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:
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.