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Outfitting the Family Bike Setup On a Budget


We personally still often refer to Jonathan's post on bikeportland.org.  He's got some great pictures of trail-a-bike/trailer combos, Xtracycle, tandems, etc.  We've also talked about great lengths about bicycling on urbanMamas, and with the weather hopefully turning the corner, you will see more families biking around town.  Shayne is looking to start her family down this path.  Do have any advice for finding a good set up for the family on a budget?  She emails:

So we know Portland is the most bike friendly city in the US but how does a family get started?  We have a 2 year old and a 7 year old and are wanting to get the family bike setup on a budget.  We were thinking of looking on Craigslist or at a used bike shop but we don't really know what to look for. Things we should be wary of? Also, is it worth it to try and take the bikes places on your car? Any tips for the best ways to do that?  Great trails?


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We have two kids, Grace 5 and Sadie 15 months. We finally decided on solution a few months back.

Grace had a tag-along that we bought for around 120.00 from Revolver Bikes, Rosa Parks Way and Interstate. She started using it at 4 years of age.

In February we bought a BoBike for @130.00. for Sadie. It can be used until the little one is 15 KG. The Bobike is a product from the Netherlands and very well designed. When you are not using it you can easily take it off so it is not in the way.

We tried looking on Craig's list for both of those items used but could not find anything. I am sure when we are done with them they will sell very easily.

After a couple of months of riding the girls LOVE riding the bikes. The 15th old nearly starts spasming when we go near the garage with the possibility of getting on the bike.

The drawbacks are lack of storage and it is a heavy load. If you are tooling around the neighborhood it is great.


My husband and I are always having debates about the safety of the "co-pilot" seats, BoBike or otherwise. I would love one for the ease of just hopping on the bike instead of messing with the trailer. But he thinks they're really unsafe if I were to crash, and that a crash is more likely given that my center of balance is off with the seat there. Does anyone have any experience with this, crashing with a kiddo on one of the attachable seats vs trailer? And for folks who have made the move to xtracycle, do you worry about the rider falling asleep and thus off? My son will be 4 this spring and we're really thinking about one. My ideal would be the xtracycle with the attachable seat for the 2 year old, but I'm betting the trailer with the xtracycle is going to be the end result.

Sue, are you using the front-mounted Bobike Mini or the rear-mount Bobike Maxi? Based on the weight limit, I assume it's the mini, but I keep hoping that I'll find someone who's figured out how to use the rear-mount Maxi with a trail-a-bike...

The best place for budget bikes is the Community Cycling Center. They even have programs there that will outfit people from low-income households with free bikes. Take a look at their website for more information about all of their programs. Love them.

We have been trying to figure this out for more than a year. We currently use the "train" method; which is my bike with a tag-a-long and a trailer attached to it. It is good exercise for my 6 year old and my 3 year old feels safe inside the trailer. It is difficult to steer around tight turns and park. It is also difficult to take apart if I want to run errands after dropping my daughter off at school. We have considered the extracycle and the bike friday option. My newest find and one that we are seriously considering is called a KidzTandem. You can take a look at it http://www.browncycles.com/tandems.htm . The great thing about this option is that the child is in front (but not steering) and is learning how to actually ride a bike. Also, if I only have my son I can move the child's bike seat to the front and have a conversation with him while putting groceries on the back.

We shopped around forever. We ended up at City Bike. They were having a 20% off sale in Jan. plus we had a 10% off coupon. So that was a few $$ we saved there. They were so helpful. They let me test several bikes, take them out for as long as I liked, to get a feel for what I wanted.

My tip here is to go ahead and spend the money on the bike that suits you best. If it is a pleasure to ride your bike, then you'll do it more often.( While you spend the money, think of all the money you'll save on gas and gym memberships!)

If you are thinking about a trailer for your toddler, REI had a sale on their 2007 models to make way for 2008. So we got a new Burley Solo for less than they were going for used on craigslist. $200. And the stroller conversion kit for $45. It might not hurt to check at REI to see if there are any 2007 models left. I love it. Great storage space and versatility. My only complaint is that the helmet hammock seems designed for a taller kid. My daughter is 17mo. I've adjusted straps on the seat and her helmet...but the seat pushes her helmet forward so she has to strain to see.

Also, most bike shops sell a water resistant map for six bucks that shows you the best ways to get around PDX and surrounding areas.

Last summer we did a bunch of family bike rides with the Portland Wheelman Touring Club. They use a lot of trails on their rides from the book Recreational Rides Around Portland by Steve Vess. Most of their rides are fairly flat terrain. We loved the Springwater Corridor Trail because you can hop on at so many different places. Good luck finding the right bike combo for you. I only bike when my husband is able to come too. That way I'm only carrying an extra 45 pounds and not an extra 90 pounds.

Sorry this is so long winded, I am constantly reassessing the best configuration. We use a number of options. The one I use now is a BoBike Maxi on my bike and trailer. The reason for the BoBike is the ability to bike my 5 year old to school; and have the option of taking the Max if we are too lazy to navigate hills. However, while his weight is not too much of a problem (40 lbs), it is a tight squeeze with his knees sometimes knocking into my back, and my heels clipping his toes.

It's a great fit for our younger son and he loves being close to his mama. As far as stability, it is well designed, and when you are riding, you hardly notice the weight distribution. The tricky part is making sure the bike has support while you help your child out of the seat. I think the BoBike would work much better on a bike that you can step through. I am fairly petite and so I don't have much clearance but it's something I didn't consider in a bike. But now, I am really wanting a bike that you can step through and with a chain guard to so I can ride much easier wearing a skirt or a dress, because who wants to be sporting the less than flattering bike shorts or spandex pants etc. all the time?

