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Tag Archive: cargo bikes

DIY Xtracycle “Footsies”

I’ve had my beloved Xtracycle for a few years now…and it has seen thousands of miles of use and abuse in all weather conditions. During this winter’s overhaul, I realized that I could no longer ignore the weatherbeaten and damaged “footsies” that I installed with my Xtracycle build:

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Don’t let the picture deceive you…these were both badly delaminating despite multiple coats of marine varnish, and I had enough wooden splinters jammed into my ankles and calves to last me a lifetime. It was time for a replacement, but with what? I had fantasized about getting a sheet-metal place make me a pair out of aluminum diamond plate, until I started pricing the raw materials and cost of fabrication. Holy crap, that was no good…a few hundred dollars?!? Then, I thought I might just replace them with another set directly from Xtracycle…but I don’t make a lot of money and a replacement set was (to me) absurdly expensive. Besides, I was hoping Xtra had started making their footsies out of the excellent recycled plastic material their decks were available in, but alas…only wooden ones are available.

What to do? I needed something cheap, something weatherproof and something easy to work with. One day, I was wandering around in the kitchen department of a local store, and I saw all these colorful plastic cutting boards. Wait a minute…what if I used THOSE to make footsies? I was onto something…

Materials you will need:

–plastic cutting boards. I used two smaller ones, but if you cut carefully, you might be able to get two footsies out of one big board
–cardboard to make templates
–a saw (power or hand saw…I used a battery-powered circular saw, but a hand saw might actually work better)
–drill and appropriate bits
–Sharpie marker
–ruler
–4mm hex wrench
–screwdriver
–razor blade or sharp knife
–some means to sand the edges (I used a sanding disc in my drill, but you could use a coarse file and some sandpaper)

I had all the tools I needed, so the total cost for me was an hour of labor and less than $10.00 for the cutting boards. Win-win, babies!!!

First, trace your existing footsies onto cardboard and make templates for the right and left sides. I chose straight lines to save myself hassle when cutting:

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Don’t forget to mark the holes for the hardware — I reused the bolts and support tubes from my existing footsies which saved me some additional money.

Next, trace your template onto the cutting boards and cut them with your saw. Drill the holes for the hardware:

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With the razor blade, scrape off the excess “flashing” from the cut edges…a power saw will sort of melt its way through the plastic material and leave a lot of fuzz on the edges. Next, sand the edges and corners…I put a gentle radius on all the edges and rounded off the corners so they wouldn’t dig into my or my passenger’s legs.

Finally, attach the hardware (support tube and hook-and-loop “keeper”) to the underside:

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Now all you have to do is install into the ports on the Freeradical frame and go about your business!

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The cutting board material is about the same thickness as the stock wooden footsies, but it flexes a little bit. That’s ok, because my passenger is fairly light. If you were so inclined, you could cut a double thickness of cutting boards and sandwich them together with longer bolts, or find some other way to reinforce them from below (with aluminum strip stock or the like). The cutting boards come with a non-slip surface, so no additional grip tape is needed. And, these boards are strong enough to go through a dishwasher, so rain, salt and snow will be no problem for them. They’re maintenance free, and they add a little bit of colorful dazzle to the back end of my cargo-hauling beast!

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We’ve got a handful of other DIY Xtracycle projects in our archive, and we are always eager to hear about projects our readers have come up with. If you are in the sharing mood, just drop your project ideas in the comments below.

!!Mamachari!! – Undeniably Cool Utility Bikes in Japan

(Let's hope this is actually in Japanese)

Kon’nichiwa (こんにちは) Bike Commuters!  All around the world, it seems there are micro-cultures and macro-cultures of bike commuters and their preferred two-wheeled breeds of choice.  Dutch city bikes, single speeds and fixies, fendered beach cruisers, ghetto-rigged MTBs, folding bikes, electric-assist, road bikes and the like…  Going along with my love for all things cute and AZN (that’s my college sorority – Alpha Zeta Nu, we luv yoooo!) I have developed an internet stalker crush after Japanese MAMACHARI bikes!  Oh Mamachari, where have you been all my life and why have I never found you until now in my Google search results?  Apparently, there are all kinds of blogs out there for the originally women-specific bike, tailored to child/dog/grocery-toting around Japan.  Let’s take a looksy:

In Treehugger’s blog post “Introducing: The Mamachari Bicycle” their author admits to owning and riding a mamachari (as if it were a guilty pleasure).  When asked for the textbook definition of a mamachari, the author defined it as:

“…a really simple bicycle that you see all over Japan. Usually mothers use them for quick trips to the grocery store or to bring the kids to kindergarden. Thus the name, a combination of “mama” and “chariot”. Nope, the mamachari is not particularly sexy, but it is easy to ride and always comes with a basket up front. Plus a baby seat. Or sometimes two babyseats: one up front and one in the back.”

