Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Xtracycle shakedown cruise

So, today marked the first test ride of the Xtracycle I've been building for the last couple weeks. The shake down cruise consisted of a jaunt of about 18 miles up to just north of Navy Pier where I turned around and headed back. I hadn't installed leads and sensors for using my bike computer so I had not idea of the speeds I was managing while riding. That didn't really matter though. On a shake down cruise, you mainly want to know if any bolts need tightening, or perhaps an adjustment to the saddle or handlebars, that sort of thing. Getting a better impression of handling and speed will come later. However, my initial impression was that it did feel almost as fast as my regular 700c commuter which is built on a Nashbar touring frame.

The bike feels noticeably different than a road bike, obviously, but it even feels a lot different than a mountain bike on which it is based. Trying to compare a touring bike to a longtail cargo bike is an apples and oranges kinda thing. However, one of the major selling points of the Xtracycle is that you can have a cargo bike that still feels like a bike. It does in fact still feel like a bike, but it also kinda feels like a truck. The more upright riding position and the lengthy wheelbase translate into a much more sluggish feel, particularly in corners. A couple of times I even felt as if the bike was almost understeering similar to how a car feels when cornering and the weight is too heavily balanced over the front tires.

I imagine the sense of understeering probably gets worse the more weight that the bike carries. Still, if the bike is loaded down with dozens of pounds of gear or even a hundred pounds or more, you're not going to be tear-assing around, so understeer is probably not a big issue. No one really talks about racing around on an Xtracycle laden with over 100 pounds of freight. Many other folks who have built Xtracycles have mentioned how nice it is to have a bike that kind of forces them to dial it back and take a more relaxed approach to their riding.

It will take more than a single ride to form some concrete impressions of the bike overall. My initial ride revealed a few areas in need of adjustment and one minor problem. The minor problem consisted of a rear brake cable that wasn't fully tightened leading to a quick trailside adjustment. Luckily I anticipated this sort of thing and had some basic tools along. As far as adjustments, my saddle and handlebar position will probably need to be tweaked. Also, the handlebars I installed were full width which is just way to wide for my tastes. A couple minutes with a tubing cutter will take care of that.

The bike isn't fully completely just yet. The cargo deck is going to get a painted on design and will need to sealed with a durable weatherproof finish such as spar urethane. Also, I plan to install fenders, and rather than having to swap lights back and forth between my bikes I'd like to install a dedicated set of lights as well. I plan to construct some running boards for extra load capacity and I am also making my own panniers using some Swedish military surplus back packs. An upcoming post will show in detail how I built the Xtracycle and how I solved some of the unique challenges involved in building the bike. Stay tuned!

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