I’m so excited to welcome Lindsay on the blog today. Mostly because I long to do bikepacking like she does with her family! This post is full of great ideas that will change your view on family biking.
We’re all familiar with classic ways of carrying kids on bikes. In North America, I’d argue that the two most common ways to accomplish this for the past 30 or 40 years are by either pulling your child in a specially designed trailer, like a Thule, or by having the small child directly behind you in a seat mounted to your bike frame. And, these are excellent options.
Trailers are amazingly versatile bubbles (we still use ours for walking, jogging, hiking, and cross-country skiing) and chances are you can use either a trailer or a child seat with whatever bike you have. There are many benefits of these traditional kid-carrying devices, the biggest one being that they are hands-down the least expensive way to get out riding with your kids. However, there are some downsides, too.
If you are using your multi-purpose trailer every day for things other than biking, mode changes can be a challenge in inclement weather. In our unheated storage area, our jog wheel would freeze to the trailer, so I couldn’t reliably convert it to bike mode when I needed to. Plus, they don’t facilitate conversation with your passenger very easily!
Bike seats are okay on many bikes, but they often place the load high and can adversely affect your steering, especially on bikes designed to be nimble, like mountain and road bikes. Most people do not own bikes that are designed to carry a heavy load. Plus, sometimes you really have to try a bunch of different seats before you can find one that is compatible with your bike! Never fear, there is a bike that works swimmingly with a child bike seat.
Bakfiets and trikes
Perhaps you have visited a city like Amsterdam, Copenhagen, or Portland and seen unique bikes with big boxes in their fronts (bakfiets in Dutch, “box bike”) or cargo trikes. These powerful beasts of beauty are amazing and we are lucky to have several manufacturers of these European creations in North America, too. I strongly advocate trying one, they are a great option for many families. If you are curious, you can read more here. (We own a CETMA cargo bike, ourselves.)
We have a homegrown beast of a different sort that has evolved from Ross Evans’ ideas developed when he was an engineering student at Stanford University. This magnificent animal is called a longtail cargo bike. Check out this clip from the upcoming film Motherload or this TED Talk for more on this uplifting backstory, inspiring for those of you with budding inventors on your hands!
It literally is a long tailed bike
It’s got a long tail! The area behind the rider is stretched out such that you can fit two child seats on the back! Or, one child seat and a cushion for your older kid. Or, a bigger cushion and some bars that wrap around the cargo area for your two bigger kids to hold on to. All this, with room for your gear for the trip to the beach. Or, the groceries you need to pick up! Oh the things this bike can do.
There’s no trailer to connect each time you want to use it (although you can with a lot of models if you really want to…).
It’s a cargo bike. It is designed to carry loads. Way bigger loads than you will likely ever take advantage of (hundreds of pounds, depending on what brand or model)! So, the unnerving wobbly feeling you may have previously felt when you mounted a child seat on the bike rack of your beloved mountain bike is gone. Between the solid frame, often nice wide balloon tires, and sometimes even a smaller rear wheel (to lower the centre of gravity of your load), these bikes ‘ride like a bike’, as people often remark in awe and have a very gentle learning curve. In my opinion, the only real lesson is learning to ride with live cargo and my tip for that is to start ‘em young (hence lighter and much easier to teach nice bike manners to…)!
Longtail cargo bikes are an awesome choice for a city bike, are a pleasure to ride, and really simplify getting around by bike with young kids.
If you truly love your bike, Xtracycle designed a conversion kit currently called Leap and it’s pretty neat. Otherwise, try out a few different models, such as:
There are other choices out there, too!
The cargo biking world has a wonderful and friendly community that you can tap in to help make your decisions, either through blogs, such as mine, or in Twitter or Facebook groups, like “MOTHERLOAD: a movie, a meeting place, a cargo bike movement”.
Tidbit reviews of a few models
We have ridden and owned a Yuba Mundo, Xtracycle Edgerunner, and a Bike Friday Haul-a-Day. They’re all different and lovable.
Our first was the Mundo and it was sturdy and rode much like a cruiser. I’m on the shorter side of things (5’4”) and by the time we added a second kid to the back I wanted to at least have a step-through frame. At the time, Yuba had yet to come out with their Curry bikes, so we sold our Mundo and went with an Edgerunner.
I fell in love all over again and really appreciated the Edgerunner’s smaller frame option, as well as the lower centre of gravity of the 20” rear wheel. It is still my favourite bike. And, now they have come out with a Swoop edition with a true step-through frame design. Sigh.
The newest addition to our family is a Haul-a-Day and it has been wonderful for its versatility. We added it to our fleet for two reasons: we wanted another longtail for bike touring and bikepacking adventures with our two kids, and because it can be split in two for travel, we can fly with it relatively easily (compared to the Edgerunner, at least!). It is extremely light for a cargo bike.
Get out riding
Having a longtail cargo bike really helps to incorporate active living into your day-to-day as a parent — a real life saver when you’re busy with your kids! Our newest discovery is that they make fantastic bikes for touring with young children, we’ve even started doing short “bikepacking” trips into the mountains here in our glorious Canadian Rockies near Calgary, Alberta.
Lindsay Bliek is a retired teacher and science museum educator, full-time parent, and lover of bikes, gardening, her kids, and getting outside. She is the editor and principal writer over at Our Hundred Acre Wood, an active lifestyle blog, with musings on biking with kids, adventures on bikes, mountain fun, and whatever she’s cooking or growing to fuel those shenanigans. You can follow along via Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest, too!
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