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Get on Your Bike And Ride! (with the kids, of course . . .)

Portland, being the generally bike-friendly city that it is, has an amazing number of cyclists hitting the road with kids in tow.  Being left without a car and not having a bike meant getting around on Tri-met for about 6 months, but then the days got nicer and I started dreaming of feeling the wind in my hair.  Oh yeah, and our daughter was finally big enough to don a helmet and sit up straight for long stretches of time!  As she neared that 1-year milestone Jeremy and I got anxious to get on our bikes so I started looking around in earnest for a bike for myself and a way to haul our little bundle of joy. 

I ended up deciding on a hybrid bike (not a road or a mountain bike, but something with features of both) because sitting higher up makes it easier for me to glance behind and keep an eye on baby.  I'm sure I'll get comments from at least one hardcore road bike enthusiast who loves her steed, but after test riding lots of bikes over a few weeks I went with a KHS and have been more than satisfied.  A smooth ride for not a terrible lot of money.

As far as child-carrying devices go, there's a whole slew of options to choose from.  I grew up riding in a rear-mounted child seat on my mom's bike, as I'm sure many of you did, and there are still plenty of people using those.  They're nice because the child is close to you, but the main disadvantages are that the height make your center of gravity go way up, which can mean it's harder to maneuver at slow speeds, and in the (unthinkable) event of an accident, your baby will fall from a considerable height. 

An interesting variation on the rear-mounted bike is the front-mounted version, which is, apparently, quite popular in Europe.  I saw one on Woodstock the other day, so I'm sure they'll soon start popping up all over the place.  The advantages are that you can keep an eye on your child at all times, and in turn, they get to check out the view.  If you fall, chances are that you'll be able to cushion the impact for them, since they sit perched between your legs.  The down sides seems to be that the seats might interfere with long-legged parents' ability to pedal comfortably, and that the shorter people among us might have trouble seeing over and around baby's helmeted head.  A few different designs include the Safe-T-Seat, and the Bike Tutor.  Have you used one?  How do you like it?

After some discussion we decided to go with a bike trailer.  There seems to be consensus that they're the safest way to carry kids, since they're designed not to flip even if you and your bike do.  Plus, the better ones have roll bars and 5-point harnesses for the off chance that your little one goes for an unexpected spin.  Oh yeah, we also wanted one with a screen small enough to avoid spraying baby with road grit, as well as a sun shade so she wouldn't bake in the heat.  One of our other considerations, besides safety, was that, without a car, we'd need to pick up groceries, etc. while on our bikes.  Our trailer is rated to carry up to 100 lbs.  As it turns out, it also came in really handy when Jeremy was teaching a cooking class at a school in Gresham.  He would bike the Springwater Corridor to the Fred Meyer closest to the school, load up groceries for 15 kids, (they each received a grocery bag full of stuff to be able to try the recipes at home) and then ride to his class.  Keep in mind, he was doing this in the middle of winter.  So yeah, our Burley trailer is a champ. 

To choose a trailer we did a lot of research and essentially everyone said the same thing:  Burley's are the best.  Of course, they also happen to be three or four times as expensive as the kind you can pick up at Toys R Us.  We lucked out and had a couple relatives chip in to buy it for us as a (very generous) gift.  You can also find them used on craigslist or eBay since they're built to last a lifetime (though, of course the warranty is non-transferable).  We also decided to go for the model that can hold two kids, even though we're not exactly planning another yet, and now it means that I can go out biking with other mamas and carry one other kid. 

When I wrote about Tri-Met there were quite a few of you that commented about how much more complicated reality gets when you have more than one child.  If your kids are a little bigger, yet can't handle a long ride, I really like the Adams Trail-a-Bike option.  It's like a tandem attachment for an adult bike, but it's designed so that the child (age 4-7) can stop pedaling whenever s/he wants and just enjoy the ride.  If you buy this product second-hand keep in mind that there was a recall issued in October 2004 and you should make sure the bike comes with the appropriate new parts.   

Finally, here comes the probably unnecessary reminder that kids under age 12 are all required to wear helmets, regardless of the method of bike travel you choose.  Unfortunately, I've yet to find a helmet that goes on easily on a squirmy toddler.  Maya loathes having her helmet on.  She likes playing with it, she loves pointing out when other people are wearing "hats", but she shrieks cries of terror every third time we put it on her.  Granted, this seems to coincide with return trips when she's already tired and cranky, but it drives me nuts.  Why can't they design a helmet with the latch on the side of the child's face?  Babies and toddlers often have cute little double chins and pudgy necks that can easily get caught in their so-called PinchGuard (tm) fasteners.   Seriously, I'm going to start working on my own design and sell it to Bell or Giro for a million dollars some day.  If anyone has a solution, please, please let me know! 

In spite of helmet trauma, Maya has really been enjoying the bike outings we've taken.    After one particularly grueling ride across town and up Terwilliger I nixed any all day outings until baby is a bit older, but she will literally coo and whee! all around SE Portland--until she conks out, that is.   It's a rare ride where she doesn't decide to nap until we reach our destination.   Must be all that fresh air. 

PS- One big recommendation I have is for everyone to check out the Metro bike maps available for $6 at most bike shops or online here.  Also, the folks at ByCycle have a good tool to help you plan your routes.  Yay!


