- What are my choices?
- Small passengers
- And then they can pedal
I remember the feeling of being daunted and overwhelmed when I first started to explore all of the ways that you can carry kids by bike. I was aware of the venerable bike trailer, had seen the odd Xtracycle attachment, remember riding in a rear child seat myself, and knew of long-john style bakfietsen, but that was about it.
Over the past six and a half years of cargo biking as a family in some form or other I feel as though I have learned enough now to help other families get started on their kid carrying journey, at least from the perspective of a North American.
What are my choices?
Here are your options! Some of the methods listed below are more popular in North America, like trailers and longtail cargo bikes; others are more prevalent in Europe, such as bakfietsen and trikes; still others are more commonplace in Japan, like the mamachari. And, believe it or not, there are even more ways to carry kids than the ten described below! How amazing is that?
Hopefully you have an awesome local bike shop who specializes in family cycling. (If you’re not sure, check out the growing comments section, below, to see if there’s one near you!) But, if you aren’t so fortunate, never fear — many of us family cyclists have ordered contraptions from near and far in order to keep on riding and it has all worked out! Leaps of faith are part of the adventure.
I am well versed in the art of bike trailers, longtails (and kid seats), and bakfietsen, but I asked some wonderful folk to share their perspectives using the other kid-carrying methods listed. Below you will find ten ways that you can carry children by bike, including what it is called, why it is so wonderful, and what sorts of adventures this style of bicycle enables these families to have.
The first part of this overview covers bikes that are more appropriate for carrying little ones, perfect for the age when your children are either immobile babies in car seats, snacking toddlers, preschoolers, or even elementary-aged kids who just need a ride to get somewhere. Some of these methods are even great for date night! They are also ideal for chores, like grocery shopping, with or without kids.
New mama, Lindsey Bartley, who writes about her car-free bike-friendly lifestyle over at Lindsey Bikes!, is already a veteran kid hauler with a quiver of bikes for every occasion! She writes,
“The lowly bike trailer is much maligned by many people (including me) who ride with their children on a regular basis. They’re heavy and cumbersome, plus they add a lot of drag on uphills and push on downhills. You can’t hear or see kids as well.
“But don’t throw them out as a fantastic kid carrier for babies! Short a front loading bakfiets, trailers are pretty much the only way to carry a baby who still needs to be in a car seat. They provide weather protection. They keep toys (and snacks) safely ensconced. They haul groceries and camping gear.
“Our trailer exploits are pretty benign, I mostly use it when I’m going somewhere hilly and I want the baby to nap along the way. I’ve planned a few summer camping trips though, and for this the trailer will be key for carrying baby and leaving my rack free for gear.
“So, don’t feel bad for me when you see me huffing up a hill with a trailer in tow. My baby is probably napping, and we may very well be on a fabulous camping adventure!”
Lisa Corriveau of Spokesmama, a car-free mom, cycling blogger, and active transportation advocate, has discovered through trial and error that her “favourite family bike is my Bakfiets.nl: a two-wheeled Dutch cargo bike with a metre-long wooden box in front.
“Though very heavy, it’s easy to ride when full of children or groceries because the weight is low to the ground and easy to balance. When I return to the supermarket bike rack with a cartload of groceries, I can just drop them all in the box and off I go. When I’m carrying my four and seven-year-old, they can climb in themselves — they treat it like a little living room, sometimes reading books or eating bowls of oatmeal on the way to school.
“Most of our trips on the bakfiets are commuting to school or running errands, but we occasionally go for long family bike rides with it. The kids can ride their own little bikes as long as they want to (which is often farther than I expect!), then when they’re tired, I can carry them and their bikes.”
As a fan of both box bikes and linguistics, I’m sure that Lisa would love me to point out that while the Dutch word bakfiets does indeed end in an -s, it is in fact singular! The plural form is bakfietsen.
The three-wheeled version of a bakfiets is also known as a trike! It is not like the tricycles of your childhood, with one wheel in the front and two in the rear; it’s the opposite and there is a large box sandwiched between the two front wheels. These bikes are very stable when stopped, but don’t expect them to “ride just like a bike” because they are not bicycles (with two wheels), they are tricycles and they handle quite differently.
My friend has been riding a Trio Mono in Calgary for the past few years with her now three kids, two in the front bucket and one on the back in a Yepp Maxi. I have a feeling that the year she spent living in Denmark greatly influenced her decision to opt for a trike!
Trikes are well-known for being able to accommodate larger loads and can be great for adaptive cycling needs, including this wheelchair transporter trike or a gomier trike (below).
The adult version of the trike of your childhood, with a basket in the rear! Some people choose to put a small infant or child in the rear basket and appreciate the close proximity that this setup provides.
Mid- or longtail bikes
One of my favourite ways to zip around with kids on a longtail cargo bike! In fact, we have owned three different ones; check out my review of our Xtracycle Edgerunner over at Rascal Rides.
