Buying a bike to shuttle kids
June 8, 2016 3:47 AM   Subscribe

It's time for me to buy a bike, and this bike also needs to work for transporting one or more children. Do you have tips on buying a bike to carry around a little one?

I'm new to the world of cargo bikes, and I'd like to buy something that can grow with our family.

My current baby is too young to ride on the bike (I understand babies need to be 9-12 months?), but I'll be biking to and from his childcare to nurse him during the day. And soon I hope to bike with him to the grocery and bring home some food on the bike. And we aren't sure, but we might like to have a second child eventually.

What kind of setup should I get, do you think? It seems like, for now, I should probably get a bike that can accommodate one of those front child seats and some rear racks and panniers but that could eventually hold a rear child seat or trailer (anything I need to know about which bikes can and can't?). I'm less inclined to like trailers (they seem more vulnerable, and like it'd be harder to talk to the child), but tell me if I'm missing why they're great.

I'm open to all advice and ideas, but I'd love to get this done for about $1000-1500 (or ideally less??) by buying used stuff. But feel free to tell me about awesome $8,000 rigs that have to be imported directly from Copenhagen, and I can at least start watching the classifieds. I'd love to see anything inspiring about how different families do it. Can I mix and match used components, or is the fit and compatibility so tricky (or the combined price so much cheaper) that I should buy a single package?

A few questions:
- To double check, where do the kids ride? It seems like little ones start up front and move into either a trailer or a seat in back? And that in the back, your options are either a trailer or having the child basically straddle the rack? Is that right?
- Safety: What do I need to know related to kids (aside from the standard biking rules and visibility guidelines)?
- Attaching things: What kind of a bike do I need to handle all of these attachments? Do I need to look for anything besides front and rear braze-ons (sp?) to attach all this nifty stuff? All else being equal, I'd just get a Trek road bike (or equivalent) and then start adding racks. Would that work?
- Bike geometry: I like the road bike position (low handlebars), but does that work with a kid up front? I feel like I see parents riding more upright for some reason? Also, is it hard to balance a kid while climbing on the bike? Do I need to get a mixte to minimize the amount of bike leaning I have to do?
- Rear racks: When you see kids straddling them, they must be a special kind, yes?
- Rear tires: Some of the photos I see look like the rear tire is extra long? Maybe it has to be to fit a child seat and panniers?
- Weight / bike style: With this extra weight, do I need to look less in the road bike category and more in the touring category? (But then do I end up with a bike that itself weighs a lot?)

Tl;dr What's a basic bike I can get now that will work well over the years as I attach children's seats and / or trailers? Or is the compatibility of all these components so tricky that I should buy them all in one package?
posted by slidell to Travel & Transportation (26 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
I can't answer everything here, but I can say that I used a standard rear seat with a pretty young toddler on a commuter bike (Dawes Geneva) with a standard rear rack. That worked well for me and was very cheap (I guess about £40 for the seat).

I don't see any reason why the rear seat wouldn't work on a road bike. I don't think you could use a front seat with a bike with dropped handlebars though.

No personal experience with multiple kids on one bike, although here in Cambridge I see a lot of Dutch bikes with two or more kids in.
posted by crocomancer at 4:24 AM on June 8, 2016


I really like my Xtracycle Edgerunner. It's a longtail so it handles like a regular bike, yet you can fit 2-3 kids on the back (2 if using seats or 3 just sitting on the cargo platform), and you can fit a handlebar seat too I think. There are electric assist versions but I have the pure-leg-power one and on the flat it's fine. Going up hills is... OK, but you will develop pretty sizeable leg muscles if that's your regular route.

I chose the Xtracycle over a Dutch-style backfiets because I found the driver-in-front to be important for visibility/safety when emerging from side-roads, and the lower center-of-gravity afforded by the smaller read wheel makes the handling better vs a regular bike. There are lots of kid-specific accessories for the Edgerunner too.

