Mid Tail, Long Tail or Front Loader (which cargo bike do I choose)?

I never planned on building three different classes of cargo bike, but I did. What are their strengths and weaknesses?

Prologue

As I write this, its been about two years since I received my first cargo bike in a box: A dirt-cheap $750 Mongoose Envoy. I planned from the beginning to completely tear it down and only use the donor frame. The Envoy is what you would call a midtail. Not huge, but still pretty big.

The Mongoose Envoy in action (2019). Still with the small tires and factory fenders.

I found I liked the cargo bike concept so much, I wanted to go bigger. Next I built up a Surly Big Fat Dummy (BFD). That bike is as big as they come in terms of a side-loading (panniers) cargo bike. Its a longtail.

I ran around for about a year on the BFD, putting about 1600 miles on it. I used it for an everything-bike: cargo, shopping, commuting and even mild-difficulty offroad trails. As oversized as it was, I found it fun and practical and had no plans to leave it behind. I could have stopped here.

The BFD in 2020. 48T chainring, Bluto suspension fork, stock wheels and tires: Set up for cargo and street commuting

But I do love a project. Almost on a whim, in early 2021 I called a USA dealer for the Larry vs. Harry Bullitt and asked if they had frames in stock. They did. So I built a third, completely different kind of cargo bike: A frontloader. also commonly known by its Dutch name of bakfiets (“box bike”).

The Bullitt, late 2021 @ Costco. The bag under the cart holds panniers and everything of value not nailed down on the bike, plus helmet.

The Bullitt is my newest arrival in the stable … but I already have over 1300 miles on it. What does that tell you?

SO!

Which do I prefer, and why? What are the strengths and weaknesses of each? Where are the hidden gotchas? Being in an unusual position to have experienced them all directly, and to have them all still in front of me, here goes nuthin’:

The Mid Tail (Mongoose Envoy)

Envoy: Recent past. Titanium flat bar with bar ends and RevGrips Pro grips (its Jones bars were given to the Bullitt), 77L (each) bags converted to the 2.0 mounting method, heat sinks on the motor. 2.8″ tires on super strong 30mm internal-width rims.

What Was I Thinking?

I wanted a cargo bike without spending big money for one. I wasn’t sure I would like the idea. Cargo bikes are crazy-expensive. Cheaper ones are only really expensive. This one was downright reasonable.

In the DIY ebike community, a Mongoose bike is considered a great donor if you are looking for a strong, reliable frame as the foundation of a build. The Mongoose Dolomite borders on legendary in this regard. Great bones, so to speak.

The Envoy is exactly this. It presents as a low-cost bike complete with included big panniers and wideloaders, so it can effectively be put to work right out of the box. You can do exactly that, although some parts are in sore need of an upgrade (the brakes, in particular).

So in the end, I built myself a very capable bike with top quality components. Lets focus on the resulting platform advantages/disadvantages rather than getting hung up on those components. I wrote a whole series on that build so we can let it stand separately.

What Is It Good At?

If you are on a budget, this is perhaps the best way to start

A mid can be a lower cost to buy into. Cargo bikes are notoriously expensive so this may be a deciding factor. You can do as I did and buy into the Envoy as a donor platform; then upgrade incrementally as time and budget permits… but the frame is the frame so if you find yourself wishing for more capacity, thats the hard limit of a mid tail. Still, even after a complete rebuild with top components I ended up spending half or less of what a more grownup cargo bike would have cost me.

It has surprisingly good cargo capacity

This may be more true if you go and roll your own cargo bags the way I did. At about 77L each bag, my Great Big Bags are quite a lot larger than the ones included with the Envoy. Bags the size of what I built are darn near the biggest out there (Yuba makes 80L bags guaranteed only to fit their own bikes).

Big bags mean big volume, but not big weight capacity. Your wheels and frame will dictate that. Different bikes have different specs so be sure to find out what the bikes you are considering can carry, both for cargo and total system, which is the weight of the bike, rider and cargo. You have to do some digging, but Mongoose publishes a 130-lb maximum cargo capacity for the Envoy (they do not publish a system weight limit). They break it down to 90 lbs on the center rear rack and 20 lbs each for the wideloaders.

Reality is a pannier load will hang off the center rack and be bolstered by the wideloaders, so the lower number for the side rack is not worrisome. Especially since I added some extra bracing to enhance the wideloaders’ strength.

Speaking of strength, If you are looking to stretch any bike’s carry capacity, look to beefing up the wheels. In particular wider rims so you can fit larger tires.

Mongoose developers employed by the company who posted in internet forums at the time of the Envoy’s release stated these limits were not, strictly speaking, upper limits and represented what Mongoose had safely tested during product development. If I hadn’t done a bunch of research I would not have known this. So do some digging on Facebook cargo groups and look for online forum posts (this is true no matter what bike platform you are considering) for details and experiences on the bike you are researching.

I was carrying two double-wide sleeping bags and pillows so this is not the heavy load it appears to be.

It is not supersized

A midtail Is bigger than a regular bike, but its not enormous. Its a LOT easier to manipulate around a crowded garage. The mid-size nature of it also makes it easier to ride in tighter spaces. Please note that my midtail IS 8 feet long thanks to the 46″ longboard deck I put on the back. I highly recommend the skateboard deck as a cool mod, but remember moderation is not always a dirty word. My first, shorter 33″ deck may be a more sensible choice.

Given the limited garage space at the Envoy’s new home, I may pull off the 46″ deck (left image above) and go back to the original shorter deck. I’d need to re-mount it one set of rack bosses further inward. Or something.

Skinny, flatless tires, or mid-size? I stuck with the big poofy ones due to their increased load capacity and amazing difference in ride comfort.

What Does It Suck At?

