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Tuesday
Aug212012

« "Midtails" - The New Family Ride? »

There's an emerging new category of cargo bikes out there, informally called the "midtail," as they feature an extended badonkadonk, but not as long as bikes in the "longtail" category like xtracycles, mundo's, and madsen's.

I've noticed 3 versions of this new style pop up in the past year, and we spent a bit of time discussing them on this weekend's Kidical Mass Seattle camping trip (details to follow when I get some photos - let's just say that Bainbridge Island was hilly but not chilly, we got a great waterfront spot at the campground for only $5/adult, and the pie was plentiful).

These bikes appeal to families with one child, or those looking for a bike to complement other pedal parent options they may have. There's room on the back for one kid comfortably, two in a pinch, plus there's potential for more cargo in panniers. One of the main motivators for families to get one of these is the potential to have a reasonably "normal" bike that is easier to carry, park, and store with always-there option to pick up or drop off kids or cargo. One of the best features of the midtails is the potential to fit a "cargo bike" onto public transportation - the front of a bus, or a hanging Amtrak rack. 

But I've got some issues with the versions that are out there. Call them a very promising start, but here's some unsolicited feedback from somebody that hasn't ridden your bikes yet. You're welcome! 

Here are the midtails of 2012:

Kona MinUte

Photo by Mitch Mandel

The $999 Kone MinUte is a smaller version of their Ute. Families report that by spinning the front wheel 180 degrees, it just fits on their local buses. It reportedly rides like a typical bike, is relatively light, and comes with waterproof panniers. 

And yet ... the disc brakes it comes with are reportedly subpar ("junky" according to this SF family, and they would know about braking needs). Also, Kona chose larger 700c wheels, and the rack with groceries and kids thus ride higher than they need to, which affects handling, and makes the bike tippier than it needs to be. I also wonder why the panniers couldn't be a bit longer. The kickstand is also too narrow for reliable kid-loading.

Yuba Boda Boda

Also clocking in at $999 is the Boda Boda Cargo Cruiser, the younger sibling to the Yuba Mundo, which comes in two sizes with slightly different frame configurations:

Photo from Yuba Cycles

Stylish, no? And reportedly hauls a lot for a lowish weight of 35lbs. And comes on smaller 26" wheels.

BUT. Because this frame is shared with an upcoming electric version, the rear rack is way above the wheel to leave space for a battery pack. Which again puts the heavy "live weight" higher than it needs to be. Plus they come with V-brakes instead of disc, and up here in the drizzly NW we are done with V-brakes. I'll need a test ride to see how the "cruiser" styling does up hills.

[Update] Yuba clarified in comments that the wheels and frame are disc-ready, so you can add the disc brakes of your dreams, and also confirmed that the Boda Boda is bus-friendly, with the front wheel flip.

Kinn Bikes

These brand new Kinn bikes are actually designed and BUILT in Portland! They cost twice a much ($2000ish depending on configuration), but with handbuilt quality wheels, locally built cromoly frame, racks, etc that's not a bad deal. Nice article about the genesis of this new company here on BikePortland, with an excellent comment section.

Photo from Kinn Cycles

Besides winning the looks prize (for me, at least), there are many clever features on this one. The front wheel flips 180 and latches there for bus racks. The rear rack has a small lockbox for tools and valuables, spins out to support wide loads (like a pizza box or crate), and even has a hidden mount for a Yepp Maxi seat! Adjustable footpegs are built in, and internal gear hub is an available option. 

Some quibbles. While disc brakes are welcome, I wish the Avid BB5's were BB7's. The folding double kickstand may be decent with groceries but should not be trusted with kids (I've broken a similar Pletscher double with kids on board). And I don't see panniers yet but given the nature of Portland there is no doubt that bicycle luggage artisans are hard at work. I wonder how they will fit with the footpegs.

And yes, the wheelsets are the larger 700c size. Even on the smaller frame size. Nooooo!