Seat-wise, I like the Yepp Maxi which fits perfectly on the Edgerunner (works on other bikes too it's not Xtracycle-specific) and has a good age range.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 4:26 AM on June 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


Also, is it hard to balance a kid while climbing on the bike?

I'd never do it without a 2-legged kick-stand. The bike becomes incredibly top-heavy and if it falls it's almost impossible to catch it. This is part of why I like the Edgerunner (comes with a kick-stand and the Hooptie bars (the protective bars at the sides seen in this picture) which protect the kids on the back).

What do I need to know related to kids (aside from the standard biking rules and visibility guidelines)?

I taught my kid a basic rule: no wiggling! You get used to it, but if the kid is throwing themselves side-to-side it really throws off your balance. It's never been dangerous for me, but it's an unpleasant feeling nonetheless.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 4:31 AM on June 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


If you're going to have the kids with you all the time, I would consider something along these lines, rather than just a bike seat.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 4:59 AM on June 8, 2016


We used a Chariot Cougar 2-seater trailer for years & were very happy with it. You’re right that they make talking to your child difficult, but that’s probably true for everything except those seats that place the child directly in front of you on the crossbar (which my local bike-shop owner disparagingly calls 'the Oxford cyclist’s air-bag' but that’s a story for another time :) )

On the safety of trailers - sure they *seem* less safe, but the crash tests that have been done (or at least had been done when we bought our trailer) suggest that children are safer in a trailer than they are on a bike seat. It looks like being closer to the ground is better & the trailer acts as a rigid cage around it’s occupants. A trailer is also more stable than a bike & is much less likely to fall over, especially if you get one that has a universal joint in the tow arm so that if the bike falls over it has no effect on the trailer.

Once the kids got too big for the trailer, we moved up to a trailer-bike thing that attached to a custom rear-rack. Ours was from a UK manufacturer, but I imagine similar things are available in the US.

To answer your questions in turn:

- To double check, where do the kids ride? It seems like little ones start up front and move into either a trailer or a seat in back? And that in the back, your options are either a trailer or having the child basically straddle the rack? Is that right?

Pretty much, except that very small children can ride in (some) trailers where the other options are only possible for children that can at least hold their heads up & in some cases sit themselves up. We started out with a trailer and never put our kids on the bike itself.

- Safety: What do I need to know related to kids (aside from the standard biking rules and visibility guidelines)?

No real differences here. The usual things are a good idea - lights, a flag on the trailer perhaps. I would definitely put a helmet on a child in a bike seat even if I wasn’t wearing one myself: there’s a pretty high risk of the bike accidentally toppling over as you’re getting on/off it with your child strapped into the seat which is exactly the kind of impact cycle helmets are designed to deal with.

- Attaching things: What kind of a bike do I need to handle all of these attachments? Do I need to look for anything besides front and rear braze-ons (sp?) to attach all this nifty stuff? All else being equal, I'd just get a Trek road bike (or equivalent) and then start adding racks. Would that work?

Not a race bike :) Otherwise, if it can carry the load, it’ll be fine. I used a touring bike with drop handlebars, my partner used a Trek hybrid. Both had racks. Whether you need the braze-ons depends on the bike seat. The ones I’ve seen clamp to either the seat post or the top tube & can be used with or without a rack.

- Bike geometry: I like the road bike position (low handlebars), but does that work with a kid up front? I feel like I see parents riding more upright for some reason? Also, is it hard to balance a kid while climbing on the bike? Do I need to get a mixte to minimize the amount of bike leaning I have to do?

With a kid up front, you need to sit up & be able to get your arms around the child. I suspect drop handlebars won’t work & a low riding position sounds right out :) Otherwise, you can adopt whatever position you like - the child will be behind you in a seat or trailer. Having lower gears available so that you can twiddle up the hills is safer than standing on the pedals if you’re carrying a child.

- Rear racks: When you see kids straddling them, they must be a special kind, yes?>

Some people just give their kids backsies. This is probably illegal where you are, and definitely not as safe a real seat but it’s super common in the Netherlands.