Its not a truly heavy-duty cargo bike

…in the sense that its not the right bike to repeatedly, regularly use the kind of available extra space I have given the bike, with its upgraded panniers, front rack etc. If you are planning to go truly XXL on your cargo bike’s duty cycle, a midtail is probably not the smart choice.

Balance is a serious challenge

Balance while riding when loaded heavy can be a significant effort. The nature of a mid-tail bike means you are hanging stuff off the sides to carry along with you. As in: Panniers. Maybe even supersized cargo-bike-sized panniers (plus more bags on the front rack). When you start getting to be really serious about your loads then balance naturally becomes an issue.

I’ll bet balance under load is the reason Mongoose sells the Envoy with large – but inexplicably narrow – panniers. Only a lawyer working for the manufacturer could love a bag like that.

While I haven’t personally experienced this, I have heard many smaller women state that having kids on the back of their bike is not a great situation. In addition to kids being kids (squirmy and fidgety) their weight is very high up in back which can make the bike a challenge to safely balance when standing still. This is all dependent on the individual rider and the size of the child or children.

Does my mid-tail have a place in my stable?

Yes it does. I am lucky enough to have two homes, one of which is in a very hilly area where distances are short, the climate is mild and my shopping needs are lighter. Despite many steep hills its a lot easier place to ride a bike around. The Envoy is my shopping bike at that residence. Being smaller than the other two behemoths discussed below, it also fits better in my smaller available garage space.

Eat fresh egg sandwich or go riding? Sandwich wins. Then we ride.
Is it an auto replacement?

Not quite. I still have and need a car to supplement this bike. If I wanted to pack 50 lb gravel bags home 1 at a time, I could use the bike. Or take the car and bring home 8 of them. The mid tail is good for maybe 90% of my local car trips.

The Long Tail (Surly Big Fat Dummy)

What Was I Thinking?

Having loaded my midtail to the point where I was thinking I had maybe outgrown it, I wanted something bigger. In particular, the increase in ride comfort and quality when I went to plus-sized tires on the Envoy made it clear that fat tires – with much larger air volume and taller load-bearing sidewalls – were a big plus for a bike that carried a lot of weight around as its job.

One thing I have learned in my cycling life is that, where equipment is concerned, don’t take half measures. Its a lesson that has bonked me on the head time and again. At the time I figured this was one more of those hard-way lessons when I supersized to a fat longtail. The Surly Big Fat Dummy personifies the expression ‘Go Big or Go Home’. Thats what I was after: a rolling freight train capable of handling heavy loads.

Need to carry some spare fat wheels? Break out the longtail

What Is It Good At?

Starting conversations

“Wow thats quite a bike.” “Dude that thing is cool.” “Jesus H. Christ what in the hell is that?” Allow for time to have conversations if you park it in a shopping center. Pull up a shopping cart to this thing and spend 15 minutes loading it and it will be a rare thing to get through that task without a passerby stopping to strike up a conversation. Also windows rolled down at stoplights. At 8 feet long, with wideloaders added, a skateboard deck almost 4 feet long and oh yeah the biggest tires and deep dish carbon fiber wheels… People notice, and they like it.

Don’t think this is unique to me because I have made the bike into a rolling spectacle. Fact is, cargo bikes in the USA are still a rare sight and many people have no idea what they are looking at.

Its big

I mean really big. There have been a few news stories over the years where someone blows a gasket, steals an army tank and runs amok on city streets, bulldozing over stuff, causing panic and generally doing the things we all wish we could do while stuck in a traffic jam. Riding a ginormous longtail is a little like that. You can pretty much roll over anything. Nobody feels compelled to step in front of you and it sure seems like you are sitting about a foot higher in the saddle than you would be on any other bike (you’re not but it feels like it). You’ve got a level of stability that just isn’t possible on any other bicycle, fat tired or otherwise thanks to the long wheelbase that crosses the county line.

Some of what I am colorfully describing here is specific to the Big Fat Dummy, but really the whole ‘big’ thing is true of really big cargo bikes period.

Wren Inverted front fork. Best. Upgrade. Ever.
Its comfortable

Steel is real, and the chromoly frame does have some flex in it to make your ride nice and comfy. This is not the bike for the super efficient cyclist to pursue the World Hour Record in. Its a bus. Even longtails made with stiffer alloy frames will get some flex into them due to the sheer length of the frame.

It can carry a lot of stuff

More than you can load into it. I branched out and expanded the carry capacity on my midtail with a front rack for two more panniers. Well, utilizing my Version 2.0 Big Bags, the longtail has more than 270 (Two Hundred and Seventy) liters of rear pannier capacity, supported with a 9″ wide floor integrated into the frame. PLUS the nearly 4-foot long aircraft carrier deck in back, AND the front handlebar basket. A front rack would be stupid overkill. Figure the increased carry capacity is the reason a longtail exists vs. a midtail. Do not bother considering one that doesn’t have the ability to carry a lot, as thats the reason they exist in the first place.

Yeah… thats a lot for a bicycle.

My record on this bike was actually on my first shopping trip. Four 36-paks of soda cans, two per side, plus some boxes of crackers and another 20 -30 lbs of bike lock and tools (mostly the big bike lock). When all was said and done, I was at a total system weight of well over 500 lbs, and those great big bags were filled out and full. The many-miles-long ride home was fortunately on a bike path with underpasses and almost no street traffic. And still it was very tense – not to mention slow going. There’s no way my midtail would have been able to handle that, even if I had bags big enough to do it.

What Does It Suck At?

Its. Freaking. Big.

If you don’t have plenty of parking space, you are screwed. Plain and simple. That means at home and any other place where you expect to regularly park this thing.

Broadening the above narrow point by a bit: Pick any problem you care to name associated with XXL size. A longtail has that. Will it matter to you? There’s the question. I have found that despite the size, the BFD is surprisingly nimble once I got used to it. Will your longtail of choice be so forgiving? Better do some in-depth test riding to find out.

