Improve my bike commute
November 5, 2014 10:01 AM   Subscribe

Should I get a different type of bike to handle more weight? Or change my current setup?

I bike commute 5-10 miles a day (depending on what errands I run). My ride is hilly, with at least 300 feet of vertical gain and some steep sections. While it's usually dry and sunny here, I bike in all kinds of weather including windy days, rain, and snow/ice.

Currently I have a very basic Raleigh hybrid bike that I like because it's comfortable, with upright handlebars, has cyclocross tires that give me good traction in snow, and has a nice granny gear for the hills. In general I care more about comfort than being efficient while biking.

The problem is that I am now biking with more and more stuff. I usually carry 20-40 pounds in panniers on a rear rack, and I also often am pulling a trailer with 1-2 children. The trailer gets left at daycare with the kids so I don't always bike with it. My bike doesn't do so well with all this weight, and the not-great handling makes me nervous, especially when the roads are slippery.

What kind of bike setup should I be thinking about? A different type of bike? Modifying my current one in some way? I've been looking at cargo bikes - the Yuba Mundo seems to be popular here - but I'm scared by how heavy they are. Having to bike a 50-pound bike plus all my crap up steep hills doesn't sound great. Would some type of touring bike that's designed to carry weight be a better option?
posted by medusa to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: When is the handling poor? With trailer? With trailer and loaded panniers? I find trailers to be inherently bad for handling, but there are some varieties that are better than others.

If the panniers are the main issue, position might be something to look at - in general the closer the weight is to the axle, the better. Also, sort of counter-intuitively, front panniers don't really make the bike handle any worse, and you could distribute the weight a bit more.

I think the bike is probably fine - maybe an upgrade to a cargo bike would help but I have no experience with them so I can't say... but a hybrid should be pretty fine for slow loaded riding. Position on the bike and fit can also come into play with handling, if you have a bike shop nearby they can help with that...
posted by kris.reiss at 10:22 AM on November 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Lots of good info on G&O's website. In particular, look at this bike:
Xtracycle Edgerunner

It has a small rear wheel that improves stability and handling. It's also electrifiable, so the weight can be mitigated.
posted by oxisos at 10:30 AM on November 5, 2014

Best answer: Moving away from that trailer is going to be pretty choice. I have an xtracycle edgerunner that I love quite a bit. My commute is a little shorter than yours, but has about the same elevation change. I usually carry about the same amount of gear around, but I only carry 1 kid.

They're heavier for sure, but they carry the weight differently; its a little hard to explain. Pound for pound, my old bike and trailer weighed less than the Edgerunner, but it is much easier to pull that cargo on the edgerunner. I routinely (one a week) load up the bike with about 100lb of groceries, and throw the 50lb kid on there, and it is really easy to get around. It handles much better than hauling a trailer, and I feel much safer hauling the kid around on the bike now. He also likes it quite a bit more because he can actually see whats going on, and since he's closer, we interact a bit more.

I test rode the Yuba Mundo and the Edgerunner side by side, and the Edgerunner won out because it carries passengers much lower, and makes it easier to balance when you've got a kid up there. The handling was just way better. The panniers on the Edgerunner are super, super low, and that makes the ride very stable; the change in handling between hauling around my regular 40lb +/- daily gear, and the 100lb + of groceries is minimal.

Personally, I'd vote cargo bike. You're using your bike as a cargo bike already. It's the right tool for the job; it hauls alot of stuff/people with a great degree of stability. Seriously, whatever you do, ditch that trailer; I've tested out so many of them and they're all terrible compared to the cargo bike.
posted by furnace.heart at 10:33 AM on November 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've been eyeing up the Surly Big Dummy for a while, too, as a cargo bike. It fits the Xtracycle components.
posted by jillithd at 10:36 AM on November 5, 2014

Best answer: You've got all your mass on the rear, taking it off the front wheel that provides steering control. Get that 20-40 lbs in the front and it'll help stabilize. Best would be a rack that attaches to the frame and extends forward, so you don't have extra mass to turn.
posted by flimflam at 10:43 AM on November 5, 2014

I have a Yuba Mundo. I don't find its weight is a huge issue, honestly, but its geometry makes it harder for me to ride with intensity... maybe just because I'm short, but it's definitely not a bike built for speed. Hauling up to 100 pounds on it doesn't feel terribly different to me than riding it unladen, which is awesome for hauling, but doesn't necessarily say great things about its unladen performance.

It IS much easier than hauling a trailer in all circumstances, if that makes a difference even though you don't always have the trailer on.
posted by metasarah at 12:58 PM on November 5, 2014

You could look at getting a second front wheel with a studded tire, then you could quickly swap the ordinary wheel for the studded one on icy days. Studs do make cycling harder work I believe, so should be reserved for the times when it's genuinely icy though.

It does sound like the geometry of your bike, combined with having all that weight on the rear axle (panniers + trailer) might be unloading the front wheel a little which would make the handling a little skittish.

I did the same as you for years when my kids were small & have great memories of crossing Oxford in howling gales with the kids snug in the trailer listening to the radio. Keep up the good work!
posted by pharm at 1:05 PM on November 5, 2014

I cannot tell you how happy I am with my ebike. I am on it daily, killing hills. My bike has pedal assist only, no throttle. Ebikes also haul with ease.
posted by bearwife at 3:38 PM on November 5, 2014

There may not be an easy answer, considering the extra weight you're pulling. I used to pull a couple kids and/or cargo in a trailer with a low end mountain bike, until the kids combined weight was around 100 lbs. Honestly, with the trailer hitched at the rear axle, the bike handled remarkably well, and on flat ground was not as noticeable as you might think. That setup kept the center of gravity low, making the big difference. The key was keeping all the payload on the trailer, where it's effect remains at the lowest reasonably point: the rear axle.

Panniers with that much weight will affect handling somewhat because the center of gravity is raised. Moving them to the front will possibly affect handling even more, even if it does take some of the load off the rear wheel. Steering becomes an effort demanding more concentration, especially if the payload is kinda wobbly.

Hills are a different matter. I don't think there's a way to fix that problem and remain purely human powered. A large payload is simply going to make itself known when you're the engine pulling it uphill.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:27 PM on November 5, 2014

Best answer: Cargp bikes are the way to go. A regular diamond frame can be totally a load carrier with racks and bags but it adds complexity and makes loading and uinloading more problematic. Cargo bikes are longer, the handling is a bit different, riding is just like any bike. Trailers are good for unusual or one time loads, not as a regular thing.
You might check out a Bike Friday Haul-a-Day cargo bike. 20" wheels, lighter than other cargo bikes, very nimble on the road. Or just upgrade your Raleigh with the Xtracycle add on extension. I have a Bridgestone with extended X frame, works great. I even put a trailer on it occasionally for really rad loads.
posted by diode at 5:40 AM on November 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions. We went and tried riding an Xtracycle and it seemed pretty great. I'll also think about a front rack.

If anyone is still looking at this thread and takes kids on a cargo bike: what do you do in bad weather? It seems like a big advantage of a trailer is how easy it is to keep the kids warm and dry.
posted by medusa at 10:03 AM on November 28, 2014

Best answer: This is a post about how one mom made a do-it-yourself weather-protector for her son's bike seat.
posted by jillithd at 12:04 PM on December 1, 2014

Mod note: Final update from the OP:
Based on the advice in this thread, we got an Xtracycle edgerunner and made weather covers for the kids' seats like in jillithd's link. It has been a huge improvement and a great, fun way to ride for over a year now.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:19 PM on August 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

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