Friday, May 14, 2010

Xtracycle does big wheels

To help get you in the mood for the upcoming Cleveland Bicycle Week, I thought I'd show you what I'm currently riding for my commute to and from the shop.

I've had my Xtracycle Freeradical Longtail kit for about three years now, and this is fourth different bike frame it's been attached to. This time, I thought I'd see how I might be able to get it to work with 700C (instead of 26-inch) wheels, since I had a spare set of 700C touring wheels with no home. The frame was an old GT hybrid that we had sitting in the back of the shop, also waiting for a good home. I had to swap out the front fork for an inexpensive steel fork with disc brake mounts made by Dimension.

Xtracycle claims that the Freeradical is compatible with 700C wheels up to 37mm wide. What you can make work will vary from one tire manufacturer to another, and whether or not you plan to use fenders.

I had hoped to use my Panaracer T-Serv Messenger 700x35C tires, which are pretty fat, and actually measure more like 38mm wide. These ended up bumping into the front and back part of the Freeradical frame. I finally settled on a pair of Schwalbe Marathon 700x32C tires (that I originally got for my Surly Long Haul Trucker). These left just enough room in the frame, and enough room to use my Planet Bike Hardcore Hybrid fenders.

Xtracycle makes a 700C "lifter" kit that raises the height of the v-racks enough to give clearance for the SnapDeck over the top of the wheel. This kit looked to me like four bar end plugs, so I just found two pair of old bar end plugs, dropped them into the v-rack upright supports, and they do the trick just fine.

This machine is a true Frankenbike; in addition to the Freeradical and the old hybrid frame, it's a mish-mash of other spare parts I had laying around. The crankset is a Truvativ touring triple that came on the Diamondback Transporter that I rode to Guatemala.
The stopping power is provided by a pair of Shimano Deore mechanical disc brakes and matching levers. The shifting is provided by SRAM X.0 grip shifters, with a SRAM X.7 rear derailleur and an old Shimano STX front derailleur. To top it off, an Xtracycle requires about one-and-one-half lengths of standard chain; I just happened to have a section of Shimano chain and a section of SRAM chain, so I put them together with two SRAM Powerlinks. The whole setup works like a charm, proving that, to paraphrase Rodney King, "we all CAN just get along."

The old GT frame used cantilever brakes; this setup doesn't provide the usual cable stops needed for modern v-brake/disc brake systems, so I added this bolt-on cable stop made by Problem Solvers:

Finally, because every bike needs a little Surly in it, the handlebar is a Surly Torsion 1x1 bar, given to me by Neal in our Rocky River store (Thanks, Neal!). Its 15-degree bend provides a comfortable grip, and the wide, flat shape leaves plenty of room for mounting all of my dorky accessories (Profile Design Brief Bar Ends, Joe-2-Go Coffee Cup Holder, Topeak Compact Handlebar Bag, CatEye Enduro 8 Cyclocomputer, and IncrediBell Brass Duet.

Rumor has it that Xtracycle is working on a full 29er-compatible version of the Freeradical; no word on availability date, but a prototype turned up at the Interbike Outdoor Demo last year (attached to a Surly Karate Monkey).


  1. Kevin,

    What are the advantages of the cable stop over (ummm...) zip ties?

    From the picture, I can't quite tell if you have housing running through the stop, or bare cable on one side and housing on the other (which wouldn't be possible with a zip tie).

  2. I probably would have just used cable ties, but I already had the cable stop left over from a previous special bike project (see last year's blog post about converting my Raleigh XXIX singlespeed to a geared touring bike). It's a more elegant solution, more like the way it's meant to work. There is housing from the brake lever to the front cable stop, then bare cable to the back (add-on) cable stop, then housing from there to the brake. If I had used full housing and zip ties, then there would have been an unused cable stop sitting there on the front of the top tube, which would have kept me up at night.

  3. This bike is pretty rad. I have to say, I'm a bit jealous Kevin.

  4. It is really interesting but I confess that I don't get it. If you were a tradesman of sorts needing to haul your hand tools with you to the job every day maybe; but, why not a swifter steed for most use and this or a trailer for occasions when you really need to haul stuff?

  5. Fatty: Thanks!

    bill: Well, your question of "why?" really harkens back to the old debate of a trailer vs. panniers for long-distance touring. I won't get into that here; just Google it and you'll get lots of multi-page bedtime reading. The Xtracycle just throws a third option into the mix.

    I've ridden with panniers, a trailer, and the Xtracycle, and there are specific situations where one is better than the others. I think the Xtracycle feels and handles better than a trailer, especially when loaded up with groceries or other heavy loads. A trailer is nice when you need to haul stuff, but also have the option to ride a regular bike, like if you're touring on a mountain bike and would like to ride singletrack once you reach your destination.

    One disadvantage I've experienced with both a trailer and the Xtracycle is that they make it more complicated if worse comes to worse and you need to hitch a ride--whoever's giving you a lift needs to have a vehicle with plenty of hauling space, whereas a regular bike with cargo racks can be accommodated in just about any car or truck.