It has all the balance issues of a midtail

Only those issues are magnified. Now… don’t get me wrong here. Lots of people ride these bikes and their worlds do not end. In fact the balance issues I am digging in on are just a fact of life for most cargo bikers. But this is likely because they simply don’t know any better as the next entry in this comparison is something of a rarity in North America, so almost nobody knows how much of a difference there is.

Just before I loaded the bike with 126 lbs of soda cans. Who knew little soda cans weighed that much? The ride home with them hanging off the sides was … exhilarating.
Its expensive.

We’ve crossed over into the land of proper cargo bikes, and this is big money territory. Unpowered, the Big Fat Dummy listed for over $3,000 and thats before you put the motor in, or build your wideloaders or do anything else. The BFD is no longer in production, but the electrified Big Easy lists for $5249. Thats not expensive for a proper longtail that is manufactured with components you can expect to be reliable and long lasting, as well as a motor you can count on to actually work right under heavy load – both in hills and the flatlands.

Does it have a place in my stable?

Yes, but only because the one I own is a special type that includes bikepacking and trails in its toolkit. There is nothing I dislike about my longtail. Once you embrace the horror of riding a bike this size, it expands your idea of what a bicycle can be and what you can do with it. ‘Auto replacement’ starts becoming a reality for more than just moving yourself and your kids around.

If it weren’t for the fact that the Bullitt was a project that was calling my name, I would still be riding the Surly Big Fat Dummy day in, day out. Although I have configured it to be happiest on trails (and overland … where there are no trails) it is still perfectly usable as a commuter, as a go-to-the-store bike or even as a trail bike.

Is it an auto replacement?

At this size and carry capacity, it could be, easily. I have carried three fifty pound bags of gravel on it (one on each side and one on the top, center). I’ve loaded a full shopping cart. My child is all grown up now but if she were still small she could ride on the back. A longtail is pretty much an auto replacement unless you need to take long trips out of town.

The Front Loader (Larry vs. Harry Bullitt)

What Was I Thinking?

I built it because I can. Honestly I did not need this bike. I wasn’t even sure I would be able to ride the thing. Or that I would like it. But I did know of the Bullitt’s reputation and the devoted following that all bakfiets riders seem to have for the platform. Plus I had an idea for a new approach to a two-motor AWD build that I wanted to put in play (Spoiler Alert: it came out freaking awesome).

Picture taken on my first post-build ride. The handlebars are the same ones seen on the Envoy up above. And thats a 42T chainring; later increased to 52T. The big kicktail is still on the rack, too.

What Is It Good At?

Starting conversations

Nobody knows what to make of it, but everybody likes it. I get asked all the time if you can fit a dog in the cargo box and of course lots of people do that, I respond. Just like the longtail, people want to know all about it. Just yesterday a couple in a car next to me at an intersection wanted to know if I would build them one (sorry I already have a job).

Load carrying is nothing short of unbelievable

As in unbelievably easy. Mid- and longtails use big panniers. These have to be load-balanced, as of course they involve hanging stuff off the sides. That means as payload increases, balance is a progressively more difficult challenge.

Not with a frontloader. At all. You just don’t notice the load is even there at first. Seriously, thats no exaggeration. When I started out with my first full supermarket load on the Bullitt, I thought something was wrong. I rolled away from the curb easy as pie with no consequences whatsoever to stability or balance.

A little further evolved, the Jones bars have been swiped off the Envoy.

It rides just like it does when its empty … until you hit the brakes. The laws of physics still apply and you have all the inertia of your extra weight load. But no balance penalty. And it feels like a miracle. On my longtail, when I loaded my 100+ lb Costco cart payload, I made it home rolling at about 8-10 mph… and that was too fast. Anything that got in my way like a pothole, small child or line of baby ducks… sayonara, sucker. No way could I make any sort of avoidance maneuver without crashing to the ground. No such problem with a bakfiets.

Loading it is the easiest by far

With a mid- or a longtail, you have panniers. My Great Big Bags are convenient, but they still have to be unstrapped, opened up, loaded evenly from side to side and then re-strapped to help support the load.

With a frontloader? Forget ALL of that. Its a great big open box. Just chuck your crap into it and go. Its also centered on the bike… so load balancing? Not something you care about anymore. Straps? Its a box. No straps. A lid, even? Entirely optional. My Bullitt is sized so the same great big duffel bag I used for the Great Big Bags 2.0 fits right into it: I can toss my stuff into the bag (which also eliminates rattling) and then lift it right out and carry it inside when I get home.

First ride with the 52T chainring. Plus a look at it with panniers on.

Do the math on that: its carry capacity is about half that of the longtail. In truth, you can stack stuff in the box higher so its not half, but its still a bit less. The increase in ease of carry and loading makes that loss of capacity worth it. Plus, I added a rear rack that lets me plug in a couple of 30L panniers, so I am gaining back still more of the capacity I lost vs. the longtail.

Its capable of as much range as you care to give it.

My under-floor battery box could have easily taken a bigger battery if I had cared to put one in. I thought 32ah of 52v power was plenty. My ass wears out in the saddle before the battery does.

Is it an auto replacement?

As much as a bicycle can be, yes it is. The frontloader gives you enough cargo capability to meet most reasonable needs, while adding in grab-and-go convenience and ease of use under heavy load, both of which are lacking in a midtail or longtail by comparison.

Snip! The kicktail becomes a bobtail. Also I gave in and sprang for the Fahrer bags rather than making something myself.

What Does It Suck At?

Steering takes some getting-used-to.

Its a little twitchy compared to any normal bicycle. You get the hang of it in about a day. In fact, switching from the Bullitt to any other bicycle is difficult. The first time I took 2Fat (a titanium-framed 2wd fatty) out after riding the Bullitt for a few weeks, I thought something was wrong with the bike. I was wobbling all over the place and couldn’t keep the bike straight. I had gotten used to the kind of subconscious correction necessary when there is a 20″ wheel 5 feet in front of you. You don’t realize its so different until you switch back to a normal bike. The solution is to make frequent switches back and forth to your other bikes.

