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Xtracycle Free-Radical "Sport Utility Bike" Review
Please also read my four year newer articles and videos about the Xtracycle in action.
Have you ever wondered how practical it is to move large loads by bicycle ? I work as a basketmaker and send my baskets all over the world. They're not especially heavy but they can be bulky. They begin their journey on a workbike.
On my regular trips to the post office there is nearly always too much to carry on a conventional town bike. However, the Xtracycle delivery bicycle takes the load quite easily.
The bike has also been used to:
It's really a very flexible bike !
The free-radical attaches by three bolts at positions shown by the yellow arrows (the bolt on the right hand side of the bike is located symmetrically with the right most arrow in the photo). The bolts attach the frame to the back end of a mountain bike frame. Two bolts go where the wheel bolts/quick release used to be and the third comes with a clamp to fit near the bottom bracket. I didn't need the clamp on my bike.
I was originally put off buying an Xtracycle because the method of attachment didn't seem very confidence inspiring. I couldn't believe that the three bolts would provide enough rigidity that the bike wouldn't "whip" in use. However, my experience of riding one is that it seems about as rigid as a bike constructed "long" in the first place would feel.
I'm not a mountain biker and didn't have a donor bike. As a result, my Xtracycle ended up being fitted to a truly terrible old mountain bike frame which I bought from a police auction of dumped bikes. At some point I intend to paint this a matching colour, but it's been five years now and I've always had other things to do... This is a practical work machine for me and it gets treated as such.
I have a few criticisms of the design. There is no decent way of attaching a mudguard to the rear wheel. I live in Europe. It rains here ! Anyway, I improvised. A cut off bit of mudguard material has been attached with some stiff wire since the day I put the bike together. You can see it in the close-up photo. I also topped up the rather thin varnish on the ply board at the back with a couple of coats of yacht varnish, which seems to have helped it survive very well up to now.
Perhaps the worst thing is that the kickstand mount broke off. A single side kickstand is really not adequate for a cargo bike, but it might have survived longer had it been brazed correctly in the first place. Unfortunatley for me, this is a result of being an "early adopter". Later FreeRadicals are more robust in this area. However, what the bike really needs is the Xtracycle Kick-Back stand, which I have reviewed. This keeps the bike upright while it is loaded even with heavy loads.
Video of Xtracycle in use
The video shows me cycling to the post office with another load of baskets. It wasn't planned this way, but the kids just happened to be returning from school on their bikes at the same time so they're in it too.
Note that the Xtracycle is a very easy bike to ride, even with quite a heavy load - which can make it difficult to start, but has virtually no effect once you're moving. Even assymetrical loads don't seem to cause any difficulty.
It is not much different to riding a tandem without someone on the rear saddle and at least with a non-live cargo you don't have to contend with the "stoker" also trying to balance the bike. On the other hand, I've had such weight on the bike sometimes that I had a hard time getting it on and off the bike. At least a human can get themselves on and off.
The sides of the bike really deserve a basket to make carrying shopping easier. My Xtracycle has been very busy for a long time carrying baskets I've made for other people around but it took until 2008 for it to get a basket made specifically for it (you can see this below). If you have an Xtracycle, or any other kind of cargo bike, and would like a basket for it then please ask me.
Comparison with other bikes
I've ridden quite a few different cargo bicycles and tricycles of one kind or another, including old English butcher's bikes, Dutch bakfiets, Danish Christiania style trikes and Mike Burrows' 8-Freight.
In comparison with some of the other options, the Xtracycle falls short due to the luggage compartment being split in two by the rear wheel and and due to not being able to see your luggage. Also in common with all two wheelers you need to support it while you're loading and unloading.
The Xtracycle wins over some of the others due to being relatively light weight, having a lower price, and of course any two wheeler is a bit easier to store and get through traffic. Also, because you can use a variety of bikes to mount the Free-Radical, you can choose your own gearing and style of bike.
There are several good options, depending on the cargo you want to shift, the money you have to spend etc. It's a classic example of paying your money and taking your choice. The Xtracycle works well for me.
Because the Xtracycle Free-Radical only attaches to the rear of the bike, you can still add capacity by using racks which attach to the front. I've started selling two very useful front racks which will work alongside the Free-Radical. One is shown fitted to my bicycle in this photo. The other type is attached to the frame instead to the handlebars. Each type has advantages over the other.
For many loads, the front rack carries enough, especially when fitted with a basket. Click on the photos for more details of the front racks and baskets.
For me, the Xtracycle has been a marvellously useful bike. Perhaps you'd find it useful too.
For me this is a work bike. So far, I've had five years of quite un-glamorous cycling with little maintenance. It makes a few short trips a week with odd size loads, and just occasional longer ones for something special.
As it's my only MTB style bike, it's also the one I ride if I know I'll be going off road. The long wheel base helps no end.
The bike as it's been used recently for attending craft fairs. Lots of baskets, tools, a bench and soaked (heavy) willow ready for work and wrapped in old sheets. Willow trailer. With this set-up I rode 40 km in under 2 hours to get to Noordwolde for a basketmaking exhibition.
For more bike reviews, ride stories etc. see the bicycles page.