Fenders, baskets, chainguards, skirtguards (what IS that!?), three-speeds, child seats, racks galore, bells, dynamo lights, and kickstands.  Sounds like a commuter bike to me, whether you’re towing Costco groceries, kids, or other bikes!  These things are the all-in-one package, with more appendages, accessories, and equipment than the actual bike.  I’m surprised there’s not a dog-walking leash attached or something.

This photo is totally internet ganked... but it is Ultimate Utility Bike COOL!

And this post from Tokyo by Bike has a nifty table summing up the benefits of riding a Mamachoo-choo (I can’t get enough of these mash-up Japinglish words) over a good ol’ mountain bike for commuting and utility cycling:

Mamachari Mountain Bike
Unlocking The frame mounted lock can be unlocked by simply pushing in the key. A wire lock has to be untangled from around the wheel, frame and whatever the bike is locked to, potentially dirtying everything in the process.
Lights They’re attached to the bike, difficult to steal and don’t require batteries. Have to remember to bring them downstairs and attach them to the bike. Also have to remember to remove them when I arrive at the supermarket lest they get stolen, reattach them after I’ve finished shopping and remove them again once arriving home. Thats a lot of work.
Chainguard Keeps everything nice and clean. Have to remember to bring a velcro strap downstairs to keep clothing from rubbing on the chain.
Bell Gets pedestrians out of your way. Saying “Excuse me”, “Coming through”, “On your right”, or “Ding! Ding!” just doesn’t work
Mudguards Dry bum Wet bum
Parking Pull in. Kick down the stand. Push a lever to lock the bike. Go shopping. Look for something to lock the bike to, not always easy. Remove the wirelock from handlebars, lock the rear wheel and frame to a solid object. Careful, you might get dirty.
Child seat I can take someone for company, or to push the supermarket trolley for me No chance.
Basket Holds any amount of groceries I’m likely to buy in one go. Squash groceries into a backpack or hang them from the handlebars which not only interferes with the bikes balance, but is also frowned upon by the law. 5kg of rice? Impossible.

And from the mama bicycle blog (written by a Japanese dad who likes his Mamachari bike and practicing his English) I delved further into the land of cheap, heavy-as-a-bloated-ox utility bikes, and found the Maruishi Cycles Frackers bike!

Mama-Frackers in every color!

Anyway, I’d like to take a jaunt around my hood with a mamachari!  The best part is, you don’t have to be a Mama to ride one either!  Anyone seen these types of bike popping up in the USA at your local bike shops?

Image taken from Hello Sandwich. This is less "mama"-specific.

Interbike 2011: Dutch ID, a Sub-$900 Cargo Bike

In the same booth as the Footbike I just posted, Dutch ID was being featured by Jeff Oakie. This is the sub-$900 Cargo Bike by Dutch ID. Jeff is looking to distribute Dutch ID in the US and hopes to spread the word about their bikes.
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Full fenders and more rack space than you can think of, a commuter’s dream!
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Can’t go wrong with Nexus.
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Fully covered chain guard.
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Review: RANS Hammertruck Cargo Bike

After a long delay, here’s the review of the load-hauling beast: the Hammertruck by RANS. A few items to discuss before we delve into this thing — RANS sent me the bike at the end of January…about two days after I got it I had surgery and was unable to ride it (or any bike) for a month. Then the demands of having a new child kicked in…he’s not ready to travel by bike, so I really had to squeeze in “special trips” by myself on this machine — grocery runs, trips to the post office and other errands one would typically use a cargo bike for. I also found out the hard way that for my purposes, this bike isn’t suited to my daily commute. I rode it to work on the first day I was able to ride and discovered to my dismay that the Hammertruck wouldn’t fit through the door to my building! Seein’ as how there was no way I would lock a $2000 bike — especially one that doesn’t belong to me — outside my building in a fairly high-bike-theft area, I raced home and swapped out bikes for something a little more svelte. Word to the wise; with the cargo platforms deployed, this bike is WIDE.

One other point: throughout the testing period and in this review, there will be inevitable comparisons of the Hammertruck to the U.S. cargobike-industry-leading Xtracycle. I own an Xtra and have ridden a few thousand miles on mine…and can’t help but compare/contrast the two bikes in many respects.

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The first thing you might notice is the radical layout of this bike…it uses RANS’s “Crank Forward” positioning to allow for a lower center-of-gravity and the ability for the rider to place both feet on the ground easily when stopped. There is a whole host of benefits claimed by RANS at their site describing the Crank Forward technology.

