Two-kid longbike advice, as requested

Our last post on child bike seats takes the cake for fabulous input from readers.  You guys are great, and all the feedback on different set-ups in one place is fabulous.  Keep it coming.  We recently got a comment there from Mellon, who, in addition to providing great feedback on a wee-ride/piccolo two-kid set up, seeks some advice on transitioning to a longbike (in this case, the Ute) now that her youngest has outgrown a front seat.  She writes (somewhat edited):

“I have 3 and 6 year old boys, who are both taller and heavier than many kids a year older…We bike almost 3 miles each way to my sons school. He usually can ride his own bike, but if we are late or on busy roads I like having him with me. So we just purchased the Kona Ute (we are a single car family so the investment seemed reasonable). I have heard wonderful things about it. We took our first ride yesterday, 6 mile round trip. It felt very unstable and almost scary for me and the kids. My older son was in the back and my 3 year old was in a peapod seat. It felt as though I was doing a wheelie on steep hills. So…I am seeking advise about this next stage of our bike commuting adventures. Does anyone have any recommendations for the Kona Ute? Is this something people just adjust and get used to? I have hauled both kids in the Burley trailer on really cold days lately and they stay super warm (and squished) but it felt much safer, although very strenuous to pull…”

First, do I have it right that you are using the Peapod LT seat from Xtracycle installed on a Kona Ute?  (Xtra finally wised up and made the Peapod seats Ute-compatible, provided you also get a “Ute Deck”  – see here). Or is it possible you are using the “older” peapod, which is actually just a Bobike Maxi rear seat?

I’m going to proceed assuming you are using the Peapod LT since you have a new bike.  Assuming I’ve got the basic situation right, I have a few thoughts:

First, I’d like to give you a little validation.  It is tricky to ride a longbike with two kids.  Possible yes.  Way better than most other options.  But not a cake walk, and certainly not like just breezing along on your own bike. We have a fabulous two kid set up on our Xtra, but still, if our whole family is biking somewhere we almost always split the kids onto two bikes (we have a single seat on Angela’s mountain bike that R goes in, H stays on the Xtra front seat), because while riding with one kid is easy and the handling is amazing on a longbike, riding with two requires a lot of concentration, and does make me nervous, especially on hills (and it sounds like you struggled most on hills as well).  We have to be especially careful loading and unloading (do you have a double kickstand?  If not, and you haven’t given up on the bike, get one.  NOW.  I can’t believe we ever loaded children onto our bike without it, but it’s still tricky with two) or walking the bike, when there is so much weight on the back.  The real problem is the weight at the “way” back behind the rear axle where the second kid is.  With just one kid in the front, handling is fabulous, far superior to our “one-kid” short bike.  It really is adding the second kid that causes trouble.

That said, for mid-sized kids a longbike is one of very few two-kid options (though you do have a few others that I know of — I’ll get to that later) that can fill the gap between trailer and riding solidly on their own (exactly the gap where you find yourself), in addition to letting you carry a whole boatload of junk, so it’s probably worth some work to see if you can adapt and feel safe riding.  After all, one reason the trailer feels so much safer is that you are used to it.  When you were first riding with a kid trailing behind you, it probably didn’t feel so safe either (I always feel like a kid is about to get picked off by a car when they’re in a trailer, and feel very unsure of how wide I am until I readjust).

So, what to do?  From your post, it sounds like you may have the peapod installed at the front of the deck, containing your younger son, while your older son is riding behing.  Assuming the “ute deck” works the same as the “flight deck” on the Xtra, you should instead install the peapod farther back on the deck, leaving room for your 6-year-old to sit in the “stoker” position in FRONT of the peapod seat.  You’ll also want to install “stoker” bars for your older kid to hold onto.  See here for someone riding with this set-up on an Xtra, the Ute should be no different (though any Ute-savvy readers, please speak up if I’m mistaken!).  This puts the weight of your bigger, heavier kid in the middle of the bike between the wheels where he helps your stability, instead of putting him behind your axle, making you pop wheelies unintentionally.  (and if I misunderstood your description of your set-up, my apologies.)

