What we ride

I thought it might be useful for readers to know in more detail what bike gear we use to ride with our kids. Sure, we ride our cargo bikes, but we also ride (and have ridden) several other more standard (and more affordable) set-ups. So, here is some basic info about our current rotation. I focus here on the kid- and cargo- specific equipment. We also have two ‘regular’ bikes (which you’ll see in the photos) but they are certainly not the kind of bikes that merit a write up of their own (a hand-me-down beater road bike for me, used by many a mathematics grad student before it was given to me about 8 years ago, and a 15-year-old low-end mountain bike for Angela, both somewhat repurposed for more comfortable city riding). And with that, I give you the current V-C kid and cargo bike stable:

Bakfiets

What: Workcycles Short Bakfiets
When purchased: Fall 2011, from Adeline Adeline in NYC, after an epic search
capacity: 1 grown-up and two kids (or three kids if the trailer bike is attached)
additional modifications: We had Adeline Adeline switch out the stock rack, for the rack compatible with our Burley Piccolo (see below), so that the bike could be used with a kid pedaling behind.
Strengths & Weaknesses: Our go-to bike for two kids, and often one kid, especially in very bad weather or extreme cold (conditions in which we previously would just have skipped biking). The bike is extremely stable and easy to control, even with somewhat rowdy or upset children (with the under-three set, occasional bike tantrums are inevitable). Extremely low
step through makes it very easy to maintain control of a fully loaded bike while getting on and off. It is also rock solid when parked, so solid that the kids can climb in themselves and you can walk away from the bike with kids in it knowing they won’t tip it over. It is impossible to overemphasize how deeply stable and secure this bike feels. The only downside is weight (79 pounds. Yes. I really said 79). We are not going anywhere very fast on this thing, but twice a week we do 5-mile round-trips for double-pick-up, including some long gradual hills and it works. When H is pedaling, she more than carries her weight, and that makes hills a bit easier.

Xtracycle

What: Xtracycle free radical extension of a Trek SU 2.0 frame (26″ wheels, disc brakes). Custom “Roundabout” bike seat by Rob Hanson (paint job by us).
When purchased: Spring 2008, new (both the free radical and the bike), seat added Fall 2008. Quad bikes attached the free radical for us.
capacity: 1 grown-up and two kids. Worked OK starting at about a year. Will fit indefinitely (kids are easily still skinny enough for the seats and deck can be switched out once they are too big).
additional modifications: Switched out mountain bike handlebars for handlebars with rise, added the xtracycle “kickback” kickstand (not in photo)
Strengths & Weaknesses: Great way to haul a lot of junk. Love the flexibility of the bags (which are like long slings and can hold a wide variety of objects). A trim and relatively light-weight set-up for two kids (ours is about 45 pounds with seats). Rides great with one kid. Handling is twitchy but do-able with two (more weight to the rear of the deck is what causes this). Now that we have the bakfiets, only I ride this bike with two kids, and if given a choice, I take the bakfiets. But we prefer this bike to the bakfiets for hauling cargo. Believe it or not, we can actually more easily fit more groceries on this bike than on the Bakfiets, largely because of the flexibility of the bags, and it’s nice to have the lighter bike for the (uphill) ride back from the grocery store. The biggest drawback of this bike is difficulty getting on & off of bike with kids loaded, particularly for Angela, who is short. A more step-through frame would have been preferable. If we were buying this bike right now, with the same cost constraints we were working with back then, we would have gotten either the Xtracycle Radish or the Sun Atlas, which were unavailable in 2008, but we’re still happy with this bike and will be keeping it around as a very flexible relatively lightweight hauler.

Burley Piccolo

What: Burley Piccolo Trailer Bike of unclear age, likely purchased new in the late 90s.
When purchased: Spring 2011, used (in beautiful condition) from a friend
Capacity: One kid capable of sitting and holding on securely, pedaling optional (our kid started using it at age 4.) I’d guess it will be useful until age 8 or 9, but that remains to be seen.
 Strengths and Weaknesses: We love this bike. I wouldn’t change a thing. The rack mount is extremely stable, and is great for short adults who might not have a lot of seat-post available to which to attach the regular seat-post mounted trailer bikes. I feel so fortunate to have lucked into our piccolo from a friend who takes impeccable care of his bikes, and anticipate we’ll use it heavily for the next 8 years or so. For years Burley was not making these, but they recently started making them again.

