What is a longtail cargo bike?

I have Blogged about Free Radical bolt-on kits in the past “The Frame” in regards to using longtail bikes for touring applications. For those of you who are new to this subject, here is a brief description of the Xtracycle long-tail standard and some of the production bikes that use it.

Unlike many European cargo bike designs which consist of a box or basket built into the front of the bicycle, the Xtracycle standard is uniquely American. The design extends the rear dropouts of the bicycle approximately 18 inches to allow for a wide array of attachments that turn an ordinary bicycle into a modern cargo hauling machine.

Xtracycle has been in the forefront of this longtail cargo bike revolution from the start with their venerable Free Radical extension kit which stimulated production of dedicated longtail bikes such as the Surly Big Dummy, Sun Atlas Cargo and Xtracycle EdgeRunner.  Additional spin-offs in this category are the Yuba Mundo, Yuba Boda Boda and the new electric Yuba Spicey Curry as well as offerings from Trek “Trek Transport” and Kona “Kona Ute”. Although these dedicated bikes are very stiff and make excellent local cargo hauling machines, they have one big drawback which eliminates them from the ranks of serious touring bicycles. They are just TOO LONG to transport by plane, bus or even cargo ship for any reasonable price.  The new replacement for the Free Radical kit is the Leap extension which can be detached & boxed for travel to far away lands.

The Leap promises to be as stiff as a dedicated long-tail frame but with the convertibility of the original Free Radical. I plan on reporting on the Leap in detail in the weeks to follow. Now, back to the description of the long-tail standard and various pieces of the system.
The Xtracycle system consists of a framework which extends the length of almost any existing bicycle. Racks (V Racks) are then assembled onto the frame by the use of interlocking tubes and held firmly in place with a series of clamps (rack locks). On top of these two racks is placed a deck (usually made from wood, aluminum or plastic), which is held on by various styles of hooks, clamps or bolts. From the racks are hung big cargo bags capable of opening up to allow extremely large loads or up to four standard touring panniers (two per side). Additional tubular racks (wide loaders) can be attached to the sides of the framework to help stabilize wide loads from the bottom and a short upright tube (long loader) can be attached to either side to guide long cargo objects out of the way of the rider’s pedaling. Other accessories that are helpful are tie-down straps with cam buckles to strap loads, cushions for passenger seating, stoker handlebars, foot platforms (Footsies or U Tubes) and child carriers (Hoopties). There is even a sidecar attachment as well as an option for pulling a Surly trailer.

Longtail cargo bikes ride like regular bicycles due to the low center of gravity of the cargo load. The extra weight is hardly noticed even when pulling up to 200 pounds of freight. These bikes make excellent electric conversions which eases the load on hillsides. Disc brakes with large rotors are recommended for bikes carrying heavy loads especially on downhill runs. Stay tuned for my Leap 29″ build thread complete with photos and future reviews of this product.