Utility Cycling Want to haul groceries, beer, maybe even your kids? You don't have to live car free to put your bike to use as a workhorse. Here's the place to share and learn about the bicycle as a utility vehicle.

Utility Biking

Old 03-08-08, 10:45 AM
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Utility Biking

I am curious, by reading this forum I get the idea that most of you consider utility cycling as a synonym for cargo hauling while I only consider cargo hauling as one facet of utility cycling. In fact I consider any use of a bicycle ,other than for sport or exercise, utility cycling. While I consider commuting a part of utility cycling, I can understand why they are in a separate forum since so many of their bikes are so specialized they can not be used for anything else. And I understand the Carfree people have a political rather than a utility cycling agenda. But it seems like this is more of a cargo bike forum than a utility bike forum. Am I wrong, do I belong here at all, since I am going to use a car if I need to haul more than a twenty pounds or so?

If I am not wrong, how about a discussion of how you use your bikes other than as a substitute for a pickup truck.

Also what do you think makes a good general purpose utility bike? I feel that it should have lights, fenders, a kickstand, and tires in the 1-3/8 to 1-1/2 inch range; a rack or basket, and gearing appropriate to the local terrain would be nice.
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Old 03-08-08, 11:56 AM
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Originally Posted by graywolf View Post
I am curious, by reading this forum I get the idea that most of you consider utility cycling as a synonym for cargo hauling while I only consider cargo hauling as one facet of utility cycling. In fact I consider any use of a bicycle ,other than for sport or exercise, utility cycling. While I consider commuting a part of utility cycling, I can understand why they are in a separate forum since so many of their bikes are so specialized they can not be used for anything else. And I understand the Carfree people have a political rather than a utility cycling agenda. But it seems like this is more of a cargo bike forum than a utility bike forum. Am I wrong, do I belong here at all, since I am going to use a car if I need to haul more than a twenty pounds or so?

If I am not wrong, how about a discussion of how you use your bikes other than as a substitute for a pickup truck.

Also what do you think makes a good general purpose utility bike? I feel that it should have lights, fenders, a kickstand, and tires in the 1-3/8 to 1-1/2 inch range; a rack or basket, and gearing appropriate to the local terrain would be nice.
I agree with all that. I seldom use my bike to haul anything large and heavy because my little 21 year old car or my wife's pickup is much more suited for that. I know I could if I had to but I don't have to prove it. My bike gets plenty of utility use going to the library, shopping for groceries (I like fresh so I buy in small amounts) or to see an old friend. I have baskets, fenders and a trailer. I have only pulled the trailer to get it home and for testing. The baskets are as often as not empty except for my "possibles" bag. I have ten speeds of which I use three. I don't ride in the rain, when it's windy, after dark or when it's cold. I do sometimes just go out and ride around but it's to clear out the cobwebs not for sport or exercise. Some people use a car for that and when I was younger I did. My bike is a tool.

I am retired so I don't commute but I didn't when I was still working either. There are some things that are just too risky and just being on a bike makes you a target here. I have been to places where bicycles were the primary vehicles for hauling stuff and I've yet to see an American rival some of those loads. I see people in this neighborhood that do the same and with less bicycle than I have. My bike is my primary transportation but not my only transportation.
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Old 03-08-08, 03:43 PM
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I agree. I use my bike to go everywhere that I go by myself. If that's work or school, then by definition I'm commuting. I ride vigorously on those trips to get my exercise. If I'm off to the bank or the hardware store, then I'm running errands. The rack/bag/basket/trailer decision is determined by the mission. If the wife and I go around the block or down the MUP, then I suppose that's "recreational" riding, though we call it "taking a spin." I have four bikes, but of course I can only use one at a time, so the others are "resting" and no one bike gets an excessive amount of wear. For big grocery shopping, family trips, or really quick errands, like a late-night run to the drugstore, there's the minivan. I have yet to transport any furniture or appliances by bike, but I wouldn't rule it out. Bikes are good tools, but I wouldn't try pounding a nail with one
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Old 03-08-08, 05:27 PM
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First off, I read through all the forums that sound interesting, so I'm not a "utility cyclist" as such.

