Family Bike Shopping part II: The first bike we almost bought, Sun Atlas Cargo

Back in part I, I described why we decided to wade back into family bike shopping. At first, we were just looking to find a longbike that would be easy for Angela (5′ 1″) to get on and off of, and possibly be a more stable ride with two kids. That approach led to the first bike we almost bought, the Sun Atlas Cargo (this was before we started thinking through all the additional features we might like if we were buying something anyway).

The attraction of the Sun was that, of the true longbike frames out there (as opposed to a regular bike extended into an Xtracycle), to the best of my ability to determine, it has the lowest standover height. The Yuba, Kona Ute, the Big Dummy, and even the Xtracycle Radish all had a higher standover (though the radish was only about an inch or so higher). At about 24″ from the ground to the center of the “X” in the frame the Sun Atlas was the “most” step through. Our existing frame is more like 27-28″ from the ground to the point where Angela usually slips her leg over the frame, and those three or four inches would have made a meaningful difference.  I’m pretty sure that with the extra room, she wouldn’t have had to tip the bike at all to get her leg over (that gets harder as the kids get bigger). We also had a first hand report of the bike fitting a 5′ 1″ woman really well, and providing a nice stable ride. Conventional wisdom among cargo bikers is that the integrated frames have a lot less “flex” than free-radical extensions like ours, though unfortunately, we didn’t manage to find one in the area to try one ourselves, so I can’t report first hand on how the handling compares.

An additional plus would have been that since the Sun is compatible with Xtracycle racks, our existing child seats would have transferred over easily. A downside would have been that the Sun isn’t compatible with the kickback (the Xtracycle double kickstand) and the Sun double kickstand looks, well, not-so-beefy. Folks who love their fancy bikes gripe that the components on the Sun are iffy at best, and that shifting isn’t smooth, and worse, that the axle width is nonstandard, so upgrading isn’t straightforward. I doubt these would have been major issues for us. We do love our bikes here at Carfree with Kids, but we are not terribly picky about the finer points. Or rather we are picky about the finer points of things like the ease of loading and unloading and of carrying kids and stuff, the logistics of life with the bike so-to-speak (which is why I know that kickstand would have driven me crazy). But while we might enjoy and appreciate a high quality bicycle, we have both ridden many a bike with “bad” components quite happily (my commuter is just such a bike). We likely just would have replaced components as they wore out, probably with equally mediocre parts.

So, this bike would have solved our main issue, that of Angela getting on and off the bike more safely than she can now, and may have also solved some issues of stability if handling indeed proved to be a big improvement over our existing rig. This bike would have also fit beautifully into our parking space. At a list price of $679 for the complete bike, the price was easily within reach, and at this price point, the Sun Atlas Cargo should bring a workable and sturdy kid and cargo bike within reach for many more families (and for more short people). Note though, that if you want to outfit with the Xtracycle racks, bags and kid seat, you’ll be out another $540. If you just want your bigger kid to sit on the back deck, you’ll be almost good-to-go with the bike as is — just add a stoker bar to the seat post (but you’ll likely still want to add some bags).

But as we thought this purchase through, we realized we had several other issues this bike wouldn’t solve. In particular, there would be no improvement in weather protection (while I like to think I will make a great DIY rain cover like these folks, and I do possess the skills to do so, if I were going to actually pull it off, I would probably have made one by now). An even bigger factor was that that no longbike set-up is easily compatible with a trailer bike (though I have seen some DIY approaches), which would seriously limit our lifespan with this bike. There is only so much complaining I can take about not getting to pedal, and even though we can fairly effectively get H to sit without protest, in my heart, I of course want her pedaling away as often as possible (I also want her help on the hills). So we decided to keep looking.

If you are seriously considering this bike, I found the following resources helpful in determining whether it would be a good match for us.

  • A run down of rider responses to several different longbikes at Joe Bike in Portland.
  • An extensive thread on the Sun Atlas Cargo at Bike Forums. Go to the later pages to get to the real information (speculation before the bike came out goes for many pages).
  • The comments on the Clever Cycles listing for this bike are also helpful.
  • I also found the company to be responsive to my specific request for geometry information, and was successful rustling up a local shop that could order for me. Unfortunately, I’ve now forgotten exactly which shop that was.
As always, I’d love to hear if anyone local to Boston/Cambridge/Somerville has this bike. Even though it’s not the right new bike for us, I’d still be glad to hear how you are faring, and possibly take it for a spin to compare handling to our current set up.
Next time…the shopping adventure continues…
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Photo Credit:  ttrbikes on flickr

About Nathan

Nathan is a postdoctoral research fellow in neuroscience. He thinks parenting is way more fun when you don't have to worry about car seats.
This entry was posted in Biking, Biking with cargo, Biking with kids, Child-related issues, How-to, Links and reviews, Problems and issues. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Family Bike Shopping part II: The first bike we almost bought, Sun Atlas Cargo

  1. dr2chase says:

    I think it was Ferris Wheels, in (I think) JP, that had the Sun Atlas Cargo. Still haven’t hiked out there to look at it yet.

    And sometimes good components do make a difference. Figuring out which ones will matter to you, that’s the trick.

  2. Dorea says:

    Ah. They don’t seem to have it listed on their site, but I know they have carried the Yuba, so that would make sense. We may need a trip to JP…

  3. Mamavee says:

    I meant to go to Ferris Wheels myself last spring. Never made it though. I wanted to try the Yuba for myself. I have to say- I am glad to ( not glad but…) hear that Angela who is the same size as me does find the Xtra slightly difficult. I was beginning to think I was a wimp ( which I veryt well may be) but I relate to the Xtra just being a bit too unwieldy when loaded up with kids. I have a step through- yet the bike seems to bouncy and still to wobbly for me. Longtails however cool as not the right fit for me at least…. Can’t wait for the next post!!!

  4. Jed says:

    The “napping” bit might indicate you would really rather have a bakfiet/box bike. They also have very stable, wide kickstands and no standover height problems.

    Also, what about turning a BuddyBike into an Xtracycle BuddyBike? (buddybike.com) — it might not have a low enough standover.

    There is also the KidzTandem
    http://www.browncycles.com/tandems.htm
    also shown here on cyclicious: http://www.cyclelicio.us/?s=Kids%20tandem%20bicycle

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