Towing or Carrying kids on your bike

Kid Carrying Contraptions

Babies and Toddlers: Bike Seats and Trailers

There are plenty of options for cycling with very young children with different levels of support and protection. Here are some considerations as you work out what is best for you and your child.

  • Safety
  • Interaction
  • Comfort
  • Size
  • Practicality

I’ll talk more about each of these later on in this post.  But first, let’s look at some of the options available.

Trailers

Trailers provide protection from the elements and some ‘roll cage’ safety. Their stability, protection and features vary by make and model. Some double as buggies and/or strollers, and can be used with a harness for cross country skiing! They provide the versatility of carrying more gear, such as baby paraphernalia, your picnic lunch, or shopping.

Experience: We chose a ‘Chariot’ brand double trailer for its safety, versatility and protection. We used it extensively not only for cycling, but also as a jogging pram, single and double stroller and cargo trailer for errands around town. On outings, we’ve even put our daughters balance bike in the trailer with her, so she could self-propel from time to time. It was light and easy to tow. Our biggest accident with it was when we misjudged the track width and it jack-knifed off the trail and down a bank. Our child, although surprised, was unharmed.

Width and length of the overall ‘rig’ are the main downside of trailers. Our local bike trail uses very narrow pinch point gates to discourage motorbikes. To get past we had to unhitch it and lift it over, which is definitely a two person job. As a stroller it was wide and not always easy to manoeuvre around shops and through doorways. We found that the disadvantages were outweighed by its versatility, durability, excellent weather protection and its gear/groceries carrying capacity.

Maiden Voyage, yes I was nervous!

Room for two

Best of both worlds – a place to rest …. and her own bike handy for when she has recharged.

Bike Seats

Usually made of moulded plastic, they will be designed specifically for the front or rear of your bike. Front mounted seats may sit in front of or behind the handlebars. In Europe and Japan some bikes have the seat integrated into the handlebar section of the bike. Rear mounted seats sit on a strong rear rack.

Advantages: Being closer to your child especially if front mounted; easier to store and maneuver.

Disadvantages: less protection (both from weather and injury); can make it difficult to park/unload the bike unless you have an industrial strength kickstand or another adult to help.

Experience: Once our oldest was getting around on his own bike, I thought it would be easier to ditch the trailer and use a front mounted bike seat instead. I did my research and bought one that should have fitted my child, my bike and me. However after installing it, I found I could not get on and off the bike safely. And my long legs were knocking the seat if I tried to pedal. It was not for right for us.

Semi-independence: Trailer Bikes and towing aids

Are you are riding further? Is your child is ready for their next challenge? At the end of the day, when you are tired from doing all the hauling, do they have way too much energy left? Unless you are ready to cut back greatly on your riding – and good at dodging unpredictable kiddy riders – it is time to consider a semi-independant option. Enter the world of half-bikes. Here your child is hitched to your bike, yet they have their own pedals and handlebars and can help with the pedalling. They are fun, interactive, empowering and open up a new world of possibilities, especially if you’ve been towing wider kiddie trailers for a while. As with all things biking, there are options and new innovations to give you plenty of choice.

Jednokołowy_rowerek_dziecięcy.jpg

By Pawko233 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16350949

Trailer Bikes

Also known as a trailer cycle, and trademarked names such as Trailerbike, Trail-a-bike, Half wheeler or Tagalong.

On a trailer biker the child sits upright on a standard bike seat, with their own pedals and handlebars. It usually attaches to the seatpost of the adult bike and follows (pretty much) in line with the adults bike. One option on the market, the ‘Weehoo’, has the child sitting in a chair type seat giving them enough support for a nap along the way. The Weehoo also has lots of pockets and on-board panniers for storing those essentials you need to carry.

Towing Bar

The ‘Trail Gator’ is a clever contraption which enables you to tow your child on their own bike. It lifts their front wheel off the ground and attaches their bike to yours via a rigid bar. Their bike can be easily detached, whereby you fold the bar and stow it clipped to the side of your bike. That way they can ride when they feel able, and be towed when the going gets tough. It also means they have their own bike to play on when they get to your destination; handy for riding to bike tracks or playgrounds. They can be tricky to install initially, but offer great versatility.

Experience: We hired a ‘Weehoo’ when we rode the Otago Central Rail Trail. Our daughter was two and a half at the time. Half way through we encountered unusually high winds and some of us were blown right over, including me towing the Weehoo. Although I was dented and bleeding there was not a scratch on our daughter! We subsequently bought a Weehoo second hand and got a lot of use out of it until our girl was ready for the TrailGator.

On the same adventure we took our TrailGator along ‘just in case’. It proved to be a wise choice: after a spectacular crash on day one, our son had a banging up knee and needed assistance for the rest of our five days of riding.

Room for Everyone – Utility/Cargo Bikes

Cargo bikes are built for hauling heavy loads. Increasingly popular, they provide a practical alternative to car use and have been dubbed ‘the new station wagon’ by the Wall Street Journal. 25% of families with two or more children in Copenhagen own a cargo bike. They are not new, with a long history of commercial, retail and family use in Europe and Asia. What is new are the electric versions, which make them hill-friendly.

