After the Leicester Cycling Campaign Group meeting last night we were talking about options for carrying children on a bike and I was reminded that I recently saw Cycling with children – Breeze – Sky Ride.
My views are somewhat different. We have 3 sons, the youngest is now 15 and when they were younger we tried lots of ways of taking them cycling (the youngest from just a couple of months old).
So a quick review of the options we have tried and what I think of them.
Childseat on the back of an adult bike
The cheapest option. However, it is unlikely you will manage this without at some point kicking your child in the face (when you forget and swing your leg behind the saddle to get on or off) or the bike falling over with the child in the seat (when opening a gate, or pressing a button at a crossing, or when parking, or when navigating getting up a kerb). You need to be a confident rider to cope with the position of their moving weight and you cannot see or communicate with your child while riding. When you have a childseat on there is very little in the way of options for you to carry anything (and with children this age you will probably at least be carrying a changing bag). Not an option I would ever try again (except see recumbent trikes below).
I would change my mind a little if I were riding on a high quality Dutch style infrastructure and riding a bike such as a Workcycles Fr8, but not on British roads with the bikes typically for sale in the UK.
We used one for years and were still able to pass it onto someone else afterwards. We carried two sons in it, even occasionally when the oldest was 6 or 7 years old. We carried our youngest in it from just a couple of months by strapping his “Carrytot” in. It worked well on reasonable quality cycle infrastructure and we used it on road mostly for relatively short suburban journeys on quietish roads. Will work with lots of different bikes and can easily be moved between bikes. You can take a child to nursery and leave the trailer there for someone else to use to collect them. We found this a good solution where we were in Crawley. I would not be happy using one along the Melton Road in Syston for example.
Child trailer bike.
We used two.
One a fairly basic, with a seat post mounting, which Jane never felt confident using (although I used it a fair bit, even behind a tandem). The handling was tricky though with it having an odd lean in corners. It also affected the bike handling a lot. It does allow you carry panniers. Unlike a tandem the child does not have to pedal, however it is also a lot slower to ride than a tandem.
The other was an early Hase Trets. This was fantastic, we used it loads including a two week camping tour. The child can contribute (but don’t rely on much power). They can also sleep. Your load carrying capacity is not affected, the impact on bike handling is minimal and it will work with almost any kind of bike. Unlike a trailer bike it does not make getting on and off your bike any more difficult. As a next step after a trailer it is excellent and we felt it was worth every penny. When our youngest had outgrown it we sold it to a family with a severely autistic child, who we hope found it as wonderful as we did.
Child on the back of a tandem
If you can get either a “childback” tandem or one with kiddie cranks then this is an excellent option. We had two tandems and based on them my preference would be to have straight handlebars (the extra leverage they give for holding the bike upright when stopped is very helpful) and I would be more careful about checking the brakes are powerful enough.
Sadly a tandem is tricky to store, tricky to park and likely to be nearly impossible on public transport. If you live somewhere (like Syston where we are now) then much of the cycle infrastructure is going to be tricky or impossible to use. It also does not solve the problem with very young children. As the child gets larger they can affect the handling significantly (one of ours was rather dyspraxic and that led to some quite scary experiences at junctions or bends). They can also be difficult for climbing hills requiring more skill and strength than a trailer as you can’t stand and “honk”.
Again we would choose this again if we could afford a modern child back tandem and lived somewhere without lots of narrow barriers on the cycle tracks.
We used a Stein Road Shark tadpole recumbent trike (2 x 20″ wheels at the front, 1 x 26″ wheel at the back) with a childseat and a trailer to carry up to 3 children to a nursery 4 miles away. It was excellent as all the stability issues with a childseat disappeared. It also had very low gears so even with 3 children you could get up the hills, even if slowly.
I also used a much faster Trice XXL with the Hase Trets (and for a shorter time with the childseat or trailer). Again that worked very well indeed, felt very safe even at high speed (well over 20mph was no problem downhill).
The ultimate was our Trice Tandem recumbent trike. We could adjust the length so that our sons could fit as stoker from about 8 years old. We also used this with the childseat, trailer and Hase Trets. I often used this with 2 sons under 10, one a stoker and the other in a childseat, trailer or Hase Trets. The Hase Trets was used with the tandem recumbent trike for a 2 week tour loaded with camping equipment, the only issue was that the huge panniers hid the Hase Trets from view in the wing mirrors and so we could not see if our son was pedalling (the others said he rarely did). Our record was over 30mph, rock solid even when steering with just one hand. Up hill we were able to use the very lowest of 81 gears to get up almost anything – just very slowly.
You probably are not going to suddenly switch to a recumbent trike in order to carry children, that was a side benefit to our solo trikes and with the tandem it was one phase in the life of a trike we plan to keep using for 40 years or so.
If you have more than 2 children then you are going to need to be creative with combinations, what is possible will depend on the relative ages/sizes of your children, the terrain, traffic levels and the quality of cycle infrastructure. I have managed 3 sons a few times (tandem with the oldest, middle one on the trailer bike and the youngest on the trailer behind that) but that was only possible on segregated infrastructure with no barriers and no significant hills. The Dutch have well sorted solutions for flat terrain but also assume a safe separation from traffic.
So based on what we have learned what would I recommend or choose today?
The big difference now is knowing about cargobikes. For general transport of small children around a town or city a Long John style cargobike would be my first choice (ie a Workcycles Cargobike, a Bullitt or a Cetma). We didn’t know about this option. I would much prefer this to every other option for babies and young children. You can see them, you can talk to them, they have a solid box around them, you can carry other stuff as well and they can be kept dry. If the distances are shorter or you don’t feel comfortable balancing then a trike such as a Nihola or Christiania can have even more capacity but don’t expect high speeds!
If all your riding is car free or on quiet roads then the trailer is a good option. However, few of us will feel comfortable about this option in heavy traffic.
Once the child is ready to start pedalling then I would be choosing between a Hase Trets or a tandem (or maybe a Hase Trets first and then a tandem after). The tandem is better suited to open roads, longer distances and stronger children. The Trets is more flexible and better for younger children.
I have lots of reservations about cheap trailer bikes and childseats. In my view they have very limited use unless you live somewhere where you are going to be separated from motorised traffic most of the time.