Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Sick day #5 - Cargo Bike!

Yes, I still have the flu, so I'm getting my MTBR/blogger overdose for the year. Some of y'all will find this interesting (I've also posted it on the Cargo Bikes board), some not so much. Huge shout out to Eddie who basically walked me through all of the difficult parts and saved me from some (thought not all by any means) of my inevitable screwups.

Just thought I'd share this since it's (almost) done now. I recently moved my shop to SLC and needed a "break in the tools again" project to do that would allow me to make sure everything was set up and working right. Since I make it a point not to drive my car unless I absolutely have to (it's a 2002 with 50k miles on it, so I've done ok, I guess) I figured a long john would be a fun thing to have (in Boulder, I just used our Chariot and/or a backpack to haul stuff around) so I built one.

And it basically does just what I wanted it to, plus I learned a lot building it. If anyone is curious I'm happy to post some specs on tubing and geometry and such, just ask.

Having ridden a bunch of different cargo/utility bikes, I can happily say that this is by far my favorite configuration. Heavy loads are much, much easier to deal with than rear-loading setups because they're carried so low, which is important for me since I'm usually doing stuff like getting ~80# argon tanks from the welding supply or making runs to Costco for dog food or whatever. The bike is super stable with a load, handles nicely at both low and high speeds, and also gets lots of attention from other cyclists and motorists, which is always fun.

That said, there's a bunch I'd do differently if I built another one, and I'm sure as I spend more time running errands I'll find shortcomings that need to be addressed.

Stuff I really like:

-The bike can pretty easily (note the HUGE stack of spacers) be set up for anyone from about 5'2" to 6'4" or so by moving the seat and swapping stems/raising or lowering the bars. This is a feature that my friend Eddie designed into his long johns which I blatantly copied. Standover is about 27", and it could easily be lower, but both my wife and I have very long legs (36 and 34" inseams) so it seemed pointless to make things more compact in this case.

-I can carry really heavy and/or bulky loads pretty easily. I've put lots of attachment points on the platform for tiedowns or bungees and the anti-skid diamond tread material works really well to keep things from sliding around.

-The ride is surprisingly comfortable with a 20" front wheel, simply because the bike is so long that the keel can flex a little bit and smooth things out. I've been running pretty high (50-60 psi) pressure and thick thornproof tubes and have been quite comfortable even on rough pavement.

-Everyone who sees it loves it. Kid trailers and even big dummies are pretty common in SLC but I'm not sure anyone else in town has a long John, so I get to spend a lot of time talking to people about it. This may end up being less fun after a few months, we'll see. I think the bike will be a good rolling advertisement, which is nice.

Now, the bad:

-I suck at woodworking and don't really anticipate putting my son on the bike for at least a few years (he rides in the chariot right now) so I made this a dedicated *cargo* bike. You could probably build a seat/box like a CETMA and bolt it on, but this one is not very modular. In other words, if you want to haul your kids or drunk friends home from the bar, this isn't the best configuration and it would be somewhat hard to change that. Maybe I'll do something a little different for #2.

-The push rod that steers the front wheel is a bit ugly, because I put the bend too far back and didn't make it tight enough. I'll probably do another push rod at some point but it's hardly visible under the cargo platform and works fine, so maybe I'll just resolve to do better next time.

-Next time I will put a coupler in the middle of the keel so I can break the bike down to store or move it. It takes up a TON of space and is very heavy and awkward (probably ~45 pounds) to hang up in the garage, though it can be done. Luckily I think I have a good spot to park it on our front porch. If/when we move next, I'll have to make some hard decisions about what to do with it, as it's going to be quite hard to transport.

-My last-second decision to decrease the offset on the fork means that there's very little room at the front for a fender between the tire and downtube/keel. Gotta do better with that next time (a little slacker on the HTA and a little more fork offset). Thanks to the fact that I've bolted a big plastic box to the front of the cargo platform, I basically have a fender anyway, but soaking the box every time I'm riding in the wet isn't ideal (I don't think the contents will have a problem, though).

In any case, long story short I really like this bike. It is going to save me from a lot of driving and hauling heavy loads on it is a breeze. Plus it's just fun to ride around with 80 pounds of dog food and impress/horrify all the people at Costco.

So if you're considering a long john, I say go for it. I really think it's a lot more practical/fun than the alternatives if you're looking to deal with heavy loads on a regular basis. For those who just want to transport kids, maybe not as ideal (though once I get my act together to do another one with a box and seat, who knows).

Oh, random notes:
-Bridges for the fender and kickstand aren't on yet. I should have time to do those this week. I have a cheapo roll-back kickstand coming that may or may not suck.
-The cable routing for the front brake (which is IMO mandatory to have for what I am doing) was not finalized yet when I took this photo. If you look closely you can see a bunch of electrical tape and zipties. Very professional!
-I'm going to have her powdercoated this week, I think. A nice sky blue.
-Box is just a random one I had sitting around. It's bolted onto the platform with 3 M5 bolts (there are tons of water bottle bosses all over the place on the platform).

Will I offer Long Johns for sale? As of now, the answer is a qualified "no". I need more experience with this (and time on the bike) to see what I need to change. As of now, I don't consider it a professional product and and as such I won't sell them. If, however, you live in SLC and would like to borrow the bike and give me feedback, then serve as a guinea pig for #2, I might consider it. If you're not local, no way, at least for the time being. Cost would be somewhere around $2500 for a complete bike similar to what is shown here (but obviously powdercoated and with fenders and such).


Matt said...

Since you won't build me one anytime soon... do you know who else in the U.S. is making/distributing anything similar?

joel said...

Hunter Cycles http://www.flickr.com/photos/huntercycles/6140210119/in/set-72157618228963134