Co-rider: the good, the bad, the ugly

I really love riding with our youngest (R, now almost 3 1/2) on a front-mounted bike seat. It’s pretty much my favorite way to ride with one kid, provided we don’t have to haul much stuff with us. Thus, I was pretty sad when it became clear he was growing out of his bobike mini. Like most front-mounted seats, typically-sized kids tend to grow out of that one at about age 3.

Other parents report feeling wistful and a maybe little sad when, say, their children wean, or no longer fall asleep in arms, or start rejecting hugs at school drop-off. Me? I have that feeling when my kids grow out of bike seats or learn to ride on their own. Goodness knows what I’m going to do when they no longer need to be attached to an adult bike to ride on the street. I’ll be a total mess (and very proud).

So, when a co-rider, one of the very few front-mounted bike seats that claims to work for children over age 3 (the manufacturer claims usability for about ages 2-5) came up used for a good price on a local list-serve, I jumped on it, and crossed my fingers this seat might get me one or two more years.

The co-rider is an updated version of the bike-tutor, which was reviewed favorably by totcycle. My understanding is that the co-rider was intended to be compatible with a broader range of frames.

That seems like a nice idea, but this report at Hum of the City indicates that may well not be the reality. On their (extremely step-through) Breezer bike, the seat failed dramatically, tipping backwards while they were riding in traffic. Amazon reviews report a theme of similar problems. The guy we bought our seat from claimed not to have any issues on a somewhat slanted (but not step-through) top-tube, but we recently found out that a local bike friend had exactly this issue with the seat tipping back on a mountain bike with only a moderate slope to the top tube.

Even with all this info out there, I still wanted to try the seat. Why? In all the reports, the problem is with a slanted top tube, and my old road bike has a completely horizontal top tube. From what I could tell of the seat design from pictures, on my bike, the seat would be completely supported by the tube, and thus I had a reasonable hope that any reasons behind the reported failures wouldn’t apply in my case. So, what did I find once I had the seat in hand?

The Good:

As it turns out, my expectation was reasonable. On my bike, the install was pretty smooth (took about a 45 minutes), the entire seat is supported by the top tube and the install feels extremely secure. I’ll feel comfortable using the seat until R can’t fit in it anymore. With the Bobike, as R got taller, his helmet would bob around in front of my chin. It was OK, but inconvenient. I could have solved this issue with more wraparound handlebars, but that was more effort than I was willing to put in for a seat he would grow out of soon. In contrast, with this seat, R sits low on the front of the top tube, so he is no longer up so close to my face. We also have less conflict over where his hands should go, because he has his own handlebars (I keep meaning to give him his own bell). My knees touch his sides slightly when I ride with him, but it’s pretty minimal, and is not an issue at all when he’s not on the bike because the seat itself is quite narrow. Overall, for my particular bike, I’m really happy to have this seat so I can ride happily with my pre-schooler in front of me (and put off the reality that my kids are growing up) just a tad bit longer.

The Bad:

That’s the good stuff. But there is definitely bad stuff. I’m pretty decent at figuring out how to install seats, but I’ve seen some impressively poorly installed seats out there, and part of me wondered if maybe the people having trouble with this seat were just doing it wrong.

After examining the seat myself, I’d say that no, they weren’t doing it wrong. In fact, I’d go so far as to say this seat should absolutely not be used on any bikes except those with completely horizontal top tubes. Now, why is that?

It looks like in an attempt to make this seat compatible with step-through frames, this seat is made with a hinged support. This support runs between a clamp to the top tube and the base of the seat. That’s all well and good. The problem is, at both ends, this support can rotate freely, and is only clamped in place by a bolt. There is nothing in the design of the seat that truly locks the support at a specific angle. There’s a paltry attempt at introducing enough friction between the pieces (a pattern of ridges between connecting components where the bolt goes through), but there is no way this is strong enough to hold up reliably to the regular bouncing all of our bikes take out on the road, especially with a 40 pound child bouncing on top of them.