Its big.

Just like the longtail, a bakfiets is so big you had better have lots of space to park it. The Bullitt is just as long as my Surly but, thankfully, a lot narrower so there’s that at least. Parking this bike at a bike rack you have to park on one end or the other and face the bike sideways. Otherwise, you could end up taking the entire width of the sidewalk with the bike sticking out from the rack.

Recently at Costco I was lucky to have an empty rack to work with. Park it straight in and it blocks the entire sidewalk. Park it on the other side of the rack and it blocks the fire exit.
Its expensive.

While the longtail tossed aside the whole idea of being budget-friendly, a proper bakfiets casts your budget aside by doing the breakup via text messaging. Its likely going to be brutal on your wallet. How brutal? An electrified Bullitt is going to run in excess of $6200. Probably you’ll be in for 7 grand by the time you have added in extras like a cargo box. Something like what I did? Well… thats more. Think thats how bad it gets? Price an electrified Riese & Müller Load 75. They start at over $9,000 and can be optioned up past $14,000. That $3,000 Mongoose build is starting to look a lot more attractive, right? Are less expensive options out there? Of course. But this bike is the apex predator of more than just crates and packages. Its coming after your wallet.

Does it have a place in my stable?

Duh. Why do you think I wrote this one up last? If you were reading above you already know how pleased I am with it. The Bullitt has become my commuter as well as my exclusive utility/shopping/runaround bike. You get used to driving around a bike that has a great big open box that you can just dump whatever into without a care for cargo management. Bunch of stuff come to the office from Amazon today? Toss it in and go. Need a three bags of cement at Home Depot? Do a curbside delivery order, have them bring them to you and toss them in (er… gently).

Conclusions

So given the choice to start over, which would I pick? Thats a tough one. Soon after I built the Bullitt and put it into service, I would have sworn it was the one bike to rule them all. But having lived with the Bullitt for a while and spent some time pondering what to do with the other two, it turns out I’m glad I have all three. And two garages.

The Frontloader Wins (city cargo bike)

If I need an on-road cargo bike+commuter, the Bullitt frontloader is the choice, hands down. The other two are not even close.

The Lizzard King… present day (Winter, 2021)

Thats not because of the brand or model of bikes in this informal competition. A bakfiets embodies a fundamental shift in the physics of cargo bikes that cannot be overcome by any bike that has to balance its load to the sides, with the rider further balancing the bike as it travels. A frontloader carries the load low – which is a big benefit all by itself – and centered, in front of the rider. The fanciest midtail or longtail in the world cannot overcome or even approach this inherent physical, mechanical advantage. Ride one once with a passenger or two bags of pea gravel and you’ll immediately, intuitively understand.

On top of that, a frontloader has convenience a mid- or longtail cannot approach. It is SO nice to just walk up, chuck your stuff into a big open box and go. No balancing, no fiddling with straps, no packing. Its just a big can on wheels. Since I do not have space issues with parking at home or at work, I don’t care that it needs a hangar to park inside. At stores, I can always find a parking space for it.

And… just because I don’t ride it on trails doesn’t mean its never done. You’ll find plenty who do this, although to be fair we’re usually talking about dirt roads on cross-country camping adventures, not an afternoon bombing down a mountainside. Do your research on your chosen bakfiets as some are more suited to off-roading than others.

The Long-Tail Also Wins (for trail-capability)

I have to say that most of my likes for a longtail stem from the Surly Big Fat Dummy’s unique properties as a fat bike. If we’re just talking longtail without the trails and wilderness capability, then I don’t see a reason to pick this platform over a frontloader.

Nowadays, there is a 35T front chainring on this beast – dedicated to dirt!

But … If I need a bike that I can ride all terrain, where there are trails, or no trails at all, or on a camping trip where I ride thru the forest to gather firewood, or hump it up and down a gravel road in the middle of nowhere, its the Surly Big Fat Dummy for me. 4.8″ to 5.05″ tires air’d down along with front suspension means this bike can go pretty much anywhere. It takes more time and effort to load it up, sure. But when the road goes away, the Big Fat Dummy is a BFD. Its fun. Its crazy big. It can climb insane grades. Did I mention fun? And it can also run on the street, but thats not its forte.

What it lacks vs. the frontloader is load stability. Its a major handful to balance compared to the frontloader, whose solidity cannot be overstated. If I lived in a rural area with dirt roads, something like a BFD or a Salsa Blackborow might be a necessary choice.

The Mid-Tail Doesn’t Lose

If I am short on space to park, I’m not quite up to muscling around a two-wheeled locomotive, my needs aren’t in the big leagues (and I won’t have buyers remorse when I realize I bought into a lesser example of the genre), then a midtail is the one to pick. Its capability may be less but so are its demands on your muscles and the square footage in your garage. And motorwise, with a strong mid drive giving you assist that will stand up to hills while loaded with cargo, its every bit as capable and powerful as the others, with all the range you could ever want, so long as you pay the piper and put in a battery big enough to match your needs.

All things considered, this sucker came out pretty good I think.

Finis

So for better or for worse, thats my take on these three different cargo bikes. Hopefully you’ve found some observation or other useful in here amongst these ramblings to help you on your own search.

Quick Release, Easy-Carry Ebike Battery Setup

Parking your ebike outdoors all alone? When shopping, my cargo bikes are locked but out on the street… but the battery goes in with me. Here’s how I do it without people thinking I am carrying a bomb.

Yes You Can Take ‘it’ With You

An ebike used for utility purposes is, by its nature, going to be left out a lot. You go to the store, load up a shopping cart, come back and fill up your saddlebags. You really want all the parts on the bike when you left to still be there. Especially after loading on 50 lbs of cat food, Oreos and diapers.

