How we got to where we are today
In a nutshell, we like to bike and I got pregnant. We had a kid. Then we had another three years later! And, we kept on biking. It is (mostly) pleasantly more complicated than that.
Rewind almost twenty years and I met my (now) husband at high school (I know, I know, don’t worry, just friends). I was new to Calgary, Alberta and looking for buddies to bike and ski with. He fit the bill, plus he was nice, too. At the time, he was racing bikes up at the University of Calgary and got me involved, for awhile. So, we biked, a lot. It was our thing. It’s always been one of our things.
We utility biked when we lived in Montréal. We mountain biked heaps when we lived in Fernie one year (still my favourite place to ride). Then he got his first “real” job and we moved to Vancouver and became committed commuters; transit was expensive, biking was more fun, and it was an easy way to stay in shape for skiing. Then we moved again for work and to be closer to family, eight days after our first was born. We live centrally in Calgary, my husband commutes year round to downtown, and I bike with the kids as much as works for us. We still have a car to get to the mountains and I find I use it for groceries because I don’t have a nice route to get to groceries, yet.
My point for laying out all of the sap, above, is that biking is one of the fundamentals of our relationship. Come to think of it, I’m not sure how it didn’t work it’s way into our wedding vows? (Believe me, they were full of the practicalities of life!) This foundation of biking made it a no brainer for us to continue biking once kids were on the scene. Oh, and did I mention that dear husband is Dutch Canadian? And, an urban planner? Well, that about seals the deal.
Where there is a will, there is a way.
We bought a used 2007 Thule Chariot Cougar 1 when we moved to Calgary. Using it for walking, jogging, cross-country skiing, and biking. We still have and use it. And, you can read all about our trailer use, here. When our eldest was about 15 months old, I got a part-time job teaching on the north side of downtown and I wanted to bike commute most days, dropping her at a friend’s near my place of work. We started to research our options, talking with Sean Carter at BikeBike – our rad local bike shop (LBS) with an urban and family biking focus — looking at bakfietsen and trikes, but, ultimately, we were still mostly living off of one income and couldn’t take the plunge into cargobikedom just yet.
It was cold and snowed a lot during that 5 week contract, right before Christmas, the Chariot was great for stabilizing my bike, and the munchkin was snug as a bug in her bubble. She was a real trooper and I still love her for it.
I use the Chariot every day for dog walking so switching back and forth between jog and bike mode without a warm and dry garage drove me bonkers and was physically impossible some days with a frozen set-up. Commuting is hard when your routine constantly changes, having a smoothly functioning system helps maintain momentum and my sanity. So, although the Chariot was this stable bubble of warmth, nice and low to the ground, we started to divert our eyes to the prize of joining the ranks of cargo bikes.
During late night breastfeeding sessions, I cruised kijiji ads on my phone and one day there was a practically new, black Yuba Mundo for sale! I’m not a very lucky person and I felt like we’d struck gold. Some new dad had bought the longtail in the spring when his wife was pregnant and by late summer, they had decided that a Chariot was what worked with their (her) comfort level and a baby. Their loss, our gain. The new dad reluctantly sold us his immaculate bike at a smoking deal that juuuuussst fit our budget and we haven’t looked back since.
I loved the Mundo. It rode like the most plush freight train around. Super stable. Fairly upright positioning making it easy to see in traffic. Our daughter loved her Dutch-orange Yepp Maxi seat. Oh, that front basket!!!
Alas, I am short(er) and things change…
And then there were two
A few weeks before our eldest turned 3, we welcomed baby girl number two into our lives and she was introduced to biking ex-utero at about 5 weeks old as I took her on a short ride to go and vote. Then the whole family was grounded by a horrendous cold (thanks to snotty little preschoolers), and we finally started commuting to preschool by bike fairly regularly at 9 weeks postpartum.
We had a double Burley d’Lite at this point, and I towed it behind an old beater mountain bike. The littlest was put in a Weber shell with insert and it worked a peach. The shell is made out of hard helmet foam, combined with that and being strapped in a five-point harness in a metal cage, riding mostly on pathways, we were very confident trucking her around sans helmet, as there was/is none on the market that would fit her at the time and I subscribe to the school of thought that an ill-fitting helmet is more dangerous than no helmet, especially when neck muscles aren’t fully developed. But, that’s our comfort level and may not be yours. Much like the family that sold us their Mundo, we all have to find our own sweet spot to make it work.
I still can’t wrap my head around riding a long tail with kids up high in the wintertime, so I didn’t (and still don’t). We used the Burley a lot, either walking or pulling.
Come spring, I was itching to get back on the Mundo, so we tried out a Yepp Mini front seat. The littlest loved it. Alas, my arm reach is too short and I didn’t feel like I could pilot the bike well. It was okay once I was going, but I didn’t feel like my instincts could be used if need be, I was too encumbered. My husband had the whole knee-knocking-seat problem, so we got some Monkey Bars and moved the 3.5 year old onto a soft spot and her little sister into our Yepp Maxi. This worked pretty well! Our rides were often poorly timed with naps and preschool drop-off/pick-up so the baby wasn’t always the happiest, but she would have been the same in the car and she often succumbed to sleep.
Alas, I wasn’t so happy with two on the back of the Mundo as they grew bigger and I started to search around for options with a lower centre of gravity.
Finally time for a bakfiets?
Almost. Still not quite in the budget, at least not the one we wanted and fit. We started seriously looking for other options late Spring after I had almost dumped the kids a few times and was just getting frustrated with the unwieldiness of our current Mundo set-up. My inseam is too short for a Mundo (I am 5’4″) and the girls were easily a combined 55 lbs at this point, plus seats and all of the accoutrements and snacks required to be out and about with them. It was getting to me.
Our LBS started carrying Bullitts so we went to try one. I was surprised that I kinda got the hang of it within a block (but not enough to take my daughter for a spin!). A bakfiets had always been what we had coveted, and Bullitts are quite reasonably priced for what they are, but one thing that I really wanted in my next cargo bike was a simple dis/mount, a lower top tube at least, if not a step-through, so that I didn’t have to do gymnastics while balancing a heavy load at the same time. After a few days of tethered excitement, we decided against the Bullitt. I still don’t know why, but my husband didn’t exactly like the feel of it; however, I did like it, just not the top tube design. Otherwise, those bikes are sleek and sexy and I think I would snag one in a heartbeat if my cargo wasn’t predominantly live and wiggly.
Perhaps a Rolling Jackass kickstand would have solved my problem on the Mundo. I’ll never know as I stumbled across the Xtracycle Edgerunner and our LBS had started carrying them this year, too! (Lucky us!) They had a 2014 24D in stock in a size small and we went for it. After years of racing bikes and mountain biking, this was our most expensive bike yet, but it was worth every penny and cheaper than therapy. The lower rear wheel nudges the centre of gravity down noticeably and although the top tube wasn’t quite as low as I had hoped, it was a bit lower and the two features combined made it totally doable. We slapped two Yepp Maxis on the back of it as there were no Xtracycle add-ons in stock at the time, and we rode and rode and rode. We were quite the train for awhile as I had to tow around the d’Lite to plunk the littlest in for nap times as she just looked too rag dolled for my liking when she fell asleep, which was often as she was still napping twice a day at this point!
About 5 years in to the journey
We rode a lot that summer. The Edgerunner was well loved. I refused to take it in for a tune-up because I loathed to be without it — eek — and it ran smoothly, anyway. Then, at the end of the summer, the girls and I contracted a really nasty respiratory bug and we had a hard autumn.
Challenges make you reassess priorities, right? Well, we reassessed and finally bought a bakfiets! We bought a sublime CETMA Largo from Lane Kagay, down in Eugene, Oregon. The big push was not wanting to feel like our lives were on hold anymore after several months of being sick and/or residual cough, and I desperately wanted to keep biking through the winter, but didn’t want to spend another winter dealing with freeze-ups on the trailers (which ultimately meant I wouldn’t ride). With some rejigging of the budget and some serious desire, we made it work. The bakfiets is that all-in-one solution for us, the wheelbarrow of bikes, all set up and ready to roll. I’m comfortable with riding it in slippery conditions as the girls are secured in the protective box. We got a canopy for it to help keep them warm. And, it’s a pleasure to ride. It is so smooth. We are having a bit of trouble getting the gearing just right to get up to the top of the little hill we live on without killing our knees, but we are in the process of sorting that out with the help of another more mechanically inclined owner of one of the first Largos out there and, now, friend.
We have since sold the Mundo to some friends in Canmore. I used the Edgerunner the most and my husband rode the Largo. We were (and are) beyond lucky to be a two cargo bike family and it’s awesome. Our setup on the Edgerunner was a Hooptie with a Magic Carpet and a Yepp Maxi. We have the U-tubes and they are just amazing for towing the now 4.5 (almost 5) year old’s bike, and she has been two-wheeling most of the time under her own steam since February, except for longer distances or when we need to get somewhere yesterday. Come winter, I will mostly use the Largo to take advantage of the lower centre of gravity and the canopy.
If there is anything that we have learned in the last five years of cargo biking with kids, is that it is a constantly evolving set-up. The second lesson is that you can make it work, almost no matter what, with the corollary to this being the biking adage “n+1”!
Our Burley got stolen out of our backyard one night the other week, and I just picked up an old, cheap, Chariot CX-2 (highly recommend the zip off windows for not frying your kids in the heat). The almost 5 year old can do some pretty serious km’s now on her single speed; the almost 2 year old all of a sudden can ride her run bike. The girls’ combined weight is now 80 lbs, plus all the extremely useful crap we lug around (mostly food!). A month or so after we got the Edgerunner, our LBS stocked the Bike Friday Haul-a-Day, which meets my low stepover height requirement a ga-zillion times over (and I refuse to go and test ride it because I’m not changing longtails again, ahaha!). If we can’t sort out the gearing ratios on the Largo we may need to explore throwing a Stokemonkey or similar on it…
Lots of ideas and indecision, as well as decisions to keep these (now 8!) wheels rolling. It’s all worth it.
Our set-up 7 years in
We ended up putting on a Stokemonkey in the fall of 2017. We live at the top of a hill out of the river valley and my daughter’s elementary school was at the top of a hill on the other side of the valley. I had hoped that I could get strong enough to survive without the e-assist, but my back proved me wrong. Somehow we coughed up for the Stokemonkey and within a week of having it, I was elated and knew it wasn’t the wrong decision. It was absolutely the right decision and I now exclusively use the CETMA with the kids and it is my perfect city bike for kid hauling (plus it’s a joy to ride). One day I will tackle the issue of e-assist in a dedicated post. For now, suffice to say that owning one myself really opened my eyes to their functionality.
We did end up getting a BF Haul-a-Day, after all, when it went on sale the following season. It’s been a great addition and allowed us to do lots of bike adventures with two kids. We just sold the Edgerunner (July 2018) to friends of friends and will be keeping the HaD for more adventures and as part of our school commute. It seems to be my kid-free city bike, too. The Haul-a-Day is perfect because it is a longtail, it is lightweight, and is bi-partable which means we can take it only planes (and trains) with ease.
And, this is where we are at, for now! It is extremely helpful having two cargo bikes with two biking adults and two children. It means that we can share the load when riding together (although with the Stokemonkey now, the CETMA usually takes both kids). Plus, it means that we can haul kid(s) in different directions; for example, my husband often takes our eldest to school in the morning (under her own steam or using the Haul-a-Day, weather-dependent), but I have a bike to pick her up and have room for her little sister, too. It really keeps our car use in the city to a very low level which saves us lots of money while really being great for our health and well-being.
After all of this experience, going on 7 years now, I have started to write a cargo bike dictionary of sorts. Here is the first piece, an overview on the many ways to carry kids by bike; and here is the first fully fleshed out post on bakietsen (aka Long-John cargo bikes).
If you are in Calgary and are looking at testing out your family riding options, check out BikeBike on 17th Ave. SW, contact them or me on Twitter and a few other folks in town will chime in — I’d love to chat!
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