Cargo bikes are inherently super cool. Something about a unique, purpose-built, human-powered machine doing tasks usually associated with cars and trucks gets the wondering wheels turning in peoples’ brains. The simple act of riding a cargo bike turns heads and gets people asking questions: living your day to day on a bike is indeed a super power.
The focus of this review is an Omnium Cargo bike that absolutely gets those wheels turning. Whether it’s a pumptracks-and-playgrounds adventure with our three-year-old, transporting complete bikes without removing the wheels, or making a big run down to the recycling depot, this bike enables errands and experiences beyond our usual two-wheeled expectations. Which of these tasks would prove to be the Omnium’s super power?
Choose Your Super Power
It seems obvious that a cargo bike’s super power should have something to do with carrying more stuff than a regular bike. Yet the world of cargo bikes runs deeper than simply carrying things: there’s lots of different stuff to haul around! Just as there’s space for pickups and flatbeds and vans and SUVs in the vehicle world, cargo bikes vary in their shapes and their powers.
Some bikes are better for carrying younger kids, and some excel with bigger kids or even adults. Some bikes like to carry lumber, while others want to get filled up with a hastily packed weekend of camp gear. Still others may give up ultimate cargo capacity for a more easily stored form factor. And you’ve still got to consider a bike being fun to ride, with or without its ideal load. Which bike you choose depends which super power you want.
Cargo Bike Curious
Over the past five or so years, Stephanie and I have gone from cargo bike curious to cargo bike committed. In that time we’ve owned a few cargo bikes of our own, ridden a bunch of other folks’ big rigs, and carried a whole lot of ridiculous stuff along the way. There’s a big amount of fun and pride in moving awkward objects by bike, though I will admit that it’s not always the most efficient use of time.
In reviewing the Surly Big Easy we experienced the potential of purpose-built cargo bikes, and electric-assist ones at that. (If you haven’t read that review, please do jump over and check it out; there’s a lot to dig in to.) With the Big Easy we set out the challenge of living “car-lite” with a one-year-old kid. We concluded in the end that the car-lite solution doesn’t have to be a purpose-built cargo bike – but that if you’re a bike enthusiast, a nicely appointed cargo bike has a lot going for it.
After the review period we ended up buying the Big Easy from Surly. And while the electric longtail form factor was capable of more than an average bike, we found its useful limits of kid carrying in the cold, wet Pacific Northwest winter. Since human cargo has no way to keep itself warm, and little humans need to stay warm and dry in order to be happy, we had a custom trailer hitch fabricated to use our Tout Terrain Singletrailer with the Big Easy.
Coveting Thy Neighbour’s Bike
While we had originally written off the idea of a front loading cargo bike like a Larry vs. Harry Bullitt or a Riese and Müller Packster, that winter of trailering changed things for us. By this point we knew we’d be having another kid, and the wheels started turning once again.
What usually happens when people have one, and then another kid? Usually it’s leaning harder into convenience, like getting takeout and using the car – maybe even getting a bigger car. We’re trying to swim against that wave, not merely for moral or environmental reasons, but because we are trying to get by with spending and consuming less. Nice bikes are a luxury but our 10-year-old hatchback will continue to do just fine.
There was one family in our neighbourhood who had a Bullitt with the kid canopy, and it was the only one we’d seen in Vancouver with the Shimano STEPS e8000 motor. We’d chatted with them at the grocery store and the trailhead a few times and absolutely had family bike envy. When we saw their bike pop up on Marketplace for a very reasonable price, we couldn’t help but consider it. They were moving back to France, and had only a short time left to sell the bike.
39.5 weeks pregnant is not the time you plan to be buying a new family bike. It was pretty stressful trying to justify a large expenditure and wondering what we’d be able to recoup from the Big Easy, all while knowing our new baby could come along at any moment. It turned out to be the best family biking decision we’ve made.
Bluebird and the Car-Lite Dream
Benjamin was born a week after we bought Bluebird. I took some time off work, and over the next six weeks, his big sister Sophia and I rode 900 km together. It was a win-win in that I got out for decent rides of 40-50 km at a time, Sophia got to have her nap in a fort of blankets and pillows and books and stuffies, and Stephanie got a break from the two-year-old whose world had just been turned upside-down.
