"Midtails" - The New Family Ride?
August 21, 2012
Julian / Totcycle in Cargo, Madsen, Midtails, Reviews, Xtracycle

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. 

Article originally appeared on Totcycle (http://totcycle.com/).
See website for complete article licensing information.