Traveling with Kids: Trailer, seat, or cargo bike?

So, you have a new addition to the family. Small, cute and precious. You have been taking care of this bundle 24hrs a day and going crazy with an urge to ride- with them.

Now what? Where do you go? What do you do? What do you choose? They are so small, moody and well, completely dependent on you! Oh, god…this is complicated or is it?

Like buying a car, each option for riding with kids is different and the preference is up to the family and what they plan to do and where they plan to go with their bikes. Some like the family Prius whereas others prefer the family van with DVDs for each cabin seat while others prefer no car at all.

Our Ride of Choice
Our Ride of Choice

For this introduction blog into the options I thought it would be extremely helpful to summarize the choices you have so you can make a well informed choice AND investment.

First things first, for safety and legal reasons, before riding check your local laws (Bike Laws per State) regarding age, ways that you can haul kids, and where you can within the law.

Next, the best check to see if your young one is ready to travel by bike- can they wear a helmet (ie: is their neck strong enough to keep their head up)? This may seem trivial BUT think about the impact you take when riding and the necessary strength as adults we already have to brace for impact and prevent jarring. Our kids need this too before trekking out into the world by bike.

So, here are the basics. I consider the options of beginning family biking with infants in 3 categories:

  • Bike seats
  • Trailers
  • Cargo bike/family bikes

This may seem like a limited list but within these 3 categories are a plethora of choices and options so let’s starts with the pros and cons from a purely conceptual point.

First, we will talk bike seats (Child Seat).

Car Seat and Smiles, photo by Taylor Miller
Car Seat and Smiles, photo by Taylor Miller

With bike seats you have 2 options. One is a rear bike seat and the other is a front mounted seat. For a safety standard, ATSM (US certification for bike seats) reviews ONLY rear bike seats AND in some states a front mounted seat is illegal so knowing your local bike laws is essential in this decision. There are EU standards that certify both front and rear mounted seats that you can look for such as BS EN 14344 Front Mount Cert (EU) and a website that provides further details on selecting one UK Bike Seat Guide

Front Bike Seat, Photo By Taylor Miller
Front Bike Seat, Photo By Taylor Miller
  • Pros of bike seats:
    • Kids get to sit up at your level to ‘see’ the world.
    • They sit closer to you physically so comforting them can be easier during a ride.
    • Depending on the choice of bike seat this may be your most economical purchase option in a given time frame.
    • For front mounted seats you can see your child at all times and ‘possibly’ brace your child from impact if in a crash.
    • It gets you and the little on moving on a bike possibly earlier than the other options. I say ‘possibly’ as laws, parental comfort and other factors impact this greatly.
    • Some bike seats have shock absorption, cushioning and specific harnessing that may help provide comfort on a ride.
  • Cons of bike seats:
    • Safety is still up for discussion. While they are commonly used, in a accident the child is vulnerable to injury, even in a possible ‘bracing’ situation an injury could be more severe for you which would nonetheless impact the child and their safety in a given situation.
    • Bike compatibility with the bike seat. Not all seats fit all bikes and this could limit your choices of seat.
    • Cargo space is limited with a bike seat. Making sure you have enough milk, snacks, clothes, diapers, etc may be a challenge for longer rides without sufficient storage options.
    • Weight and height restrictions on the seat may have your toddler outgrowing the seat before you are ready.
    • Space is limited to one child in the seat.
    • What do you do with the toddler if traveling by bike to an event where you may want access to a stroller as well at the destination…?
    • Protection from inclement weather is limited.
    • Without a secure kickstand, getting the child in and out of the car seat might be challenging if not a little dangerous.

Moving from car seats, we have trailers. I have a slight affinity and bias to trailers. I have owned and used a Burley D’Lite since the birth of my first child, over 4 years ago (Burley d’Lite). And they are almost always happy here…almost.

A nice snack break and smile
A nice snack break and smile
Trailers, napping, pillows AND stuffed animals!
Trailers, napping, pillows AND stuffed animals!

That being said there are both pros and cons regarding trailers that deserve discussion.

Trailer Riding, Photo by Taylor Miller
Trailer Riding, Photo by Taylor Miller

Again, as in bike seats, ATSM provides certification for trailers (ATSM F1975-09):

  • Pros of bike trailers:
    • You have the flexibility to hold us to 2 kids safely (trailers are either single or dual options)
    • Offer flexibility to ride with and without trailer at any given time with little removal frustration (ie: your bike will remain your bike until you want to take the kids with you)
    • Bike trailers offer protection from the elements, some even provide SPF protection and a cozy place for napping if need on a long commute or multiple errands.
    • Many offer stroller kit options so once you reach your destination AND the kid(s) are sleeping πŸ™‚ you can just detach from the bike and wheel away (trailer dependent)
    • Depending on bike laws and parental comfort you can place a car seat in the trailer for younger child.
    • Some trailers have a ‘roll bar’ enabling further safety for the child
    • The child are not as exposed to a fall with the bike. Typically the bike can fall but the trailer will remain stable. This is a
      dvantageous for multiple riding conditions and safety even just when parked in the garage.
    • Cargo space- you have it in the trailer (depending on the choice) as well as space for your pannier(s), bike rack, etc. on your bike.
    • More than likely the kids are in the trailer and do not have access to ‘throw’ toys outside of the trailer as they may in a car seat or cargo bike
    • You have a cargo carrier for utility cycling/commuting/etc once the kids outgrow the trailer.
  • Cons of bike trailers:
    • They take some time to get used to maneuvering and added strength when pedaling – this could be seen as an advantage as well as you get in some very good training while running errands or just having fun with the kids. As parents we multitask all the time πŸ™‚
    • Siblings jammed into the trailer for too long and as they are growing may cause you to stop more frequently (and possibly have a moment where you want to detach the trailer and ride away) to referee some fights
    • Growing kids will need a next stage once if they are either too long or too tired of their siblings πŸ™‚
    • Care is needed to maintain the wheels, fabric, suspension, etc. This can be said for all the options to haul kids but a trailer is a vehicle in itself so like your bike, it needs specific checking per its manual. Regular maintenance (and cleaning it periodically) is necessary for a safe and comfortable ride.

To round out the top 3 options for transporting kids at an early age, we have cargo or family bikes. There are several versions of these types of bikes and like car seats you have options for front loading as well as rear loading.

Long Board Cargo Bike: Monkey Bar Time!
Long Board Cargo Bike: Monkey Bar Time!

The most popular style of cargo or family bike is called the ‘long tail’. This is what you typically see on the streets with the Yuba’s or Xtracycle’s brands. Simply put, the rear loading makes it a little easier up hills with weight.

Mom,kids and cargo bike on the street of Tucson
Mom,kids and cargo bike on the street of Tucson

Many news outlets and magazines have caught the cargo bike fever and dubbed these bike alternatives as the “New Station Wagon” (Wall Street Journal – Cargo Bikes, Outdoor Magazine – Cargo Bikes) and the “Coolest Thing Ever” (Bicycling Magazine- Cargo Bikes)

Let’s explore the pros and cons of family or cargo bikes:

  • Pros of family/cargo bikes:
    • All in one bike with built in stability (to the kickstand) to allow for loading the bike without tip over risk or as much as with the added car seat.
    • Storage,storage, storage. This is basically what they are for…
    • These are being manufactured with electric options and electric kits. This can be very useful depending on your riding style and conditioning to haul the weight up and down hills.
    • The kids are close to you unlike a trailer and in essence- can touch and talk to you with ease. With a front loader you can visibly see the kids and they can see you. They are also up at your height for the most part so you see the same view which is a major plus especially with younger kids.
    • These can be built to grow with your family. You can have a child riding in a bike seat and one holding the monkey bars depending on your family needs and growth. Xtracylce actually uses the Yepp bike seat (Child Seat- Yepp) for young riders on their bikes. Also, even if you aren’t sold on a separate cargo bike benefits, there are kits you can buy that will turn your existing bike into a ‘cargo’ bike (Xtracycle Kits).
  • Cons of family/cargo bikes:
    • Without special preparation, inclement weather can be a challenge
    • You are without the stroller option and most likely if not in a bike seat, the kids are not sleeping, ever. That is good so they keep their stability within the bars but not so good if you are pushing their sanity and yours.
    • Some items may go flying out onto the road. This is not advantageous and minimizes your options for toys if the scenery gets ‘dull’. To the kids this is easily possible if the commute is known.
    • The investment in a bike solely for commuting, errands, etc is pretty steep. You may have a bike already that is easily adaptable for a bike seat or trailer but this is a bike all in itself and run upwards of well over $2k depending on choice and customization.
    • You are most likely not taking this bike on a long ride with other cyclists on either road or mountain bike rides. This is a comfort bike type ride.
    • Both a pro and con, the kids being in the element and on the bike can lead to some caution that they may be exposed more to injury in an incident when riding.

Wow, that was a lot to cover and we didn’t even get into the nitty gritty! I am saving that for future blogs once you have narrowed down your choice.

I have friends that have all the options listed above and they would swear to you their choice is the best. Like anything with parenting – choose what is best for you and works for your family.

While you may love the thought of the cargo bike, a bike trailer may be the better economical option that meets your needs and your wallet. Or a bike seat may be all you need or desire. Choose wisely and share the love of biking with the next generation. And, most importantly- safe riding everyone!


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