Now through two winters, our Bullitt has made the car-lite dream just that little bit more realistic. With their schedule settled in, Stephanie and the kids use the bike at least twice a week without any concern for weather. And we usually get out for a weekend adventure where one of us gets to ride a regular bike. As a mom of two whose partner is at work five days a week, being able to ride places is good for the body and for mental health.
I knew in advance that without a motor and without enclosed space for our kids, the Omnium would not be viable year-round transportation for our family. But, a cargo bike’s usefulness is not only in its ability to carry kids, so I set out to find the Omnium’s super power before adventures-with-kids season came along.
Omnium’s Cargo Bikes
Omnium’s goal is to make attainable cargo bikes that are fun to ride, relatively lightweight, and more compact than the average cargo bike – all while retaining big load carrying capacity. Omnium makes three different cargo bike models, all of which put a cargo platform on top of a 20” front wheel. Over Omnium’s 10 years in business the designs have been refined and the fit and finish is quite nice.
The Cargo model reviewed here is the longest of the bunch – just over 2.25 metres or 7’5” end to end for the size L. That turned out to be just short enough to hang vertically on a wall hook, which is nice, because this bike otherwise takes up a lot of space in a hallway. It also weighs about 45 pounds unloaded, which makes it just light enough to push around on either the front or rear wheel to get around corners or lift to hang.
The Cargo shares its frame design and linkage steering system with the middle-sized Mini-Max, which has a platform and wheelbase 21 cm shorter than the Cargo. The smallest of the Omniums is the Mini, which has a traditional, albeit short fork and a small platform which extends from the frame. In terms of overall length, the Mini is shorter than your average bike.
You’ll note that I mentioned my review bike is a size Large. Omnium makes five (FIVE!) sizes in each of the Mini, Mini-Max, and Cargo. Many cargo bikes, particularly those simplified for the family biking market, are “one size fits most”, which generally means they fit small. I appreciate that Omnium goes to the effort of making a range of frame sizes, though the standover of this one is a bit high for Stephanie to share the bike with me.
When you visit the Omnium website, you’ll find options under each model for steel frames, Titanium frames, and steel frames with Shimano STEPS electric motors. Our review bike is a V2 WiFi (simply labeled WiFi on Omnium’s website), which is a steel frame and fork with through axles and 55mm tire clearance front and rear.
The V2 has since been superseded by the V3 WiFi which is identical to the V2 but also gets rocker dropouts and a split at the seat stay to run a belt drive. The other frame you might see referenced is the no-longer-in-production Omnium Classic, which you could consider the V1. That frame cleared 37mm tires and had QR dropouts.
Into the Depths of the Bicycle Internet
If you’ve been around the hand-built and custom bike world for a while you’ll have seen designs like this in the past. I knew this style of cargo bike was not originally Omnium’s, and that Bilenky had made a front-loading cargo bike with the same design as early as the mid-2000s, but I had a feeling the lineage went back further. What I found was more enlightening than I even expected.
Digging into the internet bicycle archives always conjures up rosy feelings for me. Ancient forums, long lost blog posts, images no more than 600 pixels wide. The early 2000s were an exciting time in digital communication, despite not having aged well aesthetically. The internet gave us all super powers in nerdy knowledge sharing, and I think we’re really lucky to still have access to much of the old materials.
My deep dive took me into the depths I recall fondly from the time I discovered the wider world of bicycles, when I discovered radical politics, and really, when I discovered myself. It might sound like a bit of a stretch to say that killing time at my boring office job reading the gospels of Sheldon Brown changed me as a person – but the other things that happened around me during this period certainly did.
How Recumbent Bikes Became Cargo Bikes
The root of the Omnium design, and the Bilenky before it, is of a semi-recumbent tandem where the stoker sits in front. It’s quite obvious once you become aware of the connection, the silhouette of the Omnium and semi-recumbent tandems being nearly identical save for the stoker’s front seat and pedals.