After examining the seat, my take is that this problem will be more of a concern on some bikes than others. For example, on the Hum of the City bike, the top tube on the breezer is so steep, the bracket couldn’t even really provide true support even if the bolts were super tight. I’d say this bike is just solidly outstide a reasonable range of compatibility (which the manufacturers should have made clear). With every bump the child’s weight would push the seat backwards, and with such a steep tube, the fall could be (and sounds like it was) dramatic when the bolts fail. On a bike with a less dramatic slant, the pressure on those bolted hinge points would be much less, but it would still be there, and it’s still hard for me to imagine any way to keep the seat tight enough to be safe on every single ride, and as I said, our friends with a moderate slant on their mountain bike top tube had exactly this problem (and returned their seat).

With all this said, I’m guessing some people have done OK with this seat on more step-through frames. They certainly claim as much in their amazon reviews. Maybe they check the bolts every time. Maybe they are very very strong or used a torque wrench when they installed the seat. Maybe they just don’t ride very often, so they either haven’t experienced the problem or their install is still holding up. But for my part, as just another biking parent (but one who has seen and installed a fair number of seats and rides more days than not) I see this as a very real and dangerous design flaw, and do not recommend using the seat on any bike that does not have a completely horizontal top tube. I feel this strongly enough that I sometimes feel guilty having the seat on our bike, as someone might see it on our bike, look up the info, see the manufacturers claims of broad compatibility, and install on an unsuitable bike. Maybe I should put a note on one of the leg guards.

The Ugly:

Despite my enjoyment of this seat on my particular bike, wow, it sure is ugly. And heavy. Much heavier than it needs to be. But I’m still keeping it, and using it, and when I hand it on, I’ll make sure it goes to someone using it on an appropriate bike.

Other options:

Since this option will only really work on a select group of bikes, are there other options for riding with a kid in front after the standard front seats are too small? I know of the a couple. The ibert claims a weight limit of 38 lbs, which will get you to something like age 4 by weight for many kids. However, I understand from friends who have ridden with this seat that kids tend to grow out of the seat by size well before this limit. There is also a new seat on the market, the tyke toter, that claims to work for the same age range as the co-rider (about 2-5). I have not yet heard any first hand reports (please speak up if you have tried it), but just eyeballing it, I’m not sure how much I’d trust that single clamp onto the seat post as the only support for the seat. I hear that the dutch have nice simple seats that are just a saddle that clamps to the top tube and footrests for the downtube. I don’t know where one might find the dutch version in the states, but I do know that some folks over here do the same thing DIY. Other than that, I’m out of ideas, but this is a common need for which I often wish I had better suggestions (especially for folks trying to ride with two kids on one standard adult bike, where rear seats are incompatible with trailer bikes). If you know of another solution, please speak up.

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***As with all the info on this blog, these thoughts are offered as the opinion of one parent biking with their kids. This review wasn’t sponsored (none of ours are). As always, use your own judgment to decide what is safe for your family.

 

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, Links and reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Co-rider: the good, the bad, the ugly

  1. Stacy says:

    Great work Dorea! Our 2.75yo outgrew the iBert by length, although he never complained. I have in my possession a front mount WeeRide that is rated to 48lbs, but I haven’t installed it on the cargo bike. It works very well for car-free friends in FL (currently in Berlin for a spell): http://emmaclaude.blogspot.com/ Who have it on an X. She says she has to bow out her legs more than with the Yepp/iBert styles, but that it is all what you get used to. I tried it on our Jamis and had to bow out so much and have my feet so far out on the edge of the peddle, I have hesitated with the Yuba install. Yet, as you report, I miss having my wee one upfront, so very much.

  2. Fred says:

    I have a co-rider that both my 4 year old and 2 year old love riding on. We tried it on my wife’s step-through at first, and it failed exactly like you said nearly instantly. No matter how much torque we put on the bolts, it wouldn’t stay, to the point that we stripped those little ridges off the two pieces of the mount. We complained through Amazon, the US distributor sent us a new one, and it did the same thing.

    However, it worked so incredibly well on my horizontal top tube hybrid bike that we ended up keeping it and getting a weeride for my wife’s bike. The weeride is arguably too small for my 4 year old, but he folds himself into it for the chance to ride on mom’s bike (with the purple bell.)

