When your cart is bigger than your bike

Every six-to-eight weeks, I make a big stock up run to Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, which are conveniently located near each other.  They are also located relatively near a light rail stop, making them ideal for a bike + transit trip.

That said, I usually make the trip by car, trying to combine it with a time that I’ll be out and about in the car in the vicinity of said stores anyway.  Making this trip by bike poses two challenges that aren’t an issue with the car:

  1. Can I fit everything on my bike?
  2. What do I do with the groceries from the first store while I’m in the second store?

The answer to #1 is . . . maybe — more on that in a sec.  The answer to #2 is, “It depends.”  I usually hit WF first and TJ’s second because I buy frozen veg at TJ’s that I want to get back in a freezer ASAP.  For today’s trip, I went to WF first, as usual.  I fit most of my WF grocery bags into Big Blue’s side loaders, where I could conceal them fairly well with the flaps.  Sure, someone could walk off with my groceries, which would totally suck, but to make this bike thing somewhat reasonable, I counted on the decency of my fellow shoppers.  I brought the one bag I couldn’t fit into the side loaders into TJ’s with me.

Back to question #1 — I’ve made this double-store trip at least once before, and the bike was full, but it wasn’t an issue.  I don’t know what was different today, but for some reason I barely made it.

As in, barely fit all of the bags, and then, once I had everything loaded, I dropped the thing right in front of Trader Joe’s as I wheeled it from the sidewalk into the parking lot.  Yep, that was me, attempting to heave Big Blue back upright.  Fortunately, I had packed everything well enough that no bags fell off of / out of the bike, and no items fell out of bags, and a nice lady stopped to help me right the bicycle.

I knew riding it would be easier than walking it, but my confidence was a little low at that point.  I wobbled my way to the MetroLink stop, where I examined my scraped knee and took some pictures to regroup.

I wrangled the bike onto and off of the train without incident, thankful that I wasn’t actually riding the bike all that far, and wobbled home to survey my haul.

Nine bags in all (these six + three insulated bags)

Curious, and expecting a big number, I weighed all of the bags.  From the way the bike was handling, I was expecting close to 200 pounds!  The grand total?  A measly 105 pounds — whomp, whomp, wah.  On the up side, everything was fully intact despite the tip, including a number of glass jars / bottles (the nice thing about Big Blue is that she doesn’t really tip far to either side because of the metal running board rails).

I’m not sure if this load was really that much heavier than previous big loads, or if I just loaded it poorly.  I know it’s better to carry weight lower and evenly distributed on both sides.  I fit two bags in each of the side loaders, which left five bags on the cargo rack.

I’m not sure what I could have done differently.  For now, I’m thinking that if I want to do WF and TJ’s by bike, I need to divide it into two trips, unless one of the stores is truly just a few items.

Test driving a Bullitt cargo bike

When we visited Portland two years ago, I had good intentions of visiting bike shops and test driving some cargo bikes, as I was already dreaming about adding something with serious kid- and cargo-carrying capacity to our fleet.  Alas, somewhere in the mix of vacation with a 14-month-old, this just didn’t happen.

Sadly, there are zero bike shops in St. Louis that carry cargo bikes (if I won the lottery, I’d open a bike shop specializing in family, cargo, and commuting bikes — anyone want to fund this???).*

Anyhow, when we were planning our return trip to Portland, just a few months after purchasing our own cargo bike, I prioritized trying something new-to-me.  A bit of research revealed that for $25 we could rent a Bullitt bicycle (a bakfiets or Dutch long-john cargo bike that I’ve read about over at Tiny Helmets Big Bikes) for a day from Splendid Cycles.  I emailed the shop owners, settled on a date, and that was that.

On Thursday morning, we blew right past Splendid Cycles and were partway down the Springwater Trail (along the Willamette River) before we realized we must have somehow missed the shop.  We backtracked and found the shop right at the trail head.

They put a lime green Bullitt up on the repair stand to look things over, while we browsed their other offerings and chatted with one of the owners.


