Wednesday, January 02, 2013


Happy New Year!

I've got a few things to blog about, and let's start with my latest bike project.

I recently took possession of an Xtracycle kit. My friend RGB has been using one as a winter bike and ended up preferring it, citing not only its increased load-carrying but also better handling and stability in wintry conditions (and here in Ottawa we have real winters!).

The basic frame looks like this...

... and then you can add to it, like this:

Fortunately, mine came with the complete kit consisting of the frame and what you see above. My friend Juergen is an Xtracycle dealer through his Ridemore shop, and he had the necessary brake adaptor for using a 700C wheel on the kit frame. Yes, 700C does fit, so you can (as I did) use a hybrid bike, but the clearance is rather tight and you can't use super thick tires.

I decided to add the kit to the blue winter bike I'd put together last year. That bike was having problems with its elderly Sachs 7-speed hub, and even after a rebuild the situation has not improved. During the changeover I just went with regular derailer gears.

The Xtracycle, in case you have not heard of it, is an extension you can add to the back of any bicycle. It takes the idea of the standard rear rack and expands that up into a true beast of burden. You can now buy bicycles with extended rear frames that resemble an Xtracycle though those are not a bolt-on kit. I recommend checking out the Xtracycle website to see how everything goes together, not ot mention the extensive list of accessories. I have to say I'm quite impressed with the thought that went into this product. When I was putting it together I was noticing how they really thought about how one part was going to fit together or around another part. Some fine engineering smarts went into this thing!

My interest in this concept is to try and lessen the need for my main trailer in the winter. While both of my trailers replace my cargo trike during the winter months they are not ideal at times. The red trailer gets used mostly to move the combination of drums and electronics that I use for my work with the Propeller Dance group.  It has been great for that, but there are a few issues...

Firstly, the bike gets turned from a single-track vehicle into a three-track one, and while the bike's wheels might run in a nice dry (or at least flat) track on the road the trailer's wheels sometimes are outside of that getting dragged through the slush. And even on dry roads you're still dealing with four wheels turning, with resulting drag. Secondly, the trailer has its own weight and you can sometimes feel it tugging behind you. Thirdly, because I have to store my trailer in the basement along with my bike and the gear I have to unhook the trailer from the bike, knock any snow and slush off, then carry it downstairs (it just fits through the door), and then bring the bike down. When one is cold and tired from a winter ride it's nice to reduce the amount of back and forth!

Because I strip my music gear down to the barest essentials to fit in the trailer I'm hoping that I can instead fit it all on the Xtracycle for many of these trips. This way I will still have a single track vehicle, and while it'll still have some weight of course it'll be one less thing I have to put together and put away.

While I await the dance group resuming next week I've been using the bike for trips around town and have found it to be remarkably stable, just as RGB said it would be. It seems to be mainly due to the longer wheelbase, and the most noticeable thing is that while the back end may wash out on occasion it doesn't seem to go as far as before, and seems just better able to stay centered. I still have the studded tire on the front wheel that stays where it should, while the rear just trails along like a happy little dog.

I kept the single 39-tooth front chain ring on the bike, and for the rear decided to do the same thing that I had done on my cargo trike, which is create a custom seven speed cassette. This involves using individual cogs from a cassette, something we have in good supply at the re-Cycles shop. (You can get those by grinding off the heads of the three pins that hold a cassette together. These pins are not structural - they simply keep everything aligned while putting the cassette on. But without them you now have the individual cogs and spacers and so can install the cogs you desire.) Looking up Sheldon Brown's gearing page showed me that Shimano used to make a 7-speed cassette of 13, 15. 17. 20, 24, 29, 34, and that gave me the proper spacing without having to do some trial and error.

(Yes, I know an 8- or 9-speed would give me more in-between gears, but I've been riding 7-speeds for two decades now and don't find the gaps to be much of an issue. And while the gearing range might seem rather low it feels perfectly dialed in for a heavy bike that needs to carry stuff.)

I am looking forward to seeing how this rig will work with the anticipated load that I have to carry to the dance gigs, and will report back as I go along.