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.