Is Kinn's Hybrid the Minivan of Bikes?

The Cascade Flyer. Photo: Erin Berzel

My work commute consists of 10 steps through my house, to my home office. Plus, I do not have children. Still, I find myself jonesing for the Cascade Flyer, a bike that is a commuter-cargo-tandem-kid-carrying hybrid and the brainchild of Portland, Oregon-based bike builder Alistair Williamson.

There, I said it. If that makes me seem like a childless person inexplicably pining for a minivan, fine. If a minivan could fit on a bus bike rack, if it could easily be carried up the front stairs into my house, if it had a Brooks saddle and a highly functional rack, then I’d probably want a minivan.

For Williamson, who launched Kinn (a take on kin and kinetic) Bikes in 2012, the Cascade Flyer solves a perplexing problem. "I have grandkids and they’re only around a day or two a week," he says. "If someone called me at work and asked me to pick up Max at daycare, I would have had to ride home, get in my car, and then go get him. Now, I can go straight to him."

Purpose-built cargo or "longtail" bikes, such as those made by Xtracycle, are markedly longer than conventional bikes. This adds stability and strength and accommodates more cargo carrier options. The downside of a longtail is that it’s difficult to haul up stairs and impossible to stick in a conventional rack, such as those on city buses.

Williamson considers the Cascade Flyer a midtail. The frame is a bit longer than a conventional frame, which allows the user to position cargo (whether that be a kid or a case of beer) inside the wheelbase, he says. But he smartly designed the bike such that the rider can still toss the bike on a bus rack by turning the handlebars inward and shortening its total length by a few inches.

The back rack is built to accommodate a Yepp child carrier, but other brands can be mounted using adapters, says Williamson. For bigger kids and adults, the bike has a small handlebar behind the seat post and height-adjustable footpegs.

The rack includes a wood top that is divided into two sections: One swivels out to accommodate wide loads and the other covers a locking storage container that Williamson calls a burrito box.

"I see it taking the place of a city bike you might have and a cargo bike you would not have bought," he says. "Or, this is as much for a person buying a cool city commuter bike as someone looking for a bike to carry their kid."

So why do I covet one? I’m not sure. It would be a nice grocery-getter, I suppose. And I think the real draw is being able to roll up to a friend and give him or her a lift.

Kinn isn’t the only company making midtails, Yuba and Kona are also making midtails and it appears to be an emerging trend. (Yuba’s midtail also has a handy electric motor.)

The Cascade Flyer is available as a nine-speed (and you can upgrade up to a 27-speed) with a Shimano Alivio derailleur for $1,950, or with an eight-speed internal gear hub, the Alfine 8, for $2,000. The latter version is handy for changing gears at, say, a stoplight as you face an incline with a heavy load.

Kinn is manufacturing the bikes in Portland. "We’re doing a first run of 30 bikes, which is a way to get the bikes out there and learn more about how people are using them," says Williamson. "Then we'll do a larger run this winter."

See a photo gallery of the Cascade Flyer in action.

—Mary Catherine O'Connor

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