Bilenky’s design came from a company called Counterpoint, who began producing their semi-recumbent tandem in the 1980s. The Opus made it through numerous iterations before the company folded in the mid-’90s. The design was at that point sold to Bilenky, who began producing their own semi-recumbent, the Viewpoint.
It’s not surprising that the tandem and recumbent communities overlap, and in reading about the history of semi-recumbent tandems I found a lot of commentary about tandem riding generally. Semi-recumbents have always been a quirky sub-niche of both, but are loved by folks whose stokers may not be able to – or want to – ride an upright.
Of course, before the more complex semi-recumbent tandem came the short wheelbase recumbent, with a larger wheel in the back, a smaller wheel up front, and the pedals on a boom in front of the head tube. Recumbents of this design are still being produced, and interestingly, the design dates back to the 1930s and a bike called the Ravat Horizontal.
So the design of the Omnium and the Bilenky cargo and the Counterpoint owes itself to the recumbent boom of the 1930s. If the UCI hadn’t introduced recumbent-exclusionary rules around bottom bracket location in 1934, might we have seen a different trajectory of racing history?
Perhaps one day I’ll “get bent” and delve into the nerdy world of recumbents, but as of now our apartment has just enough room for our own collection and a handful of review bikes at any point in time. Suffice to say this Omnium is the closest I’ve come to reviewing a recumbent, and I don’t think it’s completely out of the question for me to do so at some time in the future.
The most common questions you get about cargo bikes are about handling: people assume that a bike this big must be difficult to ride. It’s absolutely true that cargo bikes, especially when loaded, require some strength to maneuver while parking. And, on both the Bullitt and the Omnium, the front wheel being out in front does change the way the bike handles at low speed.
With longtails, since you’re holding the bars which are directly connected to the front wheel, the steering feel is more similar to a standard bike – but they’re generally quite slow handling once you’re moving. Front loading bikes are the opposite, where the steering feels unusually quick as you get the bike rolling, then stabilizes and becomes nimble once you’re moving.
With their steep head tube angles, I would compare the way front load bikes steer to low trail rando bikes: quick steering that doesn’t require a lot of input to cause a change in direction. There isn’t much self-centering of steering, so you need to pay more attention to keep the bike going in a straight line and can make adjustments to line choice with smaller movements at the bar.
A benefit of the low self-centering is that, once loaded, the steering effects don’t change much – and that’s important. Compare that to a standard bike with an overloaded Wald basket and you appreciate that a front loader doesn’t flop over when you turn the bars. The Omnium handles safe, stable, and predictable with or without a load, but still feels zippy and fun.
A Loaded Question
Another question that comes up often is for a comparison between the loaded handling characteristics of the Omnium and the Bullitt. Since the cargo area is much lower on the Bullitt – 30 cm off the ground vs 60 cm on the Omnium – people want to know if the Omnium handles worse with a load.
Given the Omnium’s shorter wheelbase and higher cargo platform, I too was concerned about how adding a load would affect stability. But, considering that the design’s original use was as a semi-recumbent tandem, on which you’d have an entire adult human on the front, my concern turned out to be unfounded. I’ll get into some specifics shortly, but suffice to say the Omnium takes on heavy and awkward loads with confidence, and is a lot of fun to ride without a load.
Bigger Inside Than Outside
When we moved from the Big Easy to the Bullitt, one thing I missed was the playful ride. The Big Easy felt like a monster truck mountain bike with a really long rear end, while the Bullitt is very much a wheels-on-the-ground kinda bike. The base weight of the e-Bullitt with the kid canopy, lock, tool kit, and so on, is around 105 pounds. The Big Easy was around 75.
The Omnium, even with tools and spares on board, is around 50 pounds. This makes for a much more zippy ride than either of the other bikes, with the short wheelbase adding to its playfulness. Compared to our Bullitt, the Omnium is about 15 cm shorter in overall length, but 25 cm shorter in wheelbase. Despite being the longest Omnium, it’s easy enough to wheelie off a curb, and even possible to pull into an actual wheelie.