The most obvious way you keep the bike itself is to use a good locking strategy. I’ll save that for a different discussion. This time I will focus on how I protect the single most-expensive component on any ebike – the battery. Not by locking it up, but by making it so I can do a quick grab and carry it in with me.

By removing that battery, we are making that big heavy ebike into a boat anchor, which we can hope makes it at least a little less attractive to thieves.

Size (and Shape) Matters

What I am describing can be made to work with any shape battery, kept anywhere on your bike. What you see here works best with a squarish, oblong battery. In the pics below I am using a 17.5ah Luna Storm battery, which is pretty big and heavy (in part thanks to its powerful but not-so-energy-dense 25R cells). More likely, if you have a similar heat-shrink battery pack like this one, its quite a bit smaller and lighter.

I also keep a Luna Wolf Pack battery like this and do not use its magnetic mount. The battery is easy to quickly get off that mount, but leaving it inside of a bag like I describe here is, overall, easier than stuffing it in every time, taking it back out and so on. For packs like this (Wolf, Shark, Dolphin etc.) you could certainly bring a small pack and put it in/take it out as a part of your routine.

There’s more than one way to skin this cat, so what you see here is just a jumping off point.

Lets Get to It

This is the battery in its bag, just like it would be if I rolled up to the local Costco.

Ignore the charger cable in the front. I took this pic at work in my ebike garage.

If we zip open the bag, we don’t see a battery. We see an inner bag, along with that charger cable extending thru to the rear. The controller cable is in there too just out of sight (look closely and you can see it)

If we look inside the bag, we see the battery charge cable is in fact an extension running from the rear of the interior bag up and out the front. The motor cable – an XT90S connector – also has a short extension between the battery cable and the motor cable. The idea is this: when routinely, frequently detaching and reattaching the cable, if there is any wear its on a cheap, replaceable extension and not a critical, live/hot cable coming directly off the battery.

Disconnect the cables and give a tug to the inner bag. Here its shown halfway out but you will just pull the thing out in one motion.

When I leave, I generally put the cables back inside and zip it only halfway-ish, so its obvious there’s nothing worthwhile to steal inside. Move along.

Annnd here we are. the cables are shown sticking out of the inner bag. You will want to cap those for safety’s sake. I use cheap plugs I got a bagful of on Fleabay for a couple bucks.

And yes… as-is I have had someone ask me “what is that a bomb?” … only half joking and ready to clock me if I make a sudden move. So stuff the wires in the bag so they don’t stick out.

Tell the Bomb Squad to cut the red wire

Done! Wires are capped and stuffed into the bag in 5 seconds. The sling strap goes over your shoulder for easy carry. I just lug it to the nearest shopping cart and put it in the bottom rack with my helmet and off I go.

This is just a 3L hydration bladder pouch, the sling strap that comes with it and a shoulder pad I swiped off another strap I wasn’t using.

Parts

Its a really short list with one item on it.

Hydration Carrier

You see above the Blackhawk S.T.R.I.K.E. carrier in use. Purchase link is here. Yes, the name is a tad ridiculous. But this pack is minimalist and is just durable cloth with no insulation or padding. Its easier to stuff into a confined space. Mine came with a super sturdy velcro sling strap.

Another that is well made (and a tad smaller for a tighter fit is sold by Voodoo Tactical. It comes with thin backpack-style shoulder straps that don’t take up *too* much space in your triangle bag and are not enormously fiddly when stuffing back in there.

Another one I use (with my Luna Wolf pack) is this government-issue USMC carrier. The link is to a brand new unit. I got mine surplus and cheaper on Fleabay. This pouch has no straps (you can clip on your own from a duffel bag if you like) and it is the opposite of the Blackhawk carrier: Its thick and padded. I can still stuff it into any triangle bag I have despite this. Its great as a protective layer over a battery.

Wrapping It Up

There are lots of ways to do this. How I do it is no big deal. Key takeaway here is to find a method that works for you so you can swiftly grab the battery, go off to your next adventure and then come back and plug right back in again.

Frankenstein Boots For The Ursus Jumbo

I had an aftermarket kickstand that was too short. Here’s a way to add a tough-as-shoe-leather extension that should last forever.

My Mongoose Envoy received a much-needed upgrade to its kickstand when I upgraded to an Ursus Jumbo, whose much-wider (18″) leg platform keeps the bike stable on uneven pavement or when it was heavily loaded.

The stock Envoy stand works well unless you have 100 lbs of groceries loaded up. Do that and .. oops you gently bumped the bike! Over it goes and boy does your life suck. You’ll have to unload the bags, stand the bike back up, uncrack the eggs and load back up again. Same deal happens when parked on an incline.

The Jumbo solved this problem given its obvious mechanical advantage.

Jumbo on… Skinny tires. Problem solved.

… until I put some big poofy 26×2.8 Vee Speedster tires on the bike, which raised the frame up probably a full inch; maybe more. That meant of the two legs that Ursus kickstand has, only one of them was on the ground at any one time. At first it was kind of fun to be able to lower the stand and roll the bike around, or out of my way with ease. Then I saw what a bad idea it was on a sloping driveway. The bike was happy to tip over. For a cargo bike that will be loaded, that has to change.

Fat tires tall. Fat tires good. Kickstand barely touching ground bad.

A couple of methods presented themselves. The first was to lower the stand by shimming the base. While I would have been able to find a longer M10 bolt to do the job, making a shim that will actually work is a lot more complex than just throwing in some washers and calling it good. Absent a mill and some billet to do some custom fabrication, shimming was a no-go. So, since I can’t make the base longer, that leaves only the legs. I had to make them longer.

Shoe Goo… To The Rescue!