I think the reason the forum gets the slant it does is that the subject matter tends to revolve around what is different from other cycling. So maybe half of all the stuff in the Road Cycling, the Single Speed Fixed, the Vintage/Classic forums COULD be in here, but there's no reason to have it both places.
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Old 03-08-08, 07:24 PM
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I consider utility cycling to be using the bike for something other than commuting, exercise or recreational riding. To me utility cycling is hooking up the trailer and hauling a load of aluminum cans to the recyclers. Taking the "grocery getter" bike and heading off to the store for 4 big bags of groceries and a case of beer. Currently I do a bit more of the utility cycling than the other stuff, maybe that will change in the future. I am fortunate in that I have room for plenty of bikes and I own plenty of bikes. It is nice to have different bikes for different things. If I had as many cars as I have bikes I would own a used car lot

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Old 03-08-08, 08:22 PM
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I have always ridden for utility purposes. Even when I was a kid, I rode to get somewhere because it gave me the freedom to go when and where I wanted, rather than when and where my parents wanted.

When my wife and I moved into town, I began riding to the grocery, but was quickly frustrated. The typical basket just wasn't big enough to get home what I wanted to bring. I became tired of trying to figure out what I could buy based on what I could carry.

So I "built" a bike that could carry up to 150 pounds. That meant that if I was at the store and they were running a sale on an extra large bag of something, I didn't have to pass it up. It also meant that I could go to more than one store on the same trip.

I am also a tradesman.

People's jaws drop when they see me ride by carrying a load of groceries. Other tradesmen brains begin to churn when they see me ride by with tool boxes fore and aft on my way to a paying job. They are both wondering if they could save the same money I am by being able to carry the load I am. Certainly, I can't carry as many tools as I can if I drive my truck, but most times, I don't need that many tools. Still, I have my truck and I use it for out-of-town jobs or when I think I will need it.

I suppose if I were an office slave, I would see things differently, but I'm not and I don't.
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Old 03-08-08, 09:49 PM
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The unique thing about "utility" cycling is that it's not cycling for the sake of utility! If you think about cycling as a sport you realise that it's cycling to get better at cycling, and it's is one of the utilities of the bicycle. When you're commuting, you're commuting, you're not 'utility-ing' even though the ability to commute is one of the bicycle's utilities. So utility cycling is what you do when you're doing other things, you just happen to be utilising a bike in the process.... it's the zen of cycling, and the utility cycling forum is the zen conciousness of the cycling realm.

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Old 03-08-08, 10:44 PM
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I think of utility cycling as using a bicycle to accomplish work. The most obvious work is to move a person or people, and the next is to move things, hence the cargo focus. Besides typical cyclo commuting, I tend to use my bikes to move my kids around when possible to school, activities, fun events, etc with relatively little cargo (< 20lbs most often) Crossing the line from one to many people on a bicycle = utility cycling to me. Of course, all aspects of utility cycling could overlap with specific forums (tandem, commuting, car-free, etc.). When the idea of this forum was originally getting support, I had suggested the ideas of cargo and kid hauling as well as bikes used as work tools (e.g. food vending, lawn mowing) might be interesting, although they don't seem to be very common.

Examples:
  • I have a book with a photo of a man in India running a whetstone from his bike wheel on a stand to sharpen knives and tools for a living, for example. Since most members of BF are from highly industrialized nations with strong economies, sharpening tools for a living is probably unlikely, but interesting, nonetheless.
  • The Xtracycle blender add-on would be another example. It would be interesting to see how someone may have put that to use as more than a novelty.
  • I've seen cell phone/battery chargers rigged up from bottle dynamos and some DIY electronics.

I think subjects like those would make for some interesting diversity in utility cycling, but would never expect them to overshadow those of moving people or cargo. I really enjoy my subscriptions to Make magazine and The Practical Pedal, and think of this forum as an equally valuable source of ideas.
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Old 03-08-08, 11:00 PM
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Originally Posted by vey View Post
I have always ridden for utility purposes. Even when I was a kid, I rode to get somewhere because it gave me the freedom to go when and where I wanted, rather than when and where my parents wanted.

When my wife and I moved into town, I began riding to the grocery, but was quickly frustrated. The typical basket just wasn't big enough to get home what I wanted to bring. I became tired of trying to figure out what I could buy based on what I could carry.

So I "built" a bike that could carry up to 150 pounds. That meant that if I was at the store and they were running a sale on an extra large bag of something, I didn't have to pass it up. It also meant that I could go to more than one store on the same trip.

I am also a tradesman.

People's jaws drop when they see me ride by carrying a load of groceries. Other tradesmen brains begin to churn when they see me ride by with tool boxes fore and aft on my way to a paying job. They are both wondering if they could save the same money I am by being able to carry the load I am. Certainly, I can't carry as many tools as I can if I drive my truck, but most times, I don't need that many tools. Still, I have my truck and I use it for out-of-town jobs or when I think I will need it.

