The Right Tools

I’m a big fan of versatile bikes that are ready for just about any challenge a year-round utility bicyclist might encounter. Bikes with strong frames, robust wheels, puncture-resistant tires, fenders, lights, racks, bells, and bags. Bikes that don’t provide any excuses for not using a bike instead of a car. I have a couple of bikes like this and I recommend them to friends. About 90% of my riding is done on all-purpose bikes.

I think of these bikes as being analogous to specialized tools such as freewheel spanners and headset wrenches. While we don’t use them as frequently as adjustable wrenches or multi-tools, a specialized tool for a specialized job is nice to have on-hand when it’s required.

While these “multi-tool” bikes see the most use, specialized bikes that fill the gaps not covered by more conventional designs can be an important part of a car-free or car-lite lifestyle. Cargo bikes and folding bikes (as shown above) are two of the niche bikes that serve specific purposes not covered by more versatile bikes. I think of these bikes as being analogous to specialized tools such as freewheel spanners and headset wrenches. While we don’t use them as frequently as adjustable wrenches or multi-tools, a specialized tool for a specialized job is nice to have on-hand when it’s required.

The Yuba Mundo V3 and Brompton M3L shown above are at two ends of a spectrum of bikes that fall under the umbrella of “utility”. The Mundo is a dedicated cargo bike capable of hauling up to 440 lbs. plus rider. Yuba offers a number of accessories for the Mundo that make it possible to carry such diverse payloads as furniture, bicycles, 6-8 bags of groceries, a second adult, or even a pair of small children. You’re really only limited by what can be strapped on the side rails, and what the rider can comfortably hold up and balance while sitting still.

The Brompton represents the far opposite end of the utility spectrum. It’s the smallest folding bike available, which makes it immensely useful for those who ride public transit or drive sub-compact cars and have the need to carry a bicycle in the trunk. The fold is quick and easy; with a little practice, the M3L can go from rolling to fully folded in less than 30 seconds. The package is neat and tidy, and the chain is hidden between the two folding halves. Brompton offers a wide variety of bag options, making it possible to use their bikes for commuting, touring, travel, and grocery shopping (some people even fold the bike and place it right in their shopping cart with their groceries).

Both of these bikes will be featured in upcoming reviews. The Mundo review is running late due to a late, wet, spring followed by a few weeks of illness, but it’s nearing completion as we speak. We just received the Brompton, so we still have some work to do on that one, but if all goes well you’ll be seeing that review in June. It’ll be a fun one; our friend Bert at NYCeWheels sent us a full complement of Brompton bags, so we’ll go through the whole set and do some side-by-side comparisons for you.

12 Responses to “The Right Tools”

  • Josh Lipton says:

    From the “multi-tool” perspective, I would suggest bike cargo trailers as offering more versatility than long-tail bikes such as the Yuba Mundo. You can hook them up when you need them and leave them at home when you don’t. That being said, longtail bikes are well suited for larger loads than many bike cargo trailers and can take passengers as well. And in the perspective of the right tool for the job, a longtail bike is perhaps more ideal as you only have one devise to deal with, manuever, park and store. All that being said, add a bike cargo trailer to a long-tail bike and you can really carry quite a bit of cargo.

  • Darryl Jordan says:

    I live in an apartment and a long-tail cargo bike would be nice to have but difficult to store and expensive to keep for occasional use. If I had a garage, it would be handy to have a full “tool kit” of specialized bikes. But, like the previous comment by Josh, trailers are probably going to remain very popular just for the convertibility. My choices of bicycle types is wether it is storable at home and can I haul it upstairs? Anything else would require a garage which I don’t have.

  • Hercule says:

    Looking forward to both the reviews of the Yuba (which I lust after) and the Brompton (already have a S6L that replaced an older L5, so have been Brompton borne since 1997).

    Although they are more specialist tools, and I use other bikes for more general uses, if I had to get rid of all my stable bar one, it would be the Brompton that I’d keep… It allows me to fit cycling into my day in all sorts of unexpected ways and is remarkably versatile even if not the perfect fit for every job. It’s a bit of a Swiss Army knife of bikes – you wouldn’t want to use it in preference to a drawer full of Park bike tools, but it can do remarkable things despite this.

  • Alan says:


    It always amazes me how many people say their Brompton is their “if I had to choose one” bike.

  • townmouse says:

    Am I the only person who wanted the brommie to be on the rack of the cargo bike?

  • AdamM says:

    @ townmouse: No! I agree entirely.

