The carrying capacity of a conventional bike shouldn’t be underestimated – it’s amazing what you can fit into a decent set of panniers. However, with cycling as my main form of transport, I often wished I could carry heavier or awkwardly-shaped items.The obvious solution was a trailer, and I picked up a great hand-built one, but found that for a number of reasons it didn’t quite suit my needs. Most crucially, with a trailer you only have the extra cargo capacity when you’ve bothered to lug it round with you.
Few people would be willing to keep even the slickest, lightest trailer permanently attached to their bike. If you’re of a well organised persuasion, this probably isn’t a worry, as you’ll just hitch a trailer on when required. But personally I decided I’d like to be able to hop on my bike knowing I could carry a big load whenever the need arose.That’s why I ended up buying a ‘FreeRadical’, a kit designed to turn a regular bike into a cargo bike.
According to the booklet, ‘installation is meant to be carried out by a professional bicycle mechanic only’. But I enjoy fiddling with bikes, and had enough confidence in my mechanical abilities to have a go.The first task is to remove the rear wheel, chain, rear derailleur and brakes.The FreeRadical frame then simply bolts into the dropouts for the rear wheel, and is also attached near the bottom bracket.This produces an extended bike frame which seems pretty sturdy – I’ve had no problems with mine as yet. Rear derailleur and brakes need to be re-fitted with the extended cables provided with the kit.
…you can even carry passengers… up to a maximum payload of 90kg…
With the rear wheel slotted into place, you’ll find the wheelbase has grown by around 38cm (15 inches), which means extending the chain by attaching the extra 30 inches of links supplied.With everything back together and re-adjusted, the remaining task is to assemble the load-carrying frame.The FreeRadical has four vertical tubes – one pair in front of the rear wheel, and one pair behind. Into these slot two U-shaped racks, one on either side of the wheel, straddled and clamped into place with what the surfer-dude designers have styled a ‘SnapDeck’, but we would call a bit of plywood.
Load carrying is done primarily in so-called ‘FreeLoaders’: Nylon flaps which attach to the racks. These are open at the top, so shouldn’t be used simply as bags (I initially made that mistake and lost a few things as a result!).The idea is that you put your shopping in bags and put the bags in the FreeLoaders.The open- topped design allows you to carry large or awkwardly- shaped loads, such as wooden planks.
As well as lashing on loads via the FreeLoaders, you can strap big objects onto the SnapDeck platform, and you can even carry passengers this way, up to a maximum payload of 90kg. Footrests are available as an option to make the ride a bit more comfortable! Other options include horizontal racks to give even greater load- carrying capacity. I haven’t tried these, but on the web site there are lots of pictures of sporty right-on types carrying canoes and the like.The full package (bike and FreeRadical), is referred to (with more surf-jargon) as an XtraCycle.
Extending the wheelbase of your bike obviously produces a significant change in handling. I think this is best summarised as an increase in stability with a corresponding decrease in manoeuvrability – a bit like changing from a small-wheeled folder to a conventional road bike. It’s a subjective thing, but I really like the ‘cruiserish’ feel of the XtraCycle.The bike remains nippy enough, and the extra length is a key factor in the bike handling well under loads.The whole assembly adds just over 4kg to the weight of your bike.This does affect acceleration a bit, but not excessively so.
Being 38cm (15″) longer and marginally wider at the back than a regular bike, the question of compatibility with public transport is important. In my experience, on trains where bike storage is in a guards van, an XtraCycle slots in no problem.Things become a bit more complicated where bikes are forced to jostle for space with passengers. For instance an XtraCycle will fit fine in the bike space on a Virgin Voyager, provided you remove the front wheel, but on trains with space for only two conventional bikes, an XtraCycle will take up both spaces. And the guard would probably take some ersuading to let it on. Having said all this, in my recent experience you have to be pretty brave to take even a conventional bike on many journeys – I think I’ll follow A to B’s advice and get a folder for the train.
…the design is not well suited to British weather… the SnapDeck absorbed water and warped…
A Few Problems
Most significantly, the design is not as well suited to British weather as it might be, which is hardly surprising, as the designers are based in Nevada.The FreeRadical frame is made of steel, while the racks that slot into it are aluminium. Given a heavy shower the vertical tubes of the FreeRadical collect water, and corrosion occurs rapidly, all the more so because of the interface between the two metals.Thankfully, this problem can be avoided by wrapping some waterproof tape around the junction between the racks and their sockets. Another damp-related problem I encountered was that after being left outside overnight, the SnapDeck absorbed water and warped. I’ve since painted it with exterior varnish, which seems to have worked.
You may need a few extra parts too. I found the new chain did not mesh properly with some of the gears on my rather old and worn rear cassette.This meant I had to shell out for a new cassette… Not a problem with hub gears, obviously.You may also need to upgrade the brakes for the extra weight, although my V-brakes worked fine.
For me, the FreeRadical has been a big success, enabling me to pootle happily about with large quantities of shopping, recycling, and the occasional friend. I’m sure a trailer would be a more appropriate solution for many people, but I definitely think a FreeRadical is worth considering if you regularly pull heavy loads, or simply fancy trying something a bit different.The ability to carry a passenger will also do wonders for your popularity, and helps to extend the role of the bicycle even further.
Unfortunately XtraCycle doesn’t do itself any favours in the way it brands the product: The skater/surfer terminology grates after a bit, and the web site is full of testimonials from born-again cycling-dudes whose lives have been transformed, which can be a bit off-putting to more cynical British eyes.
FreeRadical £225 (plus £14 p&p)
Weight (claimed) 4kg (8.8lb)
Maximum load 90kg (200lb)
USA Manufacturer Xtracycle mail firstname.lastname@example.org web www.extracycle.com
UK Distributors (England) Re-Cycle tel 01845 4580854 or 4580758 mail email@example.com
web www.re-cycle.org . (Scotland) Edinburgh Cycle Co-op tel 0131 3371484