I suppose if I were an office slave, I would see things differently, but I'm not and I don't.
do you have a picture?
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Old 03-10-08, 12:14 PM
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utility... bicycles are machines, machines are for saving energy. All levers and pulleys and stuff. Get someplace as fast or faster than you could run there, or farther than you would want to walk, but not be as tired. Carry more than you would like in a backpack or a wheelbarrow, and move it faster. At some point it's possible that it can take on athletic overtones but it remains possible to use the machine w/ very little athletic endeavor (and get to work in normal clothes w/ no sweat).
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Old 03-10-08, 12:49 PM
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Originally Posted by graywolf View Post
I consider any use of a bicycle ,other than for sport or exercise, utility cycling.
By definition, even sport and recreational riders get utility from their bicycles. Anyone who isn't recieving some form of utility from their bicycle won't be riding for long.

Originally Posted by graywolf View Post
While I consider commuting a part of utility cycling, I can understand why they are in a separate forum since so many of their bikes are so specialized they can not be used for anything else. And I understand the Carfree people have a political rather than a utility cycling agenda. But it seems like this is more of a cargo bike forum than a utility bike forum. Am I wrong, do I belong here at all, since I am going to use a car if I need to haul more than a twenty pounds or so?
Once you remove the elements of cycling that fall under the umbrella of the other forums here at BF.net, you aren't left with much except cargo bicycles.

To answer your question: You are welcome in this forum regardless of what kind of cycling you do but if you want to talk about something other than cargo bikes you should bring up a non-cargo utility cycling topic you wish to discuss.

Originally Posted by graywolf View Post
Also what do you think makes a good general purpose utility bike?
That depends entirely on what "general purpose" the bike will serve. Commuting? Cargo? Recreation? Other?

My GP bike is rigid framed, hybrid geometry, rack(s), fenders, disc brakes, dynamo lights, handlebar bell, dual bottle cages, and a swanky new carbon fiber fiber seat post.

My definition of "general purpose" consists of mostly using the bike for recreational greenway rides and occasionally I ride to the store or a friends house.
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Old 03-11-08, 08:38 PM
  #12  
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My own definition of "utility cycling" is basically using my bike in the same way I would use a car (go places, get stuff, sometimes go fast along interesting routes just for fun...). Sometimes it is a challenge, other times it is so much easier than driving that I almost feel I'm cheating somehow!

I do think that having the "utility" distinction is useful, because it conveys the sheer normality and usefulness of bikes. We've had a picture in North America of bikes as purely recreational items for so long that I think we need a bit of emphasis on the other side of things. At the same time, distinguishing "utility cycling" from "living car-free" also helps to normalize it and tackle the perception that all cyclists must by definition be hardcore environmentalists.

Last edited by Buglady; 03-11-08 at 08:44 PM. Reason: forgot half my point... stupid ADHD.
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Old 03-12-08, 09:02 AM
  #13  
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Originally Posted by graywolf View Post
I am curious, by reading this forum I get the idea that most of you consider utility cycling as a synonym for cargo hauling while I only consider cargo hauling as one facet of utility cycling. In fact I consider any use of a bicycle ,other than for sport or exercise, utility cycling. While I consider commuting a part of utility cycling, I can understand why they are in a separate forum since so many of their bikes are so specialized they can not be used for anything else. And I understand the Carfree people have a political rather than a utility cycling agenda. But it seems like this is more of a cargo bike forum than a utility bike forum. Am I wrong, do I belong here at all, since I am going to use a car if I need to haul more than a twenty pounds or so?

If I am not wrong, how about a discussion of how you use your bikes other than as a substitute for a pickup truck.

Also what do you think makes a good general purpose utility bike? I feel that it should have lights, fenders, a kickstand, and tires in the 1-3/8 to 1-1/2 inch range; a rack or basket, and gearing appropriate to the local terrain would be nice.
You're not wrong. There's lots of riding that could fall under the umbrella of "utility" that doesn't involve hauling crap, but, as has been mentioned, a lot of that is better covered in other forums. When you talk about having a rack and basket, you're talking about carrying stuff on your bike -- welcome to the Utility forum. When you talk about "utility" aspects that don't involve cargo, you're almost always talking about bikes as transportation, and, even if you're not going to work or school, most bikes-as-transportation-but-without-a-lot-of-cargo topics are handled most thoroughly in the Commuting section, as are topics about traveling with a moderate load. Regularly carrying a couple of days worth of supplies is covered best in the Touring forum. Lights are great for commuting, touring, and general utility, but are really the focus of the Electronics, Lighting, and Gadgets forum. It's all really "utility," but, because there's designated places to discuss it, it doesn't come up as often here.

