Xtracycle Hooptie: Initial Impressions

We set up our Xtracycle almost 5 years ago, when our now 6 1/2 year old daughter was not quite 2. It’s hard to explain how different the cargo and family bike market was back then (or the family-biking-blog scene, for that matter). The only true extended frame on the market was the Big Dummy, though the Kona Ute came out shortly after we set up our Xtra. There was no Yuba. There was no Madsen. I think the only place to buy a bakfiets in the US may have been Clever Cycles, though to be honest, I didn’t even know what a bakfiets was.

The Xtracycle freeradical extension had been around for a long time by then, but even so, we felt like we were blazing new ground. The only child seat that Xtra sold back then was the bobike maxi, which didn’t even attach to the deck itself, and which, as it turned out, didn’t work on our bike (that was one of our first experiences of the sometimes difficult interactions between smallish bikes and bike accessories), and with no other options, we got resourceful and got a great double deck seat from Rob Hanson, one of several resourceful folks making DIY wooden seats (these days you can attach two Yepp Maxi’s to an Xtracycle deck or two Peanut Shells to a Yuba, but back then, there was no way on the market to strap in two smaller kids to the deck of an extended frame bike).

Rob’s seat served us well for many years, though, as we’ve documented here on occasion, we struggled some in general hauling two kids on an longtail, especially as the younger one got bigger, and especially Angela. She is tiny (5′ 1″) and had trouble getting on and off the bike as we did not have a step through frame. Tiny-ness on longtails works against you in some other ways also, because the more weight and upper body strength the adult rider has, the easier any weight rear on the bike (like that second kid) is to handle, and even for me (I’m about 5′ 5″ and a little stronger), starts, stops and slow speeds required a lot of care. With one kid, the Xtra was fabulous for us. With two? Well. You all already know we got a bakfiets.

The bakfiets immediately became our go-to for hauling two kids. It is extremely stable and secure, even at low speeds and stops. Wiggles from kids barely impact the handling at all. And while, yes, it is beastly heavy, we find the strength it requires is strength we have. That is, even though Angela is little, she has the strength to power up hills on it heavily loaded with the handling so stable. What she didn’t have was enough upper body strength to confidently handle the longtail, so perhaps strangely, we find that the heavier bike actually requires less overall strength (which doesn’t always mean we’re happy riding it up hills, but you get the idea).

But even with our love of the bakfiets, our Xtra still got some use. I would grab it to run errands when I didn’t want that extra weight (the bakfiets weighs about 80lbs, our old Xtra set up weighed about 45). I’d grab it if I needed to haul 1-kid, especially if I also needed to pick up groceries, but neither of us would ride it with two. Our bigger kid had outgrown the straps I’d fashioned for Rob’s seat, and the younger one was getting close. Now, I could have made bigger ones, but at some point, it starts to seem really silly to strap in a 6 year-old on a bike deck, and it was starting to become clear it might be time to move on from the deck seats, beautiful as they are (and I’d like to note here that Rob’s work on those seats was really good. We rode hard with those seats for many years, and stored the bike outside, mostly covered in rain but not always perfectly covered, and the seats held up beautifully. He did really great work).

A usual solution here would be to switch back to the snap deck, and add stoker bars. Unfortunately, again with the short adult rider thing, Angela rides with the seat very very low, and we would have had to fashion some sort of DIY solution to raise the handles far enough for a rider on the deck (the standard Xtra stoker bar wouldn’t have worked). That certainly would have been possible, but as with many DIY projects around here, the list is far longer than I have time for, and after 6 months or so of knowing I needed to figure it out, I had made zero progress. The other problem with a stoker bar is that it’s harder to figure out how a second kid can hang on (and our younger one likes to feel secure, so he’s not a very good candidate for just holding onto the bigger kid, though that works for some families just fine), and I had some hope the bike could be resurrected as a two-kid bike once the rear-kid could move farther “up” the deck.

So, when Xtra came out with the Hooptie — a handrail that goes all the way around the deck, we went for it. Specific perks in our situation are that it does not need to attach to the seat post at all (which would have made it not work on our bike), and gives a secure place for a rear-seated kid to hold on. Great DIY versions of this have been out there for a while, so I’m glad to see Xtra pick up on this good idea and make it for those of us without either access to a machine shop or the time/inclination to fashion one together ourselves.

I got it installed a couple weeks ago, and the install was pretty successful. I don’t think I swore at all (bonus hint: I recommend installing both brackets pretty loosely to the deck, and installing *both* side rails, before firmly tightening the bolts at the end of the deck — in contrast to the official directions that suggest just to install one side bar before tightening).

After a couple weeks riding with the hooptie, I have a few impressions. First, the sizing on this thing is great. Both our kids fit in great, including the bigger one, and I see this serving us very well for many years. The Xtra still rides beautifully with one kid, and now with the hooptie, either kid can fit. This really expands the range of daily errands we can do on this bike easily (with H solidly grown out of the previous seat straps, we’d only been using this bike with R). As far as riding with two, it is better than our old seat, but still a challenge. Even with the back kid scootched up a little bit on the deck, it’s still solidly outside the range that Angela can handle comfortably, but it makes enough difference that I can do it again. The bakfiets is still my first choice for two, but if it’s not available or the logistics of the day work better for us both to have a two-kid bike, I will grab this one and be glad to have the option. I had been a little concerned about loading the kids on the bike, but find that with the kickback and me standing near the bike to stabilize it, both of our kids are capable of climbing in themselves (have the one seated at the rear climb in first). To dismount, I do tend to help, but lifting them down is easier than lifting them up.

So, overall, I’m happy with the purchase. It moved our Xtra into this new stage of our lives, and makes the bike more useable for more types of errands now that either kid can fit. I really like having a lighter 1-kid-plus-cargo option (we find the Xtra is actually better and more flexible than the bakfiets for cargo). This is still not going to be our go-to two-kid bike, but it’s good to have the option available in a pinch, and those bars on the top are going to be awesome for strapping in way more groceries. I’m glad Xtra is paying attention to the needs of biking families. This was definitely a need, and they filled it well.

[Also, given my notes on challenges of longtail handling above, I'd like to give a mention to the not-quite-out-yet new Xtracycle EdgeRunner. Check out Hum of the City's impressions here. It really looks like this bike could fix several of the longtail handling problems for small riders and/or those riding with two kids. The kids are held much lower on the bike over a 20" rear wheel, which should really reduce the difficulty with weight to the back of the bike, and the lower standover height should make the bike much more suited to smaller adults. If we were in the market for a longtail right now, I'd definitely be waiting to give this one a try]

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.
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