Archive for July, 2015

Gear Talk: Biking with Kids

Note: a version of this article was reprinted in the Fall of 2015 Maine Cyclist, the news magazine of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine.

Summer is in full swing and I see families out biking on all kinds of equipment – some traditional, some not. Our daughter, Cedar, is eight years old now but I remember well that first year or so of trying to navigate possibilities for getting around by bike with a very little person.

On top of that, there are a number of suggestions for when it’s appropriate to start (like when a baby’s head is strong enough) which I found a bit paralyzing, too. The good news is that in 2012 the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition produced a fantastic Family Biking Guide for every stage from pregnancy on up. (I wish this had been out when we first started!)

Bottomline: what works for each family and each rider’s comfort level  – and budget – is completely personal.

Just in case it’s helpful, I’ve used the following:

Attachments:

  • Age 1-5 – A single-passenger Burley trailer that was passed on to us (I still use it as a trunk for lugging stuff around town – like 80 pounds of tomatoes from the farmer’s market. Okay, that might be a bit over the official weight limit for the trailer.)
  • Age 3-4 – An Adams Trail-a-Bike passed on to us.  This was great for short trips but more than about an hour around town and she would often get sleepy – of course this entirely depends on your kid.
  • Rob & Cedar in Newfoundland - cropped

    Used hard every day of our four month family bicycling sabbatical – this photo from Newfoundland. http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/biketrip2012

    Ages 4-5 – A WeeHoo i-Go – for about a year of around town commuting and then our 4 month family bicycling sabbatical through Atlantic Canada and Quebec. You can read more about our experience with the WeeHoo and my retrofits for traveling here. When our daughter became more interested in riding by herself, we then passed the WeeHoo on to our friends and god-daughter, Karah – it was perfect when she was too scared to start biking on a Trail-a-Bike.

  • Age 5-6 – A Trail-a-Gator to hook her up when needed for about a year until I bought a bike with a front tire that couldn’t clear off the ground. It doesn’t work with all bike models.
  • Rob & Cedar with stoker bar - closeup

    Still a great (and simple) around-town option for us – we just used it to get downtown for some live outdoor music on Friday night.

    Age 5 through the present: We put her on my poor-man’s cargo bike stoker set-up.  It’s a Stoker Bar from Xtra-Cycle and a heavy-weight touring/commuter bike and tough rear rack set-up, with a foam pad strapped on.  She’s still only 45 pounds, so it’s worked well since she was 5. Our apartment set-up makes it impossible, space-wise, to have a separate cargo bike (plus there’s the extra cost). In terms of having passengers on the back of your bike who have to hang on, go based on how you feel about your kid paying attention. In the beginning, I had her straddle the rack and put her feet in the panniers because I worried about her forgetting and letting her feet get caught in the spokes. Now she rides sidesaddle and does tricks back there.

  • Age 7 through the present –  We hook her up with a Follow Me when needed.  It was pricey but is super solid and fit her updated 20” bike when the Trail-A-Gator didn’t – plus it saved us multiple times a day when we did a 2 week bike camping trip in Quebec last summer.
  • [3/1/2016 – Update for 9+ – in December 2015 we upgraded her to a 24″ Islabikes Beinn (thankfully they run a little small). So we’ve outgrown all the standard attachments like the Trail-a-Gator and the Follow Me. Thus, we decided to try a little-advertised and seemingly quirky towbar set-up, called the X2Cycle Tandem Rack. We experimented with it briefly before the snow really settled in and it works, although it’s a lot jerkier of a feel getting towed this way and Cedar can’t totally check out and rest (she still has to steer).  She’s not a fan but still wants to ride her own bike as much as possible – so we’ll work with it for now.] 

Biking on Their Own:

  • Age 3-5 – A cheap pedal-less Walmart balance bike – but plenty of kids get started on them younger.
  • Cedar on her 1st 2 wheelerAge 5 – She started riding her own pedal bike – again, passed on to us. We’d had multiple small bikes with training wheels and she’d been fairly uninterested – giving them a go every few months for a time or two. Then one Sunday night in the apartment she asked me to take them off and, after ten minutes of flying toward furniture, she was riding. There are kids who are comfortable way younger than that and others that hit their stride riding their own bike at age 8 or older – whatever works.  I’m a big believer in not pushing.
  • Taking a quick break on our Christmas Day bike ride to visit friends this past winter.

    Taking a quick break on our Christmas Day bike ride to visit friends this past winter. We always say, “there’s no shame in walking!”

    Age 6-8: A 20” six-gear bike to get around.  Height is as important as the child’s age when determining the best size bike – I like this simple sizing chart for thinking it through. And of course, the final test is to make sure the frame fits comfortably between their legs, with at least an inch of space to spare at the top with their feet flat on the ground.

Safety

All the standard safety stuff holds for family biking (maybe more so as a parent?) That is, being visible and predictable and confident with biking in traffic – behaving as a vehicle and following the rules of the road. I highly recommend all teen and adult riders take a Cycling Savvy course (even those of us who feel fully comfortable riding).  It’s a great skill-building experience, taught by thoughtful and caring instructors, and a real game-changer as a rider.  I’ll make sure Cedar takes it once she’s old enough.

We are also a traveling freak show with our visibility: neon yellow reflective vests worn even during the day and blinky ones at night, bright flags (I love this ATV flag that’s been adapted for bikes) and triangles, orange sidebars you can extend just a bit past your panniers, superflash blinking taillights, reflective material sewn into various pieces of gear, reflective spoke ornaments, reflective stickers on our helmets, etc. It’s total overkill but I notice that my eye picks this stuff up more as a motorist.

It’s a lot of mix & match.  Experiment with what works for you and find a way to get out there with your family. It’s not easy every time out there and every moment, but mostly it’s a real liberation and joy!  And if you’ve got a set-up that’s really worked for you – please leave a comment and/or reply to my Twitter post.

Hope this helps and feel free to let me know if you have questions or are trying to think through something specificallywe could talk more in person.

A few other blogs to check out:

July 14, 2015 at 6:57 am Leave a comment


94 Beckett Street, 2nd Floor Portland, ME 04101

Sign Up for Our e-Bulletin

Recent Posts