Riding with kids

Miscellaneous 43 27

OK, this is another picture of one of my kids on a bike (or half a bike in this case), but don’t worry… I am not turning the blog into a family photo album. With this post I want to address the “most useful means to chauffeur a little kid around” in response to an email that I received recently from a reader. Dave has a 5-year-old daughter and is looking for the best way to ride with her. There are quite a few options for cycling with kids, some I have firsthand experience with and others I don’t, so let’s discuss a few.

Personally, I have only used child carrier bike seats, a couple of bike trailers, and a tag along bike (pictured here) to ride with my own kids. I am not a big fan of traditional rear mounted child carriers, but I think the other two are both great options for cycling with a little one (or a couple of little ones). A good trailer will cost a few hundred bucks at the entry level, but it will last many years and can also be used to carry cargo when the kids aren’t using it, so I think it is well worth the investment. When my kids were smaller, I used to ride with two of them plus a load of toys, snacks and whatever else they could fit into the trailer with them. Usually we would ride to a destination like a park so that we could have a picnic and they could take a break mid ride to play on the playground. It was a great experience for all involved, but I can’t say it wasn’t a workout sometimes. In addition to the extra weight I was pulling, I sometime felt like I had two little coaches in the back yelling for me to “go faster” every time I hit an uphill stretch.

A tag along bike is great for riding with kids as they graduate from the trailer. All three of my kids started riding our Co-Pilot tag along bike when they were about 4 years old. They absolutely love riding on a bike that is attached to mine any chance they get. My five year old likes to ride his own bike these days, but he still loves to ride with me on the tag along. Together we can cover a lot more ground than we can on separate bikes and he enjoys the feeling that he is doing part of the work. He loves to show the bike to his friends if we ride to school because it makes him feel big to travel far from home under his own power (at least partially). Based on my experience, a tag along bike is a great confidence builder for kids who are not yet ready to ride on the streets on their own.

As I mentioned though, there are other types of bikes that can be used to transport kids. A bakfiets or Dutch “box bike” is one solution for riding with children that I would love to try sometime. The TrioBike is another nice design for riding with children. The child carrier is modular, so you can ride the TrioBike as a regular two-wheeler when not using it to transport the little ones. Recently, I posted a concept bike, the Fisher El Ranchero, which featured an extra seat for a child passenger. That is an interesting idea, but even without a seat, standard long bikes and Xtracycle conversions are another popular solution for many people who carry kids and cargo on the same bike. In fact, while I was searching for a picture of kids on an Xtracycle conversation, I came across an excellent Bike Portland post about bike set ups for family riding. All the ones I have mentioned plus a few others are discussed in the Bike Portland post, so definitely check it out.

So what other good options are there for riding around with kids? Have any of you tried any different set ups than the ones discussed here? If so, I am curious to hear about them.

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43 Comments

  1. Brian Park October 21, 2008 at 12:12 am -  Reply

    Having sold both Xtracycles and Bakfiets Boxbikes, I have to say that the Bakfiets suck ass. They are very high quality, but they just aren’t thought out for North America.

    First, their brakes are awful. It’s straight up dangerous to run drum brakes on a bike that can carry that much weight.

    Second, they’re insanely expensive. Sure, Xtracycles are unjustifiably pricy too, but they sure as hell aren’t $3000 for a bike that’s useless for anything other than groceries and going to the (flat) park with your kids.

    Third, Bakfiets are geared way too high, and it’s a huge pain in the ass to change them. Even if you do change the gears to something more reasonable, you still have a bike that handles like ass at anything over 10km/h. If you are some rich yuppie who never leaves downtown, and who would never work up a sweat, then the Bakfiets is for you.

  2. Carrie October 21, 2008 at 12:32 am -  Reply

    I’m looking forward to seeing comments on this post! I have a 4 year old and a baby and am looking for ways to get us on a bike next summer when the baby is old enough :) You covered everything I’ve run across, except one person suggested a bike for me, followed by a tag along bike for the elder child, and then a trailer for the baby. But I think I’d feel like a freight train with that set up. There has to be something better! :)

  3. graham_f October 21, 2008 at 3:03 am -  Reply

    Carrie – You should look into a tandem. You can get some that are purpose built for an adult and a child, or get one for 2 adults and get a set of kiddy cranks (extra set of cranks that bolt onto the seat tube so a kid can reach them). Hook the trailer onto the back of that. It’ll be a lot easier to ride than the bike, tagalong, trailer combo as you won’t have the extra pivot.