The Hammertruck frame is constructed of TIG-welded 4130 chromoly and the cargo rack is made of aircraft aluminum tubing. Total weight of the rig with cargo rack assembled is somewhere around 42 lbs., not bad at all. Even though the frame has a lot of extra bracing, I was surprised at how light the entire package was. The cargo rack bolts to “hard points” on the main frame using special fasteners. Those “hard points” serve to stiffen the main frame and there is also a number of bracing tubes to further eliminate any sway in this frame. Even under heavy loads, I was unable to detect any sway…long a gripe among Xtracycle users when hauling cargo. Take a look at some of these bracing tubes (hard points for the cargo rack just behind the seattube cluster and along the midline of the lengthy chainstays):

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Here’s another shot — all that bracing makes for a very stable ride with heavy loads:

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One of the bracing points may look familiar to some of you…especially those of you who took at look at the “Big Dumb Pug” we featured a few months back. Yep, there’s a “tow truck” assembly on the back of the Hammertruck rack. We can’t claim originality for devising this method of towing a bike — but it’s still an interesting addition to the RANS package (and we’d love to take credit for inspiring them to add it!):

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The parts spec on the Hammertruck was quite satisfactory — drivetrain parts consisted of a Truvativ Firex triple crank with outboard GXP bearing cups, SRAM X-7 derailleurs coupled to a 9-speed twist shifter, wide range SRAM (11-32) cassette and a really really long chain. More about that chain in a bit… Because the frame is set up in such a distinctive way — with the seat tube really slack — a “stub seat tube” or boom-tube was added to hold the front derailleur. It looks weird but it is required to get the derailleur into the proper orientation.

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Braking was very capably handled by Avid BB7 discs with 160mm rotors front and rear and some of my favorite flatbar levers, the Speed Dial 7. My favorite part of the components was the wheelset, though — 26″ Velocity Cliffhanger rims laced to Velocity cartridge bearing disc hubs and wrapped in Primo Comet tires. The wheelset was strong and smooth and I really fell in love with the tires. I wasn’t familiar with Primo tires, but soon discovered their popularity in high-performance recumbent circles…they are capable of running at high pressure (110 psi) and the file tread is fast-rolling on most hard surfaces. About the only thing I’d change parts-wise on the Hammertruck is that I’d swap out the 160mm rotor for a 203mm rotor on the rear (with the appropriate spacer adapter) — extra braking power is a good thing when you’re hauling 200 lbs. of cargo. Is it needed? Maybe not. I’m just partial to this setup because my Xtra is set up that way, and I’ve come to appreciate that massive stopping power, even with the lesser brakes on my personal machine.

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The saddle was something out of the recumbent playbook — a fairly massive “tractor seat” — and I wasn’t sure how, exactly, to set it up. On the RANS website, there are several photos of riders sort of leaning the backs of their butts against a downward-tilted saddle…there’s a quick-release under the saddle to allow for tilt. Well, I tried that and it just felt alien, so I set it up as I would a normal saddle and had no issues. That tractor seat is pretty comfy for long rides, too.

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The steering setup is a rather interesting creature, too. There are a couple of proprietary parts involved in connecting the handlebars to the fork steerer, particularly a double-clamped “gooseneck” extender branded with the RANS logo. One clamp holds the headset’s preload, and the other secures the gooseneck to the steerer:

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That handlebar is way up in the sky, and the bars have an incredible backsweep to allow for easy reaching. The whole assembly is very chopper-like: hands in the air, the rest of the body kicked way back. To be perfectly frank, it felt a bit weird; overcoming 30+ years of muscle memory on more traditional bikes is not an easy task. And, with so much weight biased toward the rear, the slack headtube angle, and the front wheel seeming so very far away, slow-speed maneuvering was for me rather squirrely, especially with a heavy cargo load on board. Once any amount of speed was gained, the entire platform was rock solid and smooth, with effortless directional changes possible. Something to think about, in any case.

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Let’s talk about cargo capacity: In the photo above, the cargo is two full standard-size storage tubs…which both easily fit into the MASSIVE cargo bags. These things are huge!!! While I’m on my Xtra, I can carry 5 or 6 reasonably full bags of groceries in the cargo bags with a little finagling…but on the Hammertruck I could quite easily carry about twice that amount. The bags are cavernous and heavily-reinforced with good fabric and stout strapping. My favorite feature is that the bags roll up and stow away using some hidden hook-and-loop strips when they’re not needed. Here’s how the bags look when they’re stowed away:

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The Hammertruck is rated for 525 lbs. of rider and cargo…and with the bags and generously-sized runners, there is very little that one couldn’t haul aboard this machine. To put it in car terms, an Xtracycle is like an old Datsun pickup — good for hauling but not too easy to load really big items. The Hammertruck, on the other hand, is like a Ford F-250…tailor-made to haul a serious and soul-crushing load of whatever you might want to throw in there. One could easily get carried away loading this badboy; I never got much past 200 lbs, but I was tempted and had room to spare when I did “go big”.

