Can I mod an adult trike to carry kids in the back?
July 26, 2011 10:51 AM   Subscribe

Can I mod an adult trike to carry kids in the back?

I want to get some kind of pedal-powered vehicle to transport my kids (ages 3 and 5) to school and around town (slightly hilly suburban area; most trips would be under 3 miles). Only, I'm not a very confident bike rider, and worry about my ability to safely manage them on a regular bike with trailer.

So, I've been looking at various European kid carriers (Bakfiets, Christianias, Kangaroo, Nihola) but the prices ($2500 and up) are more than I want to pay. There are basically none to be found on eBay or my local Craigslist, so used would be hard to find. The convertible Zigo is an option, but it's pretty pricy as well. So far, my favorite model is the Trikidoo, but there are no US dealers and they don't ship.

How hard would it be to mod an adult trike (like a Worksman) with a back seat like on the Trikidoo? One nice thing about that model is the integrated seat belts -- I would certainly need something like that for safety. Would a local bike shop likely be willing/able to take on a job like this?

I'm north of Boston -- specific local recommendations are welcome.
posted by libraryhead to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total)
I would worry about the weight limits. The one you linked to has a max weight of 215 pounds, and even if all three of you fall under that weight limit, it seems like you might not get many years' use out of it. If you looked for something built for larger folks, that might be closer, but then again you'd be carrying that weight in two places (seat and cargo area), not just on the seat, so your center of gravity would be different than what it was built for.

You might look for a cargo trike or even a rickshaw.
posted by Madamina at 11:18 AM on July 26, 2011

I would not take it for granted that anything like a Worksman trike would be easier for you to manage than a bike + trailer. Quite the reverse, really. Trikes have different handling than bikes, because whenever you steer, it feels a little like you're "steering into" the inside wheel. Also, obviously, you can't lean, which restricts you to very low-speed cornering. Trikes will flip to the outside if you corner past their limit.

Add to that the fact that the weight distribution with kids cantilevered out past the rear axle is going to be completely messed up.

With a bike + trailer, the fact that there's an articulation between the two means that even if you wipe out, the kids will be relatively unaffected in the trailer. If you decide to get a trailer, Cycle-tote is considered the gold standard.
posted by adamrice at 11:40 AM on July 26, 2011

If you could find a sufficiently beefy trike to handle the extra weight, I would think this is doable, although I'm not sure a bike shop is the right place to have it done.

You would essentially need a welder to construct and install the seat frame for you, then attach a padded bench and some seatbelts, which you can do yourself or have a seamstress make.

As Madamina said, though, it would probably be easier to get a pedicab like this.
posted by zug at 11:42 AM on July 26, 2011

How about modding a bike to have a sidecar? Posting in case you think that would be more manageable than a bike with trailer.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 11:43 AM on July 26, 2011

Around here (Calgary) most everyone uses a Chariot trailer. You can fit two kids, plus luggage in the bigger ones.

They apear to have a couple dealers in Boston:

Back Bay Bicycles
362 Commonwealth Ave
Boston, MA. 02115 US
Telephone: (617) 247-2336

401 Park Drive, Suite #3
Boston, MA. 02215 US
Telephone: (617) 236-0746
posted by Pink Fuzzy Bunny at 12:22 PM on July 26, 2011

I carted my two kids around in a trailer for quite a while until the total payload was over 100lbs. Trailers that hitch near the rear axle of a bicycle are very easy to deal with. On flat ground, they handle like there's nothing there. Going uphill, all you feel is the pull of the added weight. Just make sure your bike has good brakes. Any decent bike with, say, cantilever or V brakes will work fine.

Trikes are another ball of wax. I have no doubt one could be modded with a small bench seat for the little ones. But it adds a lot of expense to an already expensive specialized bike. They are slow, especially for a less confident rider trying to avoid flipping over. I'm sure the Worksman would do fine, and that 215 lb weight limit has to be a typo. But the trailer is much more practical and cheaper.
posted by 2N2222 at 12:38 PM on July 26, 2011

To continue the derail on answering the orignal question . . . I use a WIKE trailer to haul two kids and all sorts of assorted cargo. You can hardly tell it is there at all aside from the extra effort in going up hills. It doesn't really effect bicycle handling at all. My wife, who is quite small, can pull it with no problems as well. They're made in Canada, and ship anywhere in the US for $25.
posted by fimbulvetr at 12:40 PM on July 26, 2011

I hear what folks are saying about the trailers, but the fact is I would be too scared of wiping out to take the kids out in one. There are no bike lanes or paths here, just a 40 mph 2-lane state road. I'm really looking for a more stable alternative.
posted by libraryhead at 12:52 PM on July 26, 2011

I suppose I could ride a trike and tow a trailer -- at the risk of looking even more dorky than usual!
posted by libraryhead at 12:58 PM on July 26, 2011

Madsen Cycles has cargo bikes ($1350 - $1500). A friend in NW has one, likes it. Liked it even more because it came assembled.

