Thursday, January 31, 2008

Tired of Looking at Beautiful Bicycles? Behold the 650B Franken-Xtracycle

Please note that the new blog and webstore are now at I consistently get questions about the Bobike seats generated by the two posts about them here. You can purchase Bobike seats and small parts at the new webstore.

I've updated this post since I finally got a shot of my wife using the bike and wanted to show how the two handlebars setup allows us both to ride the bike by simply adjusting the seat (not that it takes much imagination to figure it out, but people always like pictures.)

(The other handlebars don't hit my knees, in case you're wondering--it the most common question.)

This bike was made to carry my child and became 650B because of the fork choice. It went Franken because I wanted both my wife and I, who differ in height by a little more than half a foot, to be able to use it.

Once my son was old enough to sit on his own I went through a couple of biking-with-child options. Option one was slapping a helmet on him, putting him in a mei tei on my back and hopping on my bike. He was very secure, the bike riding position allowed him to look forward over my shoulder and also took a lot of pressure from the baby carrier off my shoulders. However, though this method of riding your bike with baby-in-backpacky thing flies in Amsterdam my wife stated without ambiguity that I could continue said practice when and if we moved there. The "But he has on a helmet!" appeal feel on deaf ears. Even short excursions using option one were prohibited. In honesty I was a little anxious about the safety of the arrangement and would only take Silas on errands that didn't leave our neighborhood using this method.

Option two was a Burley child trailer. I never liked it. Silas didn't like it nearly as much as riding on my back. Attaching and unattaching the trailer to the bike put a cramp on our bicycle lifestyle (I'm just borrowing that from Peter). Parking bike and trailer were like backing up a truck with boat trailer into a driveway. Silas was encapsulated in a pod a good five feet behind me, which seemed against the whole spirit of riding a bike. And he let it be known that he wasn't happy about it.

Enter the Bobike Maxi combined with an Xtracycle conversion.

You tell me if that boy is happy. This idea didn't occur to me at first because I don't like how a heavy load feels over my rear wheel. A heavy load over the rear wheel makes bike handling dodgy at best. And as you can see Silas doesn't skip meals. Patrick Barber first suggested this solution to me. By using a rear child seat in conjunction with an Xtracycle, the child's weight is placed between the wheels. The hunch was that this would ameliorate the handling problems associated with rear child seats. So I ordered the Xtracycle and a Bobike rear child seat.

That's the Xtracycle part. The Franken and 650B part came later and were both caused by the desire for both me (6'0") and my wife (5' 51/2"--don't short her that last half inch unless you're ready to face 115lbs of fury) to be able to use the same child carrying bike. My idea was that by using just the right size frame, one very long stem, one very short stem, one set of drop bars and one set of albatross bars, I could replicate our contact points. All that would need to be done to switch between riders is raising or lowering the seat.

I don't know how many of you have seen an uncut Kogswell P/R fork, but it's looong. Matthew specs the longest steerer tube possible for maximum versatility. I figured that a P/R fork would allow me to use a frame small enough for Lucy to comfortably mount and still allow my handlebars to be even with the saddle.

The two sets of brake levers are coupled by these nifty 2:1 cable couplers from Problem Solvers.

Laughing at myself while doing so, I reduced the tread of the Ritchey Logic triple by using a much narrower than recommended bottom bracket spindle and got it down to 147mm. The non-drive side chainstay didn't want to cooperate, but a couple of smacks with a 3 pound hammer persuaded it otherwise and bought me just enough clearance between the chainstay and crankarm to make it work.

The Xtracycle attachment comes in 26" and 700C versions, which are identical except for the location of the brake posts. I used the 26" model with a v-brake (Shimano Alivio) on the rear and moved the pads to the top of the slot. They hit the 650B rim just fine. The v-brake works very well with the road levers and travel agent.

I'm very happy with the experiment. Does it handle like a longtail cargobike? Sure. But it doesn't handle poorly at all. Most importantly, the handling doesn't change very muchl with Silas's 25 pounds in the child seat. It feels flexy when out of saddle with or without child aboard, but out of the saddle performance shouldn't matter with this type of bike.

Most importantly we have a convenient, practical way to continue using a bicycle for errands and transportation. We have a dedicated bike for the child that doesn't require any fuss or accessory attachment. Getting him in and out of the seat is easy and the well placed kickstand on the Xtracycle makes the bike very stable when loading or unloading. The cargo capacity of the Xtracycle wasn't the point of the project, but it has been a nice added bonus. It makes errands which might be problematic on other bikes a cinch, like this trip to put out garage sale signs.

My only complaints are with some unforseen consequences of the small frame size. It forced me to mount the Bobike seat very close to my seat, and I had to cut down the footrests on the Bobike to keep my heels from striking them. A larger frame and/or mixte frame with seatstays that attached to a higher point on the seattube would allow the seat to be attached in a better position. Moving the seat back a couple of centimeters would solve the heelstrike problem and also make for a better view from the child's seat. I often find Silas leaning his head out to look around me. I'm not positive this is because his view is obstructed, but suspect that moving his seat back would result in a better view and more contentment.

Overall I'm happy enough with the Bobike and Xtracycle combo that I'd like to save up for a Surly Big Dummy to see if it improves the current setup. An unintended consequence is that although I hadn't previously thought much of the Xtracycles I'm impressed with its ability to make easy work of errands that can't be accomplished on the vast majority of bicycles.

Even babies know Brooks are sweet.


Nick said...

Very cool set-up Nice work.

rigtenzin said...

The cable doubler thing is really nice. I noticed bicycle is misspelled in the heading of your blog.

Longleaf Bicycles said...

Thanks. Typo notification is always welcome.

bullschuck said...

Sweet set up. I'm still trying to justify (to myself and the wife) to get a bakfiets to handle our crew.

Longleaf Bicycles said...

"Sweet set up. I'm still trying to justify (to myself and the wife) to get a bakfiets to handle our crew."

You and me both, brotha.

Forbes Bagatelle-Black said...

Wow! He's getting big! Course, Alex is getting big too, so I guess I could have guessed...

patmando said...

Did you explore using the PeaPod child carrier from extracycle? Where can I find more info on the BoBike Maxi.


Pat in Greenville, NC

Longleaf Bicycles said...


The PeaPod is a Bobike Maxi. XtraCycle just gave it their own name.

megnut said...

I'm looking for the Bobike Maxi for my son and I can't seem to find it for sale online in the US. Where did you purchase yours?


Longleaf Bicycles said...


I'm a dealer, so I buy mine directly from Bobike. Give me a call or e-mail to order one. 910.341.3049 or


KJR said...

I keep thinking that if I ttok the back basket off an adult trike, like the Schwinn Meridian, I could mount that Peapod/Bobike Maxi seat, with a little modification. Any opinion on that?