Cargo or longtail bike for my snowflakey family?
May 13, 2014 7:25 PM   Subscribe

Is there a cargo bike that meets my needs? If so, which one?

Metafilter, you helped me buy my beloved bicycle. However, this bike does not meet my new need:

I want to bike commute more, as in every day. Also, I am hopeful that in my new job starting soon, I will be doing a fair amount of traveling around town to sites in the community, and I really want to be able to do that by bike.

My 11 year old kid gets to school on the bus, but in the afternoon, for reasons that are long and boring, she can't take the bus all the way home. She goes to a nearby but not walking distance library. Many days I have to pick her up at that library, so end up driving in order to get her home. This is a bummer.

I am wondering which cargo bike is light and small enough for me to ride around town all day, but strong enough and proportioned right to drive my 11 year old (who will soon be taller than me!) for about 3 miles a day on the way home.

Have done basic research online as in looked at the websites of xtracycle and Yuba, but still don't really "get" how well these work for people of good but not exceptional fitness. So would love advice from anyone with direct experience with these bikes.

In the East Bay/SF Bay Area if that matters for recommendations or if there are local shops you think I should visit to look into this more.
posted by latkes to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I see tons of people of all shapes on Kona Utes by themselves and they don't have any trouble getting around. Granted, it's flat Philly. I'm also not sure how well an 11-year-old would do on the back of one. At that point, you'd basically need a tandem, which you wouldn't want to ride around all day. I'm guessing she can't ride to school?

How about a light cargo bike or Kona Ute that you use to bring her a folding bike?
posted by supercres at 7:39 PM on May 13, 2014

We have an xtracycle edgerunner. The thing kicks ass, but I only haul around a 2.5 year old and groceries…the groceries never go uphill either. I've carried my wife on it a few times, and its tougher, but not nearly impossible. The geometry of how it carries the weight is so much different than a trailer or anything you're pulling, I'm amazed at how much shit we pack on that thing. They're geared really low, so hills aren't insane, but PDX doesn't have hills like you build them down there. I really love it. I tend to just use it as my primary bike and leave my roadbike at home. The actual edgerunner (and the surley cargo version) felt loads more sturdy than xtracycle conversions i've ridden.

You should test ride one, with your daughter on back for sure. Knowing her actual hight would probably help internet folk gauge the practicality of this endeavor. The bikes will hold a ton, and you can get fit enough to carry any weight 3 miles, eventually. If she's really tall however, she won't be comfortable riding with you. Three miles with your kid on the back shouldn't be a huge problem…but it also shouldn't really be a problem for kid to bike 3 miles either at that age (barring any insane hills). I've known kids younger who ride that far on a regular basis (again, no real hills).

As for a 'cargo bike' (i'm assuming you mean like a wheelbarrow front?) an 11 year old would be uncomfortable in one of those front baskets, they're usually $5-700 more expensive just for an entry level model, and I've found them to be really uncomfortable to ride. They're REALLY attractive vehicles, but the geometry of how they carry their weight (and just empty) is really awkward and takes some getting used to. They're adorable, but not as practical as they ought to be…especially for the price.

Also, I'm not of 'exceptional fitness' stock, but my beer gut gets me to where I need to go. The first week hauling it all around sucks, but then you eat all of the pasta and bread in a 15 mile radius of your house, and you'll feel fine; its actually a really good training regimen.
posted by furnace.heart at 7:52 PM on May 13, 2014

My neighbor has a xtracycle which she loves. She picks up her 2 kids (6 and 4) and they love it. She drops them off at school and then goes to downtown (4 mile trip each way) with no problems. She loves her xtracycle and would spokesmodel for it if they let her. She's in shape but not any sort of crazy cyclist. Just to work and back.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 7:54 PM on May 13, 2014

Here's a video of xtracycle doing cool things!
posted by your mom's a sock puppet at 7:57 PM on May 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: For clarity:

Kid likes to ride bikes but there is no way for her to bike both ways to school due to extra giant hill, school far from home, super unsafe roads with no bike lanes, and spaced out temperament. To bike in the city at all she needs an adult to go with her and I go to work too early and my partner doesn't bike. So she needs the ride only one way, on the way home after school, making it impossible for her to have her bike waiting at the site where I pick her up.

In terms of size: I'm 5'3", she's about 5'1" but growing very quickly. She will likely be tall in a few years, all bets are on about 5'7" or so, but I figure I could always sell the longtail when she really outgrows it. If we get a couple years of use out of it, that would be worthwhile to me.
posted by latkes at 7:59 PM on May 13, 2014

I would definitely consider a tandem. That's the solution I've seen before.
posted by aniola at 8:15 PM on May 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I see lots of folks with cargo bikes around here, but 11 seems way too old to be carted around by a parent by bike. Here are a few ideas:

A tandem -- this is the solution a friend of mine came to when his daughter outgrew the bike trailer. She's in elementary school and rides part of the way one way with him everyday. He rides the tandem alone the rest of the time.

Is there a way for someone else to leave a bike at the library during the day? Would it be convenient for your partner, for example, to drive it over and lock it up?

If you're concerned about her on a bike for those three miles, you could look into bike coupler things -- they basically make a regular kids' bike into a tagalong.
posted by bluedaisy at 8:25 PM on May 13, 2014

If it's 3 miles, I'd think you could even carry an adult sidesaddle on the back of an extracycle. (Most folk of average health can.)

You may want a granny-gear (extra small gear).

Just test-ride it with her and see.
posted by sebastienbailard at 8:30 PM on May 13, 2014

Have you looked into pedal assist options?
posted by oceano at 10:43 PM on May 13, 2014

I love my Surly Big Dummy, but lightweight it definitely is not. Not even close. I bought it for its 400lb rider+cargo weight limit, 350lb of which was me at the time; even though I'm lighter these days, hauling little ms. flabdablet around on the back is doable but is still bloody hard work.

A tandem bicycle is indeed the correct solution for moving two people on one human-powered machine. The geometry and weight will not be significantly different from those of a longtail when it's just you riding it, and the extra pair of legs will make all the difference to the hills when it isn't.
posted by flabdablet at 11:58 PM on May 13, 2014

Carrying someone who is 5'1" on a cargo bike sounds pretty iffy. You could try it, though. Yuba is just an hour or so (driving) from you in Petaluma if you can't find a longtail to try closer to home. If you go with the cargo bike and weight is a major concern, definitely check out pedal assist rigs. I tried a yuba mundo with a bionx hub motor and was quite impressed - when you turn up the assist it just feels like taking pounds off the bike.

Tandem is probably a better solution, though, if the primary purpose is to carry a person. It will comfortably seat two people and allow your stoker to help out. It does, however, require decent communication between riders. And, as with your commuter, shun cheap bikes like the Sun or other cruiser tandems. A few of the major manufacturers have made MTB tandems that convert well for commuting, otherwise you're looking at something fancy from a specialist tandem maker. They aren't cheap, but the market for lightly used tandems is pretty active thanks to divorcees!

As flabdablet says, riding a tandem solo is quite easy. In fact, the long wheelbase makes for an especially smooth ride!
posted by sibilatorix at 12:12 AM on May 14, 2014

Another vote for tandem.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 6:24 AM on May 14, 2014

The extra cycle and a cargo look like total overkill if its just a short-ride.

In the Netherlands 90% of bikes are standard "Dutch Bikes" that have a rear rack that is designed to take the weight of a grown adult. And you see a LOT of grown adults and teenagers being doubled/carried around on the back.

The Kona Ute would be fine I think. or a even just a Pashley Roadster

and attach a wooden platform or cushion on the rear rack if its too uncomfortable for the 11 year old.
posted by mary8nne at 6:50 AM on May 14, 2014

try and find a shop that sells longtail cargo bikes and see how well *you* can ride them - some of the stand-over heights might be a challenge. The new edgerunner is low enough, but some of the others (big dummy (28.4"), mundo (?) , ute (28.74")) might be too high. Keep your eyes on craigslist to see what's out there - the prices of even a used longtail might convince you that shepherding your daughter on her own bike might be a better/cheaper solution. Good Luck!
posted by youchirren at 7:37 AM on May 14, 2014

People up-thread mention the Yuba Mundo but not the Yuba Boda Boda, which has a shorter tail but is still built for hauling. I'm not sure if an 11 year old would fit comfortably on it, but I'd vote for a Boda Boda for you over the Mundo, just because it has a shorter tail.
posted by jillithd at 8:07 AM on May 14, 2014

If your budget stretches to it, a Bilenky Viewpoint semi-recumbent tandem might be a good solution.
posted by brianogilvie at 8:12 AM on May 14, 2014

Is this going to be a long-term problem? Because it seems like this could be overkill if you only need it for the next year or so. Will she need to be picked up until the end of highschool? Some of these seem fine for a short amount of time, but she's going to continue to grow, and hauling another adult up a large hill sounds like a terrible solution.

I wonder if you could solve this another way - could your partner drop off the bike at the library on the way to work? Or could someone
posted by barnone at 8:43 AM on May 14, 2014

I like my Yuba Mundo and it handles well, but its weight and geometry make it not perfect for your current task UNLESS you want additional hauling capacity for other things (grocery shopping, etc.)… it’s a slow and steady thing. I would opt for the Kona Ute or Boda Boda if you’re not yet interested in becoming that badass whose cargo bike replaces their pickup truck.
posted by metasarah at 11:54 AM on May 14, 2014

You can get electric assist cargo bikes. That or a tandom would probably be the best options. Either way, don't buy one unless you've test ridden it.

Another option - can you park at the library all day? If yes, can you put a bike rack on your car and ride to work from there?
posted by kjs4 at 4:59 PM on May 14, 2014

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