29 April 2009

Cycling with Kiddos

While we are nowhere near that yet, I'm starting to put some thought into what will be required to continue cycling once little people enter our lives.

One of my most cherished memories is skiing at Tahoe when I was about 5 years old. My dad made a piece of pie with his skis, and held me as I made a piece of pie with mine. We went so fast, the wind rushed through my hair, and I was still warm. The thrill of an adventure, protected by the strong bulk of my father's body, was a highlight of my early childhood.

So you'll understand why I just adore this dad and daughter, out on their adventure. He'd just pointed something out to her, I'd love to have had that kind of time each morning with my dad.

father daughter cycling bikes
The law in MA prohibits babies under the age of one on single person bikes. So what to do for that first year?

The bike trailer is an ever-popular option. However this photo, taken at the same place on the same morning as the dad above, illustrates my concerns about a trailer:

bike trailer Boston Cambridge
The child is just so far behind, so hard to see/hear, and those trucks out there so big! I think this may work better in suburban environments than in the big city.

A girlfriend who is pregnant has told me she's going to get a cargo bike. This makes a lot of sense, if you have somewhere to park it. How do Europeans park these things? On the street? What about theft and rain? Bakfiets and Madsen Cargo Bikes seem to be the most popular. I think that Bakfiets might be better for infants, and the Madsen better for children, but I'd welcome additional data. Where is the second-hand market for these bikes? I've never seen them for sale.

Once they are big enough, there are infinite options with an extracycle, tandem, or Trail-a-bike. There's even a jumpseat for my husband's Brompton! (which would be good for the storage issue)

But what to do for that first year?


Anonymous said...


Charlotte said...

Wouldn't a metrofiets have the same challenges as the others? Am I missing something that makes it more "metro"?

Dave Feucht said...

I see people a lot of times parking bakfietsen in car parking spots in Portland :) They're considered "vehicles" by law, so why not? :) Just lock up the back wheel, it's not like someone is going to walk off with it if they can't roll it. They're also made to last being left in the rain (just cover the saddle, if you have a leather one).

Of course, if you're leaving it somewhere for a long time, you'd want to chain it to something, but just to go into the store or something, you'd be fine.

I think you don't see used real bakfietsen often because they are specifically built to last a very long time, and people who get them find them very useful. I think also there probably has to be more saturation of the market before there will be many used sales (if there are only 5 in the city, you're not likely to notice if one person puts theirs up for sale). Clever Cycles in Portland has posted used ones a few times in the last year, but still not many.

If you're interested in more details of using a bakfiets with kids, you might contact Travis, who lives here in Portland:


He has several kids and transports them by bakfiets.

Scott Loveless said...

A little over two years ago when the big one was 3 and the little one was 1, I bought a cheap trailer at a big box store. We've used it on an almost daily basis and this year the top has started to deteriorate, and the big one is, well, just about too big for it. So on nice days we hitch up the bike train - me on my bike, the big one on the trail-a-bike, followed by the little one in the trailer. It's fun and relatively practical.

FWIW, cars tend to give me A LOT of room when I'm towing a child. I've also never been honked at or otherwise harassed when they're with me.

I think for you a decent trailer should work well for a few years, at least. It's when they start to grow out of it that practical cycling becomes a problem. As you well know, the mid-Atlantic has cold, wet winters. I prefer to keep my kids protected from the weather during trips to the grocery, school, library, etc. Unfortunately, the options here in the U.S. suck butt.

The bakfiets is probably the best option out there, but it's expensive. Madsen bikes are top heavy and the rumored cover still seems to be vapor. I'm on the verge of constructing a trailer based on the bakfiets box. We'll see how it goes.

Charlotte said...

Melancholic optimist -
I'm not too worried at work, but at home there is no parking to be had at all. We do have a car and we pay to park it at a garage a fair distance from the apartment. I don't think I could lug a childseat all the way there every day. I am certain that if I took a car space for the bike I would find it in pieces underneath a desperate car. I haven't been to Portland, but as a Californian I can say that the situation in downtown Boston is nothing like the West Coast, except maybe downtown San Francisco.

Did you see the snapdeck for the extracycle? I like that option because when they're bigger you can just unsnap the deck.

All of these are still too large for my current set-up. I think I'm going to have to move. Sigh.

Dave Feucht said...

Yeah, it would be tricky to park a bakfiets in downtown Portland as well, especially if you lived in downtown and had to park it at home. I think it's big enough that motorists would leave it alone if it were in a car spot, though I'm not entirely certain you wouldn't get a parking ticket if you left it there long enough.

Metrofiets would have the same problems, as it's very similar to the traditional Dutch bakfiets.

For the first year, I suppose a trailer might be your best bet. I have a couple people I know who have been carless with small children, I should ask them what they recommend for under 1 year kids if they can't be on a normal bike.

Anonymous said...