  4. nollij October 21, 2008 at 4:50 am -  Reply

    I have to say that I disagree with Brian on the xtracycles AND the Bakfiets. I don’t “sell” either one, but I do ride an xtracycle (I recently upgraded to Surly’s “Big Dummy” which is a purpose built longtail that uses the xtracycle accessories) and I’ve ridden the bakfiets. The bakfiets are expensive because they are being imported from overseas. Domestic versions are available, but they are made to order so slower to obtain… sometimes. Bakfiets are still cheap compared to a car, and they are built to last, unlike most cars now. Both the Bakfiets and the Xtracycle/Big Dummy are designed to make car free lifestyle a reality.
    The stock one speed gearing on the Bakfiets isn’t really appropriate for steep hills but almost all of the versions being imported into the united states now are sold with 8 speed internal shimano hubs. The drive cogs/chainring can be swapped out for a lower ratio when you buy the bike so that the DEALER does that work. It’s not a bike you blithely swap parts on, I grant you that. I disagree on the handling: they are amazingly nimble for a bike of their size and weight: I was stunned how well it handled when I finally rode one. You can’t compare it to a speedy race bike: that would be like comparing a Ferrari to a GMC suburban: apples and oranges.

    I rode the bike at speeds up to 18mph (29kph) and found that it handled great: smooth and stable. I was especially impressed with the LOW speed handling: very easy to put a foot down and I was turning 180’s within minutes of riding the bike. As for the sweat factor… if you need to arrive bone dry and you’re in terrible shape, pedal slowly. Brian and I have opposing opinions of the bakfiets so I suggest people ride them for themselves before taking an online opinion as gospel. They transport a LOT of stuff (including multiple children) and have the option of a completely dry see through rain cover for the passenger area: an awesome idea for people who want to keep their most precious cargo dry and warm: As much as an xtracycle can hold (and that’s a LOT!), the bakfiets can hold more. Check with a LBS that’s friendly to both bikes and have them help you decide. The best on the west coast (IMO) are Clever Cycles in Portland and Aarons Bicycle Repair in Seattle. The xtracycle folks have (had?) user group over at Yahoo Groups (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/rootsradicals/), many of whom are willing to give test rides to potential buyers and everyone I’ve ever met who rides an xtracycle is totally stoked on their ride, even years and years later. For many, it becomes their ONLY bicycle: that’s how versatile they are.

  5. chiggins October 21, 2008 at 6:28 am -  Reply

    This is what we came up with:

    http://flickr.com/photos/chigginsiii/sets/72157607827078677/

    Xtracycle, built a double seat from 1/2″ plywood and made cushions for it. The rear has a seatbelt for the toddler. I love it, we’re selling the car.

    We have two Xtracycles, one made from a Surly Karate Monkey built on 26″ wheels, and that brings the center of gravity down a little. But my 4 yo daughter rides on the back of the taller Xtra and she loves it.

    These guys built a stunning two seater, complete with sunshades and rain canopy, for their Big Dummy:

    http://longwalktogreen.blogspot.com/

  6. The Village Scribe October 21, 2008 at 8:20 am -  Reply

    Of the two arrangements I’ve tried (rear-mounted carrier and pull-behind trailer), I like the pull-behind trailer option the best, on the whole. But at 20-months of age, my daughter clearly prefers the rear-mounted carrier (for a variety of reasons, I suspect). This in turn leads to us riding together more frequently, which is the main objectivity. So that’s the setup we’ll be using for a while.

    —–
    scott
    http://adrianspokesman.blogspot.com/

  7. Anonymous October 21, 2008 at 9:39 am -  Reply

    An alternate to the rear mounted trailer is the “Chariot Sidecar”. It’s about the size of a trailer but mounts beside your bike so it is easier to watch your passenger. They can be found on REI’s website.

  8. Matt (from the Muddymoles) October 21, 2008 at 9:42 am -  Reply

    James, I agree with your points in this article, my son loves riding the tag along and his younger brother is impatient to graduate too.

    I hadn’t thought about the fact you could use the trailer as a cargo carrier once they out grow it but wish I had. I’ve always had a problem seeing the wood for the trees, not recommended as a mountain biker!

    I’ve recently written a post on the Muddymoles called Tips to get kids and teenagers mountain biking which may or may not be of interest to anyone? It’s probably aimed at slightly older children but it might be useful?

  9. Brian Park October 21, 2008 at 11:25 am -  Reply

    Nollij, I think you’re missing my point.

    The Bakfiets is a high quality piece of machinery, and when people import them nobody is lining their pockets with gold at the consumer’s expense. They just simply aren’t as practical on almost all levels as an Xtracycle.

    Yes Bakfiets are cheap compared to a car (plus gas, insurance, repairs, etc.); so is a $10 000 Colnago. A Bakfiets is EXPENSIVE AS HELL compared to an Xtracycle.

    On top of that, for all that extra expense you get a bunch of major drawbacks and only a few advantages.

    First, the major advantages:
    -Your kids have an awesome view. This is the Bakfiets’ major advantage over trailers, trail-a-bikes, and Xtracycles.
    -The box shape is super handy for groceries, dogs, etc…
    -Boxbikes are incredibly visible and condusive to marketing; if you’re starting a green delivery business or something like that, the Bakfiets is very marketable and unique.

