Transporting the kids via bicycle has increased in popularity among DC urbanites. We are taking a look at various various types of carriers and bikes available and the pros and cons of each.
Functions to Consider
Will your bike grow and evolve as your family does? Your child may be in a child seat now, but that will change sooner than you think. Choosing a bike that will grow and adapt with your family will mean avoiding Craigslist to sell your toddler carrier so you can replace it with a young child hauler in the near future. This way, you can easily sell the accessories (e.g. the child bike seat) and keep the bike.
Whether you are an experienced rider or not, some of the solutions below are far from the typical bicycle experience. For example, while some riders appreciate a cargo bike for the low center of gravity and ability to see kids in front of them, others feel that any hill can feel like pedaling a boat up a mountain.
If you do not have a garage or other accessible bike storage (no carrying these up three flights of stairs), some of the options below may create a challenge. The width and length of the different designs will also be factors in your ability to find parking and secure your bike.
Types and Examples of Kid Haulers
If you have a standard bicycle and are looking for a way to carry a child on it, this is an affordable option. Smaller children (up to about 38 lbs) can fit in a front mounted bike seat, while bigger children can remain in a rear seat for a bit longer (until about 48 lbs).
Pros: Fits standard bicycle. Gets younger children on bikes earlier. Can be combined with other types of bikes, such as cargo bikes.
Cons: Child may outgrow before they are ready to ride their own bike in traffic conditions. Also, other gear carrying capacity is limited, such as a backpack on the rider that can encroach on the passenger’s space. When a rear child seat is used on a standard bicycle, the bike can become “back heavy” and throw off the balance and steering. Finally, standard kickstands can be difficult (and potentially dangerous) to load and unload a child.
Bike trailers, Tandem attachments and Cargo-conversion kits are all designed to use an existing bike, increasing its capacity to carry cargo and/or kids. If you need to use an existing bike, this may be another affordable option. However, as they are designed to adapt to existing bicycles, there can be some performance trade offs compared with bikes designed specifically for this purpose.
A Bike Trailer is towed behind the bike with a hitch. Two children can fit in most bike trailers.
Pros: Affords some weather protection for passengers. Children do not need to balance. Fits to standard bicycle. Proponents like the fact that, should the bike fall, the bike trailer is a separate piece (though a roll-over is still possible).
Cons: Trailers are longer, heavier, and harder to maneuver. The additional resistance of two extra wheels makes the pedaling experience sluggish. No additional cargo space.
Some feel that since the bike trailer is lower and behind the bike, it presents safety hazards for the riders, and results in a feeling of separation from the passengers for conversation, observation, etc. Either way, the view for the passengers in the bike trailer is less than ideal, as they are low to the ground and often behind plastic windows (which can become scratched, degrade from UV exposure, and trap heat on summer days.) Combining a bike trailer with helmets can also be an issue of comfort, as the additional bulk behind the head may contact the back of the bike trailer, pushing the child’s head forward to an uncomfortable or unsafe position.
Cargo-bike conversion kits
This is another decent choice if you are on a budget and already have a suitable bike for the conversion.
Pros: Uses an existing bike and extends its capacity to haul kids and gear.
Cons: Two piece frame can feel unstable under load. The parts on the doner bike may be incompatible with the attachment, making for higher project cost than anticipated.
Many people report that the “two-piece frame” (the original bike and the extension) can be a bit wobbly in its handling under heavy load.
Unlike recreational bikes adapted with accessories, cargo bicycles were designed as utility vehicles and are well suited for carrying children. While just now beginning to gain recognition in North America, cargo bikes have long been popular in Europe, Africa and Asia. Where Cargo Bikes excel beyond the child seat/trailer/tandem equipped configurations above is in their ability to haul your gear in addition to your children. They have even been dubbed “The New Station Wagon” and “The New Mini-Van” by The Wall Street Journal and Outside Magazine, respectively.
I use my cargo bikes as a primary mode of transport — I ride them everywhere. Cargo bikes give me the ability to go about daily business on my bike while providing the flexibility to stop at the store when I’m out and about and pickup (a lot of) groceries or a kid or just about anything as needed.”
Children’s bikes are measured by their wheel size, not frame size. The best indication of which size is right for your child is how comfortable he or she feels on the bike.
The most common wheel sizes are 12″, 16″, 20″ and 24″. Make sure that your child can stand over the top tube of the bike with both feet planted on the ground. He or she should feel comfortable and in control of the bike at all times.
It is not recommended that you buy a bike that is too large for a child and then have him or her “grow into it.” Doing so can set the child back in terms of riding skills and confidence. A properly sized bike will be easier for kids to handle, less dangerous and a lot more fun. And don’t forget the helmet!
Balance bikes are bikes in their simplest form – no pedals or chain, just wheels and a frame. As children walk or coast along on their balance bikes, their feet act as their brakes. A balance bike helps teach two to five-year-olds how to coordinate steering and balance. The better they get, the easier their transition to pedaling.
Training Wheel Bikes
Bikes with training wheels can give children the confidence boost needed so kids can start riding on their own. Once the confidence is there, the training wheels can be removed. These are single-speed bicycles with coaster brakes (the kind you simply peddle backward to engage), though some models have an additional rear brake controlled by a hand lever.
A trailer bike allows your child to pedal and feel independent, though he or she is still relying on you for balance and control. This single-wheel bike attaches either to your seat post or on a rear rack so it can pivot for turning. A trailer bike is generally good for four to seven-year-olds. It also allows you to cycle farther than your child’s stamina might otherwise allow.
Kids’ Road Bikes
Once your child is ready for their own 2-wheeler, make sure to avoid the common mistake of buying a road bike that they will “grow into.” Doing so can set your child back a few years.
Kids’ road bikes range from bikes with flat bars and upright riding positions to small versions of adult road bikes that put your child in a more aerodynamic riding position. If your child will be cruising around the neighborhood or riding to school, a flat-bar road bike is a good choice. If you have a budding racer on your hands and you want to go on fast family rides, consider a drop-bar style road bike.
Kids’ Mountain Bikes
To accommodate the shorter legs of children, kids’ mountain bikes typically have 24″ wheels, compared to the larger 26″, 27.5″ and 29″ wheels found on adult bikes. Most are less-expensive versions of adult bikes with simpler components and only front suspension forks rather than full suspension. Suspension forks absorb bumps in the trail, which helps reduce hand and arm fatigue when riding. Generally speaking, kids’ mountain bikes suit children ages 10 to 13, but this depends more on the size of the child than the age. Younger/smaller children can get started biking with 20″ wheels.
If your curious about child carriers and bikes, stop by either of our locations and talk with a sales rep!