Longtail bikes are literally just that: the rear end or tail of the bike is longer than a regular bike. This gives you room for 1-3 children, depending on your configuration; they also provide lots of room for groceries, gear, and even towing bikes — an especially nice perk for if your child tires while out on a longer adventure. They’re also fantastic bikes for bike camping or even bikepacking.
There is one brand of longtail that sells both complete bikes and a conversion kit, the Xtracycle FreeRadical Leap, so that you can transform a regular bike into a longtail. Like trailers, this is another excellent less expensive entry point into the world of cargo biking.
Midtail bikes are slightly shorter version of the longtail, offering room for 1, sometimes 2, children, depending on the model. Or, John Lucas of Cycletrucks.com makes an extra sturdy rear rack — “Caddyrack” — for the back of your bike that more-or-less transforms it into a mini-midtail!
These bikes aren’t the best choice for biking with babies, but once your infant is strong enough for a front-mounted child seat, like the Yepp Mini — if it fits on your bike and works with your body type, then you’re good to go. Kids progress to the back deck in a child seat at first:
And then ultimately hoop-style bars with a cushion to sit on. Put the heaviest child closest to the rider for better stability.
A unique style of longtail bike is the bucket version made by Madsen:
Some times you need to level up with your bakfiets, or any cargo bike (or bike!) for that matter, and opt for an electric-assisted version. I know I did.
“For nearly a year now my family has been getting around using an electric-assisted bakfiets (box bike) style bike called the Packster 80. We love this bike because it allows us so many of the conveniences of using a car but with the benefits of riding a bike. The kids stay warm and dry underneath the rain canopy during the wet fall, winter, and spring here in Seattle and I don’t need to worry much about bundling them up, which means it’s much faster for us to get out the door. The assist means that navigating Seattle’s hills is no problem and we don’t have to worry as much about which routes to take.
“We use our bike for everything but our favorite adventure is to go bike camping. Last year we did two overnight trips and we’re eagerly anticipating this summer so we can fit in even more! One of the coolest things about this bike is that it can carry two kids and all our camping gear and still make it up the hills!”
Electric assist options are available on more and more models of bicycles right out of the box, for bakfiets models like Genevieve’s or longtail style bikes (like the Xtracycle Edgerunner or Benno Boost). They add a significant cost at the on-set but I believe it is worth it if you live in a hilly area and are committed to reducing your car dependency. There are aftermarket add-on options available, too, but they don’t seem to be one-size fits all so you will have to do your research; we ended up adding a Stokemonkey to our CETMA in the Fall of 2017.
Front-mounted child seats
There are many options out there for front-mounted child seats. They attach in different ways, accommodate various weights, and offer various accessories, like a windshield. People seem to either LOVE or HATE front-mounted child seats!
For older babies and toddlers
Some bicycle styles can comfortably handle a front-mounted child seat for older babies and toddlers. The Yepp Mini and iBert are popular models. Some riders cannot manage this style, so try before you buy! I am shorter and had difficulty finding enough room in the cockpit for me and babe; my husband suffered from knee-knocking issues that he didn’t want to have to deal with (understandably so). These seats have a limited window of use, too, but are an amazing way to interact with your children — I wish we could have made it work.
An innovative model for toddlers and preschoolers
We are currently looking for ways to incorporate our kids into mountain biking more this coming season. We could just trade off with each other at the trailhead — one parent riding, one parent childminding — but, we like to create as many moments as possible to all hang out together. The innovative Mac Ride front-mounted child bike seat could be the ticket for our three year old and mountain biking freedom!
Kristen Bonkoski of Rascal Rides writes, “The Mac Ride is an open-style front-mounted bike seat that fits kids ages 2-5. When my son was a baby and toddler, we used and LOVED the iBert. It traveled all over the country with us, and rode miles and miles of mountain bike trails. We mourned quite a bit when he outgrew it, and struggled to come up with a good replacement. We’ve finally found it with the Mac Ride. Unlike some other open-style (no harness) front-mounted seats we’ve tried, the Mac Ride feels safe, installs easily, and is comfortable for both myself and my son. Like all front mounted seats, we love the interaction that it provides and the fact that it is suitable for use on singletrack. We spend lots of time singing and chatting and laughing while we ride.
“Our family is currently spending a year traveling the country, and the Mac Ride has been along for the fun. We’ve ridden it on the 24 Hour race course in Tuscon, under the London Bridge at Lake Havasu, and on the shore at Laguna Beach. Although my son is 5.5 and perfectly capable of riding his bike most of the time, I love it for exploring new towns where we aren’t sure about bike routes and traffic and I feel safe having him on my bike with me. It is also nice for mountain bike rides when he is tired, the trail is challenging, or he just doesn’t feel like biking.”
Rear-mounted child seats
Perhaps you don’t want to buy a whole new bike to be able to carry around one child. Many bikes accept a rear-mounted child seats that can fit on a rear rack or has a special seat post clamp, such as the Yepp Maxi or Thule RideAlong.