    Now for the bad stuff that I’m not sure you’re picking up on Nollij:
    -No matter what else, the brakes suck ass and because they have no disc tabs there’s nothing you can do about it.
    -You CANNOT carry more in a Bakfiets than on an Xtracycle. The PUBLISHED weight limit of the Bakfiets is 80kg (175lbs), and the Xtracycle is rated to 200lbs. Furthermore, the Bakfiets really aren’t that bombproof; by design they’re just one big-ass steel tube, and you can definitely feel it flex when you have some weight in there.
    -Xtracycles are narrower when they need to be, and wider when you strap stuff on. Bakfiets are always wide and cumbersome.
    -Bakfiets are impossible to modify extensively. Want more gear range? Unless you kick down for a god damn Rohloff, you’re screwed. Want brakes that suck less? No disc tabs, sorry!
    -Bakfiets have an awfully inefficient riding position. You could change it with a different bar/stem combo, but then you’re prone to hitting your kids in the head when you steer.
    -Try to lift a Bakfiets, then try to lift an Xtracycle.

    Finally, I really want to stress that the Bakfiets’ handling is far worse than an Xtracycle. Bakfiets are prone to shaking and speedwobbles, especially at high speed. 18mph is not high speed, but even at that speed I’ve had it happen. On top of that, they’re prone to oversteering.

    I guess my point is, the Bakfiets is great if you have lots of money to kick down, and you want something that looks great and will take your kids around the park. It’s a really great status symbol.

    If you want to take your kids everywhere, and you want to have options, go Xtracycle.

  10. Kelly October 21, 2008 at 12:31 pm -  Reply

    I started taking my 2 1/2 year old out with a baby sling. I was especially cautious at first, but after a while it was super easy. She rode on my back with her feet on either side of my waist. She could rest her chin on my shoulder and could see everything from the high perch -and I could see her. She was heavy when I stood up, but when riding, the sling was under very little load. My daughter LOVED it and begged to ride. I loved feeling safe and nimble -not top heavy like those awful bike seats.

  11. GhostRider October 21, 2008 at 1:49 pm -  Reply

    Having tried both two-wheeled tow-behind trailer, Trail-a-bike and Xtracycle, the Xtra wins hands down!

    A two-wheeled trailer is great for little toddlers, but the young’ns outgrow the trailer pretty quickly. Second, the starting-off “pulse” as everything gets up to speed is uncomfortable.

    Want to give your kids a smooth ride back there? That means straddling any bumps or holes with the trailer’s wheels…which also means that the pilot has to take the beating. Not fun. Plus, the wide stance is easy to forget about, and one is likely to catch immovable objects with those trailer wheels. Finally, most trailers on the market are rated for only 100 lb., so even when your kids outgrow the trailer, its usefulness for hauling cargo is somewhat limited.

    Trail-a-bike — my son was terrified of the “starting off wobbles”. They can be super-unstable at low speeds, and my boy just didn’t like that.

    Xtracycle — one 50 lb. child, 140 lb. of groceries and I’m still not at the conservative weight limit. The assembly rides really smoothly, is narrow and is totally customizable (discs, V-brakes, cantis…IGH, derailleurs, singlespeed…city bars, drop bars, chop ‘n flops, etc.) Plus, it is extremely affordable, especially if you’ve got a donor bike to add to the mix.

    P.s. Chiggins’s double seat is BADASS! Sell that car, Chiggins — you won’t miss it (I’m not missing mine at all!).

  12. Anonymous October 21, 2008 at 2:57 pm -  Reply

    Another really cool thing from Europe is is the Taga (http://www.taga.nl). It’s going to be available soon.

  13. mr carter October 21, 2008 at 3:33 pm -  Reply

    here are my thoughts…

    …i would recommend a chariot trailer for your kids when they are really young for a couple reasons. safe. warm. and you can bring all that baby junk you need.

    after that, i would recommend an xtracycle until the little ones can pedal on-street on their own.

    i have a trail-a-bike setup that i used for awhile but found that i didnt feel that my little guy was safe back there bouncing around. i much prefer the xtracycle setup as he is right behind me, i can reach back and touch him, he is not fooling around (which he did on the trail-a-bike, taking hands off the bars, standing on the seat) and he is closer to me making it easier to communicate.

    i know some people get freaked out seeing him sitting on the deck behind me but – based on the mega-miles we have ridden together – my vote is for the xtracycle…until we can pedal our own bikes together, safely.

    http://picasaweb.google.com/seanmcarter/PrettyBikes#5258493358324283442

  14. Yuppie Scum October 21, 2008 at 6:38 pm -  Reply

    Yeah, I bought a bakfiets (with stock option proceeds).

    Saying it sucks ass is a bit strong- certainly it has its own character, as do all the different forms of transportation.

    I’m not disappointed in the brakes, but yeah, I live on the flats. I’m not too sure that current disc brakes are really suited for a 90+ pound bike (not including rider and cargo). Admittedly, the brakes don’t have that great of feel, but do you know of any semis/trucks with responsive disc brakes?