Truth is, I think Kona and Kinn are coming from a speedy commuter bike place, whence such wheelsets are enjoyed for their fast and smooth over bumps qualities. And these will be ideal for taller parents for whom the primary purpose of the bike is commuting longer distances, with more occasional heavy cargo. But for designers coming from a cargo bike direction, smaller wheels are better, as they are stronger and carry loads lower. Not to mention being more versatile bikes for families of diverse height. 

In fact, if I were designing a midtail I'd skip 26" wheels and go all the way to 20" wheels. Now, I'm not averse to a certainly clowny je-ne-sais-quoi to my bikes. In fact, my favorite small, transit-friendly cargo and kid hauling setup is a 16" wheel Brompton with front ITchair. 

Others in the family cargo world agree. The Xtravois 2.0 is probably the finest cargo bike design work I've seen in the past few years, and rolls on dual 20" wheels:

Photo from Clever Cycles

Dang I want this bike. There is some talk of a semi-production run. Make it so.

Another upcoming cargo bike with promise is the new Xtracycle design: the EdgeRunner Electric (p/review at Momentum), which is a one-piece frame (not bolt-on) with 26" front wheel and 20" rear. Plus electric assist, which is the future of cargo biking if the whole lithium-batteries-are-still-expensive-and-have-sucky-longevity issue ever gets sorted.

You like? I do. Their new Hooptie accessory will likely grace my xtracycle come fall, if we decide the handholds and side-protection are worth giving up on Drew's running mounts and dismounts.

But again, if it was me, I'd build a bike that has dual 20" wheels, fits on buses and Amtrak, has enough room on the deck for 2 kids, and to make up for rear cargo lost to legroom, a frame-mounted front rack for extra capacity up front. I was even going to sketch something out for this post, when I remembered a little sumpin that went by my twitter feed a few months ago ...

Photo by Jared MadsenWoot. There it is. A prototype MADSEN is monkeying with. With a serious centerstand to boot. Although that and the front rack would interfere with other bikes on bus rack, but hey, they're removable. Now, I don't know if that wheelbase is short enough to fit a standard bus rack, or exactly how I'd sort kids and cargo on the back, but that's the general idea. If my current MADSEN is any indication, this hi-ten steel bike would probably be heavier than the alu and cromoly midtails above, making it harder to load-unload from a bus, and less nimble up hills, so this would probably not be the ideal allrounder multimodal family whip. Tradeoffs. But a lighter cromoly version of what Jared's cooking up sure would be nice to ride. That is, after they release the MADSEN rain canopy in time for this fall, right? Ahem.

But I hope the designers above can take inspirado from the designers below, and get that cargo low, with quality disc brakes and burlier centerstands as standard features.

What say you, family bike people, and designers? The latest generation of velofamilies has been very interested in midtails, and I'd love to hear what you think. 

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Reader Comments (19)

The Boda Boda is designed to fit onto many city buses. Similar to the Kinn bike, the front wheel turns around to shorten the wheelbase to fit on a standard bus rack.

Also, like every single Yuba Bicycle, the Boda Boda is easily upgraded to disc brakes; the bike ships with disc-ready wheels, frames and forks.

August 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKaytea

Thanks Kaytea, I updated the post. It's nice that people can add disc brakes but they're more expensive for us after-market than they are for you, and I do think most folks want them (especially with those lovely cream tires that will turn dirty grey from rim sludge). But I can see that for dry climes and a lower price-point the v-brakes make sense.

Really looking forward to trying one, either at Joe Bikes next month, or I hear Ride Bicycles is getting one up here in Seattle.

