Monday, May 21, 2012

Biking with Small Children (aka High Occupancy Biking)

We have tried it before, this family bike riding.  But what we had needed all four of us to go on a bike ride. We had the baby in a back rack seat and the toddler in a half bike.  The problem was that the half bike attaches to the seat stem, so it couldn't be on at the same time as the baby rear seat.  It is also a bit heavy, since our rider wasn't pedaling all that much just yet.  We wanted him to get a feel for the breeze and biking together, so the half bike with pedals seemed an ideal solution.  My husband and I had gotten as far as interchangeable pieces on both bikes so we could switch kids on the fly (the seat slides into a rack and the half bike attaches to a round piece that stays on the stem), but we still both needed to be there to go biking.  This made biking recreation instead of transportation.

I wanted a better solution.  

... and we found one!  We can use the Burley Bee trailer and the Topeak back rack baby seat all on the same bike.  This means Mama doesn't need to wait for Daddy and can bike more often.

The Burley Bee is lightweight, at around 18 pounds empty.  It also folds down quickly and gets small, so it can fit in a car easily.  It can fit one or two children, and is rollover "safe."  My kids weigh about 65 pounds together, and when they are both in the trailer, it is slow going, but not that slow.  But they are only going to get heavier-- I am imagining this as progressive training.  There is a rain shield which rolls up when not in use.  We got caught in the rain once and it kept them splatter-free.  The Bee is rated to 100 pounds.  It has a huge amount of space behind the passenger for cargo in its own lift-up compartment.  Huge as in we fit a half-flat of strawberries and the rest of a Farmer's Market lode in there comfortably.

The trailer also clips on and off easily.  Its attachment is on the back wheel.  It is one pin and clip and safety strap and can be done one-handed on a flat surface.  This means I can take the toddler to school in this and leave it there and pick him and it up in it later.  Genius.  Its attachment location also means I can use my rack for other things... like the baby seat.  Although when I drop off the toddler that also means I lose my storage, so I have a handlebar bag (like this) for the baby's stuff.  Then we can fly home, 63 pounds lighter (45 pounds of toddler, and 18 pounds of trailer).

In addition to liking to be able to leave the trailer behind, I like having the baby close to me as we ride.  The toddler and I can have conversations with him way back in a trailer (or half bike), but it is nice to have the baby within touching distance to make sure he is okay.  I am not sure he loves wearing a helmet, but he has fallen asleep in the bike seat more than once, so it can't be all that bad.

We used the same baby bike seat when the toddler was little, and logged many miles around town.  Its biggest issue was the lack of storage.  We could go places, but not run errands.  And we needed to share a water bottle and pack light.

I love how the rear baby seat doesn't change the space the bike takes up, and it only minimally changes the maneuverability.  With the trailer, you need to use the gears a lot and look very far ahead to gauge terrain changes and it feels a lot less maneuverable.  But the bike seat on the rack is only a weight difference.  I have been hesitant to try a front-mounted baby seat because I wanted to block the wind and flying things from Baby's face a bit, and possibly impact if that were ever the case.  I also imagined weight on the front to change the center of gravity while riding, but have heard it's not a big deal.

In addition to preschool and the Farmer's Market, we ride along the path close to our house.  There is a park about 4 miles away on the trail, so it is a nice ride for me then play for them, then ride for me.  I try and find paths to ride on that have bike lanes or aren't too busy.  Hills are also magnified when carrying an extra 85 pounds and some length, so flat rides are easier.  I often run through the gears on the way back down with all that weight barreling us ahead.

Even with these considerations, I love to ride the bike as of a matter of course.  We have mapped out a way to get to the grocery store without going along the main path, and the toddler said he will sit with a bag of groceries and put one in the back, so I think we will try that next.  I love exemplifying using a smaller footprint whenever possible, plus it always makes me feel better when I get my heart rate up.  I am so thrilled to have found a way to bike with two little ones.

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