    Yes, they are expensive, especially for something made with high tensile steel, but I know others who have bought more expensive bikes. That said, I rationalized that at least it would hold onto its resale value when the kids did outgrow it- and if I did want to sell it later. Can you say the same for a racing bike with last year’s grouppo on it?

    Gearing- yeah, I’m not too keen on the internal gear hub. The efficiency does vary depending on what gear you’re in and though everyone says that it’s got a decent (not fantastic) gear range, the steps between the gears have to be pretty coarse so I never find the gear that suits the exact terrain I’m currently riding. But I have to say that a low maintenance drivetrain does have its appeal, as does shifting at a standstill. If I did live in a hillier area, I would want a lower range or possibly a schlumpf crankset. That said, for any kind of climb, you shift down and spin as best you can. It’s not like you’re going to be throwing the bike side to side powering up a hill- your passengers really aren’t going to like it.

    Yes, the bike is wide all the time, but that’s a function of not only the box, but the handlebars too. It’s not like an Xtracycle has telescopic bar width either. The nice thing is that a bakfiets is still narrower than a trailer.

    Handling- if you talk to the bakfiets bloggers, they’d get defensive and say that not all bakfiets are made equal. They’ll say the van Andels is a Quality Product and imitators Just Don’t Get It Right. I don’t know- I’ve only ridden the van Andels and it has been fine.

    That said, I do hope there would be a box bike without all that damn Dutch mystique they try to sell you (which I regretfully bought into). “It’s built like an appliance and who cares about the weight of an appliance?” Would it hurt to use chromoly?

    “It’s made to withstand the elements.” So what? If it were lighter people could bring it inside if they didn’t have a garage. It’s got to be built like a tank because of the rampant vandalism of bikes that are stored outside all the time. (okay, talk about circular logic)

    Why not make it with a more efficient riding position? North American riding is not like in dense Dutch cities. Yeah, it’s fine for cruising to the park or if your trips are that short, but we don’t have the infrastructure to ride to the train station and then take the train where we want it. We need to make the whole round trip on one vehicle. That means designed for efficiency- both in terms of weight and riding position. That said, the slack seat angle is nice for frequent stops at traffic signals.

    The Long Haul from Human Powered Machines in Oregon seems to address the issues of weight, brakes, and gearing, though it’s not marketed so much as a kid hauler as a cargo bike. Were it available in a more friendly stepthrough frame, I might have bought that instead. It also looks like they could really do with some oversized tubing too.

    Yes, something better may come on the market- and I hope something does- but at the time it was (and currently still is) the best fit given my requirements: comfortably haul two kids, feel safe on the streets (i.e. not too wide), fit a wife 1’ shorter than me. (Though yeah, maybe an Xtracycle would fit the bill too…)

  15. Anonymous October 21, 2008 at 8:46 pm -  Reply

    I’m amazed that people can spend 3000 dollars on a dutch bike and then sit and complain about it. Flexiness? Stiffness to weight ratio? Doesn’t handle well? Well, you shouldn’t have bought the damn thing in the first place!

  16. James October 21, 2008 at 9:38 pm -  Reply

    Good comments everyone.

    I have been wanting to add a longtail bike to my collection for a while now. After reading these comments, I am ready to get an Xtracycle. Chiggins, yours in particular is impressive. Nice job on those seats.

    Regarding the brakes on a Bakfiets, I guess the drums are less of an issue in Holland where it is very flat. I would still really like to try one out.

  17. Anonymous October 22, 2008 at 2:52 am -  Reply

    Here is my comment on transporting kids on a bike. Three inventions that make riding with kids easier: ( all english webside links)

    http://www.followme-tandem.com/english/index.htm its a trailer kit that makes it possible to use the standard kid bike up to 20″ wheels. Very popular in Germany and Switzerland.

    http://hasebikes.com/75-1-trets-flash.html its a trailer bicycle that enables the kid to sit and pedal like on a recumbent. Beside that it can be converted to a real recumbent. The kids have really fun.

    http://www.tout-terrain.de/2/products/trailer—kids-bikes/streamliner/streamliner.html and http://www.tout-terrain.de/2/products/trailer—kids-bikes/streamliner–/streamliner-.html – the streamliner is a trailer bike, but with suspension rearend and the option to convert it to a standard bike for kids. Very clever, but not really cheap

    Best regards

    Kai Fuchs
    Switzerland

  18. graham_f October 22, 2008 at 2:53 am -  Reply

    I’m really interested in all the comments being posted here. Our little girl (9.5 months) has just recently started getting around in her Chariot, which so far she is loving. Not really thought about what the next step after that is yet, but I’m liking the look of the Xtracycle. I can definitely see there being a time when she’s bored of being in the trailer, and wants to be up higher where she can see, but isn’t ready for riding her own bike. The xtracycle might fit the gap.

