. I can not stress this enough—you should not purchase any e-cargo bike without hydraulic brakes. While there is some discrepancy between the various hydraulic brakes used on all four of these bikes. For example, the Haul has the most confidence-inspiring brakes, while the Lectric has the noisiest and slightly less powerful brakes. All of them are miles better than rim or mechanical disc brakes at stopping a very heavy e-bike.
Additionally, RadPower added front suspension, a seven-speed drivetrain, improved lights, and a more integrated battery. All nice things and improvements over the previous versions. Rad also improved the RadRunners cargo carrying capacity by making the rear rack slightly larger and integrating it more structurally into the bike's frame. The extra frame stiffness is particularly noticeable when you put an adult on the back of the bike or if the bike is loaded up to its max 350 lbs carrying capacity.
Perhaps the best feature of the RadRunner 3 is how many accessories RadPower has for it. For example, it's the only bike in this story that can be purchased with a dedicated trailer. This can be an appealing solution for folks that occasionally need the cargo capacity of a platform bike but don't necessarily want to ride a platform bike around the rest of the time. The locking cargo boxes are a great touch for riders that routinely lock up places where the unattended cargo might be at risk of theft, but constant loading and unloading feels impractical.
Unfortunately, what holds the RadRunner 3 back from being truly great is its geometry and handling. While cargo and utility bikes are not usually known for their inspired ride quality, they must be stable and confidence-inspiring. The Specialized Haul has this in spades, but the RadRunner3 does not. Out of the four bikes in this story, it suffers from the worst front-wheel flop. Typically a bike has some degree of self-stabilization, meaning that when you lean into a turn, the bike doesn't feel like it wants to fall over. The best-designed bikes balance this perfectly to deliver a ride that is both stable, self-correcting, and has good turn-in.
On the RadRunner 3, the initial turn-in feels slow and cumbersome. But turn the front wheel a bit more, and suddenly, the bike feels like it just wants to flop over. It takes a bit of concentration and adjustment when first getting on the RadRunner 3. Eventually, you get used to it, but it leaves the RadRunner 3 as the most unwieldy of the four bikes in this story (especially at low speed)—even though both the Xpedtion and Abound are technically a bit longer overall.
The Abound surprised me the most of the four bikes I tested for this story. In many ways, it felt much more expensive than its $2,200 price. The Abound is Aventon's most expensive bike to date, but it's also the brand's most unique and capable one. Like the three other bikes in this story, the Abound comes stock with fenders, lights, and a rear rack. But it also includes some truly cool things that others lack. A particularly nifty feature of the Abound's lighting is the integrated turn signals, operated via the left-side controller. A small frame bag also comes with the bike to carry items like a lock or a battery charger.
The bike also comes equipped with a dropper seatpost. Commonly found on mountain bikes, this post allows the saddle to raise or lower when riding the bike (via a switch lever under the nose of the saddle). The dropper enables riders to get on or off the Abound when it has a full cargo load. It's also incredibly convenient for easily sharing the Abound with other members of a household (the same way that folks can share a car by adjusting the driver's seat).
The drivetrain on the Abound is a 7-speed Shimano Tourney rear derailleur with a Revo twist shifter. While both performed well during my test period, given the bike's price and cargo bike use, I would have preferred to see a more robust 8-speed derailleur and trigger shifter.
The Abound has the largest total weight capacity of the bikes in this story at 440 lbs, 21 lbs more than the Specialized Haul. The rear rack is rated for a total of 143 pounds, and using the rear seat (with handrail) option, you can hold two youngsters. Without the handrail affixed to the rack, one tween or small adult-sized person comfortably fits.
Handling on the Abound is slightly above mid-pack here. It's way better than the RadRunner 3 and slightly more confidence-inspiring than the Xpedtion. Turn-in and maneuverability feel similar between the Abound and the Xpedtion because they are both long-tail bikes. The Abound pulls ahead because it feels a hair more stable at speed; compared to the Xpedtion, which has a slightly nervous front end.
My only real complaint about the Abound was how much noise the foldable stem made. It seemed to creak and click for no real reason. The stem made noise even after taking it apart, checking, and re-tightening. The adjustable stem never felt unsafe, just annoying. Given the robust nature of the rest of the Abound, I hope Aventon addresses this in future versions of the bike.
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The Haul is by far my favorite bike of the four. It is also the most expensive—by $600-700 over the RadRunner 3 and Abound, and $1,100 more than the Xpedition. So, there is an expectation of it being a superior product. The Haul is absolutely the best bike in this review (with some caveats), but there isn't one big thing that sets the Haul apart. Instead, it's all the little things that it does better that add up to push it into the lead.
