Xtracycles are wonderful things. They are the El Camino or Minivan of the bike world, and they are immensely popular here in the Northwest. When I first built up my Xtracycle two and a half years ago, I’d only seen one or two others around town. Now I see them everywhere. I think I still might be the only one in Eugene who rides one without kids, however. Mine is mainly used for commuting loads, juggling gear and unicycles, groceries, free piles, and giving drunk friends a ride home from the bar.
Xtracycles do have one minor flaw.* They were originally designed for use down south in California, and thus are not ready for a Northwest winter without a little modification. But, never fear, those modifications are cheap and easy and I’m here to show you how to waterproof your Xtracycle and gear. I’ve put over 7,500 miles of daily, rear-round riding on my Xtracycle with these modifications, and I have almost no rust in my frame and my Snapdeck still looks like new (sort of).
Take the jump for the steps you can take to make sure your Xtracycle lasts for years and years!
Some of these ideas are my own, but most are the result of exhaustive research I did before purchasing my Xtracycle. There are two main sections to this tutorial: How to protect the Free Radical (Frame and Snapdeck) and how to protect the gear that you carry. We’ll start with the frame:
Step 1: Extend your Fenders
This first step is pretty easy (they all are, really.) Extend those fenders! You can extend them using anything you want – I used a milk jug and zip-ties – but many other things will work. I have Planet Bike Fenders with mud flaps, but the mudflaps don’t go down far enough to protect the Xtracycle. I simply cut a couple slits in the existing mudflaps and zip-tied the milk jug pieces to them.
The rear fender extension keeps water off the frame, but it’s actually the front extension that is the most important. Without it, wet leaves and road goo will get caked on the Front Bridge of the Xtracycle (the lower bar behind the bike dropouts). Normally that spray would just hit your rear wheel and not matter, but the longer frame puts the Xtracycle right in the path of this spray. Stop it!
Note: If you are thinking you don’t need a rear fender due to the Xtracycle stopping the water, you are wrong. Without a rear fender you will soak the frame, soak the inside of the Freeloaders and your gear, ruin your Snapdeck, and dirty your drive train. You need a fender.
Step 2: Protect the Snapdeck
I’m not sure if this is as big of an issue as it used to be. When I bought my Xtracycle back in 2008 there was a lot of hub-bub on the internet about Snapdecks coming apart after only a few months of exposure to rain. There were forum posts about it and people posting scary pictures like this one:
At the time you had two main options if you wanted your Snapdeck to last in a rainy environment (read: most places other than Southern California.) You could re-varnish it the second you got it, or you could go my route and cover it with two layers of waterproof duct tape and stickers.
My choice was easier than varnishing and had the added benefit of making my bike less of a theft magnet. After several years and adult passengers it’s still as solid as a rock. Notice that I did both sides, and even with a fender a large amount of grime is stuck to the bottom of the snapdeck with a clean stripe down the middle. That lower layer is very important.
Nowadays the stock Snapdeck varnish is supposedly better, but if you live somewhere where it rains you may want to consider additional waterproofing or buy one of their new non-wood options like the TekDeck or FlightDeck.
Step 3: Spray Frame Saver Inside the Free Radical
This step is sort of optional, but really easy. The Free Radical is an open steel frame, meaning water can get in and rust it. There are holes in the frame meant to drain the water, but as we know in Eugene, a bike here can stay wet for months at a time. Frame Saver is a spray meant to go inside steel bike frames to prevent rusting. Bingo. I went to a bike shop and asked to buy some but they didn’t have any to sell. However, they let me borrow some instead. You may have similar luck.
Step 4: Protect the Frame: Install Gaskets!
This is a very important step. Without gaskets water will run down the uprights (V-racks) and into the frame where it will sit and rust. Frame Saver will help, and some of the water will drain out, but your best bet is to stop water from getting into the frame in the first place. A rusting V-rack socket is no fun and very preventable.
Nowadays you can just buy a Watchamacollar that has a gasket built in. I don’t know how well these work, but they might be worth it as long as you don’t mind needing an allen wrench to remove your racks. They are also pretty expensive.
I use a practically free gasket that other riders have been using for years: bike tubes.
My version is a 700 x 28/32 tube cut into sections and attached to the uprights with zip-ties. I used waterproof duct tape to seal the tops. I also greased the uprights where the tubes attach to prevent water from seeping under them. The gasket fits loosely over the Free Radical preventing water from running in and making it easy to take the V-racks on and off.
Other folks have used tighter fitting tubes that roll up and down (see picture to the left), and I’ve seen someone in Eugene who’s covered his ENTIRE uprights in tubes. Either way, if you are going to do only one thing to waterproof your Xtracycle, this should probably be it.
Step 5: Protect Any Friction Points:
This is advice that I wish I’d taken when I first read it years ago. Wrap the areas where the Freeloader straps cross the frame with electrical tape. I didn’t, and now I’ve got bare metal. The newer Freeloader bags don’t attach with this system, but that doesn’t stop all friction points. I have another friction point in the middle of the frame:
It took 7,500 miles for it to get this bad, but it still sort of sucks. You may not be able to identify where your friction points will be right away, but after you put in a few hundred miles be sure to check out your frame and tape the wear spots before they rust.
Now that the frame is protected, what about your stuff?
Step 6: Get a Rain Cover
This was one of the best ideas I ever read on the internet. A $29 Backpacking Rain Cover from REI (I’m 95% sure I have the 100 liter version) fits perfectly over everything and keeps your stuff bone dry. It has a drawstring so when your bags are empty and it fits loosely (like in the picture) it stays on fine. It’s also big enough to cover both bags when they are stuffed full. It keeps the frame and Snapdeck dry as well, and has the added benefit of hiding your stuff when parked at a bike rack. You can easily pull up just one side to access a bag, and it stuffs into a small carrying sack when not in use. I keep it tucked into the inside pocket of the Freeloader.
If you go with this option (why wouldn’t you?), you’ll still want to do all the above steps to protect your frame. Remember, water is still coming up from the tire, and you may not always have your rain cover with you.
Step 7: Waterproof the Inside of the Freeloaders
A rain cover is good, but it won’t stop water from seeping in from the inside of the Freeloaders. As we saw on the underside of the Snapdeck, a fender can’t stop all the water. The inside of your Freeloader is going to get wet, and water will seep through and pool in the bottom of it and soak your stuff – unless you spray waterproofer on the inside. Waterproofer is relatively cheap, and useful to have around. You can get it at any store with a camping section, or spend a little more at REI for higher quality stuff.
I re-waterproof my bags and rain cover about once a year (fall) and sometimes re-apply it to the rain cover mid-winter since UV exposure degrades the waterproofing.
Of course, if your Freeloaders have holes in them you’ll need to patch them first. My freeloaders have been patched several times due to holes rubbed into them from the fender screws and a trailer hitch. I’ll take the blame for the hitch – but standard rounded fender screws should not rub holes in your product, Xtracycle.
I just noticed while writing this that Xtracycle has put new, waterproof and “more durable” bags on the market. Frankly, they look amazing. Hey Xtracycle, wanna send me a pair so I can do a product review? Please? Pretty please?
Step 8: Reinforce the V-racks
This doesn’t have anything to do with waterproofing, but it’s still a good idea. The Snapdeck is held onto the V-racks due to their inward pressure. This means that if you overload the bags the Snapdeck could pop off. Prevent this and increase your max-load carrying capacity by strapping the uprights together with toe-straps.
Step 9: Ride
Who needs to drive when you’ve got one of these? Now that you’ve made your Xtracycle all-weather it’s time to ride, no matter what. See you out there!