    The advantage of a cargo bike over a trailer is that you always have it with you. With a trailer you have to plan ahead and know in advance that you are going to need it, with the cargo bike you can be much more flexible in your planning. Horses for courses though, and the storage thing is definitely an issue with cargo bikes. Shipping is too: I’ve been wanting a Surly Big Dummy for ages, but no one will ship them from the US because they are just too big (even just the frame). You can buy them in shops here in Australia, but the frame/forks retails for as much as the complete bike would cost me from America. :^(

    I’ve just bought a front mounted bike seat for my son so am really excited about taking him on short local rides. When he grows out of that I really want to have a cargo bike so he can sit behind me in comfort and see more than from a ‘normal’ rear mounted bike seat. I suspect I’ll settle for an Xtracycle as a cost-compromise.

  • Sean in Calgary says:

    We sell the Yuba at our shop (as well as Xtracycles, JoeBikes, and trailers) and we loaded up our Yuba with a big load for use during our Bike To Work day last week. It was the first time I had a chance to really ride the bike with cargo onboard – and I have to say it was incredibly easy to ride and felt rock-solid – much more solid than any Xtracycle Freeradical setup i’ve tried.

    Storage of cargo bikes can be an issue for sure – but if you have the space, they are incredible tools and can make it very easy to go carfree or car-light.

  • Dave Lloyd says:

    I’ve used a Dutch-y commuter bike (Trek L200), trailer, and Xtracycle (now Big Dummy). The Xtracycle/BD is vastly superior to the trailer for hauling kids and all but the bulkiest of loads that would be better suited to a flatbed trailer. Plus, I’ve always got the cargo with me. My commute is right around 16 miles round trip (including dropping off my son at school), so around a medium-ish distance.

    I found that I was no slower on the Xtracycle than my L200 and after I started riding my X, I rarely rode my L200 so I sold it. If you are thinking about hauling heavy loads or kids all the time, the Big Dummy is definitely better than the FreeRadical as it has far less frame flex under load.

    Bottom line is that a “niche” bike like the Big Dummy can make a great daily driver.

  • Elise Giddings of Cycle9 says:

    My cargo bike is my car now 6 days a week, faithfully transporting my kids to and from school. My other bikes have slowly been sold off as I never have much of a chance to ride them now – it will change when I don’t need the “mini van” bike anymore, but I think I’ll always keep a cargo bike around because they are so versatile if you don’t want to rely on your car.

    The Yuba is a pretty nice bike for the price and the frame is rock solid. We recently loaded over 1,000 bananas on one just to see if it could be done! (see video at

    I have a friend with a Brompton who has put it in the overhead bin of an airplane – now that’s a travel bike!

  • Phil Barns says:

    You can store the Yuba vertically, by standing it up on the rear racks and using a rope through a ringbolt to stop the top/front wheel toppling over. I have innertubes wrapped round the top deck and sideloaders to prevent paint scratches. I regularly turn the ( unloaded ) bike round by grasping the handlebars, stepping down on the end of a sideloader, pulling back and pivoting the bike vertically on the point of a sideloader. I had to bolt a couple of hose clamps on the pivot points for reinforcement and reposition my rear dynamo light, but it works.

  • Derek says:

    The yuba is exactly the bike I need and will (soon) have. It will haul 2 children with ease that no longer fit comfortably in a trailer. And it will haul a lot more than that. I think it will be a perfect transition tool for those looking to move from an automobile-centric life.

  • Dan says:

    Regarding the right tool for the job:

    I sold my car about 8 months ago and promptly used a chunk of my equity to buy a big dummy frameset (on clearance from treefort bikes + free shipping). If anyone is interested, you can read my impressions here – The short of it is that my experience has been noting but positive. Not quite change-your-life positive, but still pretty great.

    Interestingly, most of my cargo has been of the human variety. My friends love riding on back and I certainly don’t mind hauling them. I’ve hauled 8 full grocery bags + passenger, a live musician, all kinds of bike parts, a households’-worth of dirty laundry, soil and gardening tools, Christmas presents and all manner of camping gear. It’s really been quite wonderful the whole way.

    There’s no denying the fact that the BD is heavy, but it’s not slow. I’ve been on fast group rides with it and have little trouble keeping up. I also recently got rid of my commuter/tourer’s rack and pannier setup and now just do all of my camping with the Big Dummy and some basic dry bags.

    As for storage, I live in a second-story Chicago apartment. At first, the BD was a terror to get up and down the stairs, but after 6 or 7 tries, I developed the right techniques and now it’s a breeze.

    Of course a longtail isn’t perfect for everyone, but it’s filled more than one bike niche for me. In fact, it’s soon to be a race bike – :)

    Now if someone could just perfect the folding longtail cargo bike…

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