Know your options: How to bike with kids

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Trail-A-BikeIt’s a situation you see more and more often: an adult heading along the bike-way with one or more kids along for the ride. Getting the kids to school, daycare, or the babysitter’s by bike is becoming a more frequent activity for many. The introduction of the dedicated bike lanes downtown has led at least one person I know to sell their car, and she now takes her child to daycare via bike.

There are several options to get your kids from point A to point B with a bike. There are additional seats you can attach to your bike, front-mounted or rear-mounted, there are trailers, and finally there are so-called “tag-alongs.”

Child-seats are plastic seats that attach to either your cross-bar or to a rear-rack. The centre-mounted options, such as the WeeRide and the safe-T-seat put the child in front of you. The benefits: you can see your child at all times, and the centre of gravity is in the right place. On the other hand, it can be difficult to pedal properly and the child can interfere with the control of the bike.

Rear-mounted child-seats, such as the Topeak Babyseat II or the Copilot Limo move the centre-of-gravity of the bike back towards the rear wheel, but remove the child from near the handle-bars and allow for unobstructed pedalling. The child seats can only be used for kids of limited size and weight, typically no more than 40 lbs.

Trailers are another popular choice. There are several options here, including a MEC version, and the Chariot. Trailers are more stable, are easily removed from the bike. Plus they can be used for carrying more than kids. More perks: they have a larger capacity than the seats (up to 75 lbs, typically), come with weather-shields to keep the child warm and dry, and usually can be converted into jogging strollers. The downside: Trailers make the bike longer, changing the handling of the bike, and are somewhat less visible on the roads because of the low profile.

Tag-alongs come in a few different forms: a unit that consists of a single wheel, a seat, single-gear transmission, and fixed handle-bars, or another form that involves attaching a kid’s bike to a frame, keeping the front wheel off the ground. One of these tag-alongs is the Adams Trail-A-Bike. Tag-alongs allow the child to participate in the ride if they choose, and help them gain balancing skills. They suffer from the same handling and visibility issues that trailers do, without the advantage of being able to haul cargo. Tag-alongs can accommodate larger kids, up to 7 or 8 years old.

There are a few other options, including some European style bikes that include seats for kids like the Gazelle Cabby or tandem bicycles like Kidztandems.

Our family has used both a rear seat carrier and a Trail-A-Bike. We’ve been happy with both, and frankly surprised at the versatility of the Trail-a-Bike. We didn’t use a trailer as we don’t have room to store it.

How do you get your kids around on bikes? What kid of experiences have you had transporting kids on bikes?

Last modified: November 23, 2011

4 Responses to " Know your options: How to bike with kids "

  1. Stv. says:

    We used a rear-seat carrier with the older kid, but had an awkward in-between phase where he was too big for the seat, but too little for the trail-a-bike we have now.

    I think we’re going to try out a trailer with kid #2, see if it gets used longer.

    My only other note is be wary of carbon-tube seat-stems and trailers – I totally wrecked one of mine 🙁

  2. Ruth says:

    We use a Chariot trailer that we got cheap on Craigslist – lots of them get sold on Craigslist. It converts to a stroller or running stroller if needed, which is very handy when the grandparents are visiting and want to take our daughter to daycare for us. I find that the ‘weatherproof’ cover is not sufficient for really Vancouver-style bad weather, so we bought a cheap plastic stroller rain cover that fits perfectly (we store the trailer outaide daycare during the day so it gets rained on a LOT). I find it very easy to ride with, and the big orange flag on the back plus red flashing lights attached to the handle bar solve the visibility issues.

  3. Bill Barilko says:

    Of all the changes I’ve seen over the years in terms of city cycling this is the one that I have the most doubts about.

    IMO apart from a few trails here and there it’s just too dangerous to have a child attached to a bicycle in this city.

    I say that as an older single guy-if I ‘bite the pavement’ it’s not such a big deal I’ve had my fun-the death of a child is a terrible terrible tragedy.

  4. Anthony says:

    @stv Good advice about the seat tube. When we transitioned our oldest from the bike seat to the Trail-A-Bike, we had to put “blocks” on the pedals to ensure that he could reach them and even with those pedalling was a bit awkward for a few months.

    @ruth Good points about Craigslist and the stroller cover.

    @bill It’s “funny” but, I’ve noticed that I get a lot more respect from vehicles when I’m pulling the Trail-A-Bike or if I’ve got the child seat on the back. Motorists seem to suddenly remember all the rules of the road and even will yield right of way (crossing busy streets, for example) much more regularly than without a kid. And frankly, I ride much more defensively and slowly with a kid than without.