Speaking of weight, I have to go up about 40 stairs to park my bike in my classroom. With the Porcelain Rocket 139 Meanwhile on the bike, I was able to carry the Omnium up and down just fine. The fore-aft balance is quite decent and the wheels are just close enough to clear the stairs going up and down. I’m not sure I’d want to carry the bike up stairs on a daily basis, but for a short stint or the occasional few flights, it works better than I expected.
Yet, inside the house, we found the Omnium took up a lot more space than we expected. Because the cargo platform extends beyond the front axle, it’s easy to bump the front corners of the platform into walls navigating the hallways of our building and apartment. Backing up is particularly bad as the front end swings much further away as you roll backwards.
Of course, given the privilege of a larger secure parking area, these points might not apply. We’d love to have a garage, but it’s just not in the cards. At least the Omnium could hang vertically in our bike storage; having two cargo bikes in our front hallway is officially one too many.
Bikes and Their Super Powers
When we had the Big Easy, we found that the electric longtail enabled a car-lite lifestyle that felt like it brought out our own super powers. We love using bikes for everyday tasks, but living in a hilly area it’s not always possible to get places under your own power – particularly when you add kids to the equation. Having an electric cargo bike turns regular bike parents into super bike parents.
In the range of cargo bikes, the Big Easy’s super power was absolutely its off-road handling capabilities. The big 26×3” knobby up front, a relatively slack head angle, and the longtail format combined for a cargo bike experience far outside the norm of city-focused bikes. Trail riding and dirty jobs were right up its alley. It was legitimately fun to ride that bike off road.
As I got into in detail earlier, the Bullitt’s super power is the warm and dry place for the kids to hang out. We initially avoided the box bike form factor because of the high initial investment and friends mentioning their kids growing out of their Bullitt. But, for young kids, a big comfy box bike can’t be beat. We’ve almost had the bike for two years and it will continue to be a crucial part of our car-lite lifestyle. I will also add that the Bullitt is the most fun to rip at high speed on pavement.
Omnium Super Power #1: Bikes on Bikes on Bikes
I tried. I really did. I tried my best to awkwardly overload the Omnium using the trombone-like extender bar on the front of the bike. I was more than impressed with the handling when I loaded up the Pugsley, some tires for a friend, and a stuffed 139 basket bag. The bike still carved corners like it was unloaded!
That experiment went so well that I decided to load up some bikes to drop off at Our Community Bikes to be fixed up for their Pedals For The People program. This is absolutely an instance where a car would have been simpler and quicker, but the bike was way more fun. Loading three old mountain bikes onto the rack took all the ski straps I could find.
Loading all three bikes with their wheels still on was more of a “to see if I could” situation than the best possible loading scenario. I do like the idea of loading the bikes complete as it makes for less interference between parts, but removing the wheels and stacking everything on the platform then using ratchet straps would probably have been more efficient.
This load was definitely a bit unwieldy to move around and even to get loaded up. With so much weight over the front end, the rear wheel wanted to lift and the whole bike wanted to fall forward and sideways. Yet, when I saddled up, everything felt completely normal and stable. There was a bit of bounce at the front end but nothing concerning.
I once carried an antique bed frame on the Big Easy and this was as satisfying a load. I could see riding with your mountain bike to the trailhead, or using an Omnium as a pickup and delivery vehicle for a bike shop. Oh, and I ran into our friend Jason along the way so we also get some fun riding photos of this one.
Omnium Super Power #2: Conversations with a Three-Year-Old
Before we had kids I didn’t see three-year-olds talk very much. The reality is that most kids don’t talk to unfamiliar adults or in public situations. It makes sense! Well, with us, our kid talks a lot. Like a LOT. She can recite entire books word for word, and tell you the difference between a disc brake and a rim brake.
Sophia really buys into the Omnium. I think it’s partly because it only fits the one kid – it’s special and it means one-on-one time, but also because we use it recreationally and her bike comes along. We’re always doing something fun with the Omnium!
She knew I was writing this review, came and sat with me, and asked if she could write with me. Word for word:
Morgan: “OK Sophia, what do you think about the Omnium?”
