Feb 15, 2011
The Xtracycle platform’s coolest feature, IMHO, is its modularity and ability to customize the platform for specific tasks. Numerous Xtracycle riders have utilized the plug-n-play features of their X’s for years. Wes Trout, an Xtra owner for 3 years, has taken customizing his Xtracycle to an impressive level.
We’ve occasionally interacted via the RootsRadicals Yahoo! Xtracycle user group, but recent record snowfalls and his newest invention, the Snow Plow, caught my eye and I had to get more details on his projects. Read the full interview below about how Wes started his own business, Shifting Gears, catering to the needs of businesses seeking sustainable solutions for their needs, and his perspective on cargo cycling culture.
What prompted your foray into bicycle solutions designed to help shift the world?
Four years ago my daughter was born and my brother was sent to Iraq. These events forced me to begin to look beyond today, and think about the future of my family, local community, and greater impact on society. In short, I decided to drive less and bike more. I stopped driving the 20 mile round trip to and from work (to be fair I worked from home mostly – I only went to the office a couple times a week as I am also a stay at home dad). When my daughter was old enough to ride in a trailer, we just starting biking to more and more places, and I yearned for the car less and less. Before long I was doing all the shopping, and in town errands, on the bike/ trailer combo (I had a custom cargo bag made for the back of the trailer). The combo worked well enough, but it wasn’t ideal, especially for heavy or bulky cargo. The weight on the back of the trailer would cause it to sway and track badly. While searching for alternatives, I found Xtracycle. After a couple months of pondering, I bit the bullet and ordered a free radical. I eagerly installed this strange apparatus on my previously uninteresting hard tail and PRESTO! I had a bike that could haul things! From that day forward I had a whole new outlook on the usefulness of bikes.
Since this initial purchase, many events led me to Shifting Gears. Over the years, I purchased just about every add-on imaginable, upgraded to the Big Dummy, developed a seat that worked well for my daughter, and was very much enjoying this new lifestyle and mode of transportation. Life was good… then suddenly the recession hit, BP darkened the ocean, and the mom and pop company I had worked for for over 12 years downsized from 20+ to 5 employees. I found myself out of a job, and like many others, found few options available. As I searched, I thought more about the possibilities of cargo bikes, and the potential impact that these bikes have on transportation, the environment, and general mental and physical wellbeing. I first pondered bike delivery options and niche services, but eventually decided that what I really wanted to do was bring cargo bikes to a whole new market. In particular, I realized that few efforts were being made to successfully pursue businesses as potential customers for specialized and purpose-based bikes. Given their high efficiency, potential for cutting business costs, independence from oil, and the growing interest in the “green” movement, I grew convinced that this could work. The result was Shifting Gears. Through this business, my objective is to replace gas power with pedal power when and where ever possible. One primary goal is to work with business to make this change by studying operations currently in place and identifying more efficient, cost effective, and environmentally friendly approaches.
How does your design, idea process work? Where do you draw inspiration from?
As this is a new venture, I have toyed with many ideas and have spent a lot of time riding to get inspiration, work through ideas, and find focus. With few financial resources, I have called upon many friends, and friends of friends, who have similar interests and fantastic skills. I also make a point to just listen and observe. Much of my inspiration comes from local formal and informal discussions with fellow parents, bikers, businesses owners, and trail users in Nebraska, as well as with connections I’ve made with folks across the country that have similar interests, are willing to challenge and play with ideas, and who have shared experiences. For example, with the plow, I didn’t design anything radically new, I just repurposed existing technology. Repurposing existing technology is central to my approach. I’m not attempting to reinvent the wheel; I’d just like to make it roll a bit better.
What are the benefits of utility bicycles, any drawbacks?
I truly believe that utility bikes change the “bike usefulness” equation. Utility bikes allow for solutions that may not be possible to obtain from standard bikes. I still keep standard bike options on the table (and many in my garage), but all of my designs so far are based around the cargo bike platform.
Drawbacks? When I first started cargo biking I would have thought weight was the biggest drawback. However, with time and through playing with different set ups, I have found that weight is not an issue. In fact, rarely do I ride my standard bikes; even the majority of my off-road riding is now done on my Big Dummy.
What’s the biggest, non-material hurdle you face in running your business?
Getting through the preconceived notions of what you can and cannot do on a bike…and that has been one BIG hurdle! I finally gave up trying to explain, and just start building. I’ve learned it’s important for people to see an actual working idea.
Are you teaming up with other people/businesses to increase your impact? If so, how?
The business is still very new, and I have not yet formally teamed up with other businesses. However, I am very much looking for people and businesses who also believe in the potential for this line of innovation. I have too many ideas and not enough capital for development. It would also be nice to find help promoting my products and I’d be stoked to find people that could help in these arenas. I hope that with the coverage of the plow, new interest will be sparked.
What design improvements would you like to see on your Xtracycle?