We also ride with the trail-a-bike / trailer combo, and our latest configuration is the double trail-a-bike as seen in the picture. We are hoping to use it more this summer. We got one used for $200 on Craigslist, but I've seen them as low as $125. Adams just brought back a new model. See: http://www.trail-a-bike.com/product/trail-a-bikes/original-tandem/ I have not personally ridden with both boys as there is the whole body mass equation where they recommend that the front rider be of a certain weight versus the weight of the kids.

As for taking the bike places in the car, we tend to not do that if we are biking in town. The trails are fairly easy to get to from most areas of Portland. I think once you become comfortable riding though you'll find that the biking around Portland to your favorite breakfast spot or Jamison Park is a great family excursion in and of itself. We've taken the bikes camping (bike carriers on top of the car) once and that was nice.

The KidzTandem looks intriguing. Hmm...

I love our bakfiets!
DH seatbelted in a pumpkin seat for our 8 mo and big brother sits on the seat with legs on either side of pumpkin.
They see eachother and I see and hear both of them.
Pro or con??!!
The raincover is fantastic, blocks cool air too.
plenty of room for groceries under the seat and in saddle bags.
locking up is my only complaint, eventually I figured out the easiest way.
Todd, Dean, all the staff are wonderful-your missing out if you don't go try one.
There are so many great places to RIDE to with your fam, great to hear more parents are ready to bicycle!

I agree with Allison. The Community Cycling Center rocks. They are a great community resource and a great place to find a bargain. More recently I got a trail-a-bike there in perfect condition for $85.

The downside is that what they have is what they have, so if you see something you want there, buy it.

Our family rides a Bike Friday Family Tandem same set up as the the third picture down on the Bikeportland link. It has small wheels that seem a little strange at first but after a few miles you are likely to love the unusual design and marvel at the comfort. We love it and use it to commute between 20 and 120 miles a week at least fifty percent with one child on board. As far as I can tell it is the best long term bang for your buck family bike on the market. It can work for two adults or one adult and a child stoker as short as 36". That pretty much means from the time your comfortable putting your kid on a bike until you are done riding you can share this bike with your child.
By combining your family tandem with a child seat, for a smaller child, or tag-a-long style bike (I suggest a burley piccolo) ,for a bigger kid, you can ride with two kids until the older can ride on there own bike. Bike Friday makes a triple(converts to a tandem) but I think a tandem with a tag-a-long will be a better ride as well as more cost effective. I suppose if you have three kids a triple could make more sense.

Our family used to use a train but it made our bicycle something like fourteen feet long. When you want to travel in a part of town that forces you off the sheltered boulevards and onto the busier streets with or without bike lanes the train is a lot of bike. With the shorter set up of the tandem I can easily communicate with the close rider and can do fairly well with the child seat in light traffic. In bad weather we can still use the trailer for the youngest. We also use it for shopping errands etc.

I saw the Kidz tandem at the NAHB show. I came home with the flier and showed it to my wife wondering if we would have been better off with that. She pointed out that we would regularly need to put our kids into the lane of traffic to see around the obstacles that often exist in our travels. I agree with her parent in front child behind. If we did have a bike with the "cargo" in front, I think we would travel on routs with more marked and lighted intersections to minimize the front swipe potential while peaking out to check traffic before crossing.

I will end with the two biggest drawbacks. In cold or wet weather your kids are exposed. Good rain gear and an active ride (singing songs, talking goofy, etc.) go a long way toward conquering mother nature. You will hold off on riding more than in that sealed up trailer or bakfiet. The second drawback is working with cargo. A decent set of panniers and a rack for the front work well if you have an accessory child seat. Panniers on a rear rack and/or backpacks on the rear riders work with a tag-along setup. For larger loads we just use the trailer.

If a child seat that went between the adults arms worked on our bike I probably would have chosen that over putting the seat over the rear wheel.

Sorry for being so long winded...I could keep going but I think you've all lost interest by now.

NO, I don't work For Bike Friday I just love our bike and think it is the best, most cost effective,long term solution for families that want to commute in Portland. However we choose to do it I want to see more of us out biking.


I just notice that the Kidz tandem says it fits up to a seven year old. It also has a weight limit on the front rider of 100 lbs seems like most seven year olds are not 100 lbs. So if you choose Kidz instead of a Family Tandem you will out grow this bike when our youngest is seven or if they still fit, 100 lbs. I hope to share our bike with my wife long after our kids are in college.

Our family of four has two Xtracycles. Our kids - ages 7 and 4 - love riding on the snapdecks. The setup is perfect for hauling kids and doing around the town errands. Xtracycles have changed our life! We sold our second car soon after getting them set up and barely use the other one. Seattle isn't as bike friendly as Portland but we make do. Check out our blog http://carfreedays.wordpress.com

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I was curious if anyone had a suggestion for our family of 5. We have a 1 yr old, 3 yr old and 5 year old. Currently we are using a trail a bike for the 5 and a trailer for the 2 younger. We are considering something a little cooler...and safe..suggestions?? When riding with my husband we split them up but when I am alone we make a train. Thannks!

If you're serious about riding the kids around, get a bakfiets and slap a seat post mounted tag-along onto the rear.

Clevercycles.com sells them, as does The Wheelhouse in Santa Barbara and the Flying Pigeon LA shop in Los Angeles.

The bakfiets run about $3000 (not including shipping) but you will be hard pressed to find a better, serious, cargo bike for the day-to-day reality of riding your kids around.

few other bikes are as weather-proofed and well thought out as the Azor-made bakfiets.

It would be fun budgeting the family bike ride though we usually opt for this during the vacations and at a place where we could really go out and enjoy biking. Though, it has been just once with the family but it was indeed a memorable one.

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