- Rear tires: Some of the photos I see look like the rear tire is extra long? Maybe it has to be to fit a child seat and panniers?

Not sure what you mean here. Like a tandem?

- Weight / bike style: With this extra weight, do I need to look less in the road bike category and more in the touring category? (But then do I end up with a bike that itself weighs a lot?)

Yes, definitely. But the added weight is certainly much less than the weight of the child, even when they’re tiny :)
posted by pharm at 5:44 AM on June 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Bike trailers are recommended over bike seats.
posted by yarly at 6:14 AM on June 8, 2016


Lots of parents around here use a Yuba bike to haul their kid(s).
posted by exogenous at 6:15 AM on June 8, 2016


We are lucky to have friends with a bunch of different bike/kid solutions, so when we were in this position we got to try a bunch out, ranging from expensive imported dutch wooden bakfiets to hacked together xtracycle solutions. We ended up going with the Madsen which only slightly out of your range, and given the right clearance sale might be in it. It handles well, the center of gravity is lower than an xtracycle (it has a smaller rear wheel, so the bucket is lower down). It has a beefy two legged kickstand.

We've had ours for a couple of years, and our daughters (now 8 and 4) still love riding in it.
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 6:24 AM on June 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


There's a great rundown of different types of child-transporting bikes and bike accessories (not beautifully formatted) here: Kids Bike 101 Workshop Handouts.

I don't bike with kids but I do commute (by bike) past a family-focused bike store and an elementary school where a lot of parents bring their kids via bike - everything from trailers to bakfiets with carseats to cargo bikes with monkey bars to folding tandems and trail-a-bikes (obviously you are a few years away from some of these options). I suspect it mostly comes down to budget and personal preference.

Oh, and you probably can't use a road bike with a front seat. You have to sit pretty upright, and even on something like a Trek FX I see a lot of people who are sitting unnaturally upright on the bike when the kid is in the seat.

The seats look nice to me because the kid can see and you can talk to the kid, which you can't in the trailer.
posted by mskyle at 6:30 AM on June 8, 2016


Sorry the handouts with the pros and cons of the different types of bikes are actually not on that page -
Age and Compatibility
Strengths/Weaknesses
posted by mskyle at 7:25 AM on June 8, 2016


For folks with cargo bike experience (xtracycle, etc) -- how adjustable are these bikes? Could two parents with about 10in of high difference both be comfortable piloting the same bike?
posted by cubby at 7:29 AM on June 8, 2016


I have this edgerunner. I commute to work on it 4 days a week, and use it most days on the weekends to haul the family and groceries around. We've had it for two years, and my son has graduated from the strapped in seat, to just hanging on. It's a really sturdy rig, and has needed minimal maintenance. As you can see in the pic, I have added a bike hitch to mine. My son is getting to ride his own bike now, but he's only 4.5, so distance isn't really his thing. So, we ride together until he gets tired, then we pop his front wheel off, hitch it up, and he rides on the back of the bike (he can't stay on the bike while its hitched, certainly not designed for that). It's pretty fantastic, and it was a great investment. You're not going to find a rig that will haul 2 kids + any kind of gear for less than probably the $2k mark. They're fantastic and I'm never bummed we purchased one.

I should mention that before we used the cargo bike, I did use a trailer and regular bike, and OH MY GOD, what a pain in the ass is a trailer. The weight carries totally different, and it's not nearly as easy to ride. I feel much safer having the kid on the bike with me than in a trailer (and we had a nice, light one too).

However, for all my love of the xtracycle long-tail style, if we could have afforded it, I probably would have gone with a front-load cargo style bike, but they're much more expensive, and don't necessarily handle like a traditional bike. But they're FUN and they can hold heavier loads safely. I've reached the upper weight limit on my bike, and it gets a little squirrely.

