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What makes a good utility bike?

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.

What makes a good utility bike?

Old 04-15-11, 12:24 PM
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framebones 
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What makes a good utility bike?

This September I will be participating in the 2011 Oregon Manifest Constructors Competition. There will be 34 custom frame/bike builders and design teams from around the US participating. In a nut shell, our goal is to present the build each of us considers to be the best all around, "utility," bike. Since a utility bike needs to be used to commute, haul groceries, transport kids, and maybe even be a weekend rider for recreation then I thought I'd throw out an invitation for those here to give and opinion regarding what features you think are best suited to make a really good utility bike.

Security is a big consideration!

Also, we have to take our builds out on a tough 55+ mile course and race them as a part of the competition.

Any thoughts on what makes a good utility bike that can run like a Ferrari, four wheel like a Jeep, and haul loads like pickup truck?

The build guidelines: http://www.oregonmanifest.com/challenge/
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Old 04-15-11, 12:43 PM
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For me it's Goat's Chupacabra. It's a custom Big Dummy style frame, designed around Pugsley's 4" tire. With 2 chain line's for maximum ground clearance as well elimiting the need of a custom extra long chain. http://www.ridingthespine.com/Journe...ory/chupacabra
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Old 04-15-11, 03:40 PM
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Utility, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. There are many whose vision of utilty means ability to go to Costco and take the same load home they would with a a Chevy Suburban (maybe be I exaggerate a little ) For others it is a baksfiet like bike that you can chuck the kids in and go, until the kids can ride alone.

My vision is: Bike that is easy to use, just throw a leg over and go. A bike that is fun to ride and encourages use. Is simple to maintain. Can handle some weather. can carry a moderate amount of stuff. Is efficient enough to do a 5 to 8 mile commute. can handle the dark. In short a car supplement but not a total replacement.

simple list of critical items:
Rack and way to carry stuff (two large fabric grocery bags
fenders
Kick stand
some gears
good breaks
lights

for me, my build of an '82 nishiki (8 spds, dual pivot brakes, fenders, lights, wald folding rack, bell, brooks B17, strong wheels, 28mm tires, spd/platform pedals) definition of a good utility bike, but it certainly won't be everyones definition of utility

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Old 04-15-11, 04:50 PM
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Originally Posted by squirtdad View Post
Utility, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder....

simple list of critical items:
Rack and way to carry stuff (two large fabric grocery bags
fenders
Kick stand
some gears
good breaks
lights
I'd have to agree with squirt dad, if amend it a bit.

The kickstand should be strong and stable under load. Perferably a centerstand or double kickstand with plate or other good mounting.

Gears should be low enough to handle hills and a load, location dependent.

Fenders wide enough for the tires, if it fits fat franks there should be fenders to match.

It should fit wide enough tires to handle poor streets/ gravel at the minimum.

The geometry should match the loading intention.

And you should be able to carry a variety of things well. None of this necessitates a specialty cargo design, something like a surly troll or touring bike can manage it, but cargo designs make things like carrying passengers or larger loads easier. Of course the more flexible the design, the wider range of things it will be used for until it gets too specialized.

For me, things like the longtail or bakers bike designs strike a good compromise between utility and performance. It changes if your load is children, favoring long john or longtail designs or bucket bikes.
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Old 04-17-11, 10:00 AM
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squirtdad and lucienrau just about covered everything, for me that list translated into an Xtracycle. I guess I don't really have anything to add to the conversation. Best of luck in the competition.
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Old 04-17-11, 10:43 AM
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Squirtdads bike is set up similar to my torker graduate. I would only add one thing to the list, low maintenance.

Which is why I like IGH, and hub brakes. Other than that I notice that the folding baskets on the above bike are set well back, as are mine. Chainstays that allow a good basket or panniers on the back is obviously useful with out being a full on long tail.
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Old 04-17-11, 03:50 PM
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This is an interesting challenge! I would add to the list above:

A a power-assist option, in addition to IGH - Even a strong person may need to recur to this in a city like Portland if you're carrying heavy loads. Not sure if this is allowed in such competition, although due to their nature, utility bikes are normally heavy and can prove "scary" to many people. Power-assist hopefully is allowed.

Another nice thing design-wise is something along the lines of "modular" features - things such as porteur racks, child seats, etc. that one could easily add or remove from the bike. Most of the time, they just add weight or get on the way if one doesn't use them everyday or if one wants to use the bike simply for commuting or recreational purposes.

A frame design that allows being able to get on/off the bike easily (even if loaded) with adjustable features such as incline of the headset. Actually, there is a thread in the commuting forum with this interesting headset that literally on can adjust on the go. That would come in so handy if one wants to go from an upright (recreational, hauling) to a more aggressive position (off-road, windy days, hammering). Here is that fellow’s thread and website:
http://www.bikeforums.net/showthread.php/626019-New-Accessory/page3
http://www.jlsdesignworks.com/

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Old 04-18-11, 12:14 AM
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I think all these points are on the money. Things I would upgrade on my Xtra would be: rainproof cargo bags, add a front-basket and buckets up front, and while disk brakes would make my limited snow travel more fun and quieter, I do want the option to lower the maintenance. Cleaning the chain, cogs and RD is a hassle and I would be super happy with a belt drive train with a 22T ring/34T cog equivalent for my hilly geography. Greasy gears, Batman, but slipping a chain in the rain with a load of cargo or impatient kids is just the last straw! I carry rubber gloves in my panniers just so I don't get chain oil on self/kids when my chain decides to skip off the rails. I really like the idea of integrated lights and generator as well.
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Old 04-18-11, 11:50 AM
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S-D summed it up well in post number 3.


on an addditional note;
Like the set up on the Chupacabra, I have recently been experimenting with 3 & 5 speed IGHs as intermediaries for a dual chain drive train, using them as extra gear ranges leading down to 5 & 7 speed IGHs mounted in the rear wheels; so far so good.
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Old 04-18-11, 10:09 PM
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Gareth, that sounds awesome! Would love to see that.
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Old 04-19-11, 12:59 AM
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Originally Posted by Gareth View Post
S-D summed it up well in post number 3.


on an addditional note;
Like the set up on the Chupacabra, I have recently been experimenting with 3 & 5 speed IGHs as intermediaries for a dual chain drive train, using them as extra gear ranges leading down to 5 & 7 speed IGHs mounted in the rear wheels; so far so good.
Sounds great! Show us!
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