The longtail concept is brilliant. Anyone who, for the first time, sees a longtail such as an Xtracycle or Surly Big Dummy immediately appreciates its sublime functionality. The fact that these longer-than-normal bikes can haul large items such as lumber, furniture, or even a kid or two, is a real boon to transportational bicyclists.
We only infrequently need to carry such large items (our cargo needs mostly revolve around grocery shopping), so we have yet to purchase a longtail. And because parking space — both at home and in public spaces — is at a premium around here, we’ve gone the route of using a standard-wheelbase bike for our cargo hauling needs.
Our daily cargo hauler is a modified Surly Long Haul Trucker touring bike. The LHT, as it’s called, makes an ideal base platform for building a cargo bike because it was designed to haul a touring load. A load is a load when it comes to carrying weight on a bicycle, and the LHT is up to the task. The details that make it a good cargo hauler include:
- a robust, but relatively lightweight, chromoly steel frame
- wide range gearing with sufficiently low, lows
- robust 36-spoke wheels
- a full set of braze-ons for mounting racks and fenders, and
- sufficient clearance for high flotation tires.
While it had plenty of potential straight out of the box, the LHT required a few modifications to make it a true cargo bike. The changes we made included:
- adding heavy duty cargo racks front and rear
- replacing the stock drop handlebars with upright North Road bars to provide better leverage and more control at low speed
- replacing the outer chainring with a chainwheel disc to act as a chainguard (we find no need for a large chainring on a city bike)
- adding a dual-legged kick stand
- replacing the stock brake pads with Kool Stop salmon pads, and
- adding fenders and lights.
Robust racks are an absolute must for cargo hauling; it’s crucial that the racks are stiff enough that they don’t sway when loaded. We chose the Tubus Cargo (88 lb. capacity) for the rear, and the Pass & Stow (25 lb. capacity) for the front. Both are built with chromoly and are triangulated to provide extreme rigidity. We use a combination of various cargo nets, touring panniers, grocery panniers, and rack-specific bags to carry everything. The particular combination we choose varies depending upon our specific needs for each trip.
If our situation changes in the future and we have the need for more carrying capacity, we may yet end up with a longtail. But in our current situation, our modified LHT is ideal; it provides plenty of carrying capacity while still being compact enough to interface with public transit and city bike storage facilities.