Can I sit in here?  Gabriel’s a fan of this model with the sweet rain cover.  Also love the detail work on the box!


Gabriel checking out Big Blue’s (AKA Roadrunner) long-lost twin, with the Hooptie accessory (the wrap-around bar he’s holding onto).  I’m totally wishing we included one of these when we ordered Big Blue.  I imagine we’ll end up getting one, we’ll just have to eat the shipping cost.  With the Hooptie, we could carry Gabriel and one or two of his friends, which could come in handy.

Before we knew it, our rental Bullitt was ready to roll.  The guys at the shop assured us that we’d adjust quickly to the steering and general handling.  Specific tips were to not look at the front wheel, and that it would be trickiest at low speeds.  We’d decided Matthew would be driving it first, so he set out for a little trial run before hitting the streets.  (To Gabriel’s delight, Splendid Cycles is located right across from a concrete manufacturing plant with lots of big machinery — his idea of a “scenic” bike ride.)


I waited with our borrowed bike and trailer . . . .


Several minutes later, they returned, and Matthew announced he was good to go.


With lunch and nap-time looming, we set out on our three-mile trip home, which was significantly uphill.  I could tell the hills required a good bit of effort (more effort than I exerted pulling the trailer), but all-in-all, Matthew made it look easy.

After lunch, we were all tired, so I didn’t get my shot at the Bullitt until after nap time (can’t believe I waited that long, after all the excitement).

After naps all around, we loaded the bikes and set off for a short jaunt to a neighborhood farmer’s market.  I hopped on the Bullitt, tried to turn the bike in the direction I wanted to ride, panicked, and dumped it in the middle of the [low-traffic, residential] street.

By “dumped,” I just mean that the bottom edge of the box met the asphalt (at very low speeds).  Gabriel was just fine, strapped into the padded seat in the box.  I imagine this is not an uncommon first experience riding this style of bike, but it was an inauspicious start, and did not exactly make me confident about handling the bike in traffic.

I picked it up, Matthew gave me a couple more tips and a pep talk, and we headed out.  Once I got the bike up to speed, all was well — the stops and starts were the tricky part.  Unfortunately, stops and starts are part and parcel of operating a vehicle in an urban environment.

I quickly realized that my beloved “balance stop” was not an option [for me] on the Bullitt.  I needed to plan on each and every stop sign being a “foot down” stop, or there was a good chance of tipping.  Fortunately, many of the bike boulevards in Portland minimize stop signs, so the stopping situation was less annoying than it would have been in St. Louis.

I made it the half mile to the farmers’ market, where we bought some fruit and tomatoes.  As we were reloading the bikes to continue to our next destination, Gabriel asked, “Daddy drive bike now?”

Matthew was astonished, because Gabriel is usually all-mommy, all-the-time.  The next words out of Gabriel’s mouth were, “Mommy makes it tippy.  Daddy drive.”  Thanks for the confidence boost, bud.

We explained that I really wanted to try riding the new bike some more, and we offered to let him ride in the trailer instead of the Bullitt’s box.  Even after our tip, he was a huge fan of his spot up front in the box (he’d been complaining that the trailer was bumpy, which it is), and he opted to stick with mommy.

At this point, he decided that if he was stuck with me as the driver, he may as well think good thoughts, because he said, “You can do it, Mommy,”  and then proceeded to chant, “Go, Mommy, go,” for ten blocks of uphill riding.

We made it with no more than a few wobbles, but by the time we reached our second stop, I was ready to be done with the Bullitt.  I could ride it, but it wasn’t particularly fun, so Matthew and I swapped back.


Of course, we neglected to get any photos of me actually riding the dang thing, so we had to stage this the next morning.  Note that the kickstand (you can see one of the legs bottom center) is down.  Also, I’m sitting crazy high because it wasn’t worth adjusting the seat height for a photo op.

