Biking with baby: Trailer vs. front seat vs. rear seat

This is probably the last “Biking with baby” post that I’ll write.  Sir is certainly no longer a baby — he’s well into toddler-hood, and, in a few short months, he’ll be a [young] preschooler — but I started writing this post over a year ago, when he was about 19-months-old.

With the addition of our longtail with a rear child seat, we’ve now tried three out of the four main methods I can think of for transporting a baby or toddler by bicycle: trailer, front-mounted seat, and rear-mounted seat.  That just leaves some type box bike on our “yet to try” list (maybe that will happen in Portland this summer!).  So, let’s start at the very beginning, shall we?

Oh, the trailer.  Going into this whole biking with a baby thing, the trailer was really the only option I knew of for riding with a little one, short of buying a box bike.  (A trailer or a box bike really are the only options, short of carrying the infant on one’s body, for safely biking with a baby who is too young to support his/her own head, which usually happens around the 12-month mark.)

So, we did our research, decided that the Chariot Cougar trailers, with their built-in suspension systems, were the best-of-the-best, and finally found a good deal on a very good condition, 2-child model.  We added the baby supporter accessory and were good to go.  Kind-0f.

Ready to roll
Ready to roll

In reality, biking with a small infant in a trailer is tricky.  The baby supporter seemed necessary to keep him from just tipping over (even strapped in), and the optional neck/head support is not optional with a 6-month-old.  However, it didn’t really work to use the head support piece AND a helmet (and at 6-months old, even with a big head, the smallest helmets were too big anyway).  Even though I don’t [usually] preach about it, I’m a helmet girl myself, and riding around with a helmet on my head, but NOT on my baby’s head, always felt wrong.

Also, even with the baby supporter, Sir always slumped to one side or the other in the trailer, and, understandably, he was not happy about it.  This continued to be an issue with the Chariot trailer even after he outgrew the baby supporter.

In hindsight, we would have been better served by a 1-child bicycle trailer.  I’ve heard about people securing a standard infant car seat directly in a 1-child trailer.  Using a car seat would have allowed us to start biking with Sir at an even earlier age, and it would have been easier to prop him up and eliminate the slumping/tipping problem we encountered.

In June 2012, just shy of Sir’s first birthday, my biking with babies world changed dramatically when I acquired an IBert front-seat.  We kept the trailer for back-up, rain, cold, etc., but the Chariot rarely saw the light of day after that.*

Front seat
Best. Thing. Ever.  Our IBert front-seat was a total game changer in terms of biking with an infant/toddler!  I cannot recommend a front seat enough, for all of the reasons that S covers so succinctly over at Simply Bike.**

Riding with a front seat was easy from the get-go, and, now that I can compare, I can report that overall bike handling and balance was better with a front seat than with a rear seat.

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But the real selling point of the front seat is the constant parent-child interaction and priceless bike-bonding time.  You just don’t get that with a rear child seat (more on that in the next section).

My only complaint with the IBert is the strap system.  The shoulder straps are widely spaced, and it was difficult to keep them from slipping off of Sir’s shoulders.  Once he got bigger, the straps were also not long enough to really fit.  Fortunately, there is a lap bar that also clicks into place, so even with the wonky shoulder straps, I always felt he was fairly secure.

At least on our older model, the strap also had to go over the head, which meant the helmet had to go on after clipping him in and come off before removing him from the seat — this was annoying in instances where we were making a very short stop, say, running into a store to grab one thing, and it would have been convenient to just leave the helmet on his head.

While there are a variety of options, I would say either the IBert or the Yepp Mini are the way to go here.  While I really liked the IBert overall, given the issues with the straps, I would certainly look into the Yepp Mini, were I to do it all over again.  But I also would not hesitate to buy the IBert.

The IBert is rated for children up to 38 pounds.  Sir is just shy of that number, but, although the seat doesn’t officially have a height limit, at 39 inches tall, his legs have been pretty cramped in the IBert since last fall, and I’m now bumping my chin on his helmet.  Time for something new.