Sophia: “The Omnium is fun because the riding is fun.”
M: “What do you mean by that? What makes it fun?”
S: “The kid is facing the parent. I like to hold the bars.”
M: “As long as you don’t hold them too tight! What else?”
S: “It has a small front wheel and a big back wheel. Like Bluebird.”
S: “The Omnium is long. It can carry stuff.”
M: “Stuff, hey? What kind of stuff?”
S: “Lots of stuff.”
M: “No really, what actual stuff does it carry?”
S: “My bike and a backpack and ME! And you. You too Daddy. The Omnium is fun.”
Since we’ve already talked about fitting bikes on the Omnium, let’s talk about the kid carrying situation. Omnium has two official options for putting kids on the bike: a simple backrest that clamps onto the rails of the cargo platform, and a Yepp seat adapter bracket that bolts on under the rack platform.
The setup you see here is a Thule Yepp Maxi rack mount seat. The silver aluminum piece is the Omnium Yepp adapter. The Yepp installs very solidly into the adapter, and as Sophia notes, puts the kid facing you so you can chat away while you ride. It’s also cool that the seat installs through the rack platform, so the kid sits lower. It works well!
And where did this bike take us? All over the place, once the weather was warm enough. It’s no secret that three-year-olds can’t ride as far as adults. But enabling them to ride further, or to access places they usually wouldn’t be able to ride their own bike, is great. We rode the Omnium to the pumptrack, to the playground, to the forest… in all cases we just had a really nice time.
From the Frame Up
While you can buy complete bikes from Omnium with a very reasonable parts spec, this one was built from a frame kit. Omnium gave me a choice of frame size and colour (Blurple, obviously!), and asked about a few parts, but mostly had fun putting together a build they thought I’d enjoy.
They obviously made a lot of good choices. While I usually end up swapping parts around on review bikes to suit my tastes, with this one I simply added my bottle cage, stem bag, and bell, and rode the bike. Due to the pandemic parts shortage, some pieces ended up nicer than intended, but I can’t complain. Here are some of the highlights:
Blurple! Yep, that paint is amazing. Blue at some angles, purple at others, it’s simply fun to have colour changing paint. The paint has depth and stayed in good shape even on the cargo platform where it got bumped more often.
Dynamo System. You heard me raving about having full time lights in my Fairlight Secan review, and I was just as stoked to have a SON dynamo and Supernova lights on this build. Once again, never having to think about charging or remembering to bring lights is next level.
Office Chair Dropper Post. I’d seen this post on a bike on Omnium’s Instagram page and asked about it. They were able to dig one up for the review and, while I wasn’t able to take advantage of the full 150mm of travel because of the level top tube, it was cool having a dropper on a cargo bike. I think all cargo bikes could do well with a dropper.
SRAM Code Brakes. This was one of the parts that the pandemic parts supply accidentally upgraded for me. Codes are SRAM’s downhill racing brake, and heck if I don’t love good stopping power on a cargo bike. Nice brakes are nice, period. Makes me want to buy new brakes to replace our very tired Shimano Zees on the Bullitt.
Omnium Wunderbar. The 800mm, 27º Wunderbar has a really nice bend and the mild forward sweep makes it well suited to bikes with shorter top tubes. It doesn’t go forward quite as much as a Ritchey Kyote or a Surly Terminal bar, but buys a couple centimetres of reach while looking classy.
Brooks C17 All Weather Saddle. OK, so this is now the standard C17, but was originally introduced as the All Weather, with a water-resistant cover rather than the natural cotton on the original C17s. I’ve got three of the originals and they’re not dying yet, but I’ll be happy to replace them with one of these when they do.
Purple! Am I that transparent? Yes, I love a tasteful hit of purple anodizing. The folks at Omnium threw some tasteful purple at the build from White Industries and Garbaruk. The gold chain is a nice touch too. I added the vintage bottle cage from deep in the parts bin.
Things I’d Change
While I was happy enough with the build as Omnium sent it, there are a few things I’d change – some of which are easy and realistic, and others that are pipe dreams. If I could go back and make a few changes, here’s what I’d do:
Gearing. You’d think that the 10-50 Eagle cassette and a 36T chainring would be easy enough. But no. It was too hard. Perhaps in flatter places, but not when you have to climb at least 100 metres for every 10 km and the bike weighs a hundred pounds. I’d go for a 28 or a 30T chainring next time. Also, despite the Garbaruk ring looking amazing, the ovalization had an unnatural feel to it.
Fenders. You know I’m a fender believer and these are… adequate. They kept me dry but the plastic is overly flexible and the stays rub the rear tire knobs. This is actually a downside of the 29” wheel, as the longer the fender stays get, the more oscillation they allow. I also almost killed the front fender off-roading, but I’ll take responsibility for that and say, maybe a shorter front fender would work alright too.
Cage Mounts. Having only one place on the whole bike to mount a single bottle cage is surprising to me. There’s room for holes on the steering tube. And the down tube. Let’s have some more barnacles!
Standover. As mentioned earlier, Stephanie didn’t ride this bike at all because the standover was just too much for her. Since a lower top tube would really mess with the aesthetics, I might choose to go down a size so we could realistically share the bike. With the front wheel way out in front of the bars anyway, running another 20mm of stem to use the smaller frame would have been fine – and then I’d have been able to use the full length of the dropper as well.
General Length. When Omnium sent this bike for review, the Cargo was the only model they made the Yepp seat bracket for. They really wanted me to be able to try the bike with Sophia, so the Cargo was the choice. Now, they make the bracket for the Mini-Max as well, and, I wonder if the shorter wheelbase would make the bike a bit easier to store, and differentiate it even more from our Bullitt.
The Case for Electric Cargo Bikes
Cargo bikes are heavy. This one is light – for a cargo bike. The Omnium weighs 50 pounds with tools and spares. That’s around the same as a Big Dummy and a lot less than an acoustic Bullitt. For what an Omnium weighs, its cargo capacity is astounding.
But load it up, even with a modest load compared to overall capacity, and you’re riding a big ol’ touring bike. 50 pounds of bike + 10 pounds of kid seat + 30 pounds of kid + 15 pounds of kid bike = 105 pounds of wow that’s a long hill and can I just have one or two more gears?
In the same way that strapping a bed frame or a handful of other bikes to a cargo bike is less time efficient than using a vehicle to do the same trip, riding acoustic cargo bikes to get places can be tedious work. If your day to day rides involve any sort of elevation, an electric motor moves a cargo bike from tedious to realistic.
Omnium makes electric versions of their bikes, so this isn’t really a deal breaker for the brand or the platform. But, currently, those electric Omniums are only available in Europe.
Where Can I Get One?
Omnium ships worldwide from their headquarters in Copenhagen through the OmniumCargo.dk webshop. There are also a couple other options for getting an Omnium to your door if you’re not in the EU. First off, check the Dealer locator on the front page of Omnium’s site. For our US readers there are a couple dozen North American dealers who can help you get your hands on an Omnium.
If your favourite shop can’t help you out, Omnium does have Cargo V3 frame kits, wheel kits, tires, and fenders in their new warehouse in Chicago – have a look at what’s in stock on the OmniumCargo.us webshop. As mentioned above the electric assist models are only in Europe for now, but Omnium is hoping to get them into the US warehouse soon.
If you do happen to order from Omnium’s webstore, it’s worth noting that this bike shipped in one regular size bike box, plus one small box for the wheels and cargo platform. This is definitely an exception in the cargo bike world, since the Big Easy shipped in a huge long box, and a Bullitt can only ship in a box the size of a small crate.
Bikes Are Radical
Riding a bike for daily transportation is still a radical choice, and there are many barriers to people making that choice. Choosing a less comfortable, often slower way to get around requires being intentional. There’s joy in leaning into discomfort, and obvious benefits to using your own body to get places.
While there are certain traits that make the Omnium not quite the right choice as our primary family mover, we still enjoyed our time with the bike. The Omnium’s super powers of moving complete bicycles and being able to talk to your passengers are pretty dang awesome. Given the option, what super powers would you choose?