The main types of cargo bike are:

Cargo Trike (three wheeler). With a box between two front wheels, and a single wheel to the rear, cargo trikes are immensely popular in European cities for carrying children, groceries, pets, deliveries, tools, whatever! Here you can buy electric versions adapted for our terrain and lifestyles. As with trailers, the width can be a challenge, but unlike trailers you are closer to your children having them upfront, and have a lower centre of gravity. Brands include: Bakfiets, Christiania, Babboe

Long John (two wheeler, also called ‘box bike’). These bikes have an extra long rack/platform between the single front wheel and the handlebars. This can accommodate a box for carrying cargo or kids. They are still wider than a regular bike. Brands include: Bullitt, Christiania, Metrofiets.

Long Tail Cargo Bike (two wheeler). Built for hauling, a cargo bike is a stretched-out two wheeler with a long and strong integrated (built-in) rear rack. You can put two kiddie seats on the rack, or for older kids, attach a cushion and some handle bars. Need to carry three? No problem, a front mounted seat can be added too. If your locale is hilly, no problem, electric versions are available.Brands include: Yuba Mundo, Boda Boda. Xtracycle, Surly.

Yuba_Mundo_Cargo_Bike_with_Monkey_Bars.jpg

Image By Yuba Bicycles (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Experience: I was fed up with pushing the buggy over 20km per week. My daughter was old enough to sit independently on a bike, but not ready to cover our distances under her own pedal power. The WeeHoo was too cumbersome for short trips and I wanted something that was ready to go when we were. I did my research and found a Yuba Mundo cargo bike which we call ‘Rocket’.I love it! Loaded or unloaded: it is enjoyable to ride and is my bike of choice even when not hauling kids. It can carry a lot: up to 200kg, although I’m not sure I would fancy powering that. I test rode an electric version, which was a lot of fun. If my neighbourhood was hilly, or my cargo heavier, I would choose an electric one for sure.

On the way home from a party!

Kid Carrying Considerations

Baby seats, trailers, cargo bikes … How to choose between them and find one that really suits you? As you research your options, consider each in terms of your needs for flexibility, ease of use, safety, parking, and cost. If you are worried about making the wrong choice, remember there is a strong second hand market, making it easier to sell an item that is unsuitable or outgrown.  Designs vary a lot, as does quality and safety. Do your research and choose carefully.

Flexibility
  • How long until it is outgrown? Check weight and height specifications.
  • Will it suit the type of trips you want to make: about town, touring, shopping etc?
  • Is it usable beyond hauling kids?
  • Will its size limit where you can take it? Will it accommodate a growing child? (or an extra child!)
  • Do you want it to do double duty, e.g. as a buggy?
  • Do you need protection from sun and rain?
  • Does being close to your child, or able to see them, matter?
  • Do you want to use it on just one parent’s bike, or both?
Ease of use
  • When loading and unloading, how stable and supported is it?
  • Will you be able to transport it by car, bus, train or plane?
  • Will it support a sleeping child?
  • Will it be comfortable for your child?
  • Is it easily cleaned? Is padding removable and machine washable?
  • What skills are needed for initial installation and set up? Are there clear instructions?
  • How much set-up is involved each time you use it? (getting out of the house with kids can be hard enough as it is)
  • If you want to use it on different bikes, how easy is it to move between bikes, and will you need extra accessories like mounting brackets, racks or hitch points?
  • Will it fit your bike and your size/height?
  • How heavy and awkward will it be to handle – both loaded and unloaded – when riding and manoeuvring your bike?
  • Will it make changing a flat tyre harder?
  • Will you be able use it on your own, or will you need another adult to help?
  • Will you be able to easily interact with and/or observe your child?
  • Will you be able to get on and off your bike, and pedal, with it attached?
  • Do you need a special rack or handlebar arrangement to accommodate it?
  • Will it be portable when you wish to take your bikes on cars, trains or planes?
  • Does it have in-built storage space for carrying yours and your children’s gear?
Safety
  • What sun and rain protection does it provide?
  • In the event of minor crashes, what protection does it give your child?
  • Are your child’s feet and hands kept away from moving parts?
  • Does it comply with a reputable safety standard here or overseas?
  • How stable will your bike be when parked with your child aboard, or when loading and unloading?
  • Can you ensure it is visible to other road users?
  • Is it well made?
  • Will your child’s head be supported AND able to comfortably wear a helmet?
  • Will it affect how well you can handle your bike?
Parking
  • Where will you keep it?
  • How much room will it take up?
  • Will much assembly/disassembly be needed before you can stow/park it?
  • When you are out and about, will its length or size limit where you can park it?
  • Can you secure it?
  • Is it freestanding, or will you need somewhere to lean it?
Cost
  • Does it fit your budget?
  • Can you buy/sell second hand?
  • Can you borrow or share with another family?
  • If it is not available locally, how will importing it cost in taxes, fees and shipping?

Kickstands

As with kids bikes, a kickstand on your bike is really useful. When carrying kids, a standard single-side kickstand will not hold your loaded bike safely. A strong, double sided kickstand will hold your bike more securely and evenly; making loading, unloading and parking much easier, especially without another adult to help. Regardless, don’t leave your child unattended in case the bike topples.

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