August 21, 2012 | Registered CommenterJulian / Totcycle

My husband and I both have given the Boda Boda a test ride at Yuba HQ. Husband liked it so much that he declared that if we bought him one with electric assist he would ride it every day to work 15 miles away (from a guy who currently averages about two miles of riding a week). For us, the brakes are not too much of an issue, living in a relatively flat area with little rain. We are both 6' tall so the step over version was a great fit and we also think it is really pretty. We were pretty decided that we'd be getting one very soon and then we took a tour of the Pacific Northwest and hit two cargo bike roll calls and learned about some other options. We will give the MinUte a test ride locally, but I'm bummed we left Portland a little too early to see the Kinn. It's gorgeous. Glad to see the Boda Boda will most likely fit our bus racks. The other thing I still want to test is the possibility of carrying two kids. Our youngest is still not old enough to hold on, so it would be nice to be able to fit a 3 year old in a seat plus a small 5 year old on board (the 5 year old is also very pro-midtail). They didn't have a Peanut Shell set up on the Boda for a test ride when we were there. Normally the kids would be riding with me in the Madsen, but when we want to go by bus or BART, it would be nice if they could both fit on the easy to transport bike. I do also worry about the kickstand. Even with a double stand, I still felt it was unstable for kids to be climbing on and off unless I'm holding the bike, especially when they are used to our rock solid Madsen stand and treating the bike like a jungle gym.

August 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKristi

This is a great summary. We got the MinUte as our first cargo bike because we were nervous about going full-cargo, back when it was the only midtail on the market, and it's worked out very well. Two kids can ride on the MinUte at the same time if they're getting along for quite a while--our longest ride has been ~45 minutes. But they'll smash helmets within five minutes if they're not. And you're absolutely correct that the kickstand is awful, although word is that next year's will be wider due to complaints. There's also a deck replacement that allows you to mount a Yepp seat to a MinUte. I'm interested to see whether another kid could squeeze in front of it; if so it could reduce squabbling somewhat. The deck of the MinUte is 24" long, by the way.

I don't like the large wheels on the MinUte although they're fast because it disadvantages shorter riders, but the good news is that on any midtail the weight is so close to the rider that it's difficult to tip it even with the large wheels. I've only dropped a kid on the first and only occasion that I trusted the kickstand and walked away from the bike (stupid!) I wish I could say the same about the Big Dummy and the Mundo. But don't ask me what Kinn was thinking with those giant wheels and the kickstand. Maybe the designers are all really tall? But it is such a gorgeous bike even so. I would have put a mamachari kickstand on it. I love that kickstand so much and it would totally hit their aesthetic.

I didn't realize that fenders aren't standard on the Boda Boda,which is a disappointment. And I too am bummed that the rear deck is so high. I'm not sure mounting a battery there is a great idea if you're also hauling kids; I think you actually could tip a mid-tail with that much weight on the back deck. I also hoped it would have more gears and disc brakes, though this is perhaps an SF-specific concern. But kudos to Yuba for being the only manufacturer of the three to include a chain guard! And it is the cutest midtail. By comparison to the Boda Boda and the Kinn the MinUte is an aesthetic disaster.

August 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDorie

I have been looking at these options for my wife, who likes but does not love her Kona Africabike. You should also include Workcycles' Fr8 to the list: two kids on back and one up front is an option. And with the Euro dipping....
It is the only one that comes with fenders and dynamo lights, and smaller wheels for this who don't like 700c's on a cargo bike. They have a ton of cool add ons and are designed for a broader range of rider heights: a true family bike for different size parents. .
A bit lighter and smaller is their Gr8. Workcycles.com

August 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDweendaddy

The Fr8/GR8 lineup is very cool, but my understanding is that they're both too long and much too heavy to go on a bus rack, unlike the others. Weight limit for a bus bike rack in SF is 55 lbs and the Fr8 is I think 70/80 lbs? Also riders say they're not much for hills. But in a flat area without need to put the bike on transit, very appealing.

August 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDorie

Hi Folks, this is Alistair the Kinn guy; it's a real pleasure to come accross people talking about stuff I've obsessed over during the last year.

