Recumbents, crank forwards, cargo bikes, and longtails are all wonderful, specialized machines, optimized to do their thing particularly well. Among other things, they offer increased comfort, hauling capacity, and efficiency. The one place they all fall short is interfacing with public facilities designed for standard-sized bikes.
When gas prices spike again, and particularly if they stay there this time around, more people than ever will take to bicycles (not unlike they did in the summer of 2008). When that happens, we’re going to see increasing numbers of people using bikes for all or part of their existing commutes. While the idea of re-urbanization is wonderful, in large urban areas it’s likely that a majority of the workforce will continue to commute from the suburbs, even after converting to public transit and/or active transportation.
For many of these people who have 15-30 mile commutes or more, a pure bike commute is probably unsustainable. This means we’re going to see more bike commuters taking advantage of public facilities including transit bike racks and City bike parking facilities. Their bikes will need to fall within a standard footprint to seamlessly interface with these facilities. We’re going to need more bikes that provide some of the advantages of the specialized bikes mentioned above, while still falling within what I’d consider a “standard footprint”.
For comfort, these bikes should have high quality, ergonomic saddles, enough clearance for high flotation tires, and handlebar systems that provide plenty of adjustability.
For hauling, they should have front and rear racks with both top platforms and pannier mounts. And the racks should have much more capacity than most racks supplied with bikes today – I’m thinking something around 40 lbs. up front, and say 80 lbs. in the rear. The frames need to be stiff and tough and able to withstand hauling 100 lbs. plus rider on a regular basis.
These bikes need to be efficient enough that people don’t have to work unreasonably hard to get to where they’re going. On upright bikes, aerodynamics and comfort work against each other, but keeping weight reasonably low (say in the 30 lb. range), and drivetrain and rolling efficiency high, should be a priority.
And most importantly, they need to be no longer or taller than a standard touring bike with a wheelbase under 44″ so they can successfully interface with standard bike facilities.
There are bikes on the market that meet the above criteria, but very few are delivered directly from the factory outfitted as described. In the future, we’ll need more bikes like these available at corner bike shops. Let’s hope manufacturers are looking ahead and planning for the inevitable next wave of new bike commuters.