Did I mention that the bags are giant?

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(4 feet and 60-ish pounds worth of “house elf” fit easily into the cargo bag, but he ain’t too happy about it)

Earlier on I mentioned the long length of chain that runs this drivetrain. While the wheelbase of the Hammertruck is very similar to an Xtracycle (depending, of course, on the parent bike the Xtra is built upon), the “chainbase” is quite different. Throw in that “crank forward” setup and I’ve got a chainbase of 38″ unsupported inches as opposed to 32″ on my Xtra. The rear derailleur on the Hammertruck just doesn’t have enough spring tension to manage this much chain (nor does ANY derailleur that I can think of), and I was plagued by a persistent and annoying chain skip in all gears. I could have tried to shorten the chain by a few links, but that could compromise the shifting range and I didn’t want to do that — hauling hundreds of pounds of cargo means you’ll need the full range. I’m not sure that would have worked to eliminate the skipping anyway. I noticed that RANS sells idler pulley kits for many of their other bikes, and while I didn’t see one specifically for the Hammertruck, I remember stumbling across a description of an idler setup for this bike. If you go the Hammertruck route, talk to RANS about an idler. You’ll be glad you did.

RANS included a very nice double-legged Pletscher kickstand with the Hammertruck. This is a $100 option when ordering one. Word to the wise: skip it. On a traditional bike, the Pletscher stand is a dream; on the Hammertruck, it’s about useless. There’s so much weight on the back of the bike, and coupled with the wide stance of the runners and wind-catching cargo bags, tiny gusts were sufficient to tip the bike right over. RANS recommends leaning the Hammertruck on one of the runners when loading, and that serves admirably enough for a kickstand. Perhaps a wide-legged double stand like the Rolling Jackass centerstand would be more suitable?

On my maiden cargo-hauling voyage, I loaded up two lawn chairs, my house elf and a big pot of homemade chili and rode over to a potluck dinner. This was a tiny load for the Hammertruck and I almost felt guilty…this thing begs to be loaded down with bags of cement, groceries by the cartload, etc. The bike was a real hit with the rest of the potluckers, though (as was the chili):

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Like the Xtracycle, the Hammertruck’s cargo area is covered by a snap-on laminated wooden deck. Unlike the Xtra, the hardware on the Hammertruck’s deck is made of rather flimsy stuff and is held on with small woodscrews rather than a through-bolt. The weight of my passenger on that first cargo ride was enough to pull one of the screws partway out of the deck:

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Until there is a better attachment method, I can’t recommend hauling anything heavy or precious aboard the deck of the Hammertruck. Also, since the seatpost is fairly hidden by its slope and by the rest of the cargo rack assembly, auxiliary devices like passenger handlebars (commonly seen on Xtracycle conversions) will take some ingenuity to install aboard this bike.

Overall, the Hammertruck was a joy to ride; comfortable, stable and capable of some amazing load-hauling prowess. I did have some minor issues (the aforementioned chain-skipping problem, the bit of squirrelyness at initial push-off), but none would be considered a deal breaker. I was really surprised at how stiff the frame was under load; I’ve long taken it for granted that sway was the nature of the beast after riding my Xtra for so many miles, but RANS did their homework and applied bracing in all the right places to eliminate that sway. I wouldn’t balk at the price, either…for around $2K, this is truly a car replacement as it can haul just about anything you might need a motor vehicle for (short of a camper trailer or big fishing boat). The parts spec is certainly worthy of a $2000 machine, and the cargo bags alone are really capable. Add the RANS Hammertruck to the growing list of valid cargo bikes options!

To learn more about the RANS Hammertruck, visit the RANS website by clicking here.

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Please click here to read our review disclaimer as required by the Federal Trade Commission.

More Than One Way to UTILIZE your Bike

Over the past year it’s been our goal over at UtilityCycling.org to catalog all of the means in which cyclists utilize bicycles for purposes beyond sport and recreation. Not surprisingly, all evidence points to bike commuting as the predominant form of utility cycling throughout the world.  Digging up information (mainly scouring the Internet and talking to our friends in the bike biz) bike commuting is always on the front of the spectrum of all the ways that people do something useful with their bicycles.  That said, when it comes to the variation in ways that cyclists have come up with for using their bikes, bike commuting just scratches the surface of the tip of the iceberg.

