- On the subject of wheels...
I have a few recommendations related to wheels for the Xtra, just in
case this is useful to anyone:
1. Use DT Alpine III spokes (triple butted spokes meant for Tandems +
Touring). I built my rear wheel with these, and the spokes have
survived several incredible incidents. One was when the metal fender
stays somehow came loose and got wrapped up in my spokes, while I was
accelerating under full human AND electric power at about 10mph.
Ouch. Instant stop. The fender stay steel was all twisted and the
fender trashed. The spokes? Just fine. (Actually, I think this
incident may have slightly bent the drop outs on the Xtracycle frame
too!). Also, I have carried 200lb loads on a number of occasions,
and the Currie drive bolts straight to the spokes. My last spokes
tended to break. Not these.
2. Do not use low-end Mavic rims. In the incident described above
(or maybe before, I don't know for sure), the tension on the spokes
caused the rim to crack by several spoke eyelets. The spokes are
definitely stronger than the rim. I am going to rebuild the wheel
with a Sun Mammoth rim. Unfortunately I can only do 32 hole since my
Currie electric system is designed for 32 spokes, and I don't think I
could find a 36 hole version at this point. Anyway, I will report
back how that holds up. I got the rim the other day and it seems
quite stout. The other option I considered was the Velocity
Cliffhanger, but the Sun Mammoth is on sale for $20 at Nashbar, can't
beat that price.
3. Shimano XT hubs seem pretty bomber... I have used the present hub
for nearly daily commuting both pre and post Xtracycle, and it has
held up very well for 5 years now.
Thank you for your post about wheel and spoke suggestions. While I am at the moment very pleased with my Aerospoke 5-spoke poly-carbon fiber wheels, I may eventually choose to go a more conventional route on the Big Dummy. I REALLY love my Aerospokes though. I never need to true them or replace spokes, it is MUCH easier to slip a lock/chain through when securing both the frame and wheels, and I have found they are VERY strong. I think the FreeRad frame would crack before my Aerospokes. ;)
If anyone chooses to get Aerospokes I STRONGLY suggest getting the more expensive disc brake version, especially considering the tension involved in braking with a heavy load. More so however, you REALLY would rather not get a piece of debris or whatever wedged in your conventional brake pad because that would grind into the rim wall and weaken the entire wheel structure. Considering a pair of Aerospokes sell for something like $500 or more… that sort of rim-wear REALLY SUCKS!
Unfortunately I know this first hand because while working as a messenger one winter before the FreeRad came with disc brake mounts something must have gotten on my brake pads. One day my rear tire simply blew out the weakened side wall of the Aerospoke rim! I suppose since the Freeloaders and snap deck cover the rear wheel a bit I had not noticed the grinding action. That totally pissed me off! I knew the newer FreeRads were coming with disc brake mounts, so I decided to order a disc brake compatible rear Aerospoke to replace the other one. That way if/when I did get a new FreeRad I would get one with disc brake mounts and be set.
The only warning I would give riders of Aerospoke wheels is to try avoiding abrupt and tense starts/acceleration, especially when temperatures are close to or below freezing. For whatever reasons, the rear cassette free-wheel mechanism seems vulnerable. Over time with lots of repeated hard-pedaling starts in cold weather the free-wheel mechanism wears down internally and a rider will experience something similar to chain jumping. When I was first experiencing this phenomenon I though the wet winter weather, city grit, and road salt had just taken its toll on my chains and gears, so I had my shop replace all my chain-rings, rear cassette, and extra-length drive-chain. Unfortunately this ended up not being the problem because the “chain skipping” continued and even got worse. That was when the problem was quickly determined to be within Aerospoke’s hub.
Now please keep in mind, I was working as a messenger in NYC stop-n-go traffic during all weather conditions on a daily basis for 30-40 hours a week and obviously had a heavy-weight bike with all the loads on the Xtracycle. Now that I am living in PA and not regularly carrying loads I extremely doubt I would ever experience the same problems even if I was riding in freezing weather. These days I bike for perhaps an hour a day for my commute rather than eight hours and I probably only have to gradually drive forward after stopping at several traffic intersections on each leg of my commute, as opposed to NYC where I was probably making abrupt starts and stops every couple of minutes. Therefore I would HIGHLY recommend Aerospoke wheels… as long as someone is willing to spend the money on them (and SECURE them regularly).
The only reason I would honestly choose NOT to get Aerospoke wheels myself would be if I did not actually have the finances or (more likely) I wanted to incorporate some kind of power-assist, which needed a specific rear hub. I have always considered the idea of setting up a power-assist battery & drive system on a bike, but more for the purpose of actually generating electricity and getting more of a workout. This way during my commute I would get more exercise and have less need to go to a gym, while also producing a certain degree of electricity myself. I could use the electricity to perhaps charge up small electrical devices, such as a cell phone or lap top while I am away from home.