Friday, April 10, 2015

The Bike that Rides Like a Car

I recently moved, and part of that move was acquiring a house with a garage.  I was particularly excited about this part of the move, not because I planned to use it for anything like parking our car, but because I finally had room to easily and conveniently park all of our bicycles, as well as room to work on them.  Furthermore it opened up the acquisition of non-standard size bicycles, bicycles that previously would have been too large for our small apartment.  Namely: a cargo bike.  In my case, an Xtracycle Edgerunner with the NuVinci N360 drivetrain.

Some might know that prior to the move (unfortunately) taking me away from it, I've spent the last couple of years working at a bike shop that specialized in cargo bikes, and the Xtracycle was one of our top products.  Most of our customers for the bicycle had big loads they needed to carry with it, usually one, two, or even three small children.  And it works superbly for loads like that.  However, since I've acquired my own, it's rapidly become one of my favorite bicycles for just riding around town and running errands, not necessarily just for huge loads.  We don't have kids yet, so most of my use is for non-live cargo.  Certainly, it's made food shopping on the bike easier, especially when the store has a really good deal on that 12 pack of IPA.  But I love riding it even when the mission doesn't require its full capacity.

Part of it is the fit.  Like all of my favorite bicycles, the large (19") Edgerunner with an uncut fork puts me in a nice, upright position, and the moderately swept bars with ergonomic grips are super comfortable.  It's a fit that works great both for jamming across town at a high pace or relaxed cruising with my wife, in any kind of clothing or footwear.  Even the stock, generic looking saddle is damn comfortable (at least for short distances), although I'm sure it'll get replaced with a Brooks at some point.  The great thing about the Xtracycle in particular is that this comfortable fit is paired with a frame design that is really well suited to it.  While the extra-long rear end of the bike is designed to help keep the bike balanced and easy to ride with a large load, it also makes the bike super well balanced with an upright riding position, since it keeps the center of gravity balanced between the two wheels, instead of biasing the rear wheel as an upright riding position does with more traditional frame geometries.  It handles great at any speed, both stable and more nimble that you would expect for such a large bike.  The icing on the cake in terms of the bike's comfort and confidence are the awesome 2.35" Schwalbe Big Ben tires, which ride smooth and fast, and offer tons of traction.

Which brings me to the second reason this bike has become my go-to: the parts spec, namely the drivetrain.  This is my first bike with an internally geared hub, and the NuVinci is a great example of the type.  The ability to shift across the gear range almost instantaneously means that I am always in the right gear, able to put power to the rear wheel without huge effort.  The continuously variable transmission (CVT) in this particular hub accentuates this ability even further.  What this means while riding is that I can keep my effort level constant, no matter my speed and even through stop-and-go city riding, which pretty much describes most riding on the gridded street system where I live.  I almost never have to stand up and put power down to the pedals to start up from a stop, as I often do with my derailleur or single speed bicycles.  This constant energy expenditure makes the bike super easy to ride, even when I am tired, thus making it more likely that I will choose it over my other vehicles (including my car) when I am headed out.  The icing on the drivetrain cake is that the constant chainline of the internally geared hub means that the the bicycle is also fitted with a partial chainguard, which means I never have to roll up my right pant leg to ride it.  Just hop on and go.

The final reason that the Xtracycle has become my go-to bicycle for errand running is its capacity, but not, as I stated above, because I need its full capacity all the time.  Instead, the Xtracycle has shown me the joys of overkill.  Having all that capacity means that any load smaller than its max capacity is a no-brainer.    No longer do I need to carefully consider which particular bag configuration on my standard-racked bike will be best suited to the errand before heading out.  No longer do I need to consider whether a bike or my car would be the easier way to carry a load.  When I'm shopping, I can impulsively pick up extra things (like that 12 pack) without worrying how I'm going to carry them.  When I leave the store, I don't need to spend a long time carefully packing the bike so I can get myself and the load home safely.  I just hop on the bike, get what I need, drop it in the X2 bags and go.  Done.

So, a vehicle that's comfortable to ride, requires a consistent, non-taxing level of energy to operate, and has more capacity than you really need, making normal loads super convenient?  The Xtracycle thus approaches the holy grail of alternative transportation.  For me, it's the bike that rides like a car.