  19. JPTwins October 22, 2008 at 10:43 am -  Reply

    One note about Kai’s FollowMe Tandem. Our German friends have one of these and it’s awesome. Imagine a trailbike for the big roads, and then when you get to your destination, you detach the kid and let them ride around. The problem is that the coupler that hangs off the adult’s bike is still pretty heavy. Our friends love it. Unfortunately, none of their distributors seem to want to ship it to the US.

    So, instead, because I have twins, I found a used one of these on craigslist: Adams Original Tandem

    I also love the idea of a Xtracycle and will probably get one soon.

  20. Yokota Fritz October 22, 2008 at 1:07 pm -  Reply

    I’ve test rode Big Dummy, Xtra Free Radical bikes and some clones. I *especially* like the ride of the Yuba Mundo.

    Back to carting kids: Here’s another product that works okay.

    My daughter’s hands down favorite is Chris Brown’s KidzTandem. It’s reasonably priced and can be easily converted into a cargo bike.

  21. Ron October 22, 2008 at 2:55 pm -  Reply

    Great post, great coverage of the options.

    I did a look into trailers on eBay a couple of months ago and there are deals to be found.

    I’ll be re-posting this on my site.

    –Ron

  22. Mark October 23, 2008 at 10:34 am -  Reply

    I have been riding with my kids with various attachments including the Adams Trail-a-bike, Burley Trailer, and most recently a Topeak Child’s seat on a Bianchi SS/Fixie and pulling the Burley. It worked well but forget about trying to ride any significant hills. Subsequently, I have gone to gears for kid riding/pulling.

    For next summer, I might try to find a used Chris Bown KidzTandem, Triple, if there is a quad then that would be even better (I have three kids), or take the easy way and just get an Adams Tandem Trail-a-bike.

  23. chiggins October 23, 2008 at 11:10 am -  Reply

    Thanks for the compliments on the seats, they were a first attempt and they worked out pretty good, plus you can’t see what a horrific job I did with the rattlecans on the paint job, so I got that goin’ for me.

    For the folk complaining about the Bakfiets performance issues, what about getting one of these and then building your own box for it? I’m drooling over them…

    http://www.larryvsharry.com/english/index.html

  24. Yuppie Scum October 23, 2008 at 1:33 pm -  Reply

    “I’m amazed that people can spend 3000 dollars on a dutch bike and then sit and complain about it.” For a moment I was going to take that personally and hide behind my user name, but I didn’t have the complaints listed- those were from someone who sold the bikes. Admittedly, maybe he has a more unbiased opinion since he doesn’t need to justify spending $3000 on it.

    The Larry vs. Harry bikes look interesting- they’re even working on boxes for them. I do wonder about the handling- the fork certainly doesn’t look like it has much rake, but I don’t know what is needed given that geometry. Also, given the exchange rate and shipping, it’s not going to be much/any cheaper than others.

    At least the various models do address the weight, braking, and gearing issues that have been brought up. The frames are probably stiffer, for better or for worse.

    It might be nice if someone did import them to the US…

  25. Yokota Fritz October 23, 2008 at 2:11 pm -  Reply

    Yuppie: there are several US builders doing front loaded cargo bikes, too. Lookup Bilenkey, Ahearne, Frances in Santa Cruz, etc.

  26. chiggins October 23, 2008 at 3:46 pm -  Reply

    Yokota Fritz: But do any of those US made bikes have Burt Reynolds or Dean Martin on them? No, no I don’t think they do.

    Advantage: Denmark.

  27. Juan Roman October 23, 2008 at 3:54 pm -  Reply

    I’ve also been looking into this for awhile. I’m leaning towards getting an Xtracycle right now so I can ride around w/my kids (4 and 2).

    I’m eager to see some more detailed reviews on the Madsen Cycles bike, esp. since their cargo box comes with benches and seat belts. Found a few short reviews from Interbike and one video on YouTube but not much else.

  28. GhostRider October 23, 2008 at 6:12 pm -  Reply

    It’s NOT Dean Martin on the Larry vs. Harry bike…it’s Steve McQueen!!! The bike in question is called “Bullitt”, after all. And that movie, of course, starred Steve McQueen.

  29. Carrie October 24, 2008 at 1:59 am -  Reply

    Wow, I just came back to check comments on this thread and I’ve never bookmarked so much stuff all at once!

    I’m still leaning towards an Xtracycle, but I love the idea of the tandems and the older child cycling as well with the trail-a-bike things.

    The thing that’s freaking me out about the Xtracycle (and I know I have much more research to do on this) is the idea that if I have the oldest just sitting on the snapdeck and I brake suddenly, what if he gets thrown off? Am I being totally paranoid?

  30. Badial October 24, 2008 at 3:30 am -  Reply

    try also this page
    now it miss some photos but for recreational riding with kids this approach is realy good and comes definitaly from well educated man santana tandem owner

  31. Carlton October 24, 2008 at 3:48 am -  Reply

    My three kids (now 9, 10 and 9) started in a Rhode Gear seat – with a cool neck rest thingy which prevented their heads slamming when they fell asleep – moved on to a Burley trailer and then on to the bombproof trailerbike.

    We also had a Adams two-kid trailerbike for a while but it was very flippy. I never really trusted it. The Burley trailerbike came with its own super-strong rack for fixing into; the Adams trailerbike attached to the adult bike’s seatpost. Two kids moving around on the back made for some pretty hairy turns.

    As soon as I could I got them all on their own bikes, even for busy urban riding and long tours. They’re now every confident riders in traffic, carry their own pannier bags on tours and can ride long distances.

    Being introduced to everyday bike transport from a very early age helped a lot in getting them used to the roads and cycling. I’m now working on converting Britain’s 35 million motorists…

  32. GhostRider October 24, 2008 at 11:25 am -  Reply

    Carrie,

    just give your kid(s) something to hold onto on the Snapdeck (a spare handlebar mounted to the seatpost) and they are just as likely to fly off the Snapdeck as they would a trail-a-bike.

    One of the beauties of Xtracycle is that your children are RIGHT behind you…easy to communicate with them and very easy to say “hold on, here comes a bump” or “I’m stopping…hold tight”. I have great conversations with my boy and we can hear each other fine (something that was NOT possible with a trailer or trail-a-bike).

  33. Anonymous October 25, 2008 at 10:31 pm -  Reply

    I have to admit that I’d love to have one of the Xtracycles though, but no extra space or money. Interesting information on all that other stuff, though I’m surprised there wasn’t much on tow-bar setups for regular adult and kid bicycles, aside from the FollowMe link, which is new to me. Anyone else got more info or comments on the actual use of it? Not that I’m likely to drop the money on it any time soon with what I already got.

    Was looking for something for my own kid a year ago since she was getting way too big for the 2-kid trailer we have, especially with kid #2 growing up quickly as well. She already had a decent kid’s bicycle (yard sale cheap) we bought for her, and I came across the Trail-Gator (http://www.trail-gator.com/) which is nice because she can still ride her own bike which she is used to, and then later, we can swap it over to kid #2’s bike of his own. It’s also a nice backup for when we start out separate but then the kid gets tired. Or if she wants to bike on her own for a bit at a destination park or something. It’s easily detachable for my solo-rides, or work commute. Kid #2 still rides along with us in the trailer since we usually all go together as a family for the longer rides where it’s needed, and the wife tows one while I tow the other. I do notice though that when the kid leans sideways to look around like kids do, that also affects my own bike and I find myself drifting sideways and have to correct for it. Anyway, just my $.02 worth to share with you guys. Sorry, no blog link.

    Ben

  34. Dave October 26, 2008 at 6:23 pm -  Reply

    Thanks for the post James and all of you for commenting. Can’t find this kind of critical discussion anywhere else.

    My daughter’s 5 and very small. She isn’t so enamored of bikes as I am, she just wants to be with me; doesn’t like a tagalong either. Seems like an Xtra would be a perfect means to get her to and from school and me to work and it wouldn’t embarass her for sometime (she’s in K now).

    Just have to find an Ohio dealer to try one out and I’m there.

    Thanks again!

  35. JJ November 11, 2008 at 11:43 am -  Reply

    My current set up is a Bobike Maxi rear seat for my 2-1/2 year old and a FollowMe tandem hooked up to my 5 year old son’s Electra Mini Rod (or if it’s really raining, both boys in the Burley trailer).

    I absolutely love the FollowMe. It allows me to use the Bobike, unlike any other trail-a-bike that was available (there’s the Roland add+bike but they never replied to my emails and don’t have a US distributor).

    I love that we can easily unhook my son’s bike at the park or at school or a bike path and let him ride on his own, and hook him back up if he gets tired.

    It’s rock-solid and stable, thanks to the fact that it connects to my bike’s rear axle on both sides and has a nice low center of gravity. I can feel it if my son is wiggling around back there, but it doesn’t throw off my balance any more than it did if they were squirming in the trailer.

    The only downside that I can think of is the lack of cargo capacity. When I was using the trailer exclusively, I could stash my bag and the boys’ gear or groceries in there. Now I’m limited to my front basket and what I we can carry in backpacks/messenger bags. I’ve toyed with the idea of getting a rear rack and Basil panniers (they have one setup that will work under the Bobike apparently) but haven’t done it yet. Maybe one of these days.

  36. Rowan and Fiona December 2, 2008 at 8:04 am -  Reply

    Hi – we used bike seats, then a fantastic trailer for 2 kids, then a tag along, and then as the kids grew up bought a triple from bike friday (www.bikefriday.com). Fantastic. We’ve done a heap of tours with the triple now, in various configurations including kid+gear in trailer, and more recently just gear in trailer. Triple also packs into 2 suitcases and has been with us from Aust to France and back.

  37. Eric December 3, 2008 at 11:26 pm -  Reply

    James,

    I like your blog! Very interesting looking bikes.

