Carrying Kids on Bikes: A Local Bicyclist Chimes In With Her Experiences

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Trail-a-bikes or tag-a-longs are great ways to bike with kids starting around age three or four; they basically turn your bike into a tandem.
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Submitted by Mary Anderson for Whatcom Smart Trips

kids bike products
Riding with your children from an early age teaches them that the car isn’t the only way to get around town.

Bicycling with small children is a lot of fun—but it can also seem a bit overwhelming if you’re just starting out.

How do you choose what type of equipment to use? Is a trailer better than a bike seat? How do you get your toddler to wear a helmet?

I have ten years of experience biking with children. My family has one car, two working parents, a 12-and-a-half-year-old in sixth grade and a two-and-a-half-year-old in daycare. We bike, drive, walk and bus to get where we need to go.

All of the gear I’m about to review we purchased and used. No one has sponsored me or given me free items.

I always recommend trying to find used gear. As with everything, do some research so you know what to look for. (Is that a bike shop trailer or a big box store trailer?) Many of these items retain their value, especially if they are kept indoors. Depending on where you live, these items often sell within a day or two of online posting. We set up an alert so we’d get an email as soon as someone posted the item we were looking for.

Bicycle Trailers

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Bike trailers keep littles ones relatively protected from the elements and are also great for hauling extra things like groceries and diaper bags.

Bicycle trailers come in two sizes: single or double. They’re great if you want to haul extra things like diaper bags, groceries, blankets, stuffed animals, etc. They’re covered, so your little one is relatively protected from the elements. We have a Burley Double D’lite. It isn’t 100 percent rainproof, but does a good job of keeping my son dry on the ride home.

Approximate new price: $600

Pros: You can carry extra things; you can carry more than one child.

Cons: A bit pricey new; the double is wider than your bike; you can’t easily do a bike/bus combo; and your child is further away from you, so you can’t easily talk.

Stories: My son and I biked to church one sunny morning and when we arrived I noticed he was only wearing one shoe. He had disposed of his shoe somewhere on the bike ride. He reached his little hand under the cover and dropped his shoe – his favorite red shoes and the only pair of shoes he had that fit him. I explained, as best I could to a two-year-old, that throwing things out of the trailer was not safe and that he now had to go to church with just one shoe. We biked home the same route but didn’t find it. I’ve been keeping an eye out for that shoe for the past month, with no luck. I’ve always wondered how someone could lose just one shoe. Now I know.

 

Front-Mounted Seats

We bought an iBert when Charlie was about a year-and-a-half. He instantly loved it. He loved being in the front of the bike, waving to people and observing the world around him.

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The iBert front-mounted seat is a great way for your child to see and interact with their surroundings as you ride.

Approximate new price: $100

Pros: A great way for your child to see and interact with their surroundings; it’s fun for both passenger and driver; your rear rack is free to haul the diaper bag.

Cons: Not the best option when it’s raining; doesn’t work with all bicycle frames; only works up to about age two-and-a-half or three, depending on child’s height.

Stories: Charlie much prefers the iBert to the trailer, but unfortunately it doesn’t fit on my bike. He enjoys waving to and saying “hello” to people on the sidewalk while biking with Dad. The two of them have logged many miles together and Charlie gets really excited when Dad picks him up at daycare with the bike.

 

Rear-Mounted Seats 

We had a rear-mounted bike seat when our daughter Izabelle was a toddler. It worked great for us because: 1) It was cheaper than a trailer, and 2) I could put my bike on the bus with her seat still attached. The seat we used was a ToPeak, and it had a special rack that went with it. That setup makes it easy to quickly take the seat off the rack. We bought two racks so we could each bike with Izzie.

Approximate new price: $170

Pros: Cheaper than a trailer; child is close to you, so you can easily talk.

Cons: You can’t use panniers; extra weight on rear rack takes getting used to.

Stories: I biked hundreds—if not thousands—of miles with my daughter using a rear-mounted bike seat. When she was around three or four, we would  play “I Spy” on the bike or play the rhyming game. I would say one word and she would rhyme it with another, and so on. It was fun and we have a lot of great memories playing those games. She would also encourage me to bike up hills by singing me songs.

 

Trail-a-Bike

kids bike products
Trail-a-bikes or tag-a-longs are great ways to bike with kids starting around age three or four; they basically turn your bike into a tandem.

Trail-a-bikes or tag-a-longs are great ways to bike with kids starting around age three or four; they basically turn your bike into a tandem.  Children are excited to be able to help you pedal and you’ll be surprised how much they do contribute (when they actually pedal).  There a couple versions available now.  The one you are likely most familiar with is where the kids are sitting upright.  When we used the trail-a-bike, we bought an extra hitch so we could both use it on our bikes.

There is a newer version of trail-a-bikes made by WeeHoo, which is a recumbent. One of the benefits to the recumbent model is that younger kids can use it and if they’re tired they can sit back and relax.

Approximate new price: $250 – $400

Pros: Your child gets to help you pedal; can be used for kids who are too big for a trailer or rack seat, but not quite big enough for their own bike; great way for kids to experience bike commuting and learn rules of the road.

Cons: Child must be able to sit up and hold on (for non-recumbent model); long turning radius; can be wobbly.

Stories: We just found a WeeHoo on Craigslist after looking for about five months. We biked to the seller’s house to check it out. My husband attached it to his bike and took Charlie for a spin in front of the house. After he pulled back into the driveway Charlie, age two, began to cry, saying, “I want to keep riding, I want to pedal.” I think we’ll log many miles and many smiles on it.

 

Cargo Bikes

I bought an xtracycle four years ago primarily to solve the dilemma of having to bike to drop off or pick up my daughter, who was age eight at the time, for one side of a trip. For example, I’d bike her to school, but she’d take the bus home. I needed my bike to get to work, but she couldn’t bike home herself or take the bike on the bus. It was a great solution and a lot of fun. I ended up selling that bike a year ago; it was always a bit too big for me.

Other cargo bikes that many families use (I haven’t tried one) are bakfiets. These are the bikes that look like they have a box in between the handlebars and the front tire. Some models have the box in the rear. They are a great way to haul multiple kids and groceries or other supplies.

Approximate new price: $1,200+

Pros: You can carry multiple kids and extra things.

Cons: Expensive; heavy; a bit hard to bike up hills.

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The ToPeak rear-mounted seat is simple to remove, which means you can still easily put your bike on the bus.

Stories: My daughter’s summer camp had a home base a few blocks from my work. Once every two weeks they’d have a camp-out, which meant bringing a sleeping bag, pillow and all the other gear she’d need for an overnight trip. It also meant that I’d be biking her to camp, but she wouldn’t be biking home that night. We were able to get all her gear and her on the bike. Cargo bikes are a fun way to challenge you to do more by bike and less by car.

 

Try it!

One of the best ways to decide which piece of equipment is best for you and your child is to simply try it. Unfortunately, we found that most local bike shops didn’t have any of these items ready for test rides; you need to call ahead and the shop will often set one up for you.  If that isn’t an option, hopefully you know a biking family who will let you try out their gear.

Biking with kids is a lot of fun and introduces the concept at an early age that the car isn’t the only transportation mode.

 

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