Of course the issues will be the same for all bakfiets. Metrofiets is a Portland, OR builder, if you want to support homebuilders. I only suggested them because they will sell online. There is also http://www.dutchbikeseattle.com/html/bikes/bakfiets.html

Anonymous said...

I used a regular bike seat from when the little one could sit up on the floor very stable-ly (probably around one year). I would have preferred to have her in front like that first fella, those are MUCH better for little itty ones.

She got long pretty quickly and our seat (a Troxel) was kind of a pain to get in and out of. So now she's four, and I picked up a trail-a-bike used (good market saturation, unlike bakfiets). The girl is TOTALLY in love with it. She can't get enough. We got an extra clamp for Mom's bike, now we share the load, and the kid's pedaling really is a help.

She'll be riding this Friday in New Bedford in the Ring the Bell ride.

Trailers freak me out.

Anonymous said...

neither the girl nor I are contemplating parenthood, but some feedback on trailers ...

like Scott, I never found towing a trailer to be a particularly vulnerable practice. We've taken the trailer across the city for heavy grocery shopping or errands (whole turkeys for Thanksgiving!) and have never felt that cars were going to hit us. If anything they gave us an even wider berth. The main point of adjustment was being aware of the trailer's footprint, particularly on crowded streets and bike paths. It's like adding an extra four inches to the width of your bike on the left side, and takes some getting used to.

We have a couple of friends who bought trailers for their children and said that the kids had mixed reactions to it. One thing to keep in mind if you go that route ... make sure the towing bike has fenders and a mudflap. ;)

Julian said...

Hi Charlotte -
This is something I obsess far too much about. Safest bikey way to go with a kid under 9-12 months seems to be rear-facing car seat in bakfiets, IMHO.

Failing that, I know this guy, right, who, umm, puts his 2 month old in a car seat that clicks into a car seat base he installed in his Chariot Caddy trailer. This "guy" doesn't take this setup on any major arterials or other higher risk streets, just for slow, paranoid, low-traffic jaunts around town.

And yes, fenders are a must, keep the trailer's front "windshield" down to keep debris out of infant eyes, and run lower pressure in the tires to reduce bouncing (it still is dicey having an infant right over the axle, hence the bakfiets recommendation).

If this guy I know happens to make a custom foam/5 point harness "infant seat" for his Madsen in the next few months, you might read about it at www.totcycle.com ...

Once they hit one year old, you get to have lots of fun with front seats like the one pictured here (a WeeRide). Full rundown here:

She Rides a Bike said...

Hmmm... no kids but I guess I'd share your concerns about trailers and riding with children on my bike period. At least in my community. Until I see more willingness to not only share the road but see drivers being more conscious that cyclists are out there I'd have a hard time risking the safety of my child. However, we just returned from Portland where we really felt very safe and respected on the road but I imagine that type of culture took time to evolve.

Kelly said...

I would feel uncomfortable with the trailers. 99 out of 100 drivers might give you a lot of space and not harass you, but it only takes one, right?
I like the bike seat best for smaller kids.

Steve R said...

Do you know Jeff Rosenblum at Livable Streets? (Now working for Cambridge, I believe.) He just had a kid last fall, and he actually moved by bike last summer. I'm sure he's got some ideas.

MamaVee said...

My Trike has a hole atthe base of the box for hooking up a carseat as well. However as you may have seen in the pics, it is HUGE. Parking is an issue. I live in the burbs and have a garage and it takes up a lot of space ( husband grumbles about it ) It takes up a lot of the sidewalk too. It does have a wheel lock so you don't *need* to find a pole/rack to lock it too, but I fear someone stalking me and coming by with a flatbed. ( paranoid!)

The guy who sold me the trike said my re-sale would be very good. But honestly I don't know if I could bare to part with it. if you read FULL HANDS ( blogspot I think) she has a bakfiet with twin 6 year olds and a 3 yr old. She just got it and the boys are happy to ride in it. So I don't think it is just for babies/toddlers. My five going on six year old would much rather the Sorte than the Xtra b/c she feels safe and warm.

I dunno- I think a bakfiet would be a very good bet. Could you lock it and tarp it at home, like a scooter or motorcycle? Again the guy who sold me the bike said his velobris was attempted to be stolen but the thief threw it in the bushes two doors down. Wheel lock plus heavy ass bike means one would need to bring a flatbed/pickup. but if you have crazy U lock on it..I dunno. I just think cargo bikes Rule.

am said...

I recommend the Bobike for 1: we started using it when he could sit up and still use it now. I am pretty sure this is the last summer for it.
He is 2 now.
here we are:

SK said...

i used to have a little kiddie seat on the back of my dad's bike when i was younger. when my brother was born he got a trailer! i grew up in the suburbs and we normally did all our bike rides near parks and our house. i agree with you and the safety precautions for trailers!