I’m glad we tried the Bullitt, but after twenty-four hours, I was happy to return it.  Neither Matthew nor I ever really got comfortable to the point that we could use arm signals, which is an important part of riding in traffic.  We agreed that both the trailer and the longtail are much more nimble and easier when climbing.

The Bullitt (or similar bakfiets-type bikes) seems like a great option for really flat places.  Anywhere with hills, I would only want it with an electric-assist (which we didn’t try).

On the other hand, if you live somewhere flat or want to go for the e-assist, I can see the appeal.  I think with more practice, I would have adjusted to the steering.  Gabriel really liked being up front, and the cargo capacity is impressive (you could carry even more by adding a rear rack).  Compared with wrangling things into the longtail’s bags (or onto its rack), the ease of just tossing things into the box is quite attractive.

When we returned the Bullitt, Joel at Splendid Cycles said they had sold FOUR Bullitts the previous day (all with e-assist), one locally and three shipping to all parts of the country (Colorado, North Carolina, and, not too far from home, Springfield, MO).

All in all, I’m glad we had a chance to try the Bullitt, but I’m looking forward to returning home to our longtail.  There’s no place like home, and there’s no bike like your own!

*Big Shark very briefly had a Kona Ute and MinUte, and I did just see a cycle truck at The Hub a couple of weeks ago, but options are VERY limited.

Roadrunner specs and accessories

The folks at Xtracycle offer a few different build options for the Edgerunner, with different gearing and brakes, but once we decided we wanted an internal hub, it was cheapest to just buy the frame and build from there, rather than buy one of the stock bikes and swap parts.

First, a shout out to the Facebook group (R)Evolutions Per Minute: Cargo Bikes in the US.  Cargo bike owners and enthusiasts graciously answered questions and provided input throughout the entire longtail selection and building process, and their help was invaluable.  (R)Evolutions Per Minute is the Facebook group of the Less Car More Go cargo bike documentary project (learn more and check out the Kickstarter campaign).

Also, thanks again to The Hub (our LBS) for taking on this project (there are no official Xtracycle dealers in StL) and to the folks at Xtracycle, for taking time to answer our questions.

The Build

  • Edgerunner frameset w/ FSA Pig PRO headset
  • Alfine 11 Hub with parts kit and shifter
  • Alfine chain tensioner (needed on vertical dropout frame)
  • SRAM PC830 chains
  • 45 tooth front ring and an 18 tooth or 20 tooth cog on the rear (we asked The Hub for this build per the recommendation from Splendid Cycles; I’d actually have to go out and count the teeth to see whether or not this happened)
  • Avid BB7 Brakes Front and Rear, with Shimano centerlock adapter in rear
  • Brake levers: a longer city/hybrid style
  • Upgraded Avid Slickwire Brake Cable and housing to improve brake modulation and power (especially in rear)
  • Wheels: Shimano Rhyno Lite Rims, Butted Spokes, Brass nipples, Shimano XT front hub
  • Schwalbe Big Apples in black, front and rear.  26 x 2.15 with k-guard for front, and 20 x 2.15 with raceguard for rear
  • FSA Metropolis Cranks with Shimano UN-55 Bottom Bracket
  • Handlebar: Stock bar from a Kona Dew Delux that we tried and liked in the shop, similar to Civia Humbolt Handlebar
  • Kalloy UNO seatpost (will be swapping for a longer one, to accommodate Matthew’s height)
  • Dimension (or similar) stem
  • Hobson Easyseat noseless saddle — an extra one we already had
  • Shimano SPD pedals with SPD on one side, platform on the other