More so than any other common use of the bicycle, bike commuting has the magical effect of opening up the mind to the utility of the bicycle. While this mind opening experience certainly happens for some while training for a bike race or riding just for fun, the daily grind of making ones way back and forth to work contains some special inspiration which other forms of cycling may not conjure up.

Bike commuting is about getting something done.  If you can accomplish the task of getting yourself where you need to be, why can’t you accomplish other tasks with your bicycle as well?

Bike commuting has many side benefits.  You may have started bike commuting to save money, reduce your carbon footprint, to get exercise or just as a way to relax and have fun.  Soon enough though, you likely start appreciating the other benefits of bike commuting.  Appreciating these multiple benefits of the bicycle for bike commuting opens up the mind to appreciating the bicycle as a tool for many other purposes.

Bike commuting asks for some changes in lifestyle and planning.  This shift can be blamed on the way that the automobile lifestyle and its inherent costs are ingrained in most of us.  There are plenty of costs and difficulties built into the automobile lifestyle, but the predominance of the lifestyle make this just seem like life.  On the surface, when shifting over to bike commuting, it first appears that you are adding to your load of costs and difficulties in transportation.  It is difficult to appreciate that these challenges are leading down the path of partially or perhaps completely offsetting the costs of operating and maintaining an automobile.  Part of embracing bicycle commuting involves the embrace of a gradual shift in resources towards a more efficient and beneficial mode of transportation. Embracing bike commuting with this mindset, is a fundamental step towards embracing the bicycle for a multitude of other purposes.

With a plenitude of inspiration, bike commuters have their mind pumps primed for investigating multiple different ways to use their bicycles.  So what directions do bike commuters branch out into empowered by thier two wheeled utility machines? After bike commuting, I don’t think I would be to far off in guessing that bicycles used for general transportation and family cycling are the next most prevalent forms of utility cycling.

At UtilityCycling.org, we’ve looked at general bicycle transportation as all of those trips in between the gaps of bike commuting.  Our “general” list includes getting around, groceries & errands, bicycling while traveling and long distance travel.  Getting around along with taking care of groceries and errands with your bicycle are in many ways as significant uses of the bicycle for many people as is bike commuting.   Traveling with a bicycle and long distance travel with a bicycle is a much smaller subset of Utility Cycling but a quite interesting one at that.

By family cycling, we mean all forms of utility cycling where the kids are coming along for the ride.  This could be bike commuting or grocery shopping with the kids in a bike child trailer or going to the movies with kids and parents all riding their own bikes.  Beyond utility family cycling, recreational family cycling is foundational in developing a culture that respects and utilizes bicycles.  Families having fun with bicycles together is incredibly important to cycling advocacy as it teaches children the importance and fun of cycling and is encouraging and sometimes enticing for non-cycling enthusiasts to see.  It also is a healthy, fun and economical alternative to many car-bound family recreational activities.

From the most obvious forms of utility cycling, inspiration flows for more creative and entrepreneurial purposesBicycle messengers are heart and soul when it comes to combining the entrepreneurial ethic with cycling.  Small package delivery is a task that without a doubt can be performed better with a bicycle

In the age of the specialist, the bicycle has sometimes been turned to as the most efficient tool for achieving specific purposes.  My favorite recent example of an adoption of the bicycle for a specialty task is the Google Mapping Bike.  Other examples I’ve enjoyed learning about are a variety of emergency service bikes.  We’ve written about Fire Service Bikes, EMS Bikes, Police Bikes and Search and Rescue Bikes.

While I’ve touted some of the interesting methods for using a bike that we’ve been investigating over at UtilityCycling.org, bike commuting is by far the most useful, influential and critical method for using a bicycle.  Because of this, bike commuting is and should remain a primary focal point for cycling advocacy.

The myriad forms of utility cycling might be considered icing on the cake of utility cycling.  Or they may be considered as a growing spectrum of gateways into cycling in all its forms, opening up new opportunities to people and their transportation.  Bike commuting will likely always remain the most important form of utility cycling, though if the many other means of utility cycling are embraced, their overall importance could rival that of bike commuting.  What is important is that bike commuting, utility cycling, riding your bike, and getting things done efficiently, continues to grow and thrive and that the tools and infrastructure that allow this to happen are fostered and grown.

Josh Lipton is the editor of UtilityCycling.org as well as founder and President of BikeShopHub.com a network of online specialty cycling shops.