One thing I’m glad I got wrong when bike shopping

Way back when we were trying to figure out what family bike to get, we thought that we were looking for a good way to bike with kids. We eventually found it, and love our current set up with an Xtracycle and custom two-kid seat. It works great for carrying one kid, and soon baby R will be big enough for us to use it for two. But it turns out that what we actually needed, even more than we needed to bike with kid(s), was a way to haul cargo.

Getting the Xtracycle itself was actually a bit of an afterthought. At first I thought I was just searching for the right kid seat. But then, after some looking, and riding some standard bikes with kid seats and checking weight limits, I thought that actually an Xtracycle would give us a better ride and more longevity, but I really wasn’t thinking much about hauling capacity. I just wanted to bike easily with my kid.

As it turns out, our bike sees much more use hauling stuff (mostly groceries) than it does hauling kids. We don’t actually need to bike with our kid(s) that much. We do, at least with the bigger one, and whenever we do, it’s a blast, but in terms of day to day life, we really do need the bike to carry stuff.

This certainly wouldn’t carry over to every other family, and may change for us once baby R is big enough we feel comfortable with him on our bike. We’re set up with daycare and most activities walking distance from home (and yes, that’s even 3 y.o. walking distance). However, it does bring up a point for families striving to reduce car trips, but who may not feel comfortable biking with their kids. If you can swing it, it might be worthwhile to work out a cargo set up. It wouldn’t have to be fancy. A simple used trailer would do. Any kind of real cargo capacity, the kind that lets you haul a week’s worth of groceries, or big bags of kitty litter, can turn errands for which a car used to be essential into bike errands.

About Nathan

Nathan lives in North Cambridge, MA with his wife and two kids, and prefers never to be in cars if he can avoid it. Nathan thinks parenting is way more fun when you don't have to worry about car seats.
This entry was posted in Being car-light, Biking with cargo, Biking with kids, Our Xtracycle and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to One thing I’m glad I got wrong when bike shopping

  1. dr2chase says:

    I've used trailers, and I've used an xtracycle, and now a big dummy, and though it's true that some cargo capacity is better than none, a longbike kicks the crap out of a trailer. "Ordinary people" are likely to make the worse choice because that's what the LBS will sell them, and that's what they see other people using.

    Anyone else reading this, and wondering if you might do it, get an xtracycle, it's huge bang-for-the-buck.

  2. Dorea says:

    @dr2chase=– We've also used both a trailer and our longbike & I totally agree tha longbike is far superior. It's flexible, an easier ride, and since we can easily use it to commute, it's perfect for errands on the way home from work. That's hard to do with a trailer.

    But there's also a benefit to accessible gear like trailers. We're big on emphasizing that you don't have to dish out tons of cash on gear to make steps towards a less car-dependent life. I think folks get distracted or intimidated by the money that they think they "need" to sink into gear, and that can prevent taking positive steps. If shelling out 500+ bucks for a bike conversion is out of reach, by all means spend 50 for a used trailer from Craigslist. They're everywhere and your neighbor may even have one sitting unused in the basement. Common gear, even if it's not ideal, can be a great way to take initial steps, especially because it is so easy to get cheap and used.

    But I'm with you dr2chase, if you're at all leaning towards a long bike or similar cargo set up, do it. You'll wonder how you ever lived without one.

  3. I realized recently that within the next year or two, I probably won't need to haul kids to school and day care any more. But will I still need my Xtracycle? You bet!

  4. Slim says:

    My wife and I have been thinking about getting an Xtracycle, too. However when we sat down and listed things we would use it for that we can't do with our bike & trailer combo now, it made more sense to stick with what we have.

    Glad to see another car-free cycling family out there!


  5. len says:

    I'm relatively new to urban biking and reducing car use. I've been thinking about cargo hauling on bicycle a lot, especially since my cheapo shopping cart that I was pushing on foot for the 1 mile trip to the grocery store busted a sorry plastic wheel over a curb. Most people in my neighbourhood seem to use trailers. I've never seen an Xtracycle (I'm in Vancouver, Canada). Luckily, I'm able to make smaller, more frequent trips to the neighbourhood shopping area so an old milk crate bungied onto the rear rack works great for getting the daily bread!

  6. Gemma says:

    I love the concept of going car-free… however I doubt we’d manage where we love. Our kids bikes have helped us get around to close places (the park, occasionally the shops)…

    It’s really inspiring reading this blog. I’d love to be able to make the transition.

  7. I just wanted to say that you guys are inspiring me. I am not car free, but I try to be very reasonable with my vehicle use. Hopefully one day I will be able to decrease it to the minimum, or go completely car free. I’ll definitely look to buy an electric car as soon as they’ll make one available for an average person.

  8. kcar1 says:

    I have to say, I am have to agree, with the post. There are pluses and minuses to both. The long bike would make it easier to do a lot of things… and I would be much more comfortable doing some city riding with my children on the back of the bike rather than a trailer… I am not so much worried about getting hit myself – I am not an aggressive cyclist – but that the trailer is low enough that it wouldn’t be seen. And a long bike seems like a much more viable option for hauling kids around that are too young to ride independently but too big for the trailer.

    However, when I started biking seriously with kids I didn’t know there was an option for more biking with more than 1 child (Asian cyclists’ example aside). Even if I had, I probably would have still gone with a trailer. I was fairly inexperience and thus much more comfortable with them in the trailer than a child-seat because the trailer didn’t pose any balance issues and if I wrecked, it was just me, they might have a bumpy ride but nothing more serious.

    I did actually skid on some ice once, wrecked and slid into a fire hydrant. If one or both had been on the back, it would have been quite the scene. As it was, they were fine and I got back on and rode the rest of the way. I nursed a sore knee for a couple of days and am still a little miffed about the tear in my rain pants but I got to show my daughter (then 4) that you just get back on after you wreck.

    In addition, the trailer is pretty versatile. I can use it as a stroller or grocery cart with or without the bike to haul a ton of groceries, mulch, etc. I’ve put our large dog in there to take it to the vet (too far to walk) — don’t see doing that with a cargo bike. Plus, it doesn’t require a lot of effort to load — don’t have to worry about balance, just toss it in — or to keep things dry in rainy/snowy weather. And where we live it is only really cold a couple of weeks out of the winter, so the trailer made it easy for me to keep riding with the kids, we simply added another blanket.

    The kids are quickly out growing it but I am not sure that we are ready to call it quits. If we come across someone who needs a good trailer once the younger one is on a 2 wheeler, we’ll pass it on in a heart beat but I don’t think we’d give up using it otherwise.

    We have friends that have a tandem, bought it on a lark as newly weds. They now have 2 children and they call it their mini-van. First they added a seat on the back and then a seat behind the front handle bars and the whole family toodles around — to the park, the pool, on nearby trails — on 1 bike. No cargo capacity to speak of though.

  9. eric says:

    Hi Dorea: Thanks for your blog! I just wanted to defend trailers a bit. I love our trailer! I’m sure the Xtracycle is great, but there are advantages to the trailer, too. I regularly stick my older son’s bike in the back pocket of the trailer while my daughter rides inside; that way I can pick him up from a playdate or whatever and he can ride back; I don’t think I could do that on the Xtracycle. I also go grocery shopping with the trailer and regularly bring back $250 of groceries–that way, we only have to go every 2 weeks or so. I don’t think I could fit that much in the Xtracycle. Last, but not least, the trailer is pretty waterproof. Oh, also, I don’t need to ride it all the time, so I can do my daily commute unencumbered except for my (light) front basket. But I’m glad the xtracycle is working out for you!

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