A Compact Cargo Bike

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.

18 Responses to “A Compact Cargo Bike”

  • Ze Kohl says:

    Nifty, always liked the LHT and its great to see Surly finally do the 26″ versions with large frames too.

    One question, where can you get the Pass&Stow front Rack online preferably as i am from Germany and won’t have an american LBS around ;)

    Currently i am using the Tubus Duo front carrier on my travelling-bike and the Racktime Topit on my commuter/shopper/whatever ;)


  • Alan says:

    @Ze Kohl

    “One question, where can you get the Pass&Stow front Rack online preferably as i am from Germany and won’t have an american LBS around”

    They can be ordered directly from Pass & Stow: http://www.passstow.com/

  • Jeff says:

    Of all the wonderful bikes you have, this is my favorite. So simple and useful but also elegant. Well done!

  • Doug says:

    Your photography is amazing! That is one nice looking LHT. I love the set-up.

  • Steve Fuller says:

    It’s articles and photos like this that have me thinking that I need just one more bike. Thank you Alan. :)

  • Ze Kohl says:

    @Alan :
    Thanks for the quick respond but that Price is wayy out of my league.
    If the Topit ever breaks i’ll get a Surly “nice rack” ( oh do try to google it , good luck actually finding a front rack there ;) )

  • Suzanne says:

    Great looking bike.
    How much does it weights, with the racks ?

  • Bike Shop Girl says:

    Hey Alan,

    I hope you can take some time to weigh in on the bike build we are doing over at CommuteByBike.com As much as I think a LHT would be a good choice, I wonder if a Surly Cross Check with slightly faster angles would suit just as well.


  • Alan says:

    @Bike Shop Girl

    That looks like a fun project! I’ll have to read through the comments and add my $.02. :-)

    I think the Cross Check is a way cool bike, but IMO, when comparing to the LHT for cargo hauling specifically, there are a couple of points against it…

    —The CC’s fork doesn’t have a second set of bosses for mounting a porteur-style rack.
    —The CC’s shorter chainstays will limit rear pannier choices.
    —The CC’s semi-horizontal dropouts are a hassle unless you have a need for them.
    —The LHT’s frame is more robust and better suited to carrying heavy loads.
    —The LHT’s lower bottom bracket places the center of gravity lower, which in theory anyway, should make it more stable with a load.

    All that said, if you don’t plan on installing a porteur style rack on the front; or if you don’t plan on carrying touring-level loads; or if you end up needing horizontal dropouts for a SS or IGH drivetrain; or you simply want a quicker handling, more “road-ish” bike and you don’t mind the other trade-offs, I think the CC frameset would be a great choice.


  • Alan says:


    “How much does it weights, with the racks ?”

    As configured in the above photos but minus lights, right around 33 lbs.


  • Alan says:


    “It’s articles and photos like this that have me thinking that I need just one more bike. Thank you Alan. :)”

    I’m always happy to oblige, Steve. ;-)

  • Leaf S. says:

    Alan, what size Marathon Supremes are those?

    Your LHT is so right in so many ways. I actually saw two others today, here on the streets of Portland, set up very similar. I have a CC, singlespeed, with Albatross Bars that I use for commuting.

    Before the end of the year I’ll either be adding a SH or LHT to the quiver.


  • Alan says:


    “Alan, what size Marathon Supremes are those?”

    Those are 37-622

  • Lovely Bicycle! says:

    The colour on that Surly is beautiful, especially with the brown Brooks accessories. Surleys are not my cup of tea, but I am impressed with how pleased with them most of their owners seem to be.

  • Jose says:

    I have a very similar set-up on my LHT. I have both front and rear surly nice racks although I usually leave off the front rack, and have one large carradice superC pannier on the rear. I find this covers 80% of my needs, which are carrying my backpack for the daily commute and small loaded errands. For large grocery runs, i have burly flatbed attached by a quick release hitch. The LHT is the most used bike in my stable. Here’s a picture: http://enthoosed.com/bicycling/vehicle/view.v?id=21819.

  • Jose says:

    Sorry bad link. Here’s a good one: http://enthoosed.com/bicycling/vehicle/view.v?id=21819

  • Sami says:

    Hi Alan,

    This is one of the most brilliantly pragmatic bikes I’ve ever seen. Have you found that carrying a load on top of the front rack adversely affects the handling much?

  • Efried says:


    cargo bicycles are an alternative to owning an estate car for city dwellers. What are your preferences? Please answer that short survey presenting the alternatives:


    many thanks for your time


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