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koolstop is a local distributor of the Bobike Mini, a front mounted seat, and Maxi, a rear mounted one. can't vouch for the Mini, but we have the Maxi and love it. http://koolstop.com/bobike/index.html

i do feel safer with the Burley, but now that I'm using it with Calvin in his infant carseat, there's no room for big brother too, so he's in the seat.

and oh how i hate the fasteners on toddler helmets! milo's been pinched a couple times, and is terrified every time i put it on or take it off. but he leets me as long as i promise to be extra careful.

We call the helmet an 'adventure hat' and that seems to help. And ask him to look up when we're fastening it. (Which sometimes he does). AND when we were getting him used to it (again, after a winter of forgetting it) he liked to just play with it - with all of our helmets. Putting them all on his head, making us put ours on. Just getting comfortable with it.

And we love our Burley!

we have a front mounted seat, from weeride, and have been really happy with it. it really doesn't change the balance of the bike the way I imagine a rear mounted one might, and I like being able to see the baby without having to turn around. she loves to ride and doesn't seem to mind her helmet, I think because it means she gets to go on a ride.

Bumping this up as I'm in the market for a bike...

I'm just now researching and I'm feeling a little overwhelmed at the options. I want to haul my kids in our trailer, I plan to get side bags to haul groceries, and I want to be able to get up hills without totally killing myself. I'm 5'3" and in decent shape, but I'm not an elite athelete.

Also, I'm assuming I'll buy used to save money.

Any suggestions are welcome!

thisKat, wonderful to hear that you're researching bike options! Here is the post & comments on bikes for the uMama or uPapa: http://urbanmamas.typepad.com//urbanmamas/2007/06/bike_for_umamas.html

I agree that options are overwhelming. Chatting it up with local bike shop staff has always been fruitful. One of our neighborhood bike shops is Revolver and shop owner Mark is a daddy himself, so he has tons of insight on family riding -- http://revolverbikes.com/

For rides that are normally in the 1-3 mile range, I recommend a hybrid that keeps you upright. For longer rides, I like a more road-bike frame because I feel like I can get more pedal power....

ThisKat, I have a Cannondale hybrid, which I like, as the frame is comparatively lightweight - it helps to be able to keep weight down whereever I can, esp. if I'm lugging some combination of Burley, bags, and/or babe. Have fun bike shopping!

So what do you do when your three year old is out of the bike seat and can't quite fit on the tag-a-long? He won't go from a bike seat to a trailer, he doesn't feel like he is riding with us when he is stuck back there. Any suggestions? Just get a sitter?

This is a timely discussion. I finally have my 21 month old to the point that she will put on the helmet without a screaming fit everytime. Those things seriously need to have a redesigned strap system.

Now my almost 6 year old feels too big for the trailer. In fact I think sardines have more room then the two of them together in the trailer. We have a friend who has loaned us a trail a bike to use as long as we need it. The older child loves riding on this but I currently have no room for the younger one.

My goal is to ride with both of them on most of my four mile or less trips (which is most of my errands). I do not want to spend a lot of money since they outgrow so many of these things so quickly. The trailer behind the trail a bike is way to long.

Any suggestions? Has anyone used a BoBike Mini with a trail a bike? Is that safe?

There were good suggestions on biking with multiple kids on a coupld of threads:

There are also some great suggestions here on bikeportland:

We have just converted a Women's Specialized Crossroads hybrid into our Xtracycle http://www.xtracycle.com -- this is now our means of biking our 7yr old and almost-4 yr old on just one bike. We shopped for a tandem but it was too expensive and we weren't too sure about it. Xtracycle was our solution.

Using a BoBike Mini with a Trail-A-Bike could be tricky between installing the bobike to the frame and the trail-a-bike to the seat post. I am sure it can be done, though, but it would take experimentation with the right frame.

I am not sure what the answer is for the in-between from bike seat to tag-along. Our girls started on tag-alongs when they were 3-1/2. On our Xtracycle, we have a BoBike and our almost-4 yr old is still in it. I think she could ride in it until close to 5, but she is petite.

I am not sure if this has been helpful. I wanted to share the above links with tons of info also.

If you are running to run errands with an older child, you could try having the older one start biking on their own. We have been doing short neighborhood jaunts (under 2 miles one way) with our older child. So, the younger one gets the trailer all to herself and the older one gets to learn to bike on the street. Most of the time, I have her ride on the sidewalk and I ride alongside on the street. It gets tough in older neighborhoods where curb cuts are not consistent.

ThisKat, we are about the same size. I used to pull our trailer with my Bianchi Eros and it was just too light. I then switched to pulling it with my mountain bike and it was too heavy. Now I ride a Specialized Sirrus and it is just right. It's great for riding solo, with the trail-a-bike, with the trail-a-bike combo, with the trail-a-bike and pannier. No elite athlete here, just a petite mama towing her kids around town.

"Using a BoBike Mini with a Trail-A-Bike could be tricky between installing the bobike to the frame and the trail-a-bike to the seat post. I am sure it can be done, though, but it would take experimentation with the right frame."

Just a note...the BoBike Mini is a front-mounted child seat, and I would think you should be able to use it with a trail-a-bike with no problem, as long as you feel comfortable balancing the weight on both the front and the back. It's the Maxi that is the rear-mount, and I haven't figured out a way to use it with a trail-a-bike yet.

And Lilah, check other seats for your 3 year old if you're not ready for the trail-a-bike. The BoBike Maxi is good to around 55 lbs, and I believe that CleverCycles also sells the BoBike Junior which carries up to 70 lbs.

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