    I carried my sons, now 11 and 8, around in a rear carrier and a pull along until they moved on to a bike with training wheels. They didn’t care too much for the rear carrier since they couldn’t see in front of them. They loved the pull along – especially when we were slipping and sliding on dirt trails. I never tried the tag along because I didn’t see it being useful for teaching my sons how to ride a bicycle; and I didn’t think its limited usefulness justify the cost. I saved the money from not buying a tag along and got them real bikes. I would recommend the same to all other parents.

  38. Badial December 4, 2008 at 6:44 am -  Reply

    You are right, but all depends on type of riding.
    My son (6 ) can ride bike very well but I need to be able transport him to childcare.
    There is no place for storing his bike and my wife who picks him up (together with another son 2 years old) also would have much more difficulties when he would ride his own bike.
    So for this kind of riding is good transport bike crucial.

  39. Stephan December 8, 2008 at 2:39 am -  Reply

    Now, I’m curious how often or how much experience Mr. Park has riding a Bakfiets, wrenching on one, or loading it to the gills and riding it around town?

    We sell both the ExtraCycle kit (and we build them up for our customers) and Bakfiets at our Seattle shop. Two very different animals, but we love them both. Many of our customers and friends ride Bakfietsen (plural) as well as ExtraCycles which have been built from a wide variety of cheap to expensive donor bikes – each one lending each ExtraCycle its own unique performance and handling personality. ExtraCycles are all a bit different, because of the fact that all donor bikes and their components are different. Subsequently, I’ve seen ExtraCycles which have broken their donor frames, so it is important to choose a good platform and donor components from which to start. Bakfietsen, at least our current generation of Bakfietsen, are fairly consistent in the way they perform and handle.

    My intent here is to speak-up for the widely misunderstood Bakfiets. Because each ExtraCycle is really its own personalized machine, it’s harder to speak of them in general other than they are a brilliant design for kid and cargo hauling, and a great way to re-purpose older bikes which may have fallen out of everyday favor with their owners. Each ExtraCycle project in our shop comes with its own set of challenges and expenses, depending on the overall condition and component group of the donor – really another five pages could be written here.

    Back to the Bakfiets…

    I’ve carried loads such as 550 lbs of humans (three adults – one on front, one on the rack, me driving) on the Bakfiets, with nary a burp from the bike , eight foot long piles of lumber, four kids in the front and many other wacky loads in all types of weather conditions . I rode my Seattle Bakfiets over ten miles a day, for over a year and it was always parked outside (downtown – Pike ST – would the person who tagged it and threw an old burrito in the box, please step forward and apologize for not leaving me any mexi-fries?). Regardless the occasional “hooligan love”, it was faithfully ready to ride every day without a complaint.

    In the course of that year, I adjusted the chain twice, lubed it three times and fixed one flat. In my mind that qualifies as little to no maintenance. I’ve many times ridden it over 25-30 miles an hour, down insanely steep hills (and up them too – every Seattle neighborhood has a hill) and in all types of weather. It handles like a dream, with or without a load. It was my sole form of transportation. Now that I am here in Chicago, I also ride our shop Bakfiets every day, and during the last week or two, through the snow every day. I’m enjoying it so much, I’ll likely put on some Schwalbe studded tires to maximize my winter abilities.

    I am not familiar with any speed wobbles or “ass-like” handling of which Mr. Park speaks. The longer wheelbase, relaxed head-tube angle and low-slung frame actually lend themselves to higher stability at speed. I’ve only seen wobbly Bakfiets under the helm of inexperienced riders who are not yet used to the slower rate with which it turns, so typically people attempt to over-correct the steering input, which is very light. Their initial experiences could be described a twitchy. Many people (certainly avid sport bike and fixed gear riders) are not used to having little to no pressure on their hands. Sitting preacher upright feels unstable. Some describe it as out-of-control. This is merely because they have been separated from thier formerly primary connection to the bike – hands, arms, shoulders and upper back. After a few hundred yards of “practice” most new riders learn to relax their grip, realizing they need little to no steering input to control the bike and find the ride Cadillac-like and easy.

    We have found that the 2″ Schwalbe Big Apple tires subtly improve everything about the ride and handling – they slow the turn-in rate and cushion the ride. Though for the snow and bad weather, it’s better to have the narrower width, deeper tread and more durable Schwalbe Marathons.

    As far as the overall width of the bike, it’s fairly narrow – less wide than the 26″ handle bars – the box is 25″ wide. What takes getting used to is that the whole bike is eight feet long, and you are steering a wheel that’s 7-8 feet from your eyes (do not watch the front wheel – look where you are going). Once you get used to the different rate of steering it becomes as natural as riding any other bike. It just “feels” much bigger – you can look SUV drivers in the eye.

