Thursday, October 10, 2013

Why choose a longtail?

In response to some questions that were received after the article in the Oct 9 issue of the Sioux Center news, here is a brief write up of the decision process that our family went through before settling on the Sun Atlas Cargo.

Bit of a background. My wife and I have two children. Oliver is just shy of a year old, Ella is about 3 1/2. We wanted a way to allow Kirbee to carry both children on a bike, maybe even some cargo. We've had a Bobike Mini seat for a few years. This excellent little seat is good for kids up to about 2, and it mounts to the stem, just underneath the handlebars. Oliver was set, but what to do about Ella?

First we tried a trailer. Ella found this incredibly uncomfortable, and the limited 5 speed gearing on Kirbees's Raleigh mixte made pulling the weight difficult. We then bought a cheap rear rack mounted child seat. Ella loved it, but the weight was still an issue, and Kirbee reported feeling the bike frame twist under the strain. In addition, the rear seat sat quite high up, so Ella shifting her weight made controlling the bike difficult. Kirbee also wanted to be able to run errands, but the combined weight of children and cargo was way beyond what Kirbee or her bike could handle.

It was obvious that we needed a different bike, and we were ready to invest in something that would fit what we needed, and that we could enjoy together.

So we researched cargo bikes. We needed a bike that could:
1. Haul multiple, growing children safely. It needed to have a low step over, low gearing, and preferably have a double kickstand.
2. Manage significant amounts of cargo (groceries mostly)
3. Fit both Kirbee and myself. She's 5'7", I'm 6'3".
4. Be affordable, it was unlikely that we could swing anything above $1000.

We tossed around every permutation we could find. First up was a Workcycles Fr8 (pronounced "freight")

Yes, you can hold three children on that bike.

Workcycles is a bike manufacturer based out of the Netherlands. They build incredibly solid, heavy duty bikes designed to endure any kind of weather. Even with minimal care, these bikes will probably outlast you. While the Fr8 fits a huge range of riders, can handle cargo and children, getting one from the Netherlands to Iowa was going to run about $2500. No good.

bakfiets was also considered. A bakfiets (lit: "box bike") looks a little like a wheelbarrow and a bike got in a horrific accident. But these very long bikes are enormously capable. The box and frame can handle hundreds of pounds of cargo, carry children or adults, and possesses a very wide kickstand that will hold the bike very steady while loading. It would be a perfect fit, but for it's cost. Once again, we were looking at a minimum of $2500.
It is a human powered pickup truck. The possibilities are endless.

Our options were starting to thin out. Seeking more affordable options, we looked at purchasing a Xtracycle Free Radical.  A Free Radical is a bike part that turns an ordinary bike into a longtail for about $500. It would enable good cargo capacity for a pretty decent price. The trouble came with finding a frame to work. As noted before, there is a pretty notable height difference between my wife and myself, and we were absolutely set on having a bike that we could both use. A frame that would fit her would twist like a noodle under me (I'm no lightweight), and one that fit me would be unusable to her.

The remaining option was a longtail. In essence, a longtail has the rear section of the bike extended and beefed up, enabling a very strong, versatile platform for cargo hauling. They also are very easy to balance, unlike the bakfiets which can take some getting used to.

Several companies build longtails. Surly's Big Dummy has been around the longest, though Yuba has several different models, including one with a 600 lb capacity. Even more mainstream manufacturers like Trek have a model.   Any of these options would run well over $1500 to $2000 or above. We had pretty much given up at this point, but resolved to keep saving money towards some sort of solution down the road.

Then, while digging through the J&B catalog searching for a folding bike for a customer, I noticed that Sun made a longtail, called the Atlas Cargo.
Up to a 200 lb rider, 200lb on the rear rack. 400 lb total.

Sun is a smallish company that builds solid, though inexpensive, budget minded bikes. We've had a number of their bikes through the shop, and while basic, they deliver a functional, dependable ride.
More digging showed that this longtail was also compatible with Xtracycle parts. If you want to get a longtail, make absolutely sure that it works with Xtracycle parts. Xtracyle has been in the longtail business the longest, they've got the most accessories, so you're seriously hindering yourself if your longtail does not work with their parts.

The step over (being the height that you have to clear to get on the bike) of the Sun was the lowest of any longtail, and it was compatible with our existing front seat. Most attractive was the price, somewhere in the $650s for a complete bike. We would need to get a new rear seat, a Yepp, but that was a cost we were expecting, and would be a vast improvement in Ella's comfort. Users also noted that the Atlas was one of the easiest handling longtails, and it's unisex/one size design would fit both Kirbee and myself.

We decided to go for it, and that's when things got complicated. Long story short: The 2013 models were almost entirely gone, and 2014s were not due for months. There were exactly TWO left in the United States. Dave Eekhoff did some calling, and were able to drive up and get one from the Twin Cities. PLEASE NOTE: If you are interested in getting a Atlas, we should be able to start getting new ones sometime in the spring. Stop by the shop if you are interested or have questions.

We've had this bike for a couple of months now, and we love it. We had some concerns that the low cost would mean poor quality, and that simply has not been the case. The kids are happy, both Kirbee and I can ride it, and we didn't break the bank.

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