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sport utility bicycle also sport utility bike or SUB

noun [countable]

a bike with a long frame that has been extended so that it can carry extra things or people

'My family car is an SUB and I love it … On my new "sport utility bicycle" I can cart groceries, take my kids shopping, haul a barbecue grill and make a margarita.'

Salon.com 24th July 2008

'All trailers add at least one wheel to your bike … The less weight you have in your wheels, the faster you'll accelerate when a traffic light turns green, and the easier you'll climb hills. A sport utility bike will feel zippier than a bike pulling a one- or two-wheeled trailer.'

Rock The Bike 2009

Keeping fit, beating traffic queues, saving money, doing your bit to protect the environment – in the 21st century there are many reasons why people have ditched their cars in favour of bikes. But what about those situations where a bike struggles to meet our transportational needs? Whether it's picking up the kids from school, buying wallpaper and paint from a DIY store, or stocking up on wine from the local supermarket, even the most eco- or health-conscious among us may have to resort to using a car in certain situations. Or do we? What if our bike really could cope with the largest and trickiest kinds of cargo? – Enter the sport utility bicycle or Xtracycle.

relative to a bike with a trailer attachment, … a sport utility bike is much more manoeuvrable, handling more like a regular bike but still capable of carrying substantial loads

A sport utility bicycle, often also referred to as a sport utility bike, or SUB for short, is a bicycle capable of carrying loads. Of course the sight of a bike ferrying passengers or cargo is nothing new. Kiddie cycle carriers or trailers, rickshaws, panniers, cycle baskets … they're all familiar concepts. However the difference with a sport utility bike is that, rather than needing 'add-ons' for load carrying, it is specifically designed for this purpose, usually with an extended rear frame on which containers can be suspended. Relative to a bike with a trailer attachment, this custom-built frame makes a sport utility bike much more manoeuvrable, handling more like a regular bike but still capable of carrying substantial loads.

If your environmental conscience is pricked and you're tempted by the idea of a sport utility bike but already own a perfectly good bike, it's also possible to convert your own wheels by purchasing a special extension kit, known by the trade name 'Free Radical'. The kit is manufactured by US company Xtracycle Inc., pioneers of the sport utility bike concept – and in fact sport utility bikes are sometimes alternatively known as Xtracycles, or Xtras, based on the name of the company.

There is a thriving market of sport utility bike accessories, the most bizarre of which has to be the 'bike mounted blender', also known as the fender blender. Yep, that's right, you can make cocktails or smoothies with your bike – as the wheels spin, they operate an electric blender, the ultimate in 'meals on wheels'!

Background – sport utility bike and Xtracycle

The term sport utility bicycle is a play on the earlier expression sport utility vehicle, coined in the late seventies to refer to a large four-wheel drive vehicle which is suitable for rough terrain but used for everyday driving. Mirroring the use of SUV as a common abbreviation for sport utility vehicle, the abbreviation SUB is pronounced not as 'sub' but as initial letters 'S', 'U', 'B'.

The use of the term Xtracycle as a lexical variant for sport utility bicycle is a recent example of what linguists sometimes refer to as eponymy. This is the process whereby a name begins to function as a generic description of something. One of the oldest and most well-known examples of eponymy is the word sandwich, which originated from the name of the 18th century Earl who wanted a convenient snack whilst at the gaming table. Like Xtracycle, many eponyms are linked to trademarks or brand names, as for instance Thermos, Hoover, and in the recent past, google.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 6th January 2010.

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