Xtracycle Accessories

  • FlightDeck [Two] rear deck: the new version has ports for the Yepp Easyfit seat built into the deck — this is both good and bad . . .
  • KickBack center kickstand
  • X2 cargo bags: We opted for the more expensive, waterproof X2 bags, rather than the X1 bags.  We were warned that they might not play nicely with the Yepp seat.  That is true, although we may not have fared much better with the X1 bags (more on that in a minute)
  • Standard Xtracycle racks: we liked the idea of the heavy duty P-racks, which also have the benefit of rails to accommodate any pannier, but the P-racks are taller than the standard racks, which would have meant a higher center of gravity for the rear load, so we stuck with the standard
  • Stock Edgerunner fenders (metal): Fenders are a must, and, with the different wheel sizes, it was easiest to order the set from Xtracycle, which comes with a 26″ front and a 20″ rear — the fenders provide great coverage and are very sturdy
Baby Jake on the left, Roadrunner on the right
Baby Jake on the left, Roadrunner on the right

Our Add-ons

  • Two brackets for use with our Planet Bike rear lights
  • One bracket for our Planet Bike “be seen” front headlight
  • This accessory mount for the handlebar
  • Mounting bracket for our Cygolite MityCross “see” headlights — for now, we moved the bracket from Matthew’s back-up bike, but at some point we may order an extra bracket
  • Water bottle cage (we had an extra sitting around)
  • Standard bike bell
Front light mounts and bell
The FlightDeck doubled as a convenient tool stand while installing the rear light brackets
The FlightDeck doubled as a convenient tool stand while installing the rear light brackets

Child seat and bag compatibility issue

We were warned by Xtracycle that the Yepp Child Seat might not play nicely with the X2 cargo bags — specifically, that we would not be able to use the lids that are an integral part of making the X2 bags waterproof.  Thinking long-term, we opted for the X2 bags anyway — in a couple of years, G will have outgrown the child seat, and we’ll have fully-functional bags — until then, we’ll just have to make sure cargo is protected from rain some other way.

Unfortunately, the compatibility issue seems to be exacerbated by the new FlightDeck design.  The previous design required the use of the Yepp Easyfit adapter, which meant the Yepp seat was mounted a couple of inches above the cargo deck.  While the new design, with the Yepp Easyfit ports built right into the cargo deck, is an improvement in terms of keeping the child’s weight lower and not having to buy the adapter, those extra vertical inches may have been key to the seat and the cargo bags playing nicely together.

The footrests on the Yepp seat, which straddle the cargo deck, do not fir over both the deck and the inside layer of the cargo bag when the seat is in the front port.  For our initial test ride, we had to use the rear port for the Yepp seat, which put G’s weight further back on the bike, creating more balance issues.


The following morning, we came to the above compromise: we returned the Yepp seat to the front port and scrunched the bags toward the back of the rack, so the front of the cargo bag is behind the Yepp footrest.  Not ideal, but seemingly our best option.

A note on the frame color

Though you can’t see much of the frame, what you can see in the pictures in this post actually come close to depicting the actual color.  I did a little digging on the Crayola website, trying to find a way to describe our frame color, and found . . .


. . . robin’s egg blue!  I think that is the closest color match I’ve seen.





What’s in a bicycle name?

We heard on Monday that Xtracycle will start shipping out the new batch of Edgerunners mid-month.  Since we’re just getting the frame, it will likely be at least another week beyond that before our bike is ready, but it should be road-worthy by the end of April.  I have to admit that when they pushed back the date from March to “early to mid-April,” I was hoping for more on the “early” side, but at least this is better than another delay.

My least favorite thing about the Edgerunner (and I say this having never seen one in person, much less ridden one) is the name.  It conjures up images of scooting along on the very far right side of the road, absolutely the last place you ever want to operate a bicycle.

Riding far to the right (i.e., at the edge of the road) makes you invisible and irrelevant to other road users.  It is also the place you encounter many of the dangers that cause the most common kind of bike crash (a solo fall) like debris, grates, pavement imperfections, wet leaves, sand, etc.  This is not how I ride and this is not what I teach.

So I am less than excited about the implications of the model name of this bike, but I’m also not huge on naming bikes.

I oh-so-creatively dubbed my Kona Jake, “Baby Jake.”  BUB (short for Back-Up Bike, my Schwinn Voyager) never really had a name, until I needed a way to distinguish between Baby Jake and BUB when writing here.  Before that, I may have also referred to BUB as “Baby.”

