At long last, we’ve settled on a new family bike.
Family and cargo bike shopping can be a daunting process, with limited access to test rides (see our previous desperate plea), limited knowledge available at local bike shops, conflicting info available online, and a confusing set of options that have different strengths and weaknesses, and work well for different riders, different kids and different ages.
In the next several posts, I’d like to walk you through a rough outline of our process, why we were shopping in the first place when we already have a perfectly good family bike, and why we settled where we did. Now, there was a lot of thinking that went into this (as the friends I’ve been nagging to talk with me about it know all too well), way more than one posts worth, so we’ll lay it all out in installments. For today, I’ll describe what inspired the process to begin with. After that, I’ll follow up with descriptions of the several different bikes we very nearly bought, why we considered them, and why we ultimately moved onto another option. With a little luck, our new bike will be here by the time I get to the last post.
Why were we shopping for another family bike?
This whole thing started several months ago, when Angela casually mentioned “You know, I really wish we had a step-through frame. It’s getting harder for me to get on and off the Xtracycle safely.” Angela is pretty short (5′ 1″). She fits on our Xtra fine for riding, but because the top tube on our frame comes up fairly high, she has to tip the bike slightly to get her leg up over the top. As the kids get heavier, this gets harder to do.
And with that comment, a new round of family bike shopping was launched. At first I started by thinking through what would make sense for a more step-through longbike, either by getting a different bike to extend with our existing free-radical kit, or possibly getting one of the newer true longbike frames. There are way more options now than there were when we were shopping three years ago, when the only long frame available was the Big Dummy, and I thought we surely could come up with a better fit.
But then we started noticing several other issues with our current set up that we might like to solve if we were already considering a new purchase anyway. We ended up identifying the following bike features that would solve all our lingering family bike woes:
- Easier mounting and dismounting, particularly for Angela
- Better overall stability when loaded with two children (who are only getting heavier)
- Better suited for winter riding
- Easier and safer loading and unloading for the kids (that accident a while back left us pining for the ability to walk away from the bike safely)
- The possibility of a napping R on the bike (this is only relevant for a little while longer, but would open up some schedule flexibility)
- An option for H to pedal. She tolerates sitting on the Xtra, but she is her Mama’s daughter, and the kid wants to ride (and sometimes the bike gets heavy, we could use the help)
In addition, the bike needed to have decent cargo capacity (at least enough for work/daycare/school stuff without too much finagling), and fit into our limited shared outdoor parking space.
When we set out, it wasn’t clear we could solve all of these issues while meeting the parking constraint, but we figured it couldn’t hurt to try if we were already planning to lay out some cash. Next time, we’ll start in on the bikes we considered and why.