Not me. I’ve got a truck. A two-wheeled pick-up truck.
I sold my car this spring after realizing that I’d put gas in the tank a handful of times within the previous year. Then a friend reminded me of the Xtracycle — a bolt-on rear triangle that moves your rear-wheel back about 15 inches and supports their proprietary huge panniers. I remembered seeing one in action in Massachusetts and that I had wanted to try it out just to see how it handles.
In June, I added the free radical to my 1980’s (very first) mountain bike, and its carrying capacity has convinced me that I really don’t need a car.
Three months into riding it, here are some thoughts —
First, since I mounted the free radical to a chromoly frame, I expected a lot of frame flex. While it does flex, it’s not as much as I had anticipated. In fact, it’s hard to tell precisely whether some of the fluidity of movement is frame-flex or the front suspension. Either way, it makes for a comfortable ride.
Second, the bike “tracks” like nothing I’ve ridden before. Maybe it’s due to the length of the wheel-base or maybe there’s some frame flex/sag in the middle that causes it. Whatever the cause, the bike likes to ride in a straight line. Turning requires a little more effort than the bike did before the extension. The “tracking” is great for commuting — I hop on the rail-trail I take to work and cruise.
I’ve even ridden it off-road and, as long as you get lined up right, riding over skinnies and teeter-totters is pretty easy. You have to be conscious of the new front-to-back center or gravity for teeters, but other than that, the bike handles singletrack real well. Over all, it’s a lot easier to control than I originally thought it would be.
Third, (and probably most obvious) the turning radius is increased. This makes it difficult to turn around in driveways without putting a foot down. It also requires you to be a little more conscious of the rear when taking corners. I’ve clipped the panniers more than once on rocks and curbs by leaning too soon into curves.
Fourth, since the seat and cranks are closer to the middle of the wheel-base than a regular upright bike (on which the seat and cranks are closer to the rear wheel), the rider’s weight is more evenly distributed throughout the frame. For a bike with a suspension fork, this means that the fork carries more of the rider’s weight at all times than would a “normal” bike. If you have a sophisticated fork, just crank down the pre-load and it all evens out. If you have a crappy one like me, then just learn to accept more squish in the fork. So far, the additional squish hasn’t affected handling. It’s just something to be aware of.
Even when I’m not carrying a giant package or cases of bulk-ordered groceries, the bike attracts attention. Patrons of bars, seated outdoors, have called out how much they like the look of the bike as I ride past. While walking through the local farmers’ market, more than a few people have stopped me to ask about it. I feel like it attracts even drivers’ attention while I’m on the road, though I still ride assuming that drivers are blind and I’m invisible — aggressively defensive.
There’s no denying that the Xtracycle is well thought-out. It performs as well loaded down as when the panniers are empty, the free radical is strong and lightweight, and it’s even elegantly designed.
I’ll say one more thing about the Xtracycle. The founders recognize that privileged, pro-bike activists like myself are not the only market of need for their creations.
On the Xtracycle website, the owners state that profits from sales of Xtracycle products “support Worldbike Foundation (formerly X-Access Foundation), a non-profit organization that seeks to make our technology available to all who need it. We are committed to creating a new model of business that adds to the natural wealth of humanity and the planet.” Rock on; that’s the kind of business I want to support.
Edit: This 2006 post was my first about the Xtracycle, and I stand by my original review. Readers may be curious to know that I still ride the same Free Radical and frame combo as a daily commuter, and I love the bike only more each day. Read here for more posts and photos of my Xtracycle setup.