The second thing I’d suggest is not biting off such long rides (though, in some sense I suppose you’ve ripped off the bandaid.  Six miles. I’m impressed.  I have not yet gone that far with two — though H and I have done 15.)  If you can swing it, do some leisurely rides with just one kid. Get used to the feel of the bike and how it handles with some weight.  Now, if you have the peapod set up as described above, riding with your older kid only will be a cinch, but riding with younger only will be harder, because then all the weight will be farther back, but it might feel OK (this is where I feel grateful for our each-kid-can-go-in-either-seat set up, and soon enough your little guy will be able to ride stoker, so this will ultimately be a relatively temporary problem).  Once you’re a pro at one kid, THEN try both of them again, and I bet it will feel much easier than the first try.

So what if you do all of this, and you practice, and your kids are great sports, and it still doesn’t feel right?  Then what?  I know of one other good multi-kid option for this “gap,” which is tandem riding.  Our next bike, likely in a couple years, will be the Bike Friday Family Tandem (or triple if I’m feeling wealthy).  It fits kids as short as 36″ all the way up to grown-ups, and the kids can step over and mount the bike themselves (i.e. you don’t have to hoist them up onto a perilously tall seat like standard adult tandems that are converted for kids)  It is perfect for your older kid, and as soon as your younger guy can pedal (how far into three is he?  It might not be long), you can attach your burley piccolo to the back to ride with both of them.  I may have even seen photos of rear rack seats (like the co-pilot or topeak) attached to the back, but if your three year old is big, he’s probably outgrown those by now (40 pounds).  So this might not be the perfect solution for right now, both because you’ve already sunk a lot of cash into the Ute it will mean more money even if you sell the Ute and because your youngest might be a bit too small to pedal, but it is another option.  Similar to this idea, at a lower price point, but still requiring your youngest to pedal, is the two-kid trail-a-bike.  They also make this back brace , supposedly making trail-a-bikes a bit more secure for the three-year-old set, which might be useful for you.  There are a few other kid-tandem-riding options out there as well, but I don’t know about how they are modifiable for two kids.  Anyone who does, please speak up.

The other standard family cargo options I can think of are really more for the younger set (Madsen, Bakfiets), but they might be worth a look. I’m not sure when kids “age out” of a Madsen, but Julian at totcycle swears by his and he usually seems to know what he’s talking about. That might get you through until the littler one can pedal and the older one is more solid on his own, and is similar in terms of price point to the Ute (less the fact that you already have the Ute).

As far as committed family bikers in similar situations, you might check out Full Hands, who have three boys and ride with two of them on the back of their Yuba (similar to the Ute, but stronger/heavier), which is a recent transition for them from a Bakfiets set up.  You also might check out a nice series (that starts here) at Car Free Days about kids transitioning to riding on their own, which it sounds like your older son is doing now.

And now, dear readers, do you have any more wisdom for Mellon?  Surely we can come up with the right piece of wisdom for her so she can get through this biking transition and sustain their car-light ways.

About Nathan

Nathan is a postdoctoral research fellow in neuroscience. He thinks parenting is way more fun when you don't have to worry about car seats.
This entry was posted in Biking with kids, Child-related issues, How-to. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Two-kid longbike advice, as requested

  1. We have a single kid trail-a-bike, and our friend used the double with the seat-back for her younger child, who was three at the time. It has straps to help the child stay on the seat, so it definitely was workable as an option for a three year old. The child (or children) on a TAB does NOT have to pedal. If they do not pedal, their chain disengages (or something – haven’t watched the mechanics as I ride!) and it doesn’t cause trouble. They are dead weight if not pedaling, but that’s no worse than any other option. When they do pedal (which the elder child did with regularity, not so much the younger) it is a little boost. The disadvantage is length, as the double is even longer than the single. I am not sure what cornering is like with the double.

    • Dorea says:

      Yes, Jen, this is an important distinction between a true tandem and a trail-a-bike type set up that I should have pointed out. By “having to pedal” on a trailer bike, what I really meant for the three-year-old was “be able to sit on a bike seat and hold on, remaining securely on the bike without being strapped in” — whether he actually pedals is irrelevant.

      It is important to note for the bike friday and other truly tandem set ups that in contrast to a trailer-bike, the kid does actually *have* to pedal, as in, the pedals will be going around and around, and if your kid isn’t also moving his/her legs, bad things can happen. I know of someone local who has had luck working with their 5 y.o. on the bike Friday (are you reading A?) as a true stoker (and I think he has his 4 y.o. behind on a piccolo). Imagining working with H, I’d guess 4 years would be really pushing it, but I’m curious to hear any experiences.

