October 23, 2012

Sick day #5 – Cargo Bike!

Yes, I still have the flu, so I’m getting my MTBR/blogger overdose for the year. Some
of y’all will find this interesting (I’ve also posted it on the Cargo
Bikes board), some not so much. Huge shout out to Eddie who basically
walked me through all of the difficult parts and saved me from some
(thought not all by any means) of my inevitable screwups.

Just thought I’d share this since it’s (almost) done now. I recently
moved my shop to SLC and needed a “break in the tools again” project to
do that would allow me to make sure everything was set up and working
right. Since I make it a point not to drive my car unless I absolutely
have to (it’s a 2002 with 50k miles on it, so I’ve done ok, I guess) I
figured a long john would be a fun thing to have (in Boulder, I just
used our Chariot and/or a backpack to haul stuff around) so I built one.

And it basically does just what I wanted it to, plus I learned a lot
building it. If anyone is curious I’m happy to post some specs on tubing
and geometry and such, just ask.

Having ridden a bunch of different cargo/utility bikes, I can happily
say that this is by far my favorite configuration. Heavy loads are much,
much easier to deal with than rear-loading setups because they’re
carried so low, which is important for me since I’m usually doing stuff
like getting ~80# argon tanks from the welding supply or making runs to
Costco for dog food or whatever. The bike is super stable with a load,
handles nicely at both low and high speeds, and also gets lots of
attention from other cyclists and motorists, which is always fun.

That said, there’s a bunch I’d do differently if I built another one,
and I’m sure as I spend more time running errands I’ll find shortcomings
that need to be addressed.

Stuff I really like:

-The bike can pretty easily (note the HUGE stack of spacers) be set up
for anyone from about 5’2″ to 6’4″ or so by moving the seat and swapping
stems/raising or lowering the bars. This is a feature that my friend
Eddie designed into his long johns which I blatantly copied. Standover
is about 27″, and it could easily be lower, but both my wife and I have
very long legs (36 and 34″ inseams) so it seemed pointless to make
things more compact in this case.

-I can carry really heavy and/or bulky loads pretty easily. I’ve put
lots of attachment points on the platform for tiedowns or bungees and
the anti-skid diamond tread material works really well to keep things
from sliding around.

-The ride is surprisingly comfortable with a 20″ front wheel, simply
because the bike is so long that the keel can flex a little bit and
smooth things out. I’ve been running pretty high (50-60 psi) pressure
and thick thornproof tubes and have been quite comfortable even on rough

-Everyone who sees it loves it. Kid trailers and even big dummies are
pretty common in SLC but I’m not sure anyone else in town has a long
John, so I get to spend a lot of time talking to people about it. This
may end up being less fun after a few months, we’ll see. I think the
bike will be a good rolling advertisement, which is nice.

Now, the bad:

-I suck at woodworking and don’t really anticipate putting my son on the
bike for at least a few years (he rides in the chariot right now) so I
made this a dedicated *cargo* bike. You could probably build a seat/box
like a CETMA and bolt it on, but this one is not very modular. In other
words, if you want to haul your kids or drunk friends home from the bar,
this isn’t the best configuration and it would be somewhat hard to
change that. Maybe I’ll do something a little different for #2.

-The push rod that steers the front wheel is a bit ugly, because I put
the bend too far back and didn’t make it tight enough. I’ll probably do
another push rod at some point but it’s hardly visible under the cargo
platform and works fine, so maybe I’ll just resolve to do better next

-Next time I will put a coupler in the middle of the keel so I can break
the bike down to store or move it. It takes up a TON of space and is
very heavy and awkward (probably ~45 pounds) to hang up in the garage,
though it can be done. Luckily I think I have a good spot to park it on
our front porch. If/when we move next, I’ll have to make some hard
decisions about what to do with it, as it’s going to be quite hard to

-My last-second decision to decrease the offset on the fork means that
there’s very little room at the front for a fender between the tire and
downtube/keel. Gotta do better with that next time (a little slacker on
the HTA and a little more fork offset). Thanks to the fact that I’ve
bolted a big plastic box to the front of the cargo platform, I basically
have a fender anyway, but soaking the box every time I’m riding in the
wet isn’t ideal (I don’t think the contents will have a problem,

In any case, long story short I really like this bike. It is going to
save me from a lot of driving and hauling heavy loads on it is a breeze.
Plus it’s just fun to ride around with 80 pounds of dog food and
impress/horrify all the people at Costco.

So if you’re considering a long john, I say go for it. I really think
it’s a lot more practical/fun than the alternatives if you’re looking to
deal with heavy loads on a regular basis. For those who just want to
transport kids, maybe not as ideal (though once I get my act together to
do another one with a box and seat, who knows).

Oh, random notes:
-Bridges for the fender and kickstand aren’t on yet. I should have time
to do those this week. I have a cheapo roll-back kickstand coming that
may or may not suck.
-The cable routing for the front brake (which is IMO mandatory to have
for what I am doing) was not finalized yet when I took this photo. If
you look closely you can see a bunch of electrical tape and zipties.
Very professional!
-I’m going to have her powdercoated this week, I think. A nice sky blue.
-Box is just a random one I had sitting around. It’s bolted onto the
platform with 3 M5 bolts (there are tons of water bottle bosses all over
the place on the platform).

Will I offer Long Johns for sale? As of now, the answer is a qualified “no”. I need more experience with this (and time on the bike) to see what I need to change. As of now, I don’t consider it a professional product and and as such I won’t sell them. If, however, you live in SLC and would like to borrow the bike and give me feedback, then serve as a guinea pig for #2, I might consider it. If you’re not local, no way, at least for the time being. Cost would be somewhere around $2500 for a complete bike similar to what is shown here (but obviously powdercoated and with fenders and such).