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14407RE: [rootsradicals] New to the group - building my own Xtracycle

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  • Tone
    Nov 9, 2012
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      My use of Nashbar Trekking bars:
      I’ve been riding long-tail for many years now ever since being a cargo
      bike messenger back in NYC. The only difference now is that I no longer
      work as a messenger, no longer live in NYC, and I upgraded from an
      Xtracycle conversion to a Big Dummy. Ever since my first mountain
      bike/hybrid in ’93 I have always ridden with some kind of “bull-horn”
      handle bars. By that I mean a single bar with curved ends, similar to a
      straight bar with bar-end extensions. I went through several versions and
      brands of these while still in NYC and messengering, but eventually after
      the last one broke I bought the Nashbar Trekking bar.
      I did do something unconventional with it though. I actually mounted it
      reverse from how it is intended. I believe it was originally designed so
      that the brake levers and shifters, etc. would be on the ends of the bar
      instead of mounted beside the stem like most bars. I had to force open
      the mounts a little wider with a flathead screwdriver or something to
      slide the brake levers and such around the bends of the bar, but it
      ultimately worked out fine. I also positioned the bar end side further
      ahead of the stem, which I am quite sure was not the original intent in
      the design. I believe the Nashbar Trekking handle bars are meant to be
      positioned with the bar ends closer to the rider so that the levers and
      shifters are also closer.
      Something else I did a bit different was to order some generic handlebar
      foam tubing, which I slid onto either side of the bar ends. As a
      messenger I hated when bar tape would come unraveled if my bike wrecked
      or my bar rubbed against a wall, etc. By having the grip be a single foam
      tube (well two, one for each end), then one scrape will not totally ruin
      your handlebar grip. Also, I find the foam is more comfortable than cork
      or synthetic tape. In fact with the configuration of my handlebars, I can
      actually slip my forearms in between the loops of the bar, then lean
      forward slightly and rest my elbows in the loop. It is kind of like
      time-trial riders, and although the aerodynamics is somewhat defeated on
      a cargo bike, it is still nice to have another optional position to
      completely rest your palms during a long ride. I do not use riding gloves
      for padding, only cold-weather gloves if necessary.
      Someone mentioned space on the bars for adding accessories like lights
      and stuff. Considering my foam grips were just about a one time install,
      I did something else a bit unconventional to work with them. I actually
      forced on a bit more of the foam grip onto the bar than was necessary.
      This keeps it scrunched and extra cushiony instead of stretched and more
      prone to tearing apart under pressure, etc. Also the compression of the
      foam grip causes it to crease up, which provides something like a natural
      gripping texture. In order to prevent the foam from expanding out and
      past the bar end though, I attached two mini-mag light handle-bar end
      mounts. They slide on and tighten just like bar-end extensions, but
      instead of an extra place for a hand position they just have a fitted
      slot for mini-mag lights. I can utilize two standard mini-mag lights,
      each using two AA batteries, as my fixed headlights, then if I have a
      mechanical failure at night I can just slide one out to use for lighting
      elsewhere. Furthermore, if I am doing a touring ride with camping along
      the way the mini-mag lights come in handy even more. By the way, the
      mini-mag bar end mounts still allow the open tubing of the handlebar to
      be accessible. For some fun, instead of using plastic caps, I ordered two
      bar-end mountable Incredi-Bells, each with a slightly different tone.
      I should warn, it does take a while to slide a single foam tube onto a
      handlebar, especially around the turns of the Nashbar Trekking handle
      bar, but I think it is worth it. Of course, taking them on and off for
      maintenance purposes, such as swapping out the brake levers or shifters
      is not desirable. I have very plain brake levers, but one of them is a
      combo brake lever and gear-shifter to reduce space usage on the bar. The
      one shifter only switches between the two or three chain rings at the
      pedals. As a messenger I found it was a bit of a hassle dealing with
      extra maintenance issues when having shifting capability at the rear hub.
      If the chain would skip or whatever, then the Freeloaders and any cargo
      made it difficult to access. Now I just have a very basic derailleur to
      function as only a chain tensioner with a slightly thicker than usual
      single cog on the rear wheel. By having only shift capability at the
      bottom bracket, I do away with needing an extra shifter lever on my
      handlebars. It also eliminates the need to special-order tandem-length
      shifting cables. Over time I kind of felt like any possible stretching of
      the longer shifting cable may not have been helping when shifting at the
      rear cassette. Now I only order tandem-length brake cables, usually when
      they are on sale so I can pick up an extra to have on hand if needed
      later, and use them in conjunction with my Avid mechanical disc brakes.
      As a side note, if you do not want to deal with a single tube of
      handlebar foam grip like I did, there is an awesome alternative, which
      makes it much easier to take your grips on and off. About a year ago I
      found a new product on Kickstarter.com, which I think were called “Grip
      Rings” or something like that. They were simply silicone rings about an
      inch wide a piece with basic gripping lines molded into them. They come
      in several color options, so you can mix and match to make your own
      handle-bar color pattern. Of course, they are also stretchy, which
      facilitates a faster installation and removal. I would buy them myself,
      but my foam grips are still functioning fine, so I can not justify the
      expense. Even though they were on Kickstarter.com, I know they rose well
      beyond what they needed to push their product line into mass production.