    I feel the same way about recommending it, and when people stop me and ask about it, I say that despite the manufacturer’s claims, it *only* works on horizontal top tube bikes. I like the co-rider so much more than the co-pilot rear seat; I can actually talk to my kid while biking, and he stays active and engaged the entire ride.

  3. Katie says:

    We have a Tyke Toter, and I would definitely say it is for younger toddlers (2-3 years old, and probably max of 30lbs or so). We have never used it on a standard MTB, but I don’t know how comfortable it would be for an aggressive riding position where you are leaning way forward over the handlebars (i.e., the child’s body would be in your way more). Our family actually purchased the Tyke Toter when our son was pushing 40lbs, to use with our Brompton Bicycles (which are lacking in kid-carrying options). My husband built a vertical support out of commercial-grade PVC to connect the Tyke Toter tube to the top tube of the Brompton. You can see our son riding on it here: http://wegobybike.blogspot.com/2012/05/bike-camping-by-brompton.html. And a close-up shot of the TT and support with no child sitting on it here: http://wegobybike.blogspot.com/p/folders.html. Obviously, this DIY setup is not for everyone, but it has worked for us, and our efforts and your post here are clearly indicative of the need of cycling families for a wide variety of kid carriers to fit our wide variety of bikes!

    • Dorea says:

      Ah — sort of like a DIY IT chair (I assume you know about the IT-chair for the Bromptons and were put off by cost?).

      Thanks for the tyke toter report! On your MTB, how is the leg position for the adult rider with the tyke toter? It looked to me like it might not hold the kid far forward enough to avoid knee-knock, but it’s hard to tell without trying it (and would of course vary by bike and adult rider). I don’t think any front seats are particularly good for an aggressive riding position — as the more upright you are the more room there is for the kid (which is one reason I switched out my stem for a longer one, and have bars with a little rise, even though that’s a little weird on a road bike).

    • Interesting DIY on the Tyke Toter, and wise choice using it on a folding bike, as we don’t recommend TT for folding bikes since it may potentially put too much stress on the long seat post.

  4. Pingback: A front child seat for older kids | Hum of the city

  5. Kate says:

    We are about to go car free and have a 6 week old. Are there any bike car seats for infants? He is already 10 pds. Dad is 6 ft and mom is 5*6 we are thinking of getting Dad a bike and mom a bus pass (upfront and as we get money getting both a bike and bus pass for both parents). We are going carless so dad can stay home and raise our little. Mom works 18 miles away so has to have a bus pass. Any advice?

    • Kate says:

      Hi other Kate. Sorry I am too late to help you out with advice for a 6 week old, but just wanted to let you know that a decentbike trailer like a Chariot or Croozer with the infant insert is your only option for carrying a baby under 8 months. Some parents use bike trailers with a car seat strapped inside, but the infant slings are easier to install and come up on eBay quite often. I got a Croozer for 2 a few months ago for £95 on eBay along with a baby support set up and I’ve been going everywhere with my nearly 3 year old and nearly 1 year old with that. I won’t lie, it’s really hard work in and around Glasgow as it’s quite hilly here, but it’s been easier than I feared and we’re all enjoying it. Keep your eyes peeled on eBay, and I hope you get a similar bargain!

      As an aside, wraps or soft structured carriers like Rose & Rebellion are great for carrying a baby about whilst using public transport. I hardly ever use a buggy, and we even walked 14km down the Picos de Europa a couple of weeks ago, me carrying our baby, and my partner carrying our toddler. Wish I’d discovered all these things with our first baby!

  6. Not only have I used Tyke Toter for 8+ years now, I am also married to the guy who invented it. We still use the original prototype along with the fancy ones we sell on Amazon.com and our website. You can trust the single clamp. This thing is solid. The quick-release clamp comes with a washer that lets you tighten it down strong without much effort, and the quick-release mechanism is convenient, easy and it is truly the funnest ride you and your child will ever have together. Front mount seats do not mess with the balance of the bike, the ride handles great with Tyke Toter. There are many reviews on Amazon and our website, so check it out… don’t just take my word for it!

  7. Iain says:

    Great breakdown.

    Co riders have always made me a little scared. I don’t know if I would use them or not.

    The lack of being secured has made me not pick one up.

    And your right. It is an ugly seat.

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