“Commuting” with Kids

We know everyone here at bikecommuters.com uses their bike to get back and forth to work at least some of the time.  But what about other destinations?  And what happens when you have to bring the family along?

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J in the Burley, hooked to my commuter

Since my wife (who’s a stay-at-home mom) and I share one car between us, we’re familiar with a couple strategies and are considering a couple more.  Here are a few things we’re using/have used/will use with our two daughters.

Our older daughter, J, is three years old.  Since she was about a year old, we’ve used a BurleyD’lite trailer (my review here) to pull her around.  We’ve used it on trips to the playground, trips to the grocery store, and for getting around while on vacation.  It’s a handy thing: it holds up to two kids plus a bunch of gear (we’ve had a week’s worth of groceries in it before!).  However, it is a little bulky and can be annoying to hook up (and unhook) when you’re only going a short distance.

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J "commuting"

Once kids are a little older, they can often bike along on short errands.  We started J on a balance bike when she turned three (though other parents have started as early as 1!).  She’s able to go around 2-3 miles round trip on this without too much fuss, which gets us to destinations like the library or the farmers market.  Another good option for tired kids or longer rides is some sort of trailer bike.

For younger kids, it gets tricky.  Most physicians don’t recommend putting infants in most bike seats, as their necks aren’t strong enough until they’re around 9 months to a year old.  However, that doesn’t mean you can’t put them on a bike at all.  The family over at Totcycle has compiled a good list of options, including using a car seat base in a trailer, or putting a car seat in the front box of a bakfiets or rear “bucket” of a Madsen.  The bakfiets or Madsen bikes generally require a large up-front investment, but offer the advantage of a bike you can continue to carry kids in for several years.

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R with her shadow

We haven’t put our younger daughter, R (8 months, pictured here with her constant canine companion Otis), on a bike yet – a combination of laziness, cold weather, and not being too enthusiastic about our car seat working well with our trailer.  However, we’re looking at a couple options right now.  The Topeak Babyseat is a classic rear-mounted “kid’s bike seat” – on steroids.  It’s got some nice safety and comfort features (suspension!), and has the advantage of being quickly removable (the rack then works seamlessly with Topeak’s other lock-on bags).  We’re also looking at some front-mounted seats, such as the Yepp mini or the iBert.  The advantage with these is that the child is in between your arms, can see really well, and can easily converse with you (assuming they’re able to converse with you to begin with).  The disadvantage is these apparently turn many children into speed freaks, constantly urging you to go faster and making you work even harder!

There are tons of options out there – more than most people realize – and once kids get started biking, most of them continue to enjoy it (and will hopefully grow up thinking biking for errands or to work is normal and fun!).  In my view, bringing up the next generation to bike everywhere is even more important than biking everywhere ourselves – and (most of the time) is a lot of fun too!


15 Comments

  1. Graham March 13, 2012 4:42 am 

    I’ve “commuted” with both trailers and trail-a-bikes and I have to say that the trailer is easier, but the trail-a-bike is way more fun (for the kid).

    I have also noticed that cycling with my 10 year old is quite the exercise in patience. She’s old enough to pedal herself, but young enough to have her attention wander and begin complaining halfway home.

    She seems to think every bicycle trip we take has to include ice cream or it didn’t count… so much for improved fitness!

  2. Everett March 13, 2012 5:14 am 

    I used the iBert with my son, who is now three, and we loved it for the reasons you stated above. My only complaint about it is that there is no pad for him to rest his head on. Frequently, after taking a trip to the playground, he’d be so wiped out that he’d pass out on the way home, leaning his helmet against my forearm and generally flopping about. If you get a Yepp Mini or a Bobike, make sure you get the pad that sits in front of the child too.

  3. locus March 13, 2012 6:28 am 

    We have a similar history when it comes to bikes and kids. My first one was also in a Topeak seat. When the second became old enough, I needed to switch to a two-kid trailer.

    However, in the mean streets of Washington, DC, trailers really suck. They’re not nimble and we were always in danger of clipping one of the security posts that surround most buildings here.

    After searching for several months, I discovered the Xtracycle. I’ve been riding my Surly Big Dummy for several years now. Even after the kids learned to pedal their own bikes, my wife and I still use it to carry them longer distances.

    Xtracycles are the best way to carry kids without unnecessary weight or bulk.