As Julian indicated the first model for the Kinn was (me) commuting. Most of the time I just need a fun, nippy commuting bike, but wanted to be able to pick up a grandkid when the need arose without having to decide beforehand what car/bike I took to work. Then for the couple of days a week that they were at our house to go out on errand/adventures with them.

That said, this first 30 unit build is about learning what can be made more usefull and usable, and I hope to learn a lot. It's been the cooperative effort of many getting the bike to production and I trust it's evolution will be too.

I do want to note that there will be a chainguard (and available spoke guards) and that the kickstand in the photo didn't make the grade. We'll be offering the Italian Ursus Jumbo which opens out to avery impressive 14" wide. It was the most stable of the general aftermarket stands.

For me a big part of Kinn is building a bike in my hometown (and your neigbour to the south).
I figure around 80% of the price paid for a Kinn stays in the region, and that helps entwine family biking into our livelyhoods as well as our homes, roads and schools.

I am sure we'll bump into each other in due couse - I look forward to it. Cheers, Alistair

August 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAlistair Williamson

Nice summary. I agree pretty much on all points, but an Xtravois/20" Mundo would be the bee's knees.

Having ridden the Xtra Edgerunner I can't see having a 20" front as a big deal-breaker; Even with a front frame-mounted rack like a Civia Halsted I found 30+ lbs. a bit annoying. Once you start putting that much unsecured weight in, say, a basket or box the weight starts steering the bike more making picking a tight line harder, or so I've found. That much weight in the rear is almost inconsequential on a long tail, of course.

The 20" rear wheel on the Edgerunner does make loads disappear even more but may make rear capacity and bag clearance-to-ground less.

I really wouldn't mind a Brompton-folding long tail though...speaking of which Xtra has a Tern hooked up with a Free Radical that looks promising. Additionally an extra heavy duty Free Rad is in the works too, perhaps allowing further functionality with donor frames and/or folders.

August 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGRJim

Thanks everyone! Alistair, I look forward to tracking down a Kinn on Sept 16th at Fiets of Parenthood. And a dual 20" electric cargo bike looks good to me, I'd love to find one in the Pacific NW to try ...

August 26, 2012 | Registered CommenterJulian / Totcycle

Sorry, there seems to be a comment missing. The dual 20" electric cargo bike is from this:
"Hi This is Tora from Juiced Riders (http://www.juicedriders.com) Please have a look at the ODK utility bike . It is a 20'' wheel "mid tail" utility bicycle. There are both pedal and electric assist versions.

It has been in the works since 2008 and currently in production. Early on we realized that a step-through and lower center of mass was needed for an easy-to-use cargo bicycle. This platform basically solves most of the issues mentioned in your post."

August 26, 2012 | Registered CommenterJulian / Totcycle

Dorie was so nice to let us give her family's MinUte a test ride yesterday and I'm feeling that the decision of which bike to buy will be even harder now. My husband and I both really liked the MinUte, but I liked it more than he did. I liked the additional gears compared to the Boda Boda (helpful for our next trip to Seattle), how the MinUte handled and that you get more included in the price of the MinUte. Once you throw in a double kickstand, front wheel steering stabilizer, bags and fenders (why no fenders included???), the Boda Boda will be at least a few hundred more than the MinUte to have all the features that we would really want to have on our bike that the MinUte already has. Husband still likes the look of the Boda Boda better. He says he likes it because it looks less like a regular bike, while I like the MinUte because it looks more like a regular bike. I guess he's tired of me getting all the turned heads while riding the Madsen. He wants a unique looking bike too. It looks like the 2013 MinUte comes in a nice light blue color that I think is rather pretty. Maybe we should just forget about the pedal assist he wants and buy both of the midtails with the money instead. If we happen to find a place to test ride a Kinn in the Bay Area in the next couple of months we'll never be able to make a decision!

August 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKristi

after rocking folding bikes for many years, i am in love with that Madsen 20"er. I'd buy it in a heartbeat :) Looks excellent!