    Yes, the brakes (they are actually “roller” brakes not drum brakes) on the older models left something to be desired, but the new generation roller brakes are much better. The lack of any hills higher than a bridge over a canal in Holland inspired myopia when it came to early brake design. The key to roller brakes is that they need to be filled with the proper grease – yes grease. These are an early form of anti-lock brakes, first used on aircraft applications and their proper function (like automatic transmissions) depends on the proper lubricant. There are literally 6 rollers sitting in a bath of grease. While not the most powerful of systems, they are absolutely consistent in their braking application, regardless the weather, they are smooth in the wet, dry, cold or in the heat. I can tell you, right now the smooth-as-butter braking of my Bakfiets is well appreciated here in snowy Chicago. Also, this current generation of Bakfietsen is now shipping with bigger main tubes, even burlier rear racks, bigger headsets and the improved brakes (in part, due to US rider feedback).

    Yes, the gearing on my 1st generation model was 38/17 and a little high for most people (I preferred mine that way – I like to stomp), but changing the gearing amounts to adding two or more links to the chain and popping a 20, 21 or even a 22 tooth sprocket onto the rear. All our bike have always had the Nexus 8-speed hubs. We did many what we called “Seattle Gearing” rear sprocket swaps for those first-gen owners. The sprockets are a standard steel style sprocket used on the generations-old Sturmey Archer three-speeds. They just slide on and off, held on with a simple lock ring which can be popped off with a thin screwdriver. Tres facile. All our current generation Bakfiets ship with the 20 tooth sprocket on the rear, which makes for very easy flatland cruising in 5th gear (which is the one-to-one ratio) or the moderately higher 6th gear. The first four lower gears really just become hill climbing gears or accelerating with a load, “granny” gears to get you to 5th or 6th. 7th and 8th, well those are useful for downwind cruising, because on a Bakfiets you are about as aerodynamic as a cathedral and a tailwind is always your friend – easy to reach 20 mph+ if the wind is on your side.

    Anyone considering changing their life by committing to a cargo-bike lifestyle should certainly test ride as many solutions as possible, from the Bakfiets to your friend’s ExtraCycle, to a Big Dummy, they are all worth considering based on your budget and use cases.

  40. henryinamsterdam December 8, 2008 at 6:20 am -  Reply

    Brian Park’s extremely anti-Bakfiets stance might be influenced by his possibly now sour relationship with former employer Rain City Bikes in Vancouver… who sell the Bakfiets Cargobike, along with other Dutch and European city/utility bicycles. At least I’m assuming he’s the same Brian Park.

    Being in Holland and the distributor for these bikes, I’m certainly biased toward the Bakfiets Cargobike. My wife and I happily ride one with our 4 month old baby, as do thousands of our customers.

    But, yes, the Bakfiets was designed for its home environment and some of the things that make it so perfect here are less than ideal elsewhere. It’s heavy because its built to last regardless of where its stored. Hardly anybody here has room to bring any bicycle indoors, never mind an 8 foot long bike. Apartments are generally small, garages nonexistent and staircases narrow and as steep as ladders. Even carrying my 19lb racing bike up to our 4th floor apartment is a hassle.

    But that’s also the manner of use we advocate: the bicycle not as a toy for enthusiasts, but as your trusty urban vehicle waiting by the door. Kids and dogs jump in, toss the groceries in and go where you need to go. If we go as a family baby goes in the box, I pedal and my wife sits on the rear carrier. There are few things more fun than riding like this along the canals in the evening.

    Just as big a factor in the design and construction of a Dutch bike is that it has to be suitable for riding in normal clothes, day and night, throughout the year. This means upright sitting, good lighting, full fenders and flaps, chaincase, internal gear hub, hub brakes, jacket protectors, bell and then also a rain canopy for the babies/kids. Doing this with quality equipment costs quite a bit and adds weight.

    I agree that this degree of Dutchness is overkill for many in less bicycle developed countries. The resulting heft and sit-up position make it impractical for the hilliest of cities. In such cases one of the various longtail options might be more suitable. (plus lots of tweaking and tinkering if carrying the kids is part of the plan… and it usually is eventually part of the plan). We might even make a longtail format bike sometime, but you can be assured it’ll still be a “Dutch bike” at heart.

    Speaking of those kids, of which the average family makes something like 2.3. That’s 2.3 times in your life that you have an baby for almost a year. If you’re really using the bicycle as primary transportation that’s about 2 years of your adult life carrying babies around. How do you propose doing that on a longtail?

  41. jusore January 22, 2009 at 12:18 am -  Reply

    Spheric bike. I dreamt with this bike, and I know how works, but I wont make my dream became true, sorry.

    From Seville (Spain) a fried of “Paco Bici” a funny :) inventor of bikes.

  42. Kristina March 6, 2009 at 7:45 pm -  Reply

    Chiggins: LOVE the seats! Any interest in making a couple more? Or sharing your specs? My kids are 3 & 5 and we are currently in the "which way do we go" bicycle dilemma. Leaning towards Xtra … just wish they had a better set up for 2 kids on board. :-)

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