  4. Clark T March 13, 2012 7:45 am 

    Good timing to find your website, I’ve just started commuting to work again after a 12 year hiatus. I have a trailer and also a trail-bike, and three kids. With this rig, my wife and I can get all three kids from A-B without starting the car. I find the trailer is great for grocery store and bringing two kids around. When it’s just me and one other, I find we can go miles with the trail-bike. The added bonus with both rigs is that everybody on the streets love to see us. Both the kids and I become so interactive with the folks sitting on their porch or waiting at the bus stop. I feel like we are our own parade.

  5. Ghost Rider March 13, 2012 7:55 am 

    Xtracycle is the way our family rolls, too…the kids liked the trailer but when they outgrow it, it gathers dust (at least until I convert it into a cargo-hauler). And a trail-a-bike was a terrifying experience for our older son — way too unstable starting off for our taste.

    But with an Xtra, just hop on and GO!

  6. BluesCat March 13, 2012 8:00 am 

    I have an inexpensive Schwinn Scout double trailer for my granddaughters: Sleeping Beauties.

    It’s okay, but my daughter-in-law and I both agree that we need to look at a better trailer. The seating in the Scout isn’t all that comfortable; the girls can get out of the belts without being too much of escape artists; the fabric wears pretty easily from little shoes.

    It is a great grocery toter, and I will continue to use it for that.

  7. Liam March 13, 2012 12:55 pm 

    My son attends child care adjacent to where I work so the last two spring/summer/falls I really did commuted by bike to work with a kid. It was nice to get a 6.5-mile ride each way and enjoy sunshine and fresh air. This year he’s too big for the Co-pilot child seat and my daughter is still a baby so I’m trying to figure out how to still get some bike riding into my routine. There’s some good ideas here although I don’t think I can afford a bakfiets and I’m still wary about trailers in city traffic.

  8. Raiyn March 13, 2012 9:45 pm 

    Hey Ghost, if anyone wants a pictorial guide on the cargo conversion my rehabbed kiddie trailer might be a good starting point.

  9. BluesCat March 14, 2012 8:29 am 

    Raiyn – I’ve bookmarked that link, gonna keep it in mind when the fabric on the Scout goes away. Thanks!

  10. bigbenaugust March 14, 2012 9:33 am 

    You know, I might convert our InStep to a cargo trailer when it falls apart.

    As for the balance bike, we bought it when our son was barely a year (maybe 15 months), but it’s been only recently (as he hit 2) that he’s been tall enough to use it without help. His arms are a little short, though, so he sits WAY forward.

    We also have a Kettler kick scooter for him, but it still weighs more than he does, so the Strider gets more use.

  11. Matt March 14, 2012 9:44 am 

    bigbenaugust –
    We’ve gotten a ton of use out of the balance bike, though we got it for my daughter’s 3rd birthday. She’s getting good really fast though, a pedal bike is definitely coming in the not-too-distant future. I wish now we’d started earlier… seems like the sweet spot is around 1 1/2 for many kids. For anyone checking into balance bikes – they vary in terms of fit. The Performance-branded model J has fits kids who are pretty small.

    We also have an old tricycle I bought off Craigslist, but oddly a kid needs to be even bigger to use that than the balance bike!

  12. Petro March 15, 2012 11:26 pm 

    We’ve had a Chariot (Cougar, IIRC) for our daughter for almost 4 years now and it’s been *incredible*. We went a bit overboard and got the jogging kit, the trailer kit and the hiking kit for it. As a regular stroller it’s a bit wide, but rolls REALLY well. As a bike trailer it’s more than paid for itself in gasoline (especially now that we’re living in a place where gas goes for over 1.65 a liter).

    Quality matters–the Chariots are very sturdy and the bearings in the wheels are of high quality. After 4 years of a lot of use in California, Missouri and here in Australia it’s starting to show some wear around the edges, but it still tracks straight, and rolls very, very well.

  13. Raiyn March 16, 2012 12:35 am 

    @ BluesCat
    No problem. So far the trailer conversion been great, the only change I’m planning is to switch the P.I.T.A clamp hitch to a Burley system (with the round connector insert) to make the idea of hooking it up quicker and thusly more attractive than the current setup.

  14. Matt March 16, 2012 4:44 am 

    Raiyn – That’s a good hitch system – we converted to that last summer, and it definitely makes it easier – especially since you can get more than 1 of those and just leave them on all the bikes you might want to use.

  15. Raiyn March 16, 2012 9:57 pm 

    @ Matt
    That’s what I thought when I saw it. I’ve seen others online who have converted other makes of trailer (like mine) to the Burley hitch with small modifications so the idea sorta clicked for me. Sadly, the main reason (for me at least) we don’t use it as often is that %$^%&!!! clamp hitch. My better half’s main issue is locking it up using our current methods, but I may have an idea on solving that.

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