The Haul is a blast to ride. This might not strike you as earth-shattering, but many e-cargo bikes are not fun to ride. The most important factor for e-cargo bikes is utility, so the intangible of "fun" is often not a consideration. The Haul simultaneously manages to be incredibly practical and irresistibly fun. A big part of that fun is how maneuverable and simultaneously stable the Haul is while riding loaded or unloaded. It is easily the most natural-feeling bike in this bunch. While I appreciate that because I love bikes that handle well, this also means the Haul is much less intimidating and approachable for less experienced riders.
The Haul is the smallest bike in this story, but despite its compact frame, it is a fully capable cargo e-bike. With a 419-pound total weight capacity (including the rider), the Haul rides like a zippy class 3 (28mph) commuter e-bike. This is partly due to the 20-inch wheels paired with 3.5-inch-wide tires. The smaller wheel size positions the center of mass low, which makes the Globe feel more stable when fully loaded without overly impacting maneuverability. The pairing of a clever frame design and smaller wheels also gives the Haul ST that small footprint.
The Haul's size also solves one of the tallest barriers many cargo bike owners face: Where to keep it. You’re in luck if you live somewhere with a garage or large shed. But if you lack such storage space, the sheer size and weight of many e-cargo bikes can be problematic. Fortunately, the Haul ST is wildly compact for how capable it is. Tip to tail, it's just a bit over five feet long—within an inch or two of most of my road bikes. And it is shorter than my full-suspension mountain bike. If you have room for an extra bicycle, you have the floor space for the Haul ST.
The Haul ST can also transport one small passenger, which might rule it out as an option for those who need to transport more than one kid. For children under the age of five, a child seat compatible with the MIK-HD system ("Mounting is Key") will do. Opt for the $200 ST passenger kit from Specialized for those older than five. Just stay under the rear rack's 88-pound maximum load limit.
As you would expect with the most expensive bike in the bunch, the Haul has by far the best standard accessories. The lights (made by Lezyne) are very powerful. The front light uses a general-purpose flood-beam pattern and sufficiently lights up the area immediately in front of you. On the higher settings, it produced enough light to rival a typical car headlight. The Haul also has some of the best full-coverage fenders I’ve ridden. The front fender goes nearly to the ground and does an excellent job of keeping you dry even when riding through big puddles.
But as good as the Haul is, it's not perfect. Like the RadRunner 3, it can only carry one passenger, but unlike the RadRunner 3, you can not put an adult on the Haul. This makes it the only bike in this review that you can't use to ferry a friend a few blocks. The Haul is also the only bike that doesn't come with a throttle installed as stock. One can be added for $50. If this is a good or bad thing will likely depend on how you feel about throttles on e-bikes. While I prefer pedal using pedal assist almost always, the throttle is useful when starting an e-cargo bike from a stop with maximum load or when you forget to shift to an appropriate gear to get going again.
The only knock against the Haul is that you can't put two kids on it. This will eliminate it as an option for some, but it makes up for that with its compact size. This makes it the best option for riders with limited storage for a cargo bike. It also has the best build kit, lights, fenders, and ride quality. I liked the Haul so much that I convinced my colleagues to name it Bicycling's Bike of the Year.
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So which of these bikes should you get? As a test editor, I’m wary of recommending the most expensive option of the four, but I am compelled to say the Haul. Simply put, it is the best bike in this bunch if you can stretch your budget an extra $700 over the Aventon Abound.
If you need to carry two kiddos, the Aventon Abound is a good option. It feels nearly as polished as the Haul, with some small exceptions (like the lackluster gears and the noisy stem). Still, with clever features like built-in turn signals and a dropper post, the Abound was a very close second overall and easily the best option of the four when transporting two kids is a must.
The Lectric Xpedtion is the obvious winner for riders shopping on price alone—It's tough to look past that $1,400 starting price. The Xpedtion is a perfectly serviceable e-cargo bike, and it can keep you out of your car for many daily errands just as effectively as the pricier bikes in this review. Yes, it is not as nice as the Haul or the Aventon and will likely need more frequent service in the long run, but it can still get the job done.
If this were a stand-alone review of the RadRunner 3, I would say that while the bike's handling is disappointing, it is manageable and doesn't feel unsafe. The RadRunner 3 offers a lot of utility for the money and is worth considering if you can get a test ride on it first. When compared directly to three other bikes, which are just as capable and handle significantly better, I cannot recommend the latest RadRunner—Even if it is a big improvement over its previous version.
Test Editor Dan Chabanov got his start in cycling as a New York City bike messenger but quickly found his way into road and cyclocross racing, competing in professional cyclocross races from 2009 to 2019 and winning a Master's National Championship title in 2018. Prior to joining Bicycling in 2021, Dan worked as part of the race organization for the Red Hook Crit, as a coach with EnduranceWERX, as well as a freelance writer and photographer.
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