I should be brought up on charges for that header. Couldn’t help myself, and besides its true. Shoe Goo is a shoe repair tool that is essentially replacement shoe leather. Or shoe adhesive to hold your precious Converse All Stars together after they came apart. Or both. For you shade tree mechanics, if you think of it as a hard rubber equivalent of JB Weld … you have it down.

I suggest buying the big tube. I used about one full tube per side.

So what I decided to do is to stick my kickstand upside down in a vise, block off the bottom of each leg with some painter’s tape, fill the resulting cup with goo and let it dry. Peel off the tape and I’ll have a longer kickstand with a new, tough-as-nails rubber foot.

It turned out to be a bit longer than that, and took quite a bit more time to cure. But layering on a bunch of goop to the bottom of the kickstand is the short version of what I did here. And best of all, it actually worked.

Time For Plan B

What you see above is only the first attempt, using green painter’s tape. And while it worked (see photos sans tape) it became clear just by looking at it I could expand the ‘foot’ to a much greater size if I taped off the base and poured in more goo. You can see this in the last two photos where the tape has been removed. the foot of the Jumbo has essentially a large hole in it that you can further tape off, then fill in. this time you need to tape halfway up the leg as that hole runs thru to the front of the stand, and your tape will provide a deep chamber for the goo to fill and harden into.

This time I used silicone tape, which I discovered by accident does not stick to Shoe Goo! Knowing that, I was able to use a scrap of tape to help sculpt the slowly hardening-but-still-pliable glob of goo. That matters because as this stuff dries – and then cures – it shrinks into itself. You will need to come back every couple of days to apply another layer. And when at some point you call the job done, you will want to let this material sit for at least another five days.

So if you are doing the math here, that means this is going to take time. I spent a total of about two weeks applying, filling again after it shrinks down and then letting it cure so its stable with a bike standing on it.

Is it worth the trouble? Well, I spent about $8 on two of the big tubes of goo and another nickel or so on a length of black rubber mastik tape around each foot to pretty them up. When I was done, I had a kickstand that completely solved my problem, and I can expect to be able to use for the life of the bike. If you want, Shoe Goo comes in a black formula that will have a matching look… but it costs more than double what the clear stuff does.

If You Do This…

I felt my way thru this project and learned as I went. The way YOU want to do it is skip the first stage with the green tape entirely. Use the silicone tape to wrap the entire foot. Wrap snugly at the bottom of the channel you want to fill, and as you get to the top – the actual extension to the base – do not wrap that tight, just do it loosely and make sure the tape wrap adheres to itself. Then inject the goo with a narrow nozzle (there are kits out there that have them) deep into the channel you just created, filling it from bottom to top until you have a single large ‘sole’ wrapped in the silicone tape.

Then, walk away from it for 24 hours. Add more goo as it cures and shrinks down. Use a scrap of silicone to pat down the added goo so it forms a nice smooth surface. If it seems solid, remember thats just the outer layer and inside its still like jelly. I went on a week’s vacation after I thought I had it done and it was pretty solid.

So… Wait it out. the results are worth it.

Mongoose Envoy Update – Cargo Deck 3.0

When I originally used a double-kick longboard deck to make an XL cargo carrying top for my Mongoose Envoy project, its 33″ (84cm) length and 10″ (25cm) width seemed really big.  Considering I was coming from a world of ordinary bike racks on normal-wheelbase bikes, it was quite large.

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Deck 1.0, shortly after installation. I try to avoid the word “festoon” to describe a bike build so those two little bags in back went away soon afterwards.

The XL deck worked *splendidly*.  I had no complaints whatsoever, and I could have left it like that forever.  However…

The board, by virtue of its 33″ length, only used 4 of the 5 available rows of M5 mounting bosses.  So I had definitely left some available space on the table.   In a perfect world, I would have found a longer version of the same board:  Say a 40″ double-kick.  But alas, at the time, I couldn’t find one.  I also could not find another board that had this same 10″ width.  Everything else was more narrow.  But I could get close with what became Deck 2.0: a 40″ x 9.75″ kicktail longboard.

It installed easy enough.  I painted it with Rustoleum truck bedliner to pebble the surface just right so it held onto gear a bit.  I used the same inverted grub-screws for drill guides like I describe in the Deck 1.0 post.   And the rack was now long enough so it used all 10 mounting points on the frame.  It couldn’t be more solid – the board is 8 layers of Canadian maple – and makes a sturdy handle I can use to pick the bike up and move it around from the rear.

And… its 40″ long.  With that solid center mount kickstand, its handy to have a coffee table with you wherever you go.  From a cargo standpoint I could easily net down a 3-foot duffel bag on top and still have room to spare.

Still, It didn’t work out quite the way I planned.  I thought I wanted to move the rack further forward so I could mount gear under the seat.  So I did that and the idea was to take up the otherwise wasted space just behind the seat.  But once I had it set up, I found the space effectively unusable.  I needed to keep some room back there for the Thudbuster to flex as part of its normal duty cycle, and my legs hit whatever was jacked up all the way to the front.

I also missed the front kick on Deck 1.0, which provided a natural slope to keep gear from sliding forward under hard braking.  As a substitute threaded a couple of M6 bolts directly into the M5 holes (no fixing nuts needed) that existed for the nonexistent trucks. These held down a simple 50-cent L bracket wrapped in my favorite padded rubber mastik tape.  It worked but in the end I removed it for aesthetic reasons. 

Lastly, I mounted the board just a hair too far forward, and occasionally I brushed it with my legs during the pedal stroke.  Not a big deal unless you are a perfectionist. I didn’t want to redrill the holes so I could move it back. It was a minor imperfection. So I left the board on for several months and it worked great.

But I did acquire a 44″x9″ kicktail longboard from Magneto, with the intention of using it on the back of a planned Surly Big Fat Dummy build.  That plan went away, and the 44″ board had no home… so what the hell lets put it on the Envoy.