Rear seat
After a lot of research and pondering, we settled on a longtail bicycle with a rear child seat (Yepp Maxi) as the best option for biking with an older toddler.  You can put a rear seat on almost any bicycle, but most set-ups come at the expense of cargo room, which we weren’t willing to give up, hence the longtail.


The longtail also provides a very stable base for the seat (especially with the heavy duty center kickstand), and, once he outgrows the Yepp seat (48 pound weight limit), we can add either the Hooptie accessory or just a standard handlebar, mounted to our seat post, along with a cushion, and continue to carry our growing passenger for many years.

Our longtail is great, but I do miss having my little guy right up front with me, between my arms.  With him in back of me, I can usually hear what he’s saying perfectly well, but I don’t think he catches much of what I say unless I turn around, which is unsafe and unpractical to do all that much.

There are a few options that might get Gabriel in front of me again, and, ideally, we would have a second kid-hauling bike set-up anyway (say, if Matthew used the Roadrunner to drop Sir off at school in the morning on his way to work, but I needed to pick Sir up in the afternoon), but that’s for another post!

*We ultimately decided to part with the trailer this spring.  It was tempting to keep it as a back-up and for bad weather, but it really didn’t make sense — the money and garage space went to the Roadrunner.  I almost felt guilty selling it because having the child on the bike is just SO superior to pulling a trailer!
**More from Simply Bike on trailer vs. front seat here

Spring cleaning for cash

As of Saturday afternoon, we have a bicycle trailer-size space in our garage.  After about six weeks on Craigslist (felt like longer!), with me questioning all along rather I really wanted to sell it, Sir’s Chariot found a new home.

Given that we’ve probably used the trailer to transport Gabriel all of ten times in the two-and-a-half years we’ve owned it, letting it go was certainly the logical thing to do.  But of course there was that little voice saying, “What if you need it?”  Once you have something, it’s much easier to default to keeping it, just in case.

That, and the fact that the trailer was a really exciting purchase — a great product for a great price (we got a very good condition, high end trailer for about 1/3 retail value) — and the culmination of months of searching CL, for the item that would allow me to use my preferred form of transportation, with an infant (at the time, I did not know about the wonder of front-mount infant seats).

Ironically, as hard as it was to find a used Chariot (now Thule Chariot) trailer in the fall of 2011, by the time I decided to put the trailer on CL this spring, they were everywhere.  It both made me despair of ever selling ours, and feel a bit better about the decision to sell, knowing that if, for some reason, we decided we really wanted a child trailer again, we might have an easier time finding one.


The sale/cleaning also included the Yepp Maxi standard rear seat that I bought in error (we needed the Yepp Maxi Easyfit for the Edgerunner).  We debated keeping the standard seat as well, as a back-up child transport option, but instead we have a plan in the works to retrofit one of our existing bikes to work with the Easyfit seat (more on that later).

I’m also planning on making a rain/weather cover for the Yepp seat (having something to keep Sir dry was one of the main arguments in favor of keeping the trailer).

On a side note, the CL sale was cash (the only thing I’ll accept as a CL seller).  After selling Matthew’s bike in July, I commented that I wanted one of those counterfeit-bill detector markers for future big-ticket sales.  I didn’t get around to getting one, of course, and then the trailer buyer prefaces handing me five hundred-dollar bills by asking, “Have you seen the ones that look like this before?”

All about the Benjamins

Of course, since I don’t walk around carrying c-notes, I had, in fact, not seen the “new” hundreds (actually dated 2009), and I was more than a bit wary.  I’m pretty sure they’re legit, but I wrote down the guy’s license plate number, just in case (he seemed like a nice guy, but you never know).

In the end, the hardest part was negotiating a price with the buyer (done by email and text before we ever met), when all along I had the little voice questioning the decision to sell in the first place.  Twenty-four hours post-sale, I’m feeling rather good about the decision, which is a good sign.  No seller’s remorse, so far.