  2. sara says:

    Thanks for the shout out. I’ve been a horrible family bike blogger these days…

    We’ve been pleased with our decision to go with the Yuba Mundo for the two-boy option, but find our Xtra Radish so light and quick (with one boy on back) in comparison. A huge difference for us is that we went to long-tail bikes only when our boys were big enough to sit on the back without the full kid seats so I can’t comment how those seats affect weight, balance, etc. While the double kickstand is a must, I still have to get on the bike first and THEN have the boys climb on which one could not do if you have to strap your kids into a seat. My husband has the boys get on first, but I can’t hold the bike and get my leg up and over with the fellas on the back. Funny enough though, he is more affected by the guys’ movement on the back when riding than I seem to be. They can shift their weight around, throw out their arms, etc. and it doesn’t bother me much when riding (you feel it far less on the Yuba than the Xtra), but P really tries to limit their squirminess because it can make him feel unsteady.

    I am still curious about Bike Friday’s Triple Tandem that we did look into. However, I was really unsure about its maneuverability for city daily commuting . Even with the solid Yuba, we still are facing the issue of the boys getting bigger and heavier. They can ride their own bikes but it’s just not possible to ride themselves to school b/c there is absolutely NO safe route for young riders. Must admit that we’ve been kicking around the idea of getting an electric assist for the Yuba….

  3. Mellon says:

    Wow! Thank you so much for this amazingly well thought out and helpful sequence of comments! Here’s what I have done now; first I tried to reconfigure the seats on the Ute because indeed my older/heavier son was in the back creating a really imbalanced ride, then I researched and researched the Xtracylce to see if there was a big difference in the two. Then I called my local bike shop and discussed the possiblity of returning the bike. They were awesome. They gave me similar suggestions about switching the kids around and checking it out. They also described that the Xtracycle was longer and the weight was much more on the back wheel. The Ute’s rack hung over the back wheel (and sat higher) which is why when my son was back there it created the wheelie effect. The Ute is a great bike for lots of groceries in the cargo bags and just one kid, but I realized that the Xtracycle was my best bet. So I had my shop convert my hybrid Cannondale (that I’ve ridden with all of the other kid contraptions for the past 6 years). I haven’t ridden it yet, but the manager let me ride his totally weighed down Xtracycle (more that the weight of my boys) and I felt a huge difference. When a grown up sat on the Ute’s rear it totally popped up in the front wheel. The Xtracycle stayed stable. It is longer and closer to the ground. So I spent much less on my Xtracycle Freeradical conversion, and I am hoping it is as much as a difference I felt on the test drive. Great advise on taking it slower with just short trips with one at first. I like the other bike options, like tandems and so on, but we are in the process of adopting a 2 year old in about a year (if all goes as planned) so we will be in a similar situation even when my oldest is confident on his own two wheels. Our bike path has some windy curves that the longer we are the harder it is to stay on the path. I am going to work on my older son riding his own more too and then by the time our new addition is here I hope to be a pro at it! I also am slowing going to save for that really amazing Stoke Monkey (the electric assist for those crazy hills on our 6 mile daily ride to school). Again, this blog is awesome! Thanks so much for the advise!!

    • Dorea says:

      Thanks for the update! I hope the Xtra does the trick. (and, wow, it sounds like you found the magic bike shop! I’m dying to know where! –possibly so are several readers, I’ve just never had any success with cargo or kid help from an LBS — though I have had good luck with the xtra build at quad bikes)

  4. Mellon says:

    My bike shop is Full Cycle in Fort Collins. They are in Boulder and Fort Collins, Colorado. The guys helped me figure out what would work best for my purpose and they didn’t hesitate to take my Ute back. I had drilled holes in the wooden deck for my peapod LT seat to avoid buying the extra deck with the pre-drilled holes and they let me just replace it (for like $40) and get an otherwise full refund. They weren’t happy that I wasn’t happy. Brad assured me that me being safe on my bike with my kids was very important. Very cool. Thanks again, hopefully my experience can help others. Now the only thing I wish I could find is a wind/weather cover for the kids on the XtraCycle similar to that of the Burley trailer. Any ideas on that?

