Friday, 28 November 2008

Cycling with 2 young children Part 3 Longbikes

Longbikes are bikes with extended wheelbases that allow the carrying of more luggage or more people. I've posted before on longbikes , and listed a few. I'll update the post to show the manufacturers what i'm aware of. These bikes have been around a long long time in Holland et al, but more recently they are having an exciting world wide resurgence in bike boom USA and its there i'm going to leap straight into.

Xtracycles are the most exciting thing on the block at the minute and its the owners who are saying it. Xtracycle owners seem to be the happiest cyclists i've come across. Read the blogs etc. Its worth noting that this company is in its infancy and many of the owners customise their bikes to suit their purposes. A very common customisation is two child seats. I'll post some links to some of the best ones, but the exciting news is that xtracycle are developing their own system:

My favourite child rig in the whole world is from a very clever chap who has a lovely blog called longwalktothegreen. The nice man is considering selling these seats . There are a lot of other folks on the web who have done similar adaptations, but this man has the nicest.

Another family worth reading about is carfree with kids. Their rig isnt as impressive as longwalk to the green's, but they more than make up for it with cheerful attitude. an OTT paint job and a cool numberplate.

These xtracycle bikes although still in their infancy have the following going for em....

  • They can handle luggage + kids
  • They are bike width and so are sill great in traffic.

  • They ride like a bike and have good stability

  • Its a system thats clearly going to develop as time goes on

  • It can adapt to the kids growing older

  • Without kids its a great shopper

The disadvantages are as follows

  • Its long (duh!), which will make parking mildly awkward and stops it getting on a train, car etc

  • They are heavy and are likely to need a good set of brakes and re-inforced rear wheel.

  • Outside of the US they dont have much prescence, although there are a couple of UK stockists

  • They end up expensive, but they do have the capacity to last a lifetime so not such a big issue
and a december update, courtesy of Julian from Totcycle, have a nose at the xtracycle gallery (click on the kids keyword in the 'cloud').

Monday, 24 November 2008

Cycling with 2 young children Part2: 2 Seats

Today i wanted to talk about cycling with 2 child seats A front and a back one. When i say child seat i mean a detachable seat that will fit most bikes. I'm guessing that in numbers this is the most popular way worldwide of carrying 2 kids mostly because its so common on the continent (and not infrequent in Cambridge UK). Its also cheap, easy(ish) and adaptable. I'm also guessing (all right I'm assuming) quite a few readers who are interested in using a 2nd child seat already have experience with one. Its also worth me saying that I've never used a front seat, we plumped for a rear one in the end.

General Principles

Seats are relatively well understood and common, so I'm not going to dwell on the specifics of each seat. I'll more aim to give my idea of an optimal set up. Its also not my idea, because you can buy them ready made! Like the Seine Motherbike or the gazelle bloom
A few key points on this bike:

  1. Its a step thru frame, this will really help mounting and dismounting.

  2. Its heavy and has a long wheel base, this helps the stability no end.

  3. The rear child seat allows space for panniers\side baskets

  4. The front child seat allows space for a front mounted basket

  5. Its got a powerful centre stand

  6. Its got the optional buggyme attachment

  7. Its a practical low maintenance bike
These contribute to the following key requirements for a 2 (or 1) kiddy bike:

  1. Stable when riding

  2. Stable when mounting\dismounting

  3. Stable when parked

  4. Space for luggage and stuff

  5. Low maintenance (when will you get time to do bike maintenance!)
A machine like this will do the nursery run and a quick shopping trip, while keeping the kids nice and quiet. I reckon though the transport is the easy bit. More challenging is the thought of going shopping with 2 small kids!

Rear Seats

The market is awash with new child seats now. I still think the best rear ones are the hamax plus and co pilot limo (Both big rack mounted jobs). The co pilot offers the most protection and can stand upright off the bike but cant take panniers. The hamax plus is dead comfy, solid and can take panniers. I think the hamax sleepy is the best prong mounted one. The chap who wrote the 'CTC guide to family cycling' raised his kids on a Copilot limo. Its a worthwhile read particularly as it contains an account of a fall! (nobody hurt by the way!)

Front Seats

The front mounted market is a bit more mysterious, bobike and wee ride seem to be the most popular ones. The wee ride is the new kid on the block and I've seen a lot of people on forums swear by em', but I've never seen one in the flesh. Round Cambridge the bobike is pretty common. If you can buy a front mounted one from a local bike shop then do, even if it costs a few more quid as the sizing and fitting can be more awkward. The nice man at Totcycle has done a lovely article on them.

Another thing, the bobike front seat used to only classically fit quill stems, but be aware they do make an mtb adaptor.

Baby Seats

Bike seats are often quoted as suitable for 12 months plus. For most seats I think the rule of thumb is can they sit up and support their head which for us was ~9 months. Of course in Holland new mums lock themselves away for the first 9 months of their babies life until baby is able to ride a bike....Nah! Its not uncommon to see baby in a front mounted moses basket (Aaaaah!) , or a car seat stuck in a basket or alternatively you can get the Steco maxi cosi bike mount. Gotta love those Dutch! I have a lovely picture somewhere of a baby in a front basket. Its the type that makes you go 'Aaaaaah isn't that cute' I'll try to dig it out.


Stopping, mounting\dismounting can be awkward. The key here is to have multiple safety systems. Start with a very strong stand and only use it as a last resort (I've broken one already). Its best to find a solid object, walls , fence, railing etc. Preferably find one away from traffic. Get the bike lent up so its nearly self supporting. Secure it with a lock. apply front brake to stop it rolling (i keep a hair tie on my handlebars to hold the front brake down).
Once the bike is secure, get yourself and your bags sorted. Then start on the kids. Get anything off them that is going to be packed away, eg helmets, windproof layers, finally remove child 1, then child 2. Job done! When you go do it all in reverse.
A perk of this bit is that passers by will stop and admire your cute children in the lovely bike seat!

Summing Up

So pros and cons of bike seats:

  • They may fit to your current bike but not always
  • Cheap, unless a new bike is required

  • Widely available

  • The bike stays 'bike shaped', which helps in traffic and storage

  • Stability can be an issue for some types of bikes, but not the right types

  • Cold\wet weather can be limiting for very young children

Friday, 14 November 2008

Cycling with 2 young children Part 1

This is the most common question i see around family cycling and its a good un! Theres a few solutions around and I'd like to do a summary of some of them. The main ones I'm going to look at are:-

1) 2 child seats (front and back)
2) Workbikes (often wide bikes\trikes with storage\seating)
3) Long bikes (bikes with extended rears , normal bike width)
4) Trailers

I'm not going to cover, tag a longs ; towing arms ; sidecars ; tandems ie bikes that are suitable for children who are at an age when they can ride a bike.

Next I'll declare my bias.
- I'm looking for some real solutions for UK based cyclists.
- I like a bike that behaves like a bike
- That rides well
- That can cut through traffic (or quickly get out of its way!)
- That can handle rain, cold, hills, a roundabout and a 30 mph sidewind

Although I hope to illustrate some real solutions for UK cyclists. Its a fact of life though that 99% of the kit I'll look at won't be British. However, what is British and is worth a read is 'The CTCs guide to family cycling'. Its a great starting place for someone trying to decide whats good for them. I've been meaning to do a book review of it for some time, but instead i'm just going to stick an Amazon link up.