However, I agree with you that it could be interesting to see more general utility topics, but it's hard for me to come up with one that isn't covered better in another forum. Like HandsomeRyan said, you got one, bring it on.

I kind of like the forum divisions, though, so I do try and start topics in the most appropriate forums. There is a Lighting forum, but if you want to talk about wiring tail lights on your trailer, the Utility forum might be just as appropriate, so it's a judgment call. There's tons of overlap, so you shouldn't be afraid to start a topic in the Utility forum that might also be appropriate in another forum as long as it applies equally to this forum, but there's precious few topics that don't fit a little better somewhere else.

I like that set-up, because usually I try and figure out where my problem fits, and then I find the best density of answers in that forum. Doesn't mean I'm pigeon-holed into staying in that forum, but it does mean that I might want to occasionally search for answers more than one place. I, personally, can't stick to one forum. I started out in commuting, because that's mostly what I do, but I found that I like having the option of carrying more crap than the average commuter, and like the idea of going other "useful" places, like the store, where I might need to haul a bit more, so I find myself spending a bit of time in the Utility forums. But I also like to have a more traditional bike, one that fits in the bike rack on the bus, and I might consider an overnight trip or two, so I also find myself getting tips from the Touring forums, because how they carry their weight is sometimes more like how I'd be inclined to carry mine. Then the other week I got a 35 year-old break apart bike (not exactly a folder, but it splits in two for storage/transport). It's got some pretty good racks on it, and might be able to haul some stuff (Utility), it's an old bike (Classic and Vintage), and it sort of folds (Folding Bikes). One bike, and there's a number of places that I might look for information in regards to it. So, again, bring in any Utility topics you want, but also think about where they might be covered better.

Gear ratios for a given terrain is a great topic, but I guess I would attack it this way: Gear ratios not only vary by terrain, but by what kind of riding you're doing. If you're biking for speed, you probably won't find the best answer in the Utility forums. If you're biking with a moderate load, Commuting may have answers. The Touring forum covers biking under weight in just about every imaginable terrain, and there are certainly many situations where gear ratio for a given terrain would be covered best in Utility, but it may tend to focus on gear ratios when you're under a decent load, because other situations may be covered better elsewhere. And of course when you talk about gear ratios, you're also getting into a level of mechanical detail that's covered well in Bicycle Mechanics. Or you could go another route and use the regional discussions to find out what gear ratios people are using in your neck of the woods. None of that precludes discussing gear ratio in the Utility forums. It's just that if you discuss it here, people are probably going to want to discuss it in a way that it's unique to this forum, which is great, I think, and what makes the divisions useful.
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Old 03-12-08, 12:40 PM
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Originally Posted by Buglady View Post
I do think that having the "utility" distinction is useful, because it conveys the sheer normality and usefulness of bikes. We've had a picture in North America of bikes as purely recreational items for so long that I think we need a bit of emphasis on the other side of things. At the same time, distinguishing "utility cycling" from "living car-free" also helps to normalize it and tackle the perception that all cyclists must by definition be hardcore environmentalists.
Ah....! You hit it on the head, stating it much better then I did.

Another way of saying it may be "economical general purpose short range transportation". Sure almost everyone knows that you can ride your bike to the bus stop, to the grocery store, to the bank, to school, that you can easily carry light loads. Less well known is that you can carry a passenger quite easily and relatively safely. But most folks seem to think those are things only a kook, or the poor, or someone without a drivers license would do.

I think the reason most bicyclists here in the USA ride very expensive bicycles and wear expensive distinctive bicycling clothes, is so people will not think they are any of the above. So much so that they become kooks of a different sort.

I guess my original post reflected my desire to see more of a sensible use of bicycles promoted. The middle path between the bicycle as a toy and the bicycle as a political statement.
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Old 03-12-08, 01:03 PM
  #15  
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I tend to agree with Buglady. I think commuting, running errands, hauling cargo etc are all utility cycling. Essentially using your bike as a transportation tool, rather than as a toy/recreational/workout/competitive thing. I also agree with the OP that commuting, utility and car-free forums are all getting at similar concepts, but that there are distinct political/ideological differences in them that drive the conversations to different places. I tend to read them all.
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