      Wider handle bar argument:
      Somebody also mentioned they did not feel the need for a wider handle bar
      for their cargo bike, even when it is loaded. Most people might argue a
      wider bar helps with control. I have to agree with the general consensus.
      While it definitely is possible to ride with a loaded cargo bike using
      narrower handlebars, I always found myself stretching out my grip as far
      as possible when riding with a bulky or heavy load. When I am not loaded
      or not on a long touring ride, I tend to ride with my hands closer to the
      middle, so when I am loaded I know it is a conscious decision to
      stabilized my bike better by widening my grip. Also, I have always felt
      having a super wide handle bar helps keep cars from passing to closely.
      All drivers hate the possibility of having their side view mirror smashed
      by a biker’s handlebars, so the wider the handle bars, then more likely a
      driver will give a cyclist more space when passing. Remember, handler
      bars are closer to a driver’s eye level than your potential wide-loaders,
      so to drivers they provide the strongest determination of how wide you
      and your bike are.

      Two drive-chains instead of one with the provided extension:
      Even when I first got my Xtracycle, for whatever reason I decided to set
      aside the provided chain extension, and instead used two attached
      standard drive-chains. I Guess I felt the clip-on chain would not be as
      strong compared to two chains I put together. I always ride with a Topeak
      multi-tool, which has a chain-breaking tool. I decided to always do that
      after I was riding at an international bike messenger event. I was in a
      pack of messengers riding back to Freiburg, Germany from a camp out in
      the Black Forest. Someone’s chain broke, and luckily ONE person did have
      a chain breaking tool. Fortunately, the person, who broke their chain,
      was not on a single-speed or track bike, so they just dropped a link and
      made sure not to switch to larger gears.
      Later, when I was working as a cargo bike messenger, I also decided to
      buy stainless steel drive chains. In case it is not apparent by now, I am
      totally all about low maintenance, and I wanted to completely avoid the
      issue of rusty drive-chains. Within a year or two it became obvious that
      the stainless steel chains were actually not as strong as typical
      drive-chains. They broke on me several times, usually when really loaded
      or going up a steep uphill, but at least I always had my chain-breaking
      tool to drop a link so I could keep riding. I had figured stainless steel
      would not only be rust proof, but also stronger than standard chains. I
      was obviously wrong, but I am sure using a much longer chain on my
      long-tail bike probably was not what the manufacturer intended.
      Kiltie-Celt, you seem pretty knowledgeable about bikes, but I will still
      bring up something else about drive-chains. I have always been told when
      swapping out just a drive-chain or just a gear/chain ring, one should
      replace all the components. This is because if old parts are left on to
      be used in conjunction with new parts, then the wearing will be
      different. The difference in wear will actually cause everything to wear
      faster. Therefore, it is best to swap out al the gears and chain rings
      when even just changing the drive-chain. Obviously, on a long-tail bike
      changing a longer drive-chain results in more expense, but I do believe
      it is worth it. I know you said you are strapped for funds, but you
      should still consider entirely replacing the gears as well as the chain
      ring. I tried to get away with only changing the chain when I was
      messengering, and sure enough the time span when I needed to replace
      stuff noticeably decreased. That also provided another factor in deciding
      to eliminate a multi-geared cassette in the rear hub. It was cheaper,
      especially considering I rarely used all the gears anyway.

      Rear rack security:
      As I mentioned, I was a New York bike messenger. I never did anything
      special to lock down my rear racks. I only always used a kryptonite
      quadralink 3’ long chain to secure my front wheel and bike frame to a
      fixed rail or whatever. For the back wheel I also used a small padlock
      with rubber hose slide over the “U” to secure the rear quick release. I
      took these precautions because I ride with Aerospoke composite wheels.
      Remember, I am all about low maintenance. They were expensive, but I have
      had them for over ten years on my cargo bike and I never had to true
      them. Anyway, back when I was a messenger I was the first courier in NYC
      with an Xtracycle, and there MAY have been about half a dozen Xtracycles
      in the city during that time. Most of us knew each other from this e-mail
      list to boot, so rear rack or Freeloader theft was very unlikely. It was
      only after I upgraded to a Big Dummy after moving to York, PA that I
      installed What-cha-ma-collars. While it added security, I mainly did it
      to help keep water from leaking down into the steel mounts of the Big
      Dummy. The collars have little rubber O-rings to help keep out water, and
      I was paranoid about rust. To be honest, in retrospect I would not buy
      them. They were a bit of a pain to install and you could always just
      slide on a stretch of road bike inner tubing or something to keep water
      out of the steel mounts. Furthermore, when I bought the collars the older
      Freeloader design made it necessary to remove the rear rack entirely to
      remove the Freeloaders. Every time I really wanted to work on the rear of
      my bike I would have to undo every collar. Prior to that I simply undid
      the Freeloader straps and lifted everything off. Of course now the new
      Freeloader design allows their removal without dismantling the rear rack,
      so that at least makes servicing the bike a bit easier.
      Anyway, I guess I would feel better about already owning the
      What-cha-ma-collars if I were still living in NYC now that there are many
      more long-tail cyclists on the road. I guess it is a judgment call you
      have to make for yourself depending on where you live. I definitely like
      the answer offered by one of the other people, who responded to you.
      Drilling a hole through two of the rear rack mounts to slide in either a
      bolt or small lock, certainly secures the rear rack. That might void the
      warranty though, but I think it is WAY cheaper and lighter in weight than
      What-cha-ma-collars. I hate to not give proper respect to the products
      Xtracycle makes because I have always loved and supported their efforts,
      but I can not help stating what I feel to be the truth. They always seem
      to appreciate honest productive criticism to constantly improve their
      products, so they can take my $0.02 however they want. Much love your way
      guys regardless of course!

      Kiltie-Celt, I hopes all of this helps you, the Xtracycle team, or anyone
      else reading this. Best wishes to all and ride safe,
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