Bobike Mini

What: Bobike Mini Front-Mounted Child Seat
When Purchased: Spring 2011, used from parent on local listserve
Capacity: One small toddler (up to 33 lbs, about age 3 if you are lucky, but maybe just 2 or even a little younger if your kid runs big). We started using this at just shy of age two and anticipate using until about age 3
Strenths and Weaknesses: Front mounted seats are an absolute blast to ride with and the bobike is a great one (see also this great post on other front-seats at totcycle). This seat comes on and off the bike easily, and can switch easily between bikes if you get a second bracket.  Front-seats can take some finagling to get the geometry such that you can ride comfortably. To get this to work on my old-ish (80s?) road bike I needed to switch out the (quill) stem for a longer one to avoid my knees knocking the back of the seat. Handlebars with rise are also good, both because they leave more room for the child’s legs and because they raise the adult’s body a bit to get your chin a bit farther from the kid’s helmet. Straps on this seat leave a lot to be desired. At only 3 points, they are not terribly secure, tend to slip down over the shoulders, and since they come down over the kid’s head, you have to put the helmet on after you strap them in, which is a pain. As with all bike mounted seats, you have to be extremely careful loading and unloading. Front mounting means this seat can be used along with the piccolo for a two-kid rig, though this didn’t feel secure until I had really worked out the fit so I could ride comfortably with R in the seat. I wish we could use this seat for longer. R loves it and handling is so much nicer and more enjoyable than with a rear seat. Note that the bracket the mini comes with fits quill stems only. If you have a newer bike you probably have a threadless stem, and will need to purchase a different bracket (scroll down here at longleaf).

Bobike Maxi+

What: Bobike Maxi+ rear-mounted seat
When Purchased: New in Spring 2008 from Xtracycle
Capacity: One kid up to 50 pounds (age 6+ or so), though fit at the upper end of that range is uncomfortable
Strengths and Weaknesses: We purchased this seat for use with our Xtracycle. It was the only child seat sold by Xtracycle back then and turned out to be completely incompatible with our set-up (primarily due to our bike’s small frame — this was back before Xtracycle was selling the deck mounted seats which would not have been a problem). It sat around in our basement for a couple years until we pulled it out again for a one-kid set-up for R. It works OK. It’s a high quality high weight limit rear mounted seat with a nice look, and the hardware has a nifty design such that you can switch the seat easily between multiple bikes. But I never loved it. Like the mini, the strap design stinks and I really wished for a 5 point harness instead of three, especially when the kid falls asleep. The buckle was iffy, and we ended up having to get the whole seat replaced (to bobike’s credit, they did replace it without fussing). It’s gotten some use, but overall, in the context of our various family biking purchases, this one was a dud. If I was suddenly in need of a rear-mounted seat, I wouldn’t buy it again. I’d buy a Kettler Teddy or Flipper instead (unfortunately ugly, but they have a high weight limit, better straps, and look like either would work better for napping).

Burley Zydeco Tandem

What: Burley Zydeco Tandem, likely purchased new in the late 90s
When acquired: On extended loan as of summer 2011 from the same friend who sold us the piccolo
Capacity: 2 grown-ups, or 1 grown-up and one school-age kid (probably with crank shorteners, H is still too small to ride it)
Strengths and Weaknesses: We’ve never ridden another tandem so I can’t compare in terms of ride quality, but now that we’ve figured out how to ride without bickering, riding tandem is a blast. When we get very enthusiastic, we can put all four V-C’s on this bike, with R in the front on the bobike mini, H on the back on the piccolo, and the grown-ups on the tandem. We’ve only really done that a couple times though, and it was extremely stressful. But Angela and I have gotten a lot better at tandem riding since then (this is our date bike!). I think we could actually handle that better now, but I still wouldn’t want to ride with the piccolo attached in traffic. We could handle that bike in traffic with just the front-mounted seat, though. I do find it frustrating that this bike is only barely the right size for us. I ride at pretty much the lowest seat setting as captain, as does Angela as stoker,  and there’s no way Angela could fit the bike as captain. (Are there even any tandems that work for a captain shorter than the stoker? Or alternatively, tandems sized more kindly for women as captain at all? I’m unclear on how short the bike friday family tandem goes for the captain, their website is a bit unclear, so please speak up if you know!)

