A nice story about a family that eased itself into commuting by bike in a big way from bikeportland.org. Especially challenging because of the cold and having three young boys.

The family’s collection is worth a nod (family-friendly bike nerds beware, you may drool a little). Here’s the full list: The Hagedorns own an Electra Townie with an Xtracycle extension, a Madsen bucket bike, an Adams single trail-a-bike, an Adams tandem trail-a-bike, a Chariot bike trailer, a Bobike mini seat, a Bobike maxi seat, two kids bikes, a Skuut, plus two adult commuter bikes and two adult road bikes. Pfew!

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That's a terrific bicycle train in the photo above! Tandem trailer bike - that would be popular at our house!

We're live close to the city and try to avoid driving the car often as possible. With three kids we've found that we're able to commute quite effectively by bike with accessories that are more readily available. Here are a few comments on my experience with bike seats and trailer bikes:

The rear seat on the rear rack is comfortable for the rider, but not so good for the kid, who gets a very limited view. There are cargo issues as well. You can't use a rear pannier. If you carry a backpack, this further reduces the comfort and perspective of the passenger. Front panniers are ideal. The other issue with the rear seat option, is that the centre of gravity is a long way back. This means that if you're climbing a steep incline the front wheel may pop up off the ground unexpectedly. This can be very disconcerting!!

The Wee-ride is a better option for the passenger but creates some problems for the rider. You need to fit a mounting bar between the seat post and the front stem and then screw a light plastic seat down onto this. The child sits over the cross bar between your arms. Ergonomically this is not ideal for the cyclist, who needs to ride with knees splayed. I had to remove my clip-in pedals because the angle of my feet on the pedals was causing pain in my ankles and knees. It is also difficult to get down off the front of your seat as there is not much room between your seat and the back of the wee ride. This means that I need to ride with my seat lower than is ideal, so that I can put my feet on the ground whilst I am still on my seat.

The advantages of the Wee ride are that you can talk easily to your child, the child has a great view and loves riding with you, the centre of gravity is much better and you can carry stuff in your rear panniers (and front panniers if you need to).

My kids weren't ready for the trailer bike until they were 5 or 6. I reckon they need to be tall enough so that they can keep their feet on the pedals at the bottom of the stroke and maintain their balance. Advantages of the trailer bike are that you know where your kid is and you can go at a decent pace and cover reasonable distances with them. The kid gets a feeling of participating, a good view and enjoys the ride. The trailer bike is heavy. In my experience my passengers rarely push their own weight for very long. It is noticeable when they are pushing - you can really fly when you're working well together.

I reckon riding the trailer bike can engender laziness and dependence. I also fear that it does not help teach road sense. I reckon that as soon as your child can be trusted to ride safely and can keep up a reasonable pace on their own bikes they should be made to. Our trailer bike was "broken" for about six months recently as the kids got used to the idea of riding themselves to school.

The weight of the trailer bike means that the bike is difficult to handle when you're not riding. It is difficult getting through tight twists, such as pedestrian crossings over railway lines. If you turn too sharply, the trailer can jack-knife and pitch your passenger off. Mid-road refuges are often not wide enough, so that you need to wait until you can get all the way across the road at uncontrolled intersections, rather than crossing halfway and stopping in the middle.

I use the wee ride with the trailer bike, so that I can take two kids on the bike to school or out on excursions. It is heavy going and more than 10 - 15km or so would be exhausting, but it's great fun and there are no complaints from the kids.

On one occasion I combined the wee-ride with a rear seat to take my two younger kids on a picnic. I had one kid in front of me and the other behind. I carried our picnic goodies in my front panniers. Although it was tricky getting onto and off the bike, once we were moving it was very comfortable.
Thanks Joseph for such a long and detailed response. I have taken many points from it.

My kids are 5 and 2.5. The 5 yr old's trainer wheels have just come off - but will try not to offer the 2 and a half year old trainer wheels.

I just installed a rear seat for the younger one but have not had a chance to really use it yet. I have been thinking about the trailer bike for the older but letting him get used to riding his own bike for the moment.

I know someone reading this will say Xtracycles are the way to go because they will comfortable carry older kids.

One great tip someone gave me about setting up a kid travel solution is if you are going to use a rear seat (and I agree about the lack of pannier prob or the kids get a backpack in the face) get a womens bike with a step through frame because it is really hard to get you leg right over. I am also realising a kick stand is essential -- both of these I do not have!
Not sure I'd trust a kick stand..... I like to lean the bike heavily against something very solid whenever a kid's on board.
For getting toddlers on bikes, I really can't recommend balance bikes enough. After seeing all of the problems my 5yo nephew was having with trainer wheels, I was determined to give a balance bike a go. With no pedals, the kids have complete control to put feet down and scoot along at their own pace. The balance comes naturally and very quickly. I am anticipating that the transition to a pedal bike is going to be a breeze when the time comes (which may not be all that far off looking at how he handles the balance bike now.
I tried a wee-ride balance bike first but had a problem with the seat breaking after only 3 weeks. We now are using a Strider and this is a much better bike. Nice low geometry for stability. Great stuff.
We have also got the little one (12 months) into a Bobike Mini. Not heaps of use yet but she loves it. Problem is though we can't go too far because she falls asleep on the way back! It will be better when she can stay awake a bit longer.
I must agree on the benefits of a quality kickstand and step through frame. The top bar on my MTB is low enough relative to my seat to sort-of give me the benefits of a step through. My next bike will be classic step through for sure.


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