- To double check, where do the kids ride? It seems like little ones start up front and move into either a trailer or a seat in back? And that in the back, your options are either a trailer or having the child basically straddle the rack? Is that right?

With the xtracycle you just have them on a seat, then when they grow out of it, you put them on the back deck.

- Safety: What do I need to know related to kids (aside from the standard biking rules and visibility guidelines)?

Get a good helmet, and get a legit seat, and be way more careful than you normally would. Many seats aren't rated for carrying kids, which is super, super fucked. That linked Yepp-Maxi and other products by that company are pretty legit. Do your homework and don't cut corners. Its going to feel expensive. The good news is that if you live in an area where biking is common, the better seats hold their value very well. We sold ours when our son grew out of it and only lost like 15% of retail.

- Attaching things: What kind of a bike do I need to handle all of these attachments? Do I need to look for anything besides front and rear braze-ons (sp?) to attach all this nifty stuff? All else being equal, I'd just get a Trek road bike (or equivalent) and then start adding racks. Would that work?

This question is a bit too open ended. I wouldn't haul a kid on a regular road bike. I would specifically go for a cargo bike if you want to haul more than just a child. Bikes that aren't designed for hauling have taller 'regular' sized tires, the edgerunner has little mini tires and that allows the back deck to be lower to the ground. I've ridden on the xtracycle conversion bikes and they're not nearly as stable as the edgerunner because they're much, much taller. When you raise the kid/cargo up, your chances of falling over are greater.

- Bike geometry: I like the road bike position (low handlebars), but does that work with a kid up front? I feel like I see parents riding more upright for some reason? Also, is it hard to balance a kid while climbing on the bike? Do I need to get a mixte to minimize the amount of bike leaning I have to do?

Most cargo bikes come with a double kickstand. Get one, they're worth it. You will invariably tip your bike over and drop your kid on the concrete. Ask me how! Most cargo bikes have semi-step through frames that allow you to get on and off without tipping as much.

- Rear racks: When you see kids straddling them, they must be a special kind, yes?
- Rear tires: Some of the photos I see look like the rear tire is extra long? Maybe it has to be to fit a child seat and panniers?


You are probably seeing Edgerunners, Yuba bikes, or xtracycle conversions. They have elongated frames to accommodate HUGE panniers (mine hold 6 grocery bags in total...huge...) and smaller wheels to safely carry the weight.

- Weight / bike style: With this extra weight, do I need to look less in the road bike category and more in the touring category? (But then do I end up with a bike that itself weighs a lot?)

You want to specifically look for the cargo category. Touring means distance. Road means...road. Cargo means carrying. There's a wide variety, but road bikes aren't going to be super safe to carry kid(s) on, and probably won't be very versatile; touring might be configured to work, but really, for the expense of the bike plus all the shit you'll need to make it ergonomical and safe, you're going to be well into cargo bike territory.


For folks with cargo bike experience (xtracycle, etc) -- how adjustable are these bikes? Could two parents with about 10in of high difference both be comfortable piloting the same bike?

Eh, technically you could probably rig it up to work, but you'd have to adjust too much shit to make it worthwhile. My wife and I have less of a height disparity and it's too much of a pain in the ass for us to actually do that.
posted by furnace.heart at 7:50 AM on June 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


For folks with cargo bike experience (xtracycle, etc) -- how adjustable are these bikes? Could two parents with about 10in of high difference both be comfortable piloting the same bike?

I don't switch between riders but for what it's worth the Xtracycle has two sizes as follows:
S/M Best for riders: 5’0”- 5’9”.
M/L Best for riders: 5’7”- 6’2”.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:11 AM on June 8, 2016


I did use a trailer and regular bike, and OH MY GOD, what a pain in the ass is a trailer. The weight carries totally different, and it's not nearly as easy to ride.

Out of interest, where did this trailer attach to the bike?
posted by pharm at 8:20 AM on June 8, 2016


Out of interest, where did this trailer attach to the bike?