While I was at it, I decided to make a couple of changes.  First of all, the Magneto board comes with an aggressive, highly abrasive grip coating on it.  I took an orbital sander and smoothed it down some so it would not potentially wear thru duffel bags and bits I’ll have netted down on top of it.

Next, I painted it with the same Rustoleum truck bed coating spray.  This took a little more of the harshness off the grip coating and gave the deck a tough finish.  I also decided to two-tone it with some medium gray paint on the underside.  It turns out this is totally invisible unless you are laying on the ground looking up at it.

Also, instead of re-using the 25mm post spacers, I bought new ones 40mm tall. These required longer 75mm bolts.  Having used the rack already for several months with 25mm between deck and frame, I wanted more room to move my hands in and out attaching/detaching net hooks, passing cinch straps thru etc.

It came out great.  This Magneto board is a sandwich of bamboo and maple so it has a touch of flex to it. This made  bolting to the somewhat uneven frame easier.  Its still rock solid despite the now 4″ longer tail out the back, which I do not notice from a convenience standpoint (its not too long, which I worried about).  The 40mm spacers are an absolutely perfect height to let me get my hands in there without being so long they compromise the solidity of the mount.

The board has a front kick, but it turns out it can’t easily be used, for the same reason I couldn’t use the front few inches on the 40″ deck. However it is slightly narrower than the shorter board so even though it is just as far forward, I no longer hit it with my legs.

As a gear-stop/bumper, I wanted something a bit more substantial than the half-assed L bracket I used on the shorter board, so I used a couple of the leftover 25x13mm M5 spacers, plus some 10x10mm spacers I had in my parts bin, to create some ‘electrode’ stanchions fore and aft.  With the large area washers at top, they either provide a bumper for gear stowed on the deck, solid purchase for a hook, or a place for my net to grab onto in the very back. Silicone grip scraps fit right over them to ensure the edges of the top washer don’t bite into my gear.

The two forward stanchions are extended from the deck mounting holes and go all the way thru to the frame.  They use 110mm M5 bolts.  The two in the rear use the rearmost holes drilled for the trucks. These use matching countersunk bolts and finishing washers like those used with all the other mounting hardware.

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A bit of scrap silicone handlebar grip tucks under the rear stanchions to provide a smooth, grippy place for my net to glom onto. You can stretch the net all the way back and over the kicktail, too.

Compare this pic above to the 40″ board and its clearly longer, but functionally, the increased length is no bother.  If I had to fit the bike on a train or bus then this is not the best solution.  At some point, if I need some extra carrying space out back, its available.  At present, I have an extended amount of space for my round 40″ duffel.

… and a bigger coffee table.

The BBSHD: Musical Chainrings

It seems inevitable.  When I build a bike, I go through front chainrings trying to get the gearing just to my liking.  My Mongoose Envoy build has pretty much set the world record for tweaks in this regard.  But gearing wasn’t the problem so much as chain alignment.  Alignment is one of the most talked about issues with mid drives and up to this point I have not had to work too hard to get it right.  This build, not so much but I think I finally got it (like $350 later).

While dealing with this I have fooled around with three different sets of crankarms (160’s, 170’s and 175’s).  Not the subject here so if you notice the different crankarms in the pics, I am ignoring them on purpose.

Sidebar:  When building the Surly Big Fat Dummy, I found exactly the same thing as I did here insofar as chain alignment is concerned.  And used the same solution – the USAMade adapter listed as an Honorable Mention below got pulled out of the parts pile and put to use.

The Right Tool For The Job

The Mongoose build is a first for me in many ways.  One thing in particular:  the BBSHD fits the frame really well.  Its a 68mm bottom bracket with absolutely zero chainstay obstruction for the secondary housing.  So I can butt the motor right up against the bottom bracket.  Further, its a lonnnng way back there so chain alignment and misalignment – an inevitable concern with an HD build – is a lot more forgiving since the angles are gentler thanks to the longer reach.  On this bike, if I want I can even forego the offset non-drive side crankarm and the pedals are still easily centered under me.  So the HD is a great fit here.

About That Job…

The Mongoose is a cargo bike.  So it hauls heavy stuff (usually groceries).  It has a secondary job as an unladen backup commuter, but primarily it needs to be optimized to start from a stop while the entire system – with me – weighs 400-450 lbs (180-204kg).  I have really loaded it that heavily so this is not a theoretical exercise.  So I want a big-ish chainring for when I am pedaling fast and light, and still need to be able to get to the big cogs in the back for when I am loaded up and chugging along like a two-wheeled freight train.

Plan A:  Luna Eclipse (42T)

The Luna Eclipse is one of the best BBSHD chainring setups on the market, with a unique ‘wicked’ tooth profile meant to eliminate the possibility of a chain drop under extreme use.  It also has the most extreme internal offset of any chainring option.  This will do the most to overcome the grief visited upon the BBSHD builder by that drive’s secondary housing sending the chainring way out to right field.

Its also gorgeous.  The gunmetal finish I chose matched beautifully with the dark grey frame.  Unfortunately 42T (which is the standard for full-offset chainrings as any smaller and you can’t clear the secondary housing) was not large enough to keep me from clown-pedaling when riding the bike as a commuter.  There was another problem:  Chain alignment.  Running that smaller 42T ring with the smallest rear cog resulted in, after only a few weeks, a whole lot of wear on the inside.  This is why mid drive builds demand the most out of the builder in terms of thinking things thru.  Time for Plan B.

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Its not ruined yet, but its lifespan sure has been shortened.  this was only a couple hundred miles of wear.

The Eclipse is a proprietary chainring platform, but fortunately other sizes are available.  the largest of which is what I tried next.