That’s the run down of the current V-C stable. As always, anyone with questions or in need of a test ride should contact us or comment, and anyone with notes to compare about your experiences with these or related seats and bikes, should please speak up in comments.

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, Biking with cargo, Biking with kids, Child-related issues, Links and reviews, Our Xtracycle. Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to What we ride

  1. Family Ride says:

    This was so fun to read!

    I just graduated from a city bike with Bobike Mini and Bobike Maxi+ to a Big Dummy with one Yepp Peapod (and other kid sitting on FlightDeck). I’m the only pedaller so far, but it is nice to hear that a trail-a-bike pedaller is of assistance–my husband is convinced the weight of the trail-a-bike negates any kid power.

    I didn’t know about the rack-mounted Piccolo–very cool! I’ll definitely suggest those to friends, but will personally probably have to go with a FollowMe Tandem coupler so I can connect down at the hub and move my front kid to the rear seat.

  2. sara says:

    I keep thinking that we should get a tandem for a date night bike. However, two years ago we tested out a used old Sears one & we suddenly were not sure our relationship could handle a tandem! Would love to give it another go… oh, and figure out how to actually HAVE date nights.

    Love the full family photo on the tandem.

    • Dorea says:

      We were not sure our relationship could handle a tandem after our first ride either. But then we did a little reading and realized we were both doing exactly the *wrong* thing for our role. As captain, I wasn’t listening when Angela asked me to stop the bike, and as stoker, Angela was trying to control the bike instead of relaxing and deciding she was OK with being cargo that can pedal (and since I was not being very nice, who can blame her?). Once we realized we both needed to shift our mindset, and that I in particular (as captain) needed both to listen to her and to communicate to her very clearly what I was doing when, we were both able to relax and have fun. It is so much easier to chit-chat on this bike than when we are riding individual bikes (which usually just results in frustrated yelling at each other — and we really love to chit chat, so that is a big perk). We still need more date nights though!

  3. Mamavee says:

    I didn’t know you had the tandem. Very cool.

    I def know my relationship could not handle one no matter how much fun I think it would be. We ride at way different speeds and aggressiveness.

    Date Night- we just promised to do more last night.

  4. tom says:

    Which of these bikes is landlord-compliant? You know, can they fit snuggley in the elevator, or in the hallway near the mail boxes/front door?

    • Dorea says:

      Well, that’s going to depend a lot on your building. Almost definitely not the Bakfiets, possibly not the Xtracycle (though I have fit the Xtra in elevators in a T station, I’m guessing building elevators are smaller). Without the elevator constraint though, any longtail bike is in many ways similar storage-wise to a standard bike. It’s the same width, just a foot and a half or so longer and somewhat heavier (thus harder to get up stairs, but not impossible, the bakfiets is impossible). We store both of these outside covered (we don’t have a lot of outside space, but there is a nice bike nook under our building’s fire escape). We could store the Xtra inside or in the basement if pressed (and do when we leave town).

      All of the other “add-on” options here, though, would work in any situation where a standard bike works, especially since all the ones we list here (bobike seats, piccolo) remove from the bike very easily, so they could be transported into the building and stored separately if needed. If you end up going with a bike mounted seat and will need it to come off for storage, be advised that ease of removal varies markedly (with bobike designed especially for easy removal, others may be as well, but I don’t have direct experience).

  5. Kimberly says:

    I’ve ridden as stoker with my husband as captain on our Bike Friday Triple; I didn’t like it much either! I wish I could tell you more on the sizing for the triple… I can’t remember more than that ours is a stock bike that fits as captain both me at about 5’4″ and my husband a few inches taller. The step-through is pretty low though, so I imagine it’d fit someone smaller…

    We have the Kettler Teddy that we aren’t using too often now that we have the bakfiets, but when we did use it, we really liked it. You’re right; it has great straps. I wish the bakfiets had similar straps. The three-point harness bakfiets straps drive me crazy!

    I’m curious about details on your bakfiets/piccolo set-up and the difficult rack installation. I can’t see a way to get our Adams Trail-a-bike attached to the back of the bakfiets and am thinking about getting a used piccolo or maybe the Follow-me Tandem Coupler…

    • Dorea says:

      The Adeline Adeline mechanic did our rack installation, and based on what we talked through at the shop, and what it looks like now, I think he had to drill out the rivets that hold the stock rack to the rectangular shaped bracket on the frame. Once that was done, the rack fit fine into the existing eyelets, and the newly freed eyelets from getting rid of those rivets. We still have the stock rack, and if we ever need to switch back, we’ll bolt into those same holes. Another consideration was re-wiring the dynamo powered rear light. That was a particularly nice thing about the shop doing it — they did a really nice clean job of that. My version likely would have involved a lot more electrical tape… I’ve also seen a video of the follow-me on a bakfiets, which has the dubious benefit of leaving the rear rack free for yet another kid. Ah yes, here’s that video:

      http://www.urbanmamas.com/urbanmamas/2011/08/inspiration-from-mama-feats-at-fiets-of-parenthood.html

      But regarding your adams trail-a-bike, are you tall enough that there is seat post exposed you can mount to? If so, shouldn’t the mount be the same? I’ve talked to a local parent here who has done that, but he is pretty tall. There’s no way Angela would have enough seat post to pull that off, but at 5′ 4,” if I set the seat higher, and maybe switched out the saddle for something less sprung, I might be able to get enough seat post.

      • Kimberly says:

        Hmmm. Maybe if we get a Piccolo, we’ll need the help of a bike shop :) Thanks for the details on the install… Looking at my bakfiets, I’m pretty sure I understand.

        I think I must ride with the seat on our bakfiets set on the low side. There’s probably barely enough post to get the Adams hitch on, but in addition to changing out the saddle, I’d have to remove the rack (and the back light too, of course).

        • Dorea says:

          I was just thinking through how much seat it would take to get the hitch on — it sounds harder to clear the rack. The person I know who did this is about 6′ or maybe even a little taller, which is a big difference from our paltry 5′ 4″…

      • KYouell says:

        FYI, the mom that rides the bakfiets with the follow-me is @1lessgmsuburban, though she’s not on Twitter often anymore. Just in case you have more questions and wanted to ask her directly. :-)

        Here from Family Ride & love the blog!

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  7. Bionic says:

    don’t mind me; just here for the adorable pictures. i think the piccolo is my favorite, but it’s a REALLY tough call.

  8. antijen says:

    How do you find the Piccolo compares to other trailer bikes? We had a Trail-a-bike failure last weekend when the pin came out and the whole unit fell off. We’re all ok, but I’m searching for a replacement. I don’t want another Trail-a-bike, as I’m concerned another might fail in the same way, and I’m tired of dealing with the wobbliness. Do you find the Piccolo to be more stable and have a stronger connection? I’m also considering a FollowMe tandem, but it’s quite a bit more expensive and would require a trip to Portland.

    The other consideration is size – my son is 6, but is very tall for his age. He’s about 4’6″, the size of most 8 -9 year olds. Do you have any feel for height limits on the Piccolo?

    • Dorea says:

      I have not personally ridden our piccolo against the more common trail-a-bike (I should do that), but it certainly has a reputation for being much more stable, which makes sense, because the attachment is lower and farther back on the bike, not placing direct pressure high on the seat post with every wiggle. We don’t have any issues with stability. If H moves really unpredictably, I feel it up front, but never anything remotely close to feeling like it’s dangerous. The thing that most impacts the handling is if she pedals faster than me, but again, it is nothing that feels like it might push the bike out of control, and it’s easy to either pedal faster myself or ask her to slow down.

      As far as the attachment goes, the piccolo is totally secure. I trust it completely. It bolts securely into the rack, and has an safety clamp so that if by some freak accident the bolt failed (I can’t imagine how, it’s huge), the clamp acts as a safety.

      On sizing, I haven’t ridden with a larger kid, but I do know it has more adjustability than a trail-a-bike, which, from what I’ve seen have fixed handlebar placement. If you look up at the picture, you can see that the handlebars can move all the way up and down the straight portion of the red bar that attaches to the adult bike, easily moving up 6-8″ from where they are set for H in that picture (this adjustability also makes it great for smaller kids). We set the seat as low as possible with our average 4-5 y.o. If it would help, let us know and we can measure how high it goes. Maybe someone else who rides with this bike can speak directly to the upper end of sizing?