    • Dorea says:

      Thanks for the bike shop shout out! That sounds like truly amazing service.

      Ah– the elusive mythical xtracycle rain cover…nope…no ideas. The stouts at long walk to green ( http://longwalktogreen.blogspot.com/ ) made a custom cover to go over their tall wooden homemade seats. See here:
      http://www.flickr.com/photos/25872288@N06/2742565628/

      and here:
      http://www.flickr.com/photos/25872288@N06/2691387399/

      But that won’t work for you without the tall front seat (not to mention it’s not something you can just buy — though perhaps you are very handy and can figure it out, in which case, please report back.)

      Our approach for the kids is the same that we use for grown-ups — decent rain gear and no whining (sometimes with more success than others — so far R seems fairly stoic and H actually does quite well as long as she really is dressed for the weather)

  5. Chris says:

    We have been doing an InStep trailer for about six years. Of course our older child is now to big to share it with his younger sister. For the past couple of years we’ve been using a Trailgator tow bar on his 20 in. bike and just this past year I started pulling him with the tow bar on his bike and the trailer with my daughter attached to his bike with an additional trailer attachment. The beauty of our setup is that now that my son can ride his bike as long as he is keeping up and traffic conditions are good he rides. When he gets tired or traffic gets heavy I put him in the middle and he helps me drive. It’s gotten tons easier since he learned to ride his bike this summer.

    http://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/gJJOgbsPtXBOPmX_RTo9pg?feat=directlink

  6. Dulcia says:

    I know this is an old post but I just got a yuba mundo to take my 3 yr old twins to preschool. I’m putting a peapod on the back and a soft spot and stoker bars in front of that. I also have a european chair seat i was thinking about putting in place of the soft spot. I also have a 5 yr old and had entertained trying three kids for short distances (I a l already did this with a mtn bike, topeak seat and chariot trailer. My question is, do you know if it’s possible tomount a burley piccolo on a yuba mundo? Also do you know if there is a way to put it on a regular bike without the specific rack?

    On a side note, I wonder if I shouldn’t have bought a ute or xtracycle instead as their new Hooptie seems to be th best option for two to three kids, ages 3,3,5.

    • Dorea says:

      I looked into putting a trailer bike behind our Xtra a couple years ago, which would have been similar, and determined that it was only possible with some pretty serious DIY effort. I.e. someone could probably do it, but I was not going to take it on, and at least at the time, there was no “pre-fab” way to do it that I could find. I believe this is still true for any longtail but would love to hear differently if someone else has an update. The burley piccolo definitely would not attach, as it requires a rack mount which requires a standard length bike. I agree, that hooptie looks useful, and we may get one ourselves to see if we can resurrect our Xtra as a two-kid bike. Again, I know people who have made similar themselves, so with enough DIY effort, you could probably rig one on your Yuba, but again, I don’t think there is a canned option. Wish I had better news, but good luck! (and your Yuba is likely more stable than an xtra, at least with the freerad, so don’t feel too bad on that front).

    • Yes, you can attach a Piccolo to a Mundo, with a custom welding. Yuba recently tweeted to the effect that that an official accessory will be available for this soon. I wrote a detailed post about the DIY solution here:

      http://bikes-as-transportation.com/how-to-attach-a-burley-piccolo-to-a-yuba-mundo/

      Perhaps if you used handlebars instead of a kid seat, you fit 2 kids on the rear rack, instead of the one that we have.

  7. Michael says:

    Mellon: I just moved to Fort Collins, sold the second car and am now (trying to) solely rely on our Kona Ute to get me and our 2 kids (4 1/2 yo boy and 2yo girl). I figured out (on my own, unfortunately) the whole weight issue and eventually got my son moved into the stoker position and the girl in the back. I’ve tried to find a better kickstand as I don’t feel comfortable loading and unloading the two kids. Full Cycle is one of the shops I use (for my Felt road bike). I got such a deal on the Ute, it was hard to pass up but now I’m second-guessing due to the stability issue (both while riding and loading/unloading). I’d love to talk with you directly about your experience with the Xtracycle. I’m hoping they have one in stock that I could try to compare. I tried the Yuba Mundo but it was just too much weight (without the electric assist, which I couldn’t fathom having due to my road racing pride;).

Leave a Reply