At any rate, I don’t really use the names I give my bicycles.  I don’t wake up in the morning and say, “Hmm, which bike will I ride today?  I think I’ll take BUB.”

I may just end up referring to the Edgerunner as “the longtail,” which easily distinguishes it from any of our other bikes.  I could also rename it “Roadrunner,” which deals with my main objection to the name, although I’m also not sure “runner” is terribly appropriate, as cargo bikes are not really built for speed (maybe it would deserve that name if I had electric assist!).  Another option, in a continuation of my not-so-creative names, would be “Blue.”

We’ll probably wait to settle on a name, if any, until we actually have the bike, so we can get a feel for her (his?) personality, but it’s not too early to start brainstorming.

So, what do you call your bike?  And, any suggestions for a good name for a blue Xtracycle Edgerunner longtail?







Waiting on our longtail bicycle

At the end of December, we started talking with a local bike shop (LBS) about options for ordering an Xtracycle Edgerunner.  The guy we worked with did a great job helping us price the different options.  Then came decision time.

To make the comparison easier, I added some details to the “pricing” page of the standard bike specs document for the Edgerunner, so we could see options with prices all on one page (details here: EdgerunnerOptions).

We were fairly sure we wanted an internal hub, and the most affordable option was to just start with the frame & fork and build it up from there (by which I mean the bike shop will be building it up from there, with some input from us as to the components).  As for accessories, we’re getting Standard Racks, the FlightDeck, the KickBack Center Stand (a super-stable, two-legged kickstand) and the X2 bags (which are waterproof).

By the time we made all of the decisions and finalized our order, Xtracycle was sold out of the frame & fork in our chosen color (Zone Blue) until mid-March.  (A note on frame color: we quickly ruled out both the white and the orange frames, leaving light blue or black. Despite blue being my favorite color, I didn’t love that shade of blue for a bicycle, and I had some temptation toward the sleek simplicity of the black — but we went with the blue.)

So now we wait.  The fact that we’ve had so much crappy weather and so much snow and ice on the roads actually makes the wait easier — even if we had the bike already, it would mostly be sitting around, lonely and gathering dust.

UPDATE: I wrote this post on Sunday.  Yesterday, our LBS guy checked in with Xtracycle, and they’re now not expecting this shipment until early- to mid-April.  Boo, hiss!!!

I decided not to order the child seat (Yepp Maxi EasyFit) directly from Xtracycle, in the hopes of finding a used one on EBay or Craigslist.  Turns out, there aren’t many out there, at least not on EBay or my local-ish CL options (StL, Kansas City, Colombia, MO), so when I saw an auction for a “new, opened-box” blue Yepp Maxi on EBay, I decided to go for it, and I won the auction.  Once you factor in the shipping, it wasn’t a great deal, but it did save some money.

The seat I bought included the adapter for attaching it to a regular bicycle, which we won’t need once we have the Edgerunner.  However, since we don’t expect the Edgerunner for at least a month, I installed the seat on Matthew’s bike.


When I first opened the box and started looking at the seat and the mounting hardware, I had a moment of panic where I wondered if we would, in fact, actually still be able to use our rear racks and panniers with the child seat.  The assumption that we would not was largely what led us to purchase a longtail in the first place.  Had we just spent all that money for nothing?

While you can’t necessarily tell from the above picture, my fears were quickly assuaged once I actually started installing the seat — no way is the rear rack useable with the seat in place.  (We noticed that Yepp UK has a rack extender accessory that would theoretically allow you to use the seat and standard panniers on a regular (i.e., non-longtail) bicycle.)

At just over 35-pounds, Sir is still under the 38-pound weight limit for the IBert front seat (though his height means his legs are a bit cramped), and I’ll enjoy getting at least a few more rides with him up front with me.  Once we get the Edgerunner, I’ll be looking for a new [long-term loan] home for the IBert (if you’re interested, and local, let me know), hopefully someone who will use and enjoy it as much as I did!