  9. Great overview!

    Pardon me for asking, but where do you STORE all of these? I recall from some listserv discussion that you live in a very small apartment, correct? We keep our bikes/strollers/bike trailer in our basement, so it is always an ordeal to get the trailer out (have to collapse it to get it through the doorway), and though I’d love an Xtracycle or bakfiet, there is NO way we could get it into/out of our basement. It seems one would need a garage to store these, which is tricky when one lives in the city, which is where one would best use these as transport, right? (I mean, I suppose you could be hauling back and forth from ‘burbs to city or whatever, but car-free living seems much easier to me when living in/near the city or town as opposed to out in the suburbs.)

    • Dorea says:

      This is a great question. Storage questions are a really important piece of figuring out logistics for this kind of riding, and big bikes definitely don’t work for everyone. We use a combination of outdoor and basement storage. We don’t have a lot of outdoor space, but there is a nook under our building’s fire escape that is available for bikes. It’s only partially covered, so our bikes get some wear being stored there, but it’s a sacrifice we’re willing to make in order to be able to ride them easily.

      Right now, our Bakfiets and Xtracycle go in this nook, under rain covers when weather is bad. The Bakfiets is made to withstand outdoor storage — that’s why they’re made with internal gearing and hub brakes — very hardy bikes (the dutch keep theirs outside too from what I understand). The Xtra has suffered a bit more after almost four years, but is still running fine. In the spring and summer, this space is shared with our upstairs neighbors who have bikes they also like to keep outside, at which point we’ll move the Xtra either to the less protected side of our house that has unused space, or to our basement, depending on how much we’re using it.

      The “regular” bikes, the tandem and the piccolo go in our section of the basement, which is down a half flight of stairs. It is a pain to get them out (especially the tandem), but they are ridden less frequently anyway, and most often for trips with two grown-ups which means one grown-up (usually me) is free to get them out without children “helping.” The piccolo is what we have to get in and out most often. It’s annoying, but manageable, especially because it is so small, not like lugging a big trailer out of the basement.

      Have you considered storing your trailer outside but covered (assuming you have any outside space)? Depending on how much your riding is limited by the storage issues, it may be worth some wear and tear in order to get the enjoyment of riding (I’m guessing the trailer is worse to get out than the bike).

      • Thanks! That is very helpful. I always wonder how other people do it and store their bikes.

        I’ve gotten pretty good at getting the trailer out either while my spouse is still home to watch the kids upstairs or else while the kids are outside w/ me (usually I can keep my toddler and preschooler from falling down the stairs, getting knocked down by the trailer, or running away down the street…such fun!). :)

        But keeping it outside is a good idea. It IS about 7 years old, so it’s not pristine, and if we tarped it it would be sort of OK. We do have lots of outdoor space, but none of it is covered. Or I can just keep wrestling the thing out of the basement.

  10. Sabrina says:

    Bicycle Times recently reviewed tandems from Brown Cycles where the child sits in front of the adult. The adult still steers and brakes, and they now make a triple option for one adult and two kids. It appears the shop is good at customizing bikes so they might be able to make a tandem where Angela could be the captain, also one of their tandems has a recumbent seat in front. http://browncycles.com/tandems.htm

  11. antijen says:

    We did buy a Piccolo and I’m please to report that the handling is much better that of the Adams. With respect to size, it looks like we should get at least a couple of years out of it. Thanks for the feedback!

    http://loopframelove.blogspot.com/2012/04/welcome-to-burley-piccolo.html

  12. Lisa says:

    Car free in Canada with a 4 and 6 year old. Six year old pedals solo. I am looking for the best option to suite our needs to travel about 40 km roundtrip on a bike trail to the nearest town for groceries, etc. Have looked at Bakfiets but it sounds like these are rather heavy for this kind of travel? Would you suggest a bike with trailer for carrying child/groceries? On a budget, but do want to make this work in a positive way for all of us. Any info is appreciated..thx

  13. liz says:

    Hi, from the uk. Came looking for reviews of piccolo, trying to decide if our nearly four year old son could manage it without falling off or getting caught in the pedals, while my wife bombs it down a forrest path! Very sweet pictures. Charming family.

    Liz, Louise, the son and heir and the trantrum princess.

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