We use Worksman tricycles at work - they hold up to tons of abuse on a factory floor.

If you adapt your own, you'll want to start with a heavy duty frame that can handle the weight load.
posted by jaimystery at 1:02 PM on July 26, 2011

Would you consider a bike? If so, the Madsen, Yuba Mundo, or the XtraCycle might work for you "off the shelf."

From my understanding, trikes are not inherantly more stable than bikes (when they tip, they really tip). They are also slower.
posted by oceano at 1:03 PM on July 26, 2011

There are two reasons for you to be afraid of wiping out: because the road conditions are extremely bad (ie, covered in oil), or because you can't control your bike.

If it's the former, you shouldn't be riding on that road anyhow.

If it's the latter, you should practice without your kids on board until you're a more confident rider. A trike isn't going to take away your control problems, it's going to give you a different set of control problems. If you are using a trike as a crutch to make up for a lack of confidence, then any hairy situations you find yourself in will be that much worse (see also: risk compensation). I think that MassBike teaches Effective Cycling classes. You might want to look into that.
posted by adamrice at 1:26 PM on July 26, 2011

Another thought: Lightfoot Cycles offers passenger options for its trikes. (It is over your budget, but perhaps it can be a source of inspiration.) I'm guessing that you might want a bike frame builder over a bicycle shop to fulfill your original plan.

With all that extra weight + the hills of your area, you are going to want to want gearing options, especially if you are on a trike. (3 speeds may not be enough depending on your strength and size of the hills).

Remember, that the more of a "spectacle" you are, the move visible you are to drivers.
posted by oceano at 1:48 PM on July 26, 2011

I had a trike until it got stolen, and it was just hard to ride, and so slow as to be dangerous in traffic. I gave up on ever thinking I could transport my two kids in it.

I'm local to you and I have not one, not two, but three bike trailers - my husband and I sell used bikes for a living. If you'd ever like to come take one and start off on a local rail trail until you're comfortable, you can borrow ours. I really think you should give the trailer option some credit - sure at first it's weird, but seriously, it's just like riding a regular bike with a little more weight holding you back. And I used to be very, very wary of riding.

Plus the added bonus of a trailer is that people go "Omg, little kids, gotta slow down", even if they're normally hell-bent on trying to kill you. It's uncanny.

Oh, and transporting a trike is TOUGH. way easier to do a bike plus a fold-down trailer.
posted by kpht at 2:44 PM on July 26, 2011

Oh, and there's a place in Somerville that sells bakfiet-type trikes if you want to do a comparison.
posted by kpht at 2:45 PM on July 26, 2011

Plus the added bonus of a trailer is that people go "Omg, little kids, gotta slow down", even if they're normally hell-bent on trying to kill you. It's uncanny.

This! I don't ride to work anymore because all too many drivers in this town are crazy aggressive toward cyclists. But pull one of those obviously-kids-inside trailers? It's all smiles and maybe a wave and a honk as they roll by, as far in to the other lane as they can get.

The only "stability" advantage a trike will arguably give you is on slick roads, which, as others have said, you should be avoiding anyway. Sure, at a dead stop, a trike naturally balances itself, but a properly-fitted bicycle makes getting off the seat and both feet flat on the ground a non-issue too. A lot of people who are wary of cycling have that fear because all they've ridden is poorly-fitted bikes. Either the geometry is all wrong so they're hard to pedal, or the bike is so tall that you have to drop the bike practically halfway over to get one leg on the ground at a stop. Trikes also are very prone to tipping toward the outside, as others have said. What you may not realize is just how tippy they are. And sure, you can get trikes with high load capacities, but these are usually steel bikes, which themselves are heavy. So in the end, you're pushing a heavy, low-maneuverability, prone to tipping, slow-moving trike, with your kids in it. Not ideal.

Really, I would really recommend a good city bike with good brakes and tires, and a trailer. How heavy are your kids, together? Throw some sandbags in the trailer and get your confidence level up. And when your kids are old enough to ride on their own, you'll still have a functional, flexible bike for yourself.
posted by xedrik at 4:21 PM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

The type of trike with 2 wheels in the back, called a "delta", is prone to flipping in fast curves. The type with 2 wheels in front, called a "tadpole", is extremely stable (it's what I ride because I can't manage a normal bicycle). As you can see, there are quite a few tadpoles available and you could probably hitch a kiddie trailer to the rear wheel, just like with a bike.

FWIW, I have a nifty Greenspeed, which is an Australian brand but there are two dealers in Massachussetts. The guy who owns the company is very nice and helpful and he does a lot of custom builds - if you describe what you're trying to do I'm sure he'd have some recommendations for you. Not necessarily for a whole custom rig, but at least for what types of trailers/hitches would work.
posted by Quietgal at 5:43 PM on July 26, 2011

FWIW, a bike mod to carry extra passengers (operating as a "free taxi" in an Ottawa suburb).
posted by kmennie at 8:21 PM on July 26, 2011

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