I hate to call them out, because people seem to love them, but it was a Burley trailer and there was a quick-attachment that latched onto the frame just in front of the rear hub. It was an older model of their 'Bee' trailer.

Trailers are better than sketchy build ups on bikes that aren't designed to carry kids, but cargo bikes are better than trailers by an even wider margin.
posted by furnace.heart at 8:25 AM on June 8, 2016


Interesting: In some ways I quite liked the way the trailer worked on our bikes. Yes, the handling was totally different to riding without it but in many ways it felt safer & more solid to me. Dependable somehow.

I agree that proper cargo bikes are the way to go if you can afford them though.
posted by pharm at 8:38 AM on June 8, 2016


I've used an Adams trail-a-bike and when my daughter was over 40 pounds, it was crazy unstable.
Have you looked at pedicabs? This would probably meet your needs (albeit with a high price tag)?

There was a dad who used a long tail to bring his kids to elementary school. He didn't seem to have much trouble with it.

I also looked at this set of frankenbikes and tried to convince a local custom shop to knock one out, but no luck there.
posted by plinth at 8:39 AM on June 8, 2016


We have a Yuba Mundo longtail, and I freaking love this bike and so do my kids. I think I'd have preferred an Xtracycle -- they have a slightly lower center of gravity -- but it's fine. We've used both the trailer and the longtail, and for me, the biggest difference is the closeness. On the longtail, I can talk to my kids. In fact, that's where my 5yo asks me all sorts of questions like, "Why do some people not eat meat?" He's right behind me, ringing his own bell when we pass people, telling me about what he sees, and asking me questions. Yeah, he fights with his little brother, who sits in a seat on the very back (for now), but not nearly as much as they did all squashed together in the trailer. To me, it feels more like a "regular" bike than bike + trailer. I've also coveted the Madsens for sure.
posted by linettasky at 8:54 AM on June 8, 2016


For folks with cargo bike experience (xtracycle, etc) -- how adjustable are these bikes? Could two parents with about 10in of high difference both be comfortable piloting the same bike?

I am 5'1 and shared a Yuba Mundo with my 6'1 ex. Because of the loads I was carrying, I liked my seat low enough to be able to put a foot flat on the ground at stops, so we cut a little bit off the seatpost to make it low enough for me. It still went high enough for him to be comfortable (even after we re-drew the "don't raise the seat past this point" mark on the post).

I couldn't afford the purpose-built kid seat for the Mundo, so strapped an old carseat on to use instead. (Trashy but effective.) When the kids were bigger we got a pad for the back rack and installed a set of handlebars on the back for them to hold onto. A double-sided kickstand was very helpful for me.
posted by metasarah at 8:58 AM on June 8, 2016


I've used an Adams trail-a-bike and when my daughter was over 40 pounds, it was crazy unstable.

I believe this is due to that trail-a-bike attaching to the main bicycle at the seat post. Supposedly trail-a-bikes that attach directly over the rear axle are much more stable, but that requires a custom rack to be fitted to the bicycle in order to attach the trail-a-bike. Also, the hinges tend to fall apart in some trail-a-bikes, leading to the trailer leaning at a crazy angle even when going straight ahead. Not ideal!

Again, dedicated cargo / tandem bikes are much better, but may be out of budget.
posted by pharm at 9:16 AM on June 8, 2016


I have a Surly Big Dummy with a FlightDeck, stoker bars, and old Peapod LT seat that I use to carry two kids (started the youngest when she was around eight months, the important things are that they can hold their heads up unassisted and you can find a helmet that fits).

Definitely keep an eye out for a used BD/EdgeRunner/whatever, they are expensive and the previous owner will likely have bought/hacked together the stuff you'll need to carry kids. They feel more like mountain bikes for sure, you would not want drop bars on a bike like this. But I love it, it has kept us from needing a second car.