Given the recent [temporary] addition of the refrigerator, garage space is still going to be tight when we bring the Edgerunner home this week (!), but having the trailer gone will certainly help!


Waiting on our longtail bicycle

At the end of December, we started talking with a local bike shop (LBS) about options for ordering an Xtracycle Edgerunner.  The guy we worked with did a great job helping us price the different options.  Then came decision time.

To make the comparison easier, I added some details to the “pricing” page of the standard bike specs document for the Edgerunner, so we could see options with prices all on one page (details here: EdgerunnerOptions).

We were fairly sure we wanted an internal hub, and the most affordable option was to just start with the frame & fork and build it up from there (by which I mean the bike shop will be building it up from there, with some input from us as to the components).  As for accessories, we’re getting Standard Racks, the FlightDeck, the KickBack Center Stand (a super-stable, two-legged kickstand) and the X2 bags (which are waterproof).

By the time we made all of the decisions and finalized our order, Xtracycle was sold out of the frame & fork in our chosen color (Zone Blue) until mid-March.  (A note on frame color: we quickly ruled out both the white and the orange frames, leaving light blue or black. Despite blue being my favorite color, I didn’t love that shade of blue for a bicycle, and I had some temptation toward the sleek simplicity of the black — but we went with the blue.)

So now we wait.  The fact that we’ve had so much crappy weather and so much snow and ice on the roads actually makes the wait easier — even if we had the bike already, it would mostly be sitting around, lonely and gathering dust.

UPDATE: I wrote this post on Sunday.  Yesterday, our LBS guy checked in with Xtracycle, and they’re now not expecting this shipment until early- to mid-April.  Boo, hiss!!!

I decided not to order the child seat (Yepp Maxi EasyFit) directly from Xtracycle, in the hopes of finding a used one on EBay or Craigslist.  Turns out, there aren’t many out there, at least not on EBay or my local-ish CL options (StL, Kansas City, Colombia, MO), so when I saw an auction for a “new, opened-box” blue Yepp Maxi on EBay, I decided to go for it, and I won the auction.  Once you factor in the shipping, it wasn’t a great deal, but it did save some money.

The seat I bought included the adapter for attaching it to a regular bicycle, which we won’t need once we have the Edgerunner.  However, since we don’t expect the Edgerunner for at least a month, I installed the seat on Matthew’s bike.


When I first opened the box and started looking at the seat and the mounting hardware, I had a moment of panic where I wondered if we would, in fact, actually still be able to use our rear racks and panniers with the child seat.  The assumption that we would not was largely what led us to purchase a longtail in the first place.  Had we just spent all that money for nothing?

While you can’t necessarily tell from the above picture, my fears were quickly assuaged once I actually started installing the seat — no way is the rear rack useable with the seat in place.  (We noticed that Yepp UK has a rack extender accessory that would theoretically allow you to use the seat and standard panniers on a regular (i.e., non-longtail) bicycle.)

At just over 35-pounds, Sir is still under the 38-pound weight limit for the IBert front seat (though his height means his legs are a bit cramped), and I’ll enjoy getting at least a few more rides with him up front with me.  Once we get the Edgerunner, I’ll be looking for a new [long-term loan] home for the IBert (if you’re interested, and local, let me know), hopefully someone who will use and enjoy it as much as I did!

Bikey stuff

For my St. Louis area readers, it’s not too late to sign up for Truth & Techniques of Traffic Cycling on August 22nd at 6:3opm, details and registration here.

If you’re into planning ahead, check out the fall schedule, with full workshops, including the on-bike sessions, offered in both September and October.

Be Informed
Check out the plans to make a simple, straightforward road (Manchester Rd. in StL City) that currently works for all users into something messy and complicated for all: “A Tragedy of Good Intentions.”

