So, my loyal readers (all four of you), you've read here in this blog about my desire to convert my beloved 1994 Cannondale M300 to a longtail bike, specifically an Xtracycle conversion. You may or may not know what that means and with this post I hope to clarify the difference between longtails, cargo bikes, the Ute, the Big Dummy and the myriad Xtracycle configurations. It would be easiest for me to just plop down a bunch of links and let you figure it out for yourself, but I'm going to try to synthesize it all and give you a clearer picture of the longtail cargo bike culture.
First of all I'd like to share a little bit about the history of longtail bikes. The ultimate and original cargo bikes were used around the turn of the 20th century by tradesmen. Most often these were tricycles with the load areas in front of the rider/driver. These type bikes still exist and are still relevant. Even today people use them for making deliveries and transporting goods. One well known modern cargo bike is the Bakfiets, made in Holland and featured in the comic strip Yehuda Moon.
Obviously cargo bikes have been constructed as long as the safety bike has been in existence. However, a new concept came about in 1998 when Xtracycle began manufacturing an extension kit for standard bicycles to turn them into longtail cargo bikes. Prior to that if you had a run-of-the-mill two wheeled bicycle you were limited to the front and rear racks and panniers and/or a pull behind trailer to haul anything with a bike.
While a longtail bike seems like just an extension for the conventional rack and pannier set-up it is in fact a burly platform that allows a rider to haul much heavier and unwieldy loads than you ever could on a normal bicycle. The longtail provides a lower center or gravity, more stability with the long wheelbase and much more surface area to attach goods, accessories, kids, friends or pets (or a combination of them).
In 2008 there was a boom in the longtail camp when multiple bike companies began making factory longtails. Kona came out with the Ute, then there is the Yuba Mundo and also the Surly Big Dummy. In 2009 Xtracycle began making their own complete longtail bike and they call it the Radish. This recent explosion is heartening. Hopefully it will encourage more people to choose the bike over the car in the coming years.
Next I'd like to look at the general differences between the longtail and cargo bikes on the market today. In the US you typicaly see cargo and delivery bikes around larger urban areas. Its not uncommon to see food vendors whose carts have pedal power. Bike messengers, while typically flying around on regular bikes can also be seen pedaling modified cargo bikes, especially overseas.
The difference between the longtail bike and the cargo, freight, and delivery bikes that represent some sort of significant finacial investment is that the longtails are more versatile for the average person unlike the specialized construction of those bikes designed for commercial purposes. While I might find a novel use for a trike with an insulated cooler attached, I really don't have a use for one on a daily basis.
On the other hand, the longtail bike would make a good commuter, grocery hauler, touring bike, family van, library runabout and recreational vehicle for the average Joe. Not only could you pick up a pizza, but you could take your kayak down to the river.
Lastly I'd like to look at some of the more common uses for longtail cargo bikes and also a few of the more novel uses. From grocery hauling to handy-manning, the longtail fleets provide a stable and powerful base from which to work.
Some obvious uses:
Taking kids to school/play
Getting the dog out for some fresh air
Some less obvious uses:
Getting to pole vault practice
Delivering large items
Seeing the world
Towing other bikes
In short, the uses of a longtail bike are limited only to your imagination.
A bit about the Xtracycle in particular, it is basically a frame extension that puts the rear wheel of a normal bicycle a little more rearward and allows the attachment of racks, running boards, a flat board called the "flight deck" and bags. Other accessories include footrests (footsies) and a handlebar attachment to the bike's seatpost for passengers upon the flight deck.
For us I see many, many possibilities. I see the Cannonball X as my permanent replacement for a second family car. It will make a fantastic commuter, kid hauler and grocery getter. We'll be able to do more bike-packing and touring, either day-touring or multi-day rides.
Hopefully soon I will be able to report with some first hand experience on the longtail culture.