My partner has a Jamis Aurora with a Yepp Maxi (note that there is a cargo bike model and a seatpost-mount model!) mounted to the seatpost. This can handle a kid up to 40 pounds, would give you road bike geometry and some (obstructed) use of the rear rack; she usually rides with a messenger bag with baby stuff on it. You get drop bars and a somewhat zippier ride, the fenders keep road grit off the kid, and you can use wider tires (I wouldn't want to go skinnier than 32mm tires for carrying a kid, 35+ recommended).

Lastly, I'm not a big fan of trailers, especially in an urban setting, don't care what Consumer Reports/AAP says. They put kids too close to the road and too far from me, and your brakes need to be in good shape no matter where you're carrying your kid on the bike anyway.
posted by substars at 9:38 AM on June 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Warm Planet Bikes, in San Francisco, specializes in cargo bikes and had a sale last month that may still be going on. I've had my non-cargo bike repaired there when I was in the neighborhood and really liked the folks I dealt with. A mere FYI if you're in the Bay Area and want to check out an independent shop.
posted by Bella Donna at 2:31 PM on June 8, 2016


I personally think the best way to bike with kids would be a Flevotrike with a custom kid carrier. Of course, getting a Flevotrike in the US is either challenging or expensive - I waited years for one to turn up on Craigslist. They're supposedly cheap in Germany and the Netherlands, though!

More realistically, yes, get either a cargo bike or get a trailer and a bike that will accept its hitch. I frequently use trailers for inanimate cargo. It means you have an extra thing to haul around and lock up compared to a cargo bike. But when you take the trailer off, you're back to riding a normal bike - cargo capacity adds weight, and if it's build into the bike you have to haul it everywhere. Both have advantages and disadvantages; consider which is right for you. Look for a shop that will let you try a variety of options, ideally for several days.
posted by sibilatorix at 6:01 PM on June 8, 2016


A few thoughts from Totcycle. Also Clever Cycles has drool-worthy products. Some of the folks out there carrying kids (and cargo) are using pedal assist.
posted by oceano at 9:47 AM on June 9, 2016


These answers are awesome. Thanks so much!
posted by slidell at 10:41 AM on June 9, 2016


I spent a while this fall outfitting my bike to work with two kiddos. Didn't want to spend as much as a cargo bike would cost. I now have a very functional bike with one kid on the back and one kid on the front plus room for two bags of groceries. I spent about $320, not including the bike itself (which I already had). Here is what I learned:

1. A women's bike or step-over frame is very useful when you have a kid in the rear, because otherwise you have to swing your leg over the kid when getting on and off and this is difficult.

2. Getting a rock-solid double kickstand completely transforms the experience of getting kids on and off the bike. I got a cheaper one first, which wasn't stable enough, and then I bought this one for $80. Stable enough to hold the bike with a tantrumming 5-year-old plus a full load of groceries without falling over.

3. You can keep your front wheel from swinging around while you are using the kickstand if you get a $14 wheel stabilizer.

3. There are not many rear seats on the market that can hold a kid past 40 pounds. This one can hold one up to 110 pounds, but it is only for older kids.

4. It's hard to fit side baskets or panniers beneath rear seats. I have done it with the seat linked above by using cable ties and folding metal grocery basket panniers, but it's a little silly looking.

All this advice focuses on the rear seat, because when I had just one kid to transport, I had him in an iBert front seat, purchased at a garage sale, and it worked great. Then he got bigger and I put him in a simple Bell rear bike seat, and that also worked fine. Where I ran into trouble was when I was very pregnant with kid two -- that's where I had to go to a bike with a woman's frame -- and then when I started transporting that second kid. So any old bike should be fine for you with the first kid. But these thoughts could help you plan ahead!

Also: I am not hard on my bike. I don't go far and there are not hills here. I know cargo bikes tend to come with components and brakes and whatnot that work better under higher loads. I'm sure that's all worth something! But I've been fine so far with whatever came with my bike.
posted by wyzewoman at 3:36 PM on March 21, 2017 [2 favorites]


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