Xtracycle is largely responsible for the blossoming of the longtail cargo bike market in the United States. In the late 1990s, Xtracycle was thinking big thoughts about what widespread acceptance of the cargo bike could do for American transportation infrastructure. This led to the FreeRadical, a bolt-on rear frame extension that turned many an unused bike into an incredibly practical cargo bike. Since then, the longtail has been in continuous development, with a handful of companies using the Xtracycle LT open standard as the basis for complete cargo bikes.
The idea of a complete bike has always been part of the plan at Xtracycle, but until the EdgeRunner, all complete Xtracycles just used the bolt-on FreeRadical extension. But a purpose-built, one-piece frame is really the best way to go for a heavy-duty cargo bike. While Xtracycle wasn’t quick to come to market with one, the EdgeRunner was worth the wait.
Xtracycle founder Ross Evans worked with Sam Whittingham and Justin Lemire-Elmore to design the frame. Whittingham, the man behind Naked Bicycles, is a well-respected frame builder. Lemire-Elmore is an electrical engineer and e-bike pioneer. The three set out to produce a modern longtail with integrated (and optional) electric assist.
This partnership quickly decided on a 20-inch rear wheel. The smaller wheel allows for a lower center of gravity, which makes carrying loads, like two or three squirmy kids, much, much easier. The smaller wheel also accelerates easier than a larger one, and is stronger and stiffer. It also allows for a longer wheelbase, centering the load between the axles for more stability, particularly at low speeds. And, finally, when using the optional electric assist, the smaller wheel effectively increases the torque of the motor. More torque means easier starts from a dead stop, and more power to get up big hills with big loads.
I’ve owned a FreeRadical-converted bike for the better part of a decade, and have become the de-facto cargo bike tester for Bicycle Times. I was excited when I discovered the new EdgeRunner at Interbike 2012, but high demand meant I had to wait a while before I could get my hands on one to review.
Xtracycle has an unparalleled line-up of accessories to outfit your cargo bike for just about any use. While I used the EdgeRunner for all kinds of things, including hauling other bikes, I mostly used it to move my two kids and various supplies. To make this as painless as possible, Xtracycle included the KickBack centerstand and Hooptie kid-retention device. The centerstand keeps the bike upright when loading kids, and the Hooptie keeps the kids properly situated on the cargo deck without the need for extra handlebars, belts or seats. The only accessory that I’m still looking for is weather protection for the passengers, but cargo bikers are an industrious bunch—figuring out things like this is half the fun.
From my first ride on the EdgeRunner, I was at home. Given the local terrain of many short, steep hills and broken pavement, and my cycling background of racing and riding singlespeeds, the EdgeRunner checked all my boxes. The long-and-low stance, powerful disc brakes and stiff frame created a sense of confidence that is often missing with other cargo bikes.
The chromoly steel frame uses a sloping top tube that made mounting the bike much easier when kids or cargo prevented kicking a leg over the back of the bike. Once on the bike, a quick push off and a few pedal strokes are all it took to get up to speed, the small rear wheel accelerating more quickly and with less effort than a 26-inch or 700c wheel.
Cruising the neighborhood or busy city streets, the stiff frame and predictable handling meant I could avoid potholes and take alternate routes for speed or safety. The Hooptie is pretty wide, so I needed to watch the narrow gaps, but I shouldn’t be trying to squeeze through places with the kids onboard anyway.
The full-size road triple crank compensated for the lower gearing created by the small rear wheel. The gearing range got me up very steep hills and still had plenty of gears left on the top end to get well over 20mph if I was feeling up to it. The FSA cranks didn’t shift as well as some of the nicer triples out there, but planning for shifts and soft-pedaling until the chain jumped to the next ring helped a lot. The shifters, made by Microshift, worked well otherwise, with a very solid click and a precise feel.
A heavy bike, carrying three people and stuff, can easily get away from a rider once headed downhill. The Avid BB7 disc brakes easily hauled the whole load down from stupid speed ranges, and worked predictably in the wet and cold as well. The bike’s low center of gravity and big tires didn’t have me grabbing those brakes in panic—the EdgeRunner was perfectly happy maintaining reasonable speeds over bad roads, gravel and dirt. Full-length fenders kept those rough surfaces off me, my kids and our stuff.
This bike came from the first production run, which is long since sold out, although there might be a few kicking around in dealer showrooms. Pre-sale for the 2014 model has already begun, and there are now two frame sizes, three models and four color options. Pricing starts at $1,600 for the base X1 model and goes up to $3,400 for the top-of-the-line Family model, which includes hydraulic brakes, dynamo lighting, Hooptie and centerstand. Shimano cranks will be spec’d on all models, which should eliminate the shifting issues I experienced—Shimano triples are the best in the business. Those wanting to DIY can pick up a frame for $950.
The EdgeRunner comes stock with Xtracycle X1 bags, which have a bit of a learning curve. Since they are open at each end and very adjustable, tossing things in willy-nilly will make for an unhappy face when you get home and realize your heirloom tomatoes are lying in the street a few blocks from the store. It is best to think of the bags as a harness to strap things down. Groceries go in reusable shopping bags, then into the X1 bags. Kids’ book bags drop right in with little fuss, as does a case of beer. Another bike can be easily carried with the frame on one side, wheels on the other. Multiple attachments help carry other objects, such as ladders and kayaks.
Those looking for an enclosed carrying system can opt for the more expensive X2 bag, which works like a huge messenger bag but still has the ability to harness oddly sized loads. The EdgeRunner frame also has threaded frame mounts for a front basket that should be available soon, a great add-on for when the rear of the bike is full of kids.
This is an important bike. Of every cargo bike I’ve ridden (and I’ve ridden a lot), the EdgeRunner is the easiest to ride for both experienced and novice cyclists alike. Configured correctly, it can be set up for a huge range of uses, from a wonderful family bike to a surfboard shuttle. It’s an American solution to the American problem of urban transportation. To give you an idea of where cargo bikes are headed in the future, I can tell you that I packed this bike up and shipped it off to the publication next in line for a test: The Wall Street Journal.