My Dummy has held up astonishingly well. The plow will most likely require additional bracing at some point – especially at the rear/bottom bar. I am introducing a lot of horizontal pull force on the rear of the frame and I have a feeling it’s mostly designed for weight, not pulling. Note to Xtracycle: I would be happy to test the toughness of that new HD model for you!
A true 29er xtracycle (2.5” min tire clearance) would be really cool too!
Since you’re riding in the snow a lot these days, what studded snow tire has performed the best for you?
I run the Nokian Extreme 296s (tubeless) if there’s ice, which in Nebraska, is most of the winter. For those occasions when I am only riding in snow, I actually prefer my summer off-road tire which is the Schwalbe Fat Albert 2.35 (also tubeless). I haven’t really experimented with many other studs. When I first looked into studded tires, I decided if I was going this route, I would go for the gusto! The tires are a bit slow on dry concrete, (especially with cargo) and if I were commuting long distances on dry pavement, I’d probably go for something less aggressive.
If the plow idea takes off I’d like to pursue an endomorph width tire with a good snow tread and studs.
Where do you see the future of utility and cargo cycling?
The sky is the limit! The biggest hurdle with cargo cycling is convincing people to try something different. If we can get past that, people will find that cargo bikes are more functional and flexible than traditional bikes while still being equally as enjoyable. One of my favorite things about cargo bikes is they offer a true alternative to cars. My hope is that new innovations will continue to put more cargo bikes in more places doing more things. If we can increase visibility, and highlight the usefulness of these bikes in everyday life, I think it will be much easier for more people to take the plunge themselves.
Can you please share with our readers what other custom Xtracycle builds you’ve made?
My first modification was a double kid seat I made for my daughter. I made it a double seat because we often had play dates with friends and family and it’s so much easier to just carry a spare helmet and throw an extra kid on the bike than have to mess with switching car seats or taking two cars. I also designed it so one or both seats can come off and they can be adjusted front to back for different sizes of kids. Come spring, the seat will be in it’s third year of use.
- MEGARACK: The MegaRack was the first working prototype I designed for Shifting Gears. It’s a top rack that basically doubles the carrying capacity of a cargo bike. The first prototype is designed primarily for a grocery/cargo delivery type service. I’ve got a few variations in mind for bike camping as well as bike touring. There’s also a design in mind that would be less robust but more portable.
- MBR: Mobile Bike Repair is one of the products I’m hoping to launch this spring. It’s basically a bike repair shop mounted to my bike. I always thought it was kind of silly to make people drive to a bike shop, drop off their bike, drive home and then have to do it all over again when their bike is done. My rig will come to the customer! Complete minor repairs on site or haul their bike away and return it once it’s completed (for more extensive repairs). I also see applications on long organized rides – on-ride sag support by bike!
- THE HITCH: My universal hitch was just kind of a natural progression after I started working on the snow plow. The universal hitch includes the following: Plow attachment system, kid trailer attachment, tow-a-bike, drawbar, and V-rack security. I also plan to marry the hitch with future innovations for a true multi-purpose accessory.
- SNOW PLOW: The bike snow plow is obviously what I’m working on currently. Right now I’m working on version 3 which will have independently moving blades so it can be configured as a straight blade or converted to a modified V blade for heavy/thick snow. When I find interested buyers I plan to add lift and adjustment cylinders so the operator can lift or drop the blade and make adjustments right from the cockpit. There are also accessories in the works to make the snow plow double as a summer sidewalk sweeper. Watch it in action here!
- BIG SNOW: I figure if I’m going to break into the commercial applications market I better have an answer for all occasions! The big snow attachment is the answer to those snow days when a pedal powered snow plow just isn’t going to cut it. I’m keeping this idea under wraps until I have a working prototype so look for it next winter.
- TRACK BREAKER: While testing the plow I realized most of the work wasn’t in plowing, it was just getting the bike through the snow. The track breaker is something I’m working on in conjunction with the snow plow, although I think there will be a market as a stand alone accessory as well. This is basically a small front mounted plow that opens up a path big enough for the tires. I’ve designed it so it can be mounted on any bike. I see it as something useful for both plow bikes and everyday commuters that need a better option for riding through snow.
- XTRA SLICER: Aside from the kid seat, this was one of my first (and favorite) design ideas. I’m not going to give away too much at this point, but it’s an accessory for single track and/or commercial grounds maintenance. If you’ve ever taken part in a trail maintenance day, you’re going to love this!
- KARGO: Kid/cargo convertible trailer. This is something I have in mind for families wanting more options. It’s a cargo trailer that also converts to a (better) kid trailer. As currently designed I’ll have a 300lb capacity and a price point that should be significantly less than buying two separate trailers. Plus my design will have better safety features and more flexibility in seating orientation than anything currently on the market – not to mention an option to make it single-track capable.
Well that’s a full page of present and future innovations and probably getting as long as anyone really wants to read so I’ll end it here. Rest assured there’s plenty more where these came from.