Longtail Cargo Bikes
The bicycle lifestyle has taken hold and it seems the only time you use your car is to transport heavy or bulky items, be that a trolley full of groceries or a gaggle of rug-rats. It doesn’t have to be like this, leave that gas-guzzler at home and get yourself a cargo-bike!
There are many styles of cargo-bike out there but what we are going to discuss here is the “Longtail”. Longtails are similar to a regular bike but the frame is elongated pushing the rear wheel back to make room for a platform of some kind and accompanying panniers to pack your goodies in. You can haul kids and plenty of shopping with a trailer (and I do), but the advantage of a longtail is the “trailer” is always behind you ready to use at any time, not propped-up beside the cat-litter tray in your garage. They also ride pretty much like a regular bike but you are pedaling a bit more weight and they are less maneuverable in tight spaces.
The bike that popularized the modern longtail is not a bike at all but a frame extension called the FreeRadical invented by the Californian firm Xtracycle. This sub-frame attaches to a bike you already own and may be a cheaper option if you have a suitable donor-bike. There are accessories in the Xtracycle system for carrying long and bulky items, passengers, babies, other bicycles and even a blender attachment for making smoothies as you ride! Have a look through the website to get an idea of how it all fits together. I have only seen a couple of these in New Zealand but they are on the Cargo Bikes New Zealand website and Southend Cycles in Levin have sold them in the past, so you might be able to source a kit locally without resorting to mail-order.
The Xtracycle can haul 90 kilos (+rider) but if you’re buying dog food for your mushing team or your mother-in-law is a Russian shot-putter you will be needing the extra load-capacity of a Yuba Mundo. The Mundo is rated to 200 kilos (+rider) and will happily carry whatever you can strap to it. Probably not the most practical everyday ride for hilly terrain but they hail from Sausalito and are popular over the bridge in San Francisco so who am I to judge?
I spotted one of the original Mundos around town and they are a well-built and solid vehicle, more of a Mack truck than a ute. Which leads us on nicely to the Kona Ute.
Kona have taken a different approach with their cargo bike and it’s the lightest and most compact of the breed. The Ute still has plenty of capacity and will haul firewood as well as the groceries but it’s pushed more as an “everyday” bike, albeit one with much more utility than your average bike.
The folks at Bike Barn on the North Shore let me take one for a spin yesterday and I felt comfortable right from the get go. It didn’t feel “long” at all and wasn’t any heavier than the bike I arrived on. One large (read huge) pannier bag is included that attaches to either side of the frame, but you’ll have to order a second one if you want some symmetry in your life. The riding position was nice and upright with swept-back handlebars and wonderful cork grips. Most unusually for a bike sold outside Europe is the inclusion of a centre-stand. Why don’t more practical bikes have these? Just what you need when loading-up at the hardware store. It even comes with mud-guards fitted, well done Kona.
The last on our list is the Surly Big Dummy. Surly spent a couple of years developing this bike and it utilizes the same cargo accessories and attachments as the Xtracycle. Because it was designed from the ground up as a load-carrier the frame is a lot stiffer than an Xtracycle and the carrying capacity ends up somewhere between the Kona Ute and the Yuba Mundo. You can buy the frame-set and build the Dummy up to your own specification or purchase the complete bike ready-to-roll as shown above. I thought Surly already had the best name in cycling with their Karate Monkey, but really, is there a cooler name for a bike than a Big Dummy? Speak to David from Velo Ideale and he’ll point you in the direction of a Surly dealer.
The Big Dummy is the most expensive bike here but compared to tanks of petrol and car servicing costs it’s a steal, buy me a 22 inch one when you order yours!
Some Longtail inspiration over on Flickr: