In praise of longtail cargo bikes – the Xtracycle Free Radical Leap

The author on one of his previous cargo rigs, with daughter's loaded and folding bike in tow

The author on one of his previous cargo rigs, with daughters loaded and folding bike in tow – nowadays it’s on an Xtracycle

I’ve used a variety of cargo-carrying bikes during my life, but I believe the one that has the most versatility for the longest lifespan for largest group of people is the longtail – and it all started with the Xtracycle.

Since there’s been bikes, there’s been people strapping their belongings to them.  Whether it be for transport, shopping or carrying members of the family, the bicycle has remained a versatile transport solution.  However, the standard bicycle does have its limitations, many of which are based upon its wheelbase.  Essentially, any weight which is outside the wheelbase has an exaggerated effect on the handling.  This is a key reason why touring bikes have longer wheelbases.

Ross Evans was studying engineering at Stanford University and he had an idea, which he went on to develop and prototype/test during his time with ‘Bikes not Bombs’ in Nicaragua.  What if a standard bike could be extended so that it could carry a larger load?  His idea was later brought to market in the US as the XtraCycleFree Radical‘.  Essentially, it’s a frame extension that moves your existing rear wheel further back.  Just add a longer chain and cables and you’re good to go.  Most riders also fit XtraCycle’s deck and panniers, but there are many other accessories and custom modifications available.

XtraCycle FreeRadical Frame

The basic XtraCycle FreeRadical frame, showing the concept – most users also fit panniers, a top deck and various other accessories.

The FreeRadical was very popular and secured the concept of what is now generically called a ‘Long-Tail’ cargo bike.  Whilst many cargo bikes can be undergeared and/or underbraked, the ‘Free Rad’ could be mated to a bike with all the gears and stopping power you need.

Shortly after XtraCycle gained some momentum, Surly used the concept and created their Big Dummy—a full long-tail frame which had the same dimensions and could use all of the FreeRadical’s accessories.  Unfortunately the Surly Big Dummy is available in Australia only infrequently. Despite its growing popularity, in the context of the broader bike industry it is still a niche product, and Australia is, globally, a small market. The upshot: not many reach our shores. But Velo has managed to secure a small number in each size, which we currently have in stock. They tend to sell very quickly, and we’ve already sold a few prior to delivery.

Surly Big Dummy - Dark side of the Maroon

Surly Big Dummy – Dark side of the Maroon – available now at Velo

Another American brand, Kona, also got on board with their own, similar design, the Kona Ute. Although this couldn’t use the XtraCycle accessories, it had its own great panniers and has been available from Velo for many years.  In fact, we have one available for rental, decked out with child-carrying accessories.

XtraCycle then went on to develop their full-sized longtail frames (eg: EdgeRunner), and plenty of other brands, such as Yuba , Bike Friday and Tern with their Tern Cargo Node (with an XtraCycle collaboration) have their own longtail offerings bikes available.

Not to be outdone, Surly recently undertook a ground-up redevelopment and created their Big Fat Dummy – their longtail concept but on a plus-sized fat tyres – truly a cargo bike for the zombie apocalypse. We loved having these earlier this year and hope to be able to offer them again—hopefully just in time for Summer!

And now, we’ve come full circle, back to XtraCycle.  For a number of years they’ve been prototyping their redesign of the FreeRadical.  They wanted to make it suit a wider range of rear wheels and be sturdier with a lot less torsional flex, but still be true to their original concept of repurposing your existing bike.

XtraCycle LEAP kit

XtraCycle Freeradical LEAP kit

The Xtracycle FreeRadical LEAP was the result, and it’s an absolute cracker.  They’ve reduced flex dramatically and increased the versatility in what you can mount it to. We’ve been selling the Tern Cargo Node for close to a year now, which uses the LEAP as its cargo platform.  And as great a bike as that is, we also wanted to be able to offer this versatility to any bike.  So now we can!   It’ll fit most bikes from 20″ wheels up to 29″ plus-sized. Almost any gearset. We can even extend hydraulic brakes.  The kit itself is $800 – the cost to fit will vary depending upon your bike but the total will still likely be under $1000 – and we have a variety of accessories to help you carry your kids, or shopping, or a bit of both. If you have a bike you’d like to transform into a cargo beast, get in touch.

Some of the other longtail options we sell, and/or we’ve seen in and through the store, the Kona Ute, a Surly Big Fat Dummy we sold in February, and the author’s personal older-model XtraCycle Free Rad.

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