While the plans mentioned above are not for separated cycle paths, this post, from Off The Beaten Path, addresses what I felt when I read about the proposed plans: “Did you guys ask any people who regularly cycle on that stretch of road for their opinion when considering changes?”

Not-so-hot biking
The weather we’ve had for the last month or so tempts me to forgive St. Louis for the brutal summers of the past two years.

Sure, some days, the temperatures still climb into the mid- to upper-80s, which count as hot in my book, but we’ve had a number of days with highs in the low-80s and even some with upper-70s.

Today’s high is a glorious 76°F, which is lower than the usual overnight lows at this time of year.  Amazing!

The hot weather plants in the garden may not be thrilled with this cooler weather, but I’ll take it over the heat any day, though it’s probably not helping drive traffic to my “biking in the heat” post.

While I am NOT complaining, the cooler temps have actually made for a couple of chilly rides, including the World Naked Bike Ride (turns out that temps in the mid- to low-70s are not ideal for biking while wearing [almost] no clothes) and a ride home from the Muny last week.

Even with the cooler temps, I complete my bike errands in the morning to avoid peak sun times.  This morning found me riding to complete paperwork for my new [very] part-time job, which will officially start in a couple of weeks.

Resuming longtail conversations
Our longtail discussion/decision was relegated to the back burner due to summer travel, health issues, and general life uncertainty and craziness.  Not sure where it will end, but we’re revisiting the topic, and not a moment too soon given Sir’s height, which threatens to overwhelm the IBert any day now.

Longtail comparison: Yuba Mundo, Kona Ute, and Surly Big Dummy

Update [5/19/2015]: Though not originally on our list, we ended up choosing the Xtracycle Edgerunner.  We’ve had the bike for a year now, and couldn’t be happier with our choice.  Maybe one of these days I’ll get around to adding it to this comparison chart.

I’ve been drooling over longtail cargo bikes for more than a year now, and, with Sir close to outgrowing the IBert, the time has come.

Over the past few months, we’ve done our research, comparing the options and doing some limited test riding.  I created this table to aid in the comparison process.  We eliminated the Big Dummy fairly early on, given its sticker price and lower load capacity, hence the incomplete column.

Kona Ute

Yuba Mundo

Surly Big Dummy

Base price $1300 $1250 $2400-2600
Weight 35+ lbs 48 lbs
Max Hauling Cap. ??? 440 lbs (+rider) 400 lbs total
Bags X $129 (x2)
Toddler seat $230 $169
Fenders X X
Front-wheel stabilizer X X
Side loaders no X
Disc brakes X $100-$250
Kickstand X X

An “X” indicates that the feature is included in the base price of the bike.

The Ute comes in an 18″ and 20″ frame size.  At 6’2″, Matthew was comfortable on both.  I rode the 20″ MinUte and found it fairly comfortable, although I wondered if I would have felt a bit more stable on the 18″.

The rear wheel on the Ute is larger than that on other longtails, meaning that the load on the rear rack has a higher center of gravity.  I’ve read some complaints about this making the bicycle difficult to handle, particularly for shorter riders.

The Mundo frame is one-size-fits-all riders from 5′ to 6’5″.  I met a local Mundo family, but so far our efforts to set up a test ride haven’t worked (their bike needs a new wheel and some other work to be ride-able).  Unfortunately, there are not [yet] any Yuba dealers in St. Louis.  The closest dealer is two hours away in Columbia, MO, so we have yet to test ride a Mundo.

Since longtails are a rarity around here, our chances of finding a used one of any kind is practically zero.

Despite it feeling a bit like flying blind, since I’ve never ridden either the Ute or the Mundo (or any other longtail, for that matter), we’ve decided to take the plunge.  So, any guesses which bike we’re picking?


Read more longtail reviews (from people who’ve actually ridden them!) and check out some other cargo bike options at the links below:

Cargo bike pocket reviews
Loaner bike: Yuba Mundo v4
We ride: Our Fleet
Joe Bike — Cargo bikes