Everyday Cyclist: Haul Kids on Your Bike

Since our 4-1/2-year-old daughter was about a year old, she’s spent most of her transport time on a bicycle. Our family shops, runs errands, goes to school, and generally gets around by bike, and in most cases, Maddie is with us.

Over the last few years, in our quest for the perfect “kid-hauler”, my wife and I have tried out a lot of options. In this column, I’ll give you some of our impressions.
Before diving in, though, it’s worth noting that we have only one child. This makes a huge difference in our options. In the U.S., if you want to haul two kids with one bike, you’re pretty much stuck with a trailer. Not to say there aren’t other options, but they aren’t readily available and they are expensive. For more information, see the links at the end of this article.

The first option we tried, and the only solution that I know of for a one-year-old, is a trailer. Different folks have different opinions about when it’s safe to put a baby in a trailer. I used to commute the same direction as a guy who hauled his six-month-old son in a car seat that was strapped into the trailer.
Maddie was about eight months old and holding her head up when I first put her in the trailer. One of the first things I noticed was how jarring the ride was. On a bicycle, you are suspended between two wheels on a frame. In a trailer, children sit directly over the axle, and every bump is transmitted directly up their spine. I never liked that, and I don’t like the feeling of pulling a trailer and how it affects handling.

Aside from these issues, there are many benefits to trailers:

  • You can haul more than one kid, assuming you get the two-child trailer.
  • There’s room in a trailer for groceries and other luggage.
  • In the winter, you can pile on the blankets and the child can nap, read, and play with small items in a dry and warm spot.

Just about any bike can take a trailer, and they are easy to hook up and remove, so you’re not stuck with a kid attachment on your bike when you’re not riding with your child.
For most people, a trailer probably is the most practical solution.

As Maddie grew older (and taller), she was less interested in riding in the trailer. When she was about 2 1/2, we found a front-mounted seat for toddlers. The seat is a little plastic saddle that bolts to the top tube of the bike. Little foot pegs are included in the package. The pegs bolt to the down tube.

The idea is that the child sits on the seat in front of you, puts her feet on the pegs, and holds onto the handle bars. This solution is ideal for a toddler.

In countries where bikes are used more for transportation, you see kids riding up front almost exclusively. It makes sense. Unlike a rear-rack-mounted child seat, the child is right in your center of gravity, making the bike much easier to control and the load easier to carry. With the child in front, you can chat easily with her; she can watch and learn and be engaged with the goings-on of traffic. She can ring the bell, turn on the light, make hand signals. Some of my best conversations with Maddie have been on the front-mounted seat as we ride around and do our otherwise mundane errands.

There are different versions of the front-mount seat, but only a few are available in the U.S. In my opinion, the best version is called “Companion Carrier,” from a small company in Eugene, Oregon. They have no web site, but you can Google the name and find contact information for them.

The rear-rack mounted child seat is likely the cheapest and easiest solution for folks that want a simple solution for occasional rides with their kid. I don’t like them for daily use because they take away the rear rack, which I use for groceries or a basket. They also put a lot of weight up high and behind you, which I find really affects the handling on most of the bikes I ride. But these seats are easy to come by, and kids typically like them.

As the child gets older, and heavier, there are two options for getting some help from them as you ride: tandems or the “trail-a-bike.” We’ve not tried a trail-a-bike, so I can’t comment on those. We have, however, recently purchased a tandem that fits Maddie, and it has been wonderful.

At least two tandem companies make a bike that small kids (36″ or taller) can ride: Bike Friday and Co-Motion. Interestingly, both companies are in Eugene. We found a used Bike Friday “Family Tandem” on Craigslist in Seattle and have been riding it daily since we got it. You really can feel the boost when your stoker puts out some energy. The tandem has a rack, so we can load it up for grocery shopping, playing, or even quick overnight camping trips.

So far the tandem has been the best solution and I look forward to many years of riding with Maddie on it.

Some interesting non-standard ways to haul kids:
Xtracycle: http://www.xtracycle.com
Dutch bakfietsen: http://clevercycles.com/

John Speare grew up and lives in Spokane. He rides his bike everywhere. Check out his blog at http://cyclingspokane.blogspot.com.

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