Autonomous Motion

Xtracycle Electric Cargo Bicycle with Hooptie Child Handrail


Car-replacement family cargo bike

My wife and I live in San Francisco with our two children, who are now 6 and 4. Our apartment lacks a parking spot, and it’s always a drag trying to find street parking both at home and at most of our errand or kid-trip destinations. When we do drive in the city, traffic is often heavy. I find myself gazing wistfully at the cyclists passing by us.
Back in February 2013, we bought an Edgerunner Electric cargo bicycle, from Xtracycle, and it immediately became indispensable. We rely on it almost every day, and have more than halved our car use. Xtracycles are “longtail” bikes, which means that their frames extend further back than typical bike frames, creating a longdeck over the rear wheel. Xtracycle and World Bike founder Ross Evans originally invented this style of bike as a cargo-carrying bicycle add-on for the developing world, and he open-sourced the geometry of his frame-extension solution to create a shared standard for longtail bikes. As a result, numerous third-party manufacturers now make Xtracycle-compatible accessories, ranging from panniers and decks to friction-drive motors and pedal-powered blenders.

In contrast to bikes modified with the Xtracycle frame extension, the Edgerunner Electric is built with a one-piece frame to conform to the Xtracycle standard. There are other popular cargo bikes based on purpose-built longtail frames, such as Surly Big Dummy, which follows the Xtracycle standard, and the Yuba Mundo, which does not. but the Edgerunner uniquely has a smaller, 20″ rear wheel. This lowers the center of gravity of any load in back, which makes the bike more stable and easier to ride, It also increases the rear wheel’s torque, which helps with carrying loads up hills.

To carry our kids, we outfitted our bike with a Hooptie Handrail, which rings the rear deck and gives them more to hold on to than they would have with handlebars. Surrounded by the Hooptie, they have fun riding forwards, backwards, facing each other, and facing away from each other– all four permutations. I especially love it when we take a family bike trip and my wife takes “the Big Bike” with the kids in back; that way, I can talk, high-five, and clown around with the kids from my own bike, riding close behind. It’s a blast.

The bike’s switchable “electric assist” uses an internal rear hub motor to boost your pedal power, and a thumb throttle lets you ride the bike without pedaling at all. Charging the battery takes about 4 hours, and we do it every few days. I usually ride the bike without the assist switched on, and it pedals just fine, although it does feel heavy. I use the assist when taking kids or heavy loads up hills, and I almost never use the throttle. I see electric bikes as “cheating” and we almost didn’t get the Electric version because it costs $1000 more and I was so impressed from test-riding the regular, non-motorized Edgerunner with both kids. But now I’m very glad that we got the Electric; it makes a big difference in our hilly city, and we use the Big Bike far more often than we would if it lacked the motor. No matter how lazy you’re feeling, you won’t balk at taking an electric-assist bike.

I believe we are calmer and happier since we got our Edgerunner Electric. You can park it anywhere that you can lock a bike, and it’s more fun, feels better, and is often faster than hauling the kids around town in an autosaurus, getting stuck in traffic and having to hassle with child seats. There’s no gas to buy and low maintenance costs, and if we went car-free with it, we could stop buying auto insurance. I love taking my kids on it, talking with them about the interesting things that we see while riding, and joining the growing number of young-kid families around here who ride cargo bikes and ring their bells when they pass each other.

-- Paul Spinrad 07/24/14