We recently did an experiment to see if we could go for a week in Los Angeles traveling only by bicycle. What made this car-free week a success was the ingenious Xtracycle, a cargo bike ideal for the challenges of urban American streets. The Xtracycle extends the back wheel of the bike and is essentially a huge pannier bag with a skateboard-like seat. We’ve managed to haul four bags of groceries, the same amount we used to carry in my car, and we’re talking heavy stuff here including watermelons and glass bottles. The Xtracycle handles well even with heavy loads – the ride is smooth and cornering is just like any ordinary bike. The saddlebags, which the company calls “Freeloaders”, are designed in such a way that they cinch up the cargo and maintain a narrow profile, essential for maneuvering in city traffic. This narrow profile is the great advantage the Xtracycle has over bike cargo trailers and European style cargo bikes such as the Christiania Bike, both of which assume access to dedicated bike lanes. The long wheel base of the Xtracycle combined with a load over the back wheel makes the bike easier to brake and it’s nearly impossible to flip over the front handlebars. The only disadvantage is that you can’t bunny hop.
While you can buy a complete bike from Xtracycle, I put mine together with an Xtracyle FreeRadical Hitchless Trailer Kit that I bought on ebay combined with an old 1980s mountain bike. This is the bike I would recommend – an older mountain bike without front suspension, which adds weight and is not necessary for urban riding. And remember that the kit does not work on bikes with rear suspension. I would, however, recommend buying straight from the company as the kits don’t seem to be selling on ebay at a significant discount.
Putting it together was relatively simple – it took two trips to the Bicycle Kitchen, an extra length of chain, a rear derailleur cable made for tandem bikes, as well as a general tune-up for the old bike we used. If you ride on paved streets remember to use slick tires
The Xtracycle has been a significant step in reducing our dependence on our crappy Nissan Sentra, and has allowed us to divest ourselves of the other crappy car we used to own. In fact, using a bike for transportation has been the single biggest step we have made towards self-sufficiency. Cars simply demand too much: repairs, insurance, gas, licenses, registration, smog checks, not to mention the terrible toll they take on our environment and the need to fight wars to maintain our addiction to oil. When you ride a bike you are profoundly free, liberated from the demand our culture makes on us to own a personal automobile, a machine that may be the downfall of our once independent nation.
Kipchoge Spencer, president of Xtracycle understands what it will take to start the bike revolution. In an interview with Grist magazine he said, “Mission accomplished is when mass pop culture realizes riding your bike to work is the coolest way to get there. The next step in this mission will be me giving Cameron Diaz a ride to the Oscars on the back of my bike and passing Leo in his Prius, stuck in traffic behind a fustercluck of limos.”