The other day I saw a bike leaned against the tree outside of Boomtown that caught my eye. The bike was a bright orange single speed "Mondo Utility Bike" made by Yuba and it was unlike any bike I'd seen. Constructed of some serious steel, this long wheel-base bike had a sticker that said "maximum load 440 lbs." That's a lot of lumber on a bike. I talked to the fellow that owned the bike and he turns out to be an owner of nearby Escape Sports which is the local dealer for these heavy haulers. The spokes are heavy gauge to take the load and are at least twice as thick as any spoke I'd seen before. Available in the single speed version he was riding, or a 6 speed, these bikes are being sold for about $1000. My interest was certainly piqued, but I doubt if I can convince my wife that I can drop that kind of money on another bike.
I've been quite interested in another option for a while now, a few years at least. It's a conversion kit which turns any standard bike into a load hauler. The Xtracycle Sport Utility Bike is also sold by Escape Sports and I though he told me they cost a couple of hundred dollars, but the conversion kit is listed on the Xtracycle web site for $399. I've seen these around town a couple of times and it seems likely that it was probably the same fellow from Escape Sports, or his brother. The Xtracycle kits come with the bags shown, and numerous accessories are available, including a wide load carrier, and a $350 blender. All this reminded me that I saw this week that Surly is now making a frame for (with?) Xtracycle (after having a look at Surlyville after seeing Ryan's Surly Karate Monkey, and Tim's Surly Crosscheck - I hadn't been to the Surly web site to drool in a couple of years).
The Big Dummy is a "cargo long-bike" frame that uses the Xtracycle components. The Surly blog has some interesting comments about the handling of a long wheel-base bike. The frame is listed at Xtracycle for $900 (US) and the complete bike at $1800.
Finally, today while waiting for a car tire to be repaired I walked over to the local bike shop, Doug's Spoke n' Sport. Right beside the entrance they had a Kona UTE "utility bike," yet another bike that I didn't know existed until this week.My daughter was sleeping in the stroller so I took it for a ride around the parking lot. It rides like, well, a solid bike that's a bit too small for me. I didn't raise the seat (it wasn't quick release) and I should have to better evaluate it. At $800, I'm very interested in this bike. Perhaps I could get rid of my beater mountain bike that I ride in the winter, and the 1978 road bike that is my rain bike/all-round commuter (it's officially for sale so let me know if you want it, or want more information!).
Looking at these options, they each have some advantages. The Xtracycle option is the least expensive, makes use of a bike I already own, and they come with some really good (large) bags for hauling the groceries, etc. The other bikes have the advantage of being purpose-built with a higher bottom bracket, tougher wheels and stronger frame (than my beater winter bike). That seems especially true of the Mundo as it seems to be far and away the toughest, and therefore heaviest, of the set. If I were to haul bricks on a bike, this would be the one I'd pick. The Big Dummy comes with a truckload of Surly coolness, but that's the only advantage I really see with that option. The UTE is a reasonably priced complete bike and has 700c wheels which ought to improve the ride a bit. The Kona also comes with a pair of panniers, similar to but maybe somewhat larger than the Nashbar townie basket. However, these saddle bags really under utilize the UTE's load bearing capacity. It would be nice to see this bike in a larger size (I'm 6' 3" so a big bike is good), with bigger saddle bags. As soon as they get those two things, I'll be snapping it up, err... if my wife lets me, someday, maybe.
For more on utility bikes, here are some additional links I have found: