Biking with kids: Trailer bike vs. tandem

I started this post just two weeks after we got Big Blue.  Don’t get me wrong, we plan to get many more years of use carrying Gabriel on the longtail, but things change fast with kids, and finding a quality, used product takes time.

We still have awhile before G is ready to ride independently on the streets with us, so for now I’m considering options that would allow him to pedal with us.  Gabriel is now tall enough to fit many trailer bike set-ups, though I’m not quite sure that he’s developmentally ready for this step, but perhaps by next spring or summer.

The two main options for your child pedaling with you are some type of trailer bike or a tandem that has a rear (stoker) position that fits a small rider.

Trailer bikes
These are pretty common and easy to find.  You can get a new trailer bike for between $200 and $400, depending on brand and features.  A general pro is that we could purchase an extra hitch and/or rack (the Roland and Burley each attach to a custom rear rack), so that Gabriel could easily ride with either Matthew or me.  The trailer bike could be easily detached and left at school if one of us was doing drop-off and the other pick-up (or it could hitch a ride home in Baba’s car).

What’s in the running for us:

  • Roland add+bike: Very highly recommended by the folks over at Hum of the City — see their review here.  Of course, my number one trailer bike choice would have to be made in Germany and not widely available in the U.S.  Rumor has is that we could order one through J.C. Lind Bike Co. in Chicago, though this would easily be the most expensive option (with import shipping, probably around $500), and the one we are least likely to find used.
  • Something by Burley, either the Piccolo (pricier, but has gears and the option of converting to a stand-alone kid’s bike) or the more basic Kazoo.
  • The Weehoo iGo PRO: this seems like a cool concept, and the product gets great reviews.  If I found a great price on a used Weehoo, I might go for it.  In general, the Weehoo would be particularly good if you were concerned about your kid falling asleep or otherwise not staying on the bike.  Otherwise, I think I’d opt for one that gives more of a true riding a bike experience.

Given that this is something we’ll probably only use for few years, I doubt we’ll spring for the Roland, which means we’ll likely end up with one of the Burley options.  For a comparison of even more trailer bike options, see this guide over at Two Wheeling Tots.

As far as I know, there are exactly two bikes that would fit the bill here.  I first became aware of the tandem option when I read about the Circe Helios on the Less Car More Go Facebook group.  The appeal is that either Matthew or I could ride as captain with Gabriel as stoker, OR Matthew and I could ride this bike together (if I can get over my control issues and deal with being stoker 😉 ).

Circe Cycles is based in the U.K., and they have exactly one U.S. dealer, located on the East coast.  On the low side, once we paid for shipping and such, I think we’d spend at least $2000 on this bike.  Given that we just recently made a big ol’ bike purchase (Big Blue), I’m not really sure this is in the cards.

Recently, a friend pointed out his Bike Friday tandem, which he’s been riding with his preschool-age grandson.  Bike Friday offers three models of their tandem (including a folding option).  The Family Tandem is the most basic, and it starts at $1300.  Quite a bargain for a tandem, but still an investment.

Both the Circe and the Bike Friday tandem use 20″ wheels, which makes for low step-over height, and they both claim to fit a relatively wide range of rider heights.  The suggested rider heights for the Circe Helios are 4′ 10″ to 6′ 5″ for the captain, and 3′ 6″ to 6′ 2″ for the stoker (though elsewhere on the website they mention 6′ as the max ideal stoker height).  I don’t have the exact numbers for the Bike Friday, but they are similar.

I’m not sure how a tandem would work for our everyday riding.  If we used a tandem to take Gabriel to school, then after Matthew or I dropped him off, we’d be riding around with an empty stoker seat.  I’m not sure how the bike would handle in this set-up.

At this point, it’s unlikely that we’d be able to ride either of the tandems before purchasing, which is a big downside (though it worked out okay with Big Blue).  I question whether Matthew and I, both on the tall side, would truly be comfortable on either of these bikes together, so being able to test drive would be really nice.

Next steps for us
I like the idea of the tandem, but I’m not sure I can justify the purchase.  Given both the versatility, lower cost, and greater availability of the trailer bikes, I imagine we’ll go that route.  I plan to keep an eye on Craigslist in the coming months (wish there were a way to set up an auto-alert!).




Balloons and bicycles, times two

This past weekend was all about hot air balloons.  We kicked things off with a bikey outing on Friday night.  Bikes are the way to access this event.  No getting stuck in traffic; no parking and walking from far away.  We biked from The Hill to Forest Park, through the VIP parking barricades (with a wave and a nod from the guard), and right up to the edge of the balloon field.  We had a rather impressive number of bikes locked together, as you can see in the top photo in Rebecca’s post.

We enjoyed a lovely potluck picnic spread as the sun set and the balloons started to glow behind us.  We forgot our camera, so I’ll let you enjoy Rebecca (linked above) and Mike’s photos.

On Saturday, Matthew finished up at the garden early so we could take Gabriel to the park for the balloon launch.  Similar to last year, we packed a picnic dinner.  Unfortunately, I forgot to pack any toys, a lapse which someone lamented greatly.

Also similar to last year, Sir seemed as interested in the bounce houses as the balloons.  (Sigh.  Three year olds!)

We brought the camera, but I only caught one thing flying this year:


On the way home, we stopped for gelato.  Gabriel had his very own cone — blueberry and chocolate chip — which he thoroughly enjoyed.

We couldn’t have asked for better weather over the weekend!  Friday’s biking was lovely.  Saturday’s trip was a bit stressful; we’re struggling a bit with the dynamics of riding together (vs. solo riding).  Not a new problem, but one we’re hoping to solve (I may say more about this later), so future bike outings are more enjoyable.

First big grocery haul by longtail

Today, I set out to test the Roadrunner’s cargo capacity, seeing if she was up to a grocery run.  We have a grocery store just over a mile away that I use for small, weekly needs, but I keep a running list of bulk items, as well as other groceries that are a particularly good buy at either Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s.

The two stores are near each other, and, if possible, I make the trip (which happens about every 1.5 months), when I’m already planning to be in that neck of the woods with the car.  I usually return with six (or more) very loaded grocery bags, something my regular bike was not up to, at least not without the trailer (and the trailer wouldn’t fit on MetroLink (our light rail system)).

With the reduced cargo capacity of our side-loader bags, due to the Yepp childseat, I wasn’t sure how Roadrunner would do on this trip, but it was time for a test.

The trip started with a nice 2.5 mile ride to the MetroLink station.  I wheeled Roadrunner up the ramp and onto the train . . .


. . . and it was a perfect fit!  With the center kickstand deployed, the front wheel was hanging out over the stairwell, and she was pretty darn stable.


I almost thought I could sit down and leave her there, but the movement of the train meant that she need a little bracing every now and then.  Ten minutes and four stops later, we de-trained at the Richmond Heights stop and cruised down Brentwood Blvd. to WF.

My biggest hurdle this trip was time, as I had under 2.5 hours for both transit and shopping.  Well, that, and not letting my eyes get bigger than my cargo space.  The need for speed forced me to stick to my shopping list, which minimized the size of my load.

All appearances to the contrary, that trash can is not part of my cargo.

The WF haul consisted of bulk bin items and a couple of dairy products (those are in the insulated bag strapped into the child seat).  The bill (under $100!) confirmed that it was a rather light shopping trip, but I bought everything on my list.

Next stop, Trader Joe’s.  Next dilemma — leave my WF groceries on the bike, or carry everything in with me to TJ?  I compromised by bringing the insulated bag in with me, but leaving the two bags of dry goods in the side-loader bags with the bike.  Happily, they were there waiting for me when I returned with two more bags from TJ’s.


I thought I would have more strapped onto the rack behind the Yepp seat, but my duffle bag was mostly empty.


Verdict: Roadrunner hauled everything on my list, and had room for more, but perhaps not ALL that much more, with our current set-up.  A milk crate on the back would be convenient for grocery trips, but I would want a way to take it on and off easily, because the rack is convenient for some items.  The Yepp seat could be removed, but I really don’t want to take it on and off all of the time, and I can make use of the space in the seat.

The ride home, fully loaded, was not really all that different from an empty bike, and once again, everything went smoothly on MetroLink.  To be fair, my groceries probably weighed in under 50 pounds (or not much over), making the total cargo not that much more than carrying Sir on the bike, but there’s nothing wrong with starting small.  I also managed to make the trip in just under my 2.5 hour time limit, so success on all fronts!

Bikey books for kids

A couple of months ago, I explored options for toys that don’t reinforce the car culture, or, to put a positive spin on it, toys that build and reinforce bike culture.  Unlike bicycle toys, books about bicycles are relatively easy to find (though still much less prevalent than books about cars, trucks, and other motorized machines), and acquiring said books was my mission this month.


Curious George Rides a Bike
This was low-hanging fruit.  Gabriel loves cute-sy George,” and there’s a George book about almost every topic under the sun.  We had previously checked out a cardboard book simply entitled Curious George Rides, and despite the front cover, which features George riding a bike, that book covered various forms of transportation, not just bicycles.

By contrast, Curious George Rides a Bike is just what I wanted.  I like that the bicycles in the book have practical features, like fenders and lights.

Bear on a Bike
This book is similar to Curious George Rides, in that Bear tries various forms of transportation, not just a bicycle.  But the bicycle is featured on the cover and in the title, and, once again, we have a nice, practical bicycle, this time complete with a front cargo basket and a rear child seat for Bear’s little friend.

Franklin Rides a Bike
A cute story about how Franklin overcomes his fear of riding without training wheels so he can keep up with all of his friends on their bicycle adventures.  When reading together, I’ve been focusing on the theme of trying again if something doesn’t work the first time.

Sally Jean, the Bicycle Queen
This may be the cream of the crop, and it doesn’t hurt that it is written and illustrated by bikey ladies.  In her bio, the auther, Cari Best, writes about growing up with bicycles:

I rode my “new” bicycle everywhere with great pride . . . . I even pedaled to LaGuardia Airport and rode across the shadows of the giant planes parked on the ground.

I used to pretend that my bike was my car. We didn’t own one, and almost never took a vacation. But I didn’t miss going on car trips because I had my bike.

Sally Jean not only rides bicycles, she repairs them, too, and the book follows Sally Jean from her introduction to bicycles (riding on the back of Mama’s bike) to building her very own grown-up bike when she outgrows her kid bike.  The strong female lead earned the book a place on the Top 100 Mighty Girl Picture Books list.


Since picking these books up on Sunday, Sir seems to be at least a bit more interested in riding his own bike, and he is definitely enthusiastic about the books!

Any other great kids’ bicycle books that I’m missing?  I’d love to add to this list.

Biking begets biking

Given the frequency of snow-pack and ice on the roads, combined with some very cold temps, I spent a significant portion of the winter hibernating, bicycle-wise (and in general — I don’t like driving a car on snowy, icy roads much more than I like biking on said roads, so, when possible, I just avoided going out, unless I could walk to my destination).

I’ve been making up for lost time these past few weeks, logging quite a number of bike trips and racking up the miles.  Instead of having a hard time remembering when I last rode, I know have to think I minute to recall a day when I didn’t ride!

Friday: “Bike to Work Day”
Bike to Work Day is kind-of odd when biking to work is your default, but it’s fun to have a day to officially celebrate our transportation method of choice.  Even though I work from home, we all got in the spirit, and Gabriel and I accompanied Matthew most of the way to work, stopping at one of the official “refueling stations,” before heading to La Patisserie Chouquette for a bakery treat . . .


. . . only to find that their hours had changed, and they didn’t open until nine.  Boo, hiss!

We salvaged the outing by biking to Rise Coffee instead, where we were offered a free shot of espresso (for all cyclists on BtW Day).  We’re not coffee drinkers, but the barista was undaunted, and he made us each a honey piccolo (basically a milky, honey-sweetened espresso shot), to accompany our baked goods, which included a delicious rhubarb muffin and a cheddar chive scone, as well as a thumbprint cookie.


We had our snacks, and then I biked home to work.

Saturday: Velo in the City
Last fall, I met a wonderful CyclingSavvy grad who was starting Velo in the City, a group for like-minded bikey people to meet up and enjoy social rides to various destinations in StL.  The first event-to-be was scheduled for December, but cancelled due to weather, and then we just had months and months of winter weather.

Six months later, Velo in the City had it’s inaugural event, a bike ride to Forest Park, complete with a potluck-style picnic in the park.

Photo courtesy of Monica
Photo courtesy of Monica

It was a perfect spring day, starting off cool, and warming up, but not getting hot, and the company was great, as was the food.  We also had a birthday to celebrate, and a couldn’t resist a bikey cake!

Photo courtesy of Rebecca
Photo courtesy of Rebecca

I felt very content as we chatted and shared food, a nice, comfortable “these are my kind-of people” feeling.  I’m looking forward to future events!

Sunday: Family Day
After Saturday’s lovely ride, I just couldn’t stop thinking about being on the bike.  We had plans for lunch at my FIL’s, which, at four miles away, is a relatively easy ride (both in terms of effort/energy expended and time required), but Matthew wanted to sneak in a couple more hours at the garden (at my MILs, which is 10+ miles).

In the end, I managed both.  Sir and I biked to my FILs first-thing in the morning, left Roadrunner there, and continued on to my MILs by car with Matthew.

This was probably my longest ride on Roadrunner with a passenger, and it included two tough hills — the first one just steep and challenging, and the second, immediately after the first, tough because I’m still recovering from the first hill (this is not unlike the hill situation that either Matthew and I will be tackling regularly in the fall, on the way home from Sir’s preschool).  I made it up both hills, slowly but surely, with my passenger chanting, “Go, Mama, go!”

And more bike
I started the work week with a ride to the community college this morning (part of my circuitous route to possibly applying for SLU’s physician assistant (PA) program), for more tests to prove that I am, in fact, “college ready” (in case my undergraduate degree and my master’s, both from rather good schools, didn’t make that clear), and we’re going by bike to look at a couple of houses this afternoon.  Pedals up and bike on!