It depends on the child (their strength and size), but the recommended age for a rear-mounted seat begins around 9-12 months. There are also some models of rear-mounted child seats that are suitable for older children, like the Bobike Junior.
The extra weight on the rear of an “ordinary” bike (i.e. not one designed for cargo) will adversely affect the handling of the bike (something you may or may not like — I’m not a fan). Other considerations are the weight limit of your rear rack if you choose a rack-mount child seat and also the strength of your rear wheel. In parts of the world where rear-mounted seats are popular, often the bikes are designed to handle the extra weight, like this Gazelle.
I was so excited to have Clémentine Climent of Kaeru Bikes volunteer to write about this fantastic and underrepresented (in North America!) 20″ wheeled cargo bike. You might think, ‘woah, those small wheels are goofy!’ but don’t underestimate their strength and ability to give you a nice low centre of gravity for your wiggly load!
One of the very unique features of the mamachari are its u-shaped handlebars with room for a child seat right in between your hands. Clémentine writes,
“I love the front child seat because you can observe the world from your kid’s perspective, when little humans start finger pointing objects and developing language. With my son, we observed trucks, talked to the pigeons, and waved to school friends along the way.”
There are a few potential downsides when carrying kids with regular front- or rear-mounted child seats on a regular bike, she notes, like “[w]ith the back seat, some kids have their face crushed in the backpack of the rider” or in the front “the child’s head [can be] in the field of vision or the rider’s knees hit the seat”. But these problems have been solved by the unique geometry of the mamachari Japanese bikes. In front, U-shaped handlebars are specifically designed for the front child seat, considering the child seat not as an accessory but the reason for being a family bike.”
And then they can pedal
Once your children are old enough and attentive enough, they can be given a job: to help you power the bike! There are several ways that this can be accomplished:
A tandem is another option that we have explored, especially for bike touring.
Bike Friday seem to be a popular choice as they have a child stoker specific model, plus it was originally designed with kids in mind! There are also both traditional and unique options by companies like:
Doug Dunlop of Coldbike has seen two kids grow from infants on bikes to riding under their own steam: commuting to school, winter fat biking, and (winter) bikepacking. He writes,
“Kids eventually reach the magical age where they can pedal. They may not be able to ride, they may not be able to ride far, or they may just be in danger of tiring out. This is where the “third wheel” or trailer bike style of transport comes in to its own. They allow the child to pedal or not as the parent takes up the slack. They are great for kids who aren’t quite ready for traffic on their own bike, but want the independence of their own pedals.
“I have tried several models and, of these, I have owned three. One (the leading brand) was so wobbly that I found it dangerous and I was reluctant to even give it to my friend (who used it for five years).
“After trying a half-dozen different brands of trailer bike, I liked the Burley Piccolo and the Tout-Terrain Streamliner. Since the Piccolo attaches firmly to its own rack, it did not have clearance issues with large or fat tires like most of the seat post attachment style types do. I could also use a seatbag and I could attach panniers to the Piccolo‘s rack.
“The legendary Metal Cowboy, Joe Kurmaskie towed a Piccolo (towing a trailer!) across America. The Piccolo attaches firmly to its own rack and has a “headset” that screws and clamps to the rack. This design means that this model of trailer bike has little effect on handling.
“The Piccolo is a steady and reliable unit and I do not hesitate to violate all of the suggestions on the safety label. I rode it on several multi-day wilderness bikepacking trips and I found the ride to be comfortable and secure for all that I used it for. I just sold mine last year after using it for both my kids, I used it well beyond its design intent, and it never let me down.”
Please note that Doug modified his rear rack in order to better accommodate his fat biking setup (modifications included making it wider to accommodate a wider rear hub and to have better side tire clearance), otherwise it only fits up to 27.5+ tires stock.
“The second is the FollowMe Tandem coupler. This allows one to attach a 20″ or smaller wheeled bike to the rear hub of tow bike. Since the attachment is low and the hinge is long, the FollowMe Tandem has a great ride quality. It does not have enough ground clearance to be ridden mountain biking, but on roads, paths, and gravel, it works very well. Its best quality is that it allows the child’s bike to be removed in seconds to the child can ride independently, the FollowMe then folds and hooks flat to the tow bike. I most often used it to keep my children from wandering into traffic on busy sections of trips. For most trips, this meant that the FollowMe was folded on my bike more than 90% of the time — but was a great source of comfort when the time came that I wanted it.”
Doug’s FollowMe has found a new family within the neighbourhood!
Another option especially suitable for younger children who would like to pedal but are still prone to napping is the recumbent trailer bike by Weehoo. Various models are designed for one or two children and some have extra capacity for adventure!
I have heard mixed reviews on the stability of this seat-post mounted trailer bike, but also know one family who has put thousands of kilometres on theirs over the years so it can’t be that bad!
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