Plan B:  Luna Eclipse (48T)

So Plan B was to swap in a Luna 48T ring onto the Eclipse center section to fix the clown pedaling, and to stay the hell off the 12T small rear cog to deal with the alignment issue (I am using a welded together steel cluster for durability and the 12T is alloy and not a part of the welded cluster, so its better to stay off it for the sake of longevity anyway).  I thought that 48T/14T on this bike was the perfect sweet spot.  A small front ring is best when its on cargo duty, and a large one is best when its a commuter.  48T, when used in conjunction with upshifts, gave me pretty much everything I needed.

Pretty much but not everything.  First of all, remember the deep offset of the Luna ring?  It moves the chain inboard 24.8mm which *usually* eliminates the damage the BBSHD does to chain alignment.  Not on the Mongoose, whose narrow bottom bracket effectively papers over all of the sins committed by the motor (at this time I had not yet fully figured this out).  So, as I found with the 42T ring, it was inset too far, even when I stayed off the smallest cog.

So Plan B helped, but it didn’t solve the problem.  After only a couple weeks (I am now checking carefully and frequently) I saw the beginnings of the same wear on the inside of the chainring.  Like the 42T, I had to retire this thing fast so I could use it on some future project.

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Not as bad as the 42T, but still bad.  Both this one and the 42T looked perfect on the other side.

Sidebar: A mid drive chain powered by a 1500w motor is a chain saw when it comes to components rubbing against it.  That is just a reality of a mid drive and you have to deal with it as part of your design/build process.  When you get it right, you are golden for thousands of happy miles.  Get it wrong and you are sawing thru chainrings and cogs like nobody’s business.

Plan C: Lekkie Bling Ring (46T)

So now what?  42T was too small.  48T was more or less just right.  And the chainring offset that lets me use the inner cogs at great alignment still needs to be reduced or I can’t use anything but the lower gears.  Lekkie has a Bling Ring available in 46T.  It has the same internal offset their 42T ring has and, since I use them on two other bikes I know they are top quality.  At 18.3 mm its offset is quite a bit less than the Luna.  So I got a 46T.  I also added a 2mm spacer underneath it, further reducing the chainring offset to 16.3mm.  That is a whopping 8.5mm less than before so I hoped I would be good on the smaller outer cogs and still let me use the big inners.

And, pretty much, it was.  Chain alignment didn’t seem to be much of an issue, although it still wore down a bit more on the inside.   I was also able to shift up to the biggest cogs in the rear for very low gearing options.  Those are important on a full cargo load and if I am dealing with hills.

But… I flat out missed that 48T high gear for commuting.  And I was still seeing – very slight but noticeable – wear on  the inside of the chainring teeth from the chain, which was still visibly angling outboard a fair distance.

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This one was on for a few months and had 8.5mm less offset.  But it still shows signs of premature aging.  This was undesirable but livable.

I decided to try an extreme option I had not previously considered.  But on this bike, where all of the normal chainring offset stuff doesn’t seem necessary, it might actually work.

Plan D: Luna 130 BCD Adapter and Wolf Tooth 48T Ring

BBSHD chainrings are generally all proprietary to the platform.  Not so in the cycling world, where chainrings are universal, needing only to match the proper Bolt Circle Diameter for the chainring bolts.  Match the BCD between crankset and chainring and you are good to go.  There are adapters out there in the world that allow a Bafang motor to use standard 104mm and 130mm BCD chainrings.  The problem is they don’t give you anywhere near as much inward offset.  But given my experience so far, maybe I can live with that.  They should fix my alignment on my ‘commuter’ cogs, but will I still be able to use my ‘cargo’ cogs?

In addition to the LunaCycle 130 BCD adapter, I also chose the Wolf Tooth Drop Stop chainring as those rings are best-in-show for this sort of thing on a mid drive.  Attachment to the adapter was a little different than the usual chainring-to-crank operation in that its backwards.  The chainring bolts onto the inside.  I was able to play some games to good effect:  I reversed the chainring so it is logo-side-inward.  Not as pretty, but doing that lets me take advantage of the countersunk bolt holes on what is normally the outboard side.  The countersinking let me mount a bolt so it is almost flush with the ring, which in turn is butted up almost on top of the secondary motor housing.  With the countersinking it now has plenty of clearance.

Plan D Results

FINALLY.  Everything is working right.  The reduced chainring offset means my 14T cog (still not using the 12T for the reliability issues mentioned above) lines up straight back.  This outboard shift did affect my inner cog alignments but I can still get to all of them but the biggest 32T.  I’m comfortable with the angles on all but the second-largest 30T for long term use, and in a pinch, that 30T will work fine.  I just don’t want to stay on it for a week.  So this 9-speed is now a 7-speed and as DIY mid drives go thats still better than a lot of builds can manage.

And worth mentioning, like a lot of what they do, the CNC-machined Luna adapter is freaking gorgeous, and very precisely manufactured.  So much so it really stands head and shoulders above another adapter I got my hands on and was able to compare it directly to.

Honorable Mention: USAMade 130 BCD Adapter

I was surprised at how well this worked and how nicely it was made.  The part only cost me $29.99 on Amazon.  Still, it was Made in USA, well machined and rock solid.  The only things I didn’t like about it was the fact it was machined a bit too heavily, which meant it placed the chainring a millimeter or two further outboard than was necessary, and in this game millimeters count.  Further, as you can see above I was able to reverse the WolfTooth ring and take advantage of the bolt head countersinks.  That didn’t work with this part as USAMade countersunk the outside edge of their part, which made the bolts too long to allow my trying the same trick on the inside, where I needed it.  For a different build it might work fine so I am keeping it for my parts pile.

As for the Stone chainring seen on the USAMade adapter (scroll up to the title image at the top of the page), thats a Chinese Special that ran less than the godawfully expensive Wolf Tooth.  Its noticeably lighter in construction than the WT and I’m not sure I am sold on the tooth profile.  This ring will sit in my parts pile waiting in the wings as an emergency replacement.