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Saturday, October 04, 2008

Utility bicycles make sense

Image of Surley Sport Utility Bicycle
From the Los Angeles Times, 10.06.08:

Sport utility bikes: a comparison
When gas prices gushed over $4 a gallon earlier this year, bike shops were (and still are) swamped with people who suddenly wanted to use pedal power for commuting, socializing and shopping. Attracting particular attention are so-called "longtails"--extra-long SUBs (sport utility bikes) with welded-on racks designed to haul big, bulky cargo, whether it's a 200-pound load of bricks, surfboards or three or four bags of groceries. Here's a look at four of the most popular SUBs I tested at the recent Interbike trade show in Las Vegas. (Read more.)

Cyclist and author Roy M. Wallack (Bike for Life: How to Ride to 100) reports on several utility bicycles tested in Vegas, including the Yuba Mundo Cargo bike; the Surly Big Dummy; the Xtracycle FreeRadical Longtail bolt-on kit; and the Kona AfricaBike One.

Like any commuter, bicycle commuters need to carry things: lunch, a change of clothing, work files, paperwork, a laptop computer, tools, a gift for a colleague, or other materials. For most of my commuting, I make do with a rear rack and panniers. Occasionally I use my Timbuk2 messenger bag, and ride light. And for weekend errands or particularly heavy loads, I use a great Cycletote trailer. In general, with a little ingenuity and elastic straps, you can carry almost anything on a bicycle. These new long-tail utility bicycles may be useful to commuters who regularly need to carry heavier loads. Install a front basket or CETMArack, and you'll haul plenty with ease.

Image: Los Angeles Times.
Visit: Interbike: Urban gear for hauling and looking sharp,
Visit: Who needs a trunk?, Bike Commuting Tips Blog
Visit: Interview with Lane Kagay of CETMARacks, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit: Getting Started: Carrying Capacity, Bike Commuting Tips Site
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site


Anonymous said...

I have been coveting these for a while. With a longtail or two, we could actually go car-free.

dr2chase said...

I thought the review was not positive enough. I may be biased, but I also use an xtracycle most days. My brother has owned both an xtracycle (at my instigation) and a Big Dummy, and confirms that the Big Dummy is stiffer (he hauls work stuff, and two children, plus groceries sometimes).

First, the turning radius is not a problem; the wheelbase of my xtracycle is 57 inches, a regular mountain bike is 43. It's not quite one-third longer, and hinders me not in the least.

Second, I have not had that much trouble transporting it; the main problem is that it does not easily fit in the rack on the front of busses (you have to take off the front wheel, and stuff it in the back, or somewhere else if you are already carrying cargo). I have transported my cargo bike on a rack on the back of a Honda Civic, and have the photos to prove it.

Third, I don't think he used it enough to get a real clue how versatile the xtra can be. It is absolutely true that a pre-welded frame is more durable; however, the system of loops and latches on the xtra is very well thought out, and allows you to pack some pretty absurd things. Several times, I have towed a second bike behind me, just lashing the front wheel in place in the carrier and riding away. The Snapdeck is ready-made for carrying people, and easily replaced if/when it wears out (I have done this myself). The lack of a well-designed cargo system in the back is the first criticism that most Xtracyclists have for the Ute, Mundo, and Coffee Bike. That said, the rear end of the Mundo is truly impressive -- a 48-spoke wheel, AND A steel truss, that is really something.

The xtracycle, with loads, is definitely a little flexy. Surprisingly, you adapt to most loads quickly; I regularly ride my bike no-hands with as much as 50 pounds of cargo. The only time the flex has been a real problem was when I was carrying a roll of roofing tar paper, which stuck out the back (breaking the "load low and forward" rule) and was completely unbalanced. This forced me to limit my speed to about 10mph.

The most important thing to know, for any of these bikes, is that YOU adapt, and learn to carry loads that are heavier and heavier over time. The last large load that I carried, my teenage son could not even wheel the bike forward without losing control, yet it was completely comfortable for me.

I've also owned a trailer, and think that the xtracycle is a better choice. It is shorter, skinnier, more able to weave through traffic and narrow spaces, and has lower rolling resistance (because it has only two wheels, not three or four). It is unobtrusive enough when unloaded that you don't mind it, so you always have the capacity to go grocery shopping or to pick up a kid.

clark said...

i finally saw a big dummy in real life, a month and a half ago. pretty damn impressive. can't disagree with xtracycle's main point -- that it's time for bikes to be practical/utilitarian transportation, not racers. the big dummy manages all that with style, imo.

Anonymous said...

Attaching an Xtracycle to my mountain bike has allowed me to go car free. I was in love with it the minute I first rode my new cargo bike. There is no question that I can haul just about anything I need from huge grocery shopping sprees to tables and chairs. And I am a 125 lb, 50 year old woman. I've managed up to 100 lbs and have not had a single problem.

I looked at trailers before I found this product and it won my approval hands down. Ultimately I'd love a Big Dummy as soon as my finances allow it but the Xtracycle paid for itself in no gas/no car insurance in 2 months.

Exactly one year later I am stopping on the way to work to collect buckets of walnuts. Four 20 gallon plastic buckets fit beautifully.

It's the best!