August 27, 2012 | Unregistered Commentertroy

Now I really don't know what to get. I'm just over 5 feet, and my husband is 6 feet. We have a 2 and a half year old who loves his iBert seat, but is probably ready to be on the back of a bike in a peanut shell or similar. And we have a 6 and a half year old who loves riding his own bike, but a lot of our rides are several miles on San Francisco and Berkeley Hills. so he needs to be able to get on something and ride with us. The Mundo is just too big a bike for me. The free radical feels wobbly. I was thinking the boda boda or minUte but my little guy will need a seat, and then my older guy won't fit. The ODK has minimal gearing. What would you do get if you could only have one family cargo bike that will be for two kids for a while but then just one?

August 31, 2012 | Unregistered Commenternaptimewriting

Well, I haven't tried it yet but I'd be lusting after the upcoming xtracycle edgerunner (see above, with the lower snap deck and electric assist). But you wouldn't go wrong following Dorie and Hum of the City clan in what they end up with.

But you may not be recently flush with sold-a-car cash, or need electric. In that case a cheaper one-frame xtracycle like Sun Atlas with parts upgrades? Or try again with a bolt-on xtracycle? I don't mind the wobble much, myself.

August 31, 2012 | Registered CommenterJulian / Totcycle

Given a 2.5 year old and a 6.5 year old who's riding on his own off-and-on, I'd be thinking Follow-Me Tandem, or the more wobbly but decidedly cheaper Trail-Gator (or some other kind of trailer-bike).

Our son, who's the same age, loves riding on his own but he can't go too far or up big hills, and he can be frighteningly oblivious to traffic. So we are actively working on a way to get our Roland Add+Bike onto the MinUte.

September 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDorie

Did you get to ride the Kinn, Julian? I stopped in at the Bike Commuter today and took a ride. I really liked a lot of aspects about it, and in many ways, it's exactly what I want for me and my toddler. I am going to try to get up to Ride in Seattle sometime as the one I test rode wasn't a production model.

As a woman, I thought the top tube was a little too high for me to wear whatever I want on the bike, which is a minus for me. Obviously that wouldn't be a concern for many, and others would probably want a flat top tube.

The ride felt really nice though and most of the components seemed to work well even as much as it had been test ridden.

Still debating this one for me and my little navigator. I also really need to try it out on some hills. I live in Olympia with some major hill action on the west side, and the area around the Bike Commuter was so flat.

One other thing I worry a bit about is the compatibility with other child seats. We have been using a Yepp Mini for the last six months, which I mostly like, but I was thinking that when we move to a rear seat, we may try something else. The Yepp's straps are constantly getting tangled, and my son frequently falls asleep on our rides. I am looking for something that might not be quite so brutal on his neck, something he could lean on. The person at the Bike Commuter didn't know whether the Kinn would work well with other child bike seats.

September 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnne

why are we over v brakes in the PNW? Do you mean cantilever brakes? I just asked Andy at The Bicycle Repair Shop yesterday whether they were enough to slow my heavy bicycle plus the kindergartner's trail a bike as we go down Cap Hill into down town and he said yes. Is this not true? Am I being stupid and or riskier than I realize?

October 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMolly

Update on the BodaBoda specs from the Joe Bike website. Note that the stock bike is only 8 speeds and unfortunately there is NO disc brake option for the rear wheel.

http://www.joe-bike.com/cargo-bikes/yuba-boda-boda/
Technical details: Designed for ultrasimplicity and low maintenance, the Boda Boda features a simple, no-fuss SRAM X-3 8×1 drivetrain, 26″ wheels with wide cruiser tires, and beefy V-brakes. The fork has a disc tab, so you can install a front disc brake now or later. There’s no rear disc capability. You can have us install a double or triple chainring and derailleur up front, but then you might have to lose the chainguard.

December 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNico

Great article! It's a year later. Any new entries in the midtail market? Thanks!

December 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

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