Monday, April 2, 2007

Bring Your Kids With You!

A while back, I promised my friend Matt that I'd do a post about bike trailers. Well, with the warmer days apparently upon us, now seems to be the perfect time to do just that.

A Bike TrailerThere are three options for those who want to bring kids with us on bikes: trailers, seats, and trail-a-bikes. Trailers are just what you're thinking: a wheeled contraption that you tow behind you on your bike, and on which the child pretty much just sits. This is what my wife and I have for our boy to ride along with us. He loves it and a bike ride with him is always a fun adventure when in one of these contraptions.

A nice thing about trailers is that they can be used for more than just carrying your children around - you can use them to carry items home from running errands and the like as well. Also, it's easier for the child to bring along a beverage or snack in case they get thirsty while you're out. The downside is that it's a little hard to hear your child if they need something while you're riding.

The one we have, which is the Burley Bee as seen on this page, has a roll-up plastic sheet that either allows the wind to hit the passenger's face or if closed protects the passenger from the elements. It also has a conversion kit to allow you to make it a jogging stroller if you are so inclined. It has a safety strap and a quick-release option that will keep it upright, yet connected, in case you go down on your bike.

The second option is a bike seat. You've seen these... these are the seats that sit behind the rider's saddle over the rear wheel. The benefit of these is that it's easier to hear the child if they need something. I imagine that they're actually cheaper, too. The downside, as I see it, is that if you go down, the kid goes down, too. Also, having one of these on your bike can negate your ability to have a set of panniers or baskets on the rear of your bike. If you have only one bike and use it regularly for commuting, then a bike seat might not be the best option.

The third option for bringing the kids with you is the trail-a-bike, which you probably have seen as well. These are those half-bike things that allow your child to ride along with you on the back of your bike. They have to pedal and hold the handlebars, and are a great tool for helping to teach your child how to ride a bike properly.

In fact, I've read in a couple of spots that they are BETTER than a bike with training wheels, as training wheels don't allow for the concept of leaning into turns and such. All the steering with training wheeled-bikes is done with the handlebars... which sounds all right until you think about how you actually bike... you don't really turn the handlebars, you lean into a turn and control the lean somewhat with the handlebars. A trail-a-bike will get new cyclists more used to that leaning action.

This is by no means a consensus opinion, though. If you search around on Google you'll find that many folks won't let their kids onto a trail-a-bike until they had a chance to learn with training wheels. I understand both arguments, and not having had to train a child to ride a bike yet, I'm not going to put in an opinion on this one.

One opinion that I will put forth is that even if you decide upon a trailer for your child, you still need to put a helmet on them. You never know what you're going to encounter when you're bicycling and it's better to be safe than sorry. Plus, your kid may just love the helmeted experience. My boy didn't want to take his new helmet off when he got it for his last birthday - he wore it for the rest of his party!

At any rate, if you go out to Bicycle Trailers.com you'll find all sorts of information on this topic, as well as a number of products and reviews for these things. All the bike shops that I've seen in town have trailers for sale, and you can also find trailers at some of the big box stores like Target.

Keep in mind, however, that you'll probably find more quality products at your local bike shops - this is a time when you really don't want to skimp as your children's safety will be affected. You'll also benefit from specialists who will be able to show you how to attach trailers, seats, etc. to YOUR bike (if you bring it with you) so that there's no question when you're ready to ride.

Kids love bikes, there's no question. My boy loves bicycles and loves to go on a ride with mom and dad in his trailer. What better way to get your kids to love bikes than to include them on rides in a fun way like this!

I'd like to get a lot of reader input on the trailer/seat/trail-a-bike products that are out there, or on anything I've said in the article! PLEASE comment on your experience with these products!

5 comments:

  1. I found with a two seater trailer that it was too wide to fit through a lot of store doors, which reduced its usage a bit. My son loved going out for rides in it, but he's outgrown it now - we had a good couple of years' use out of it, and it's in good enough condition to hand on to someone else.

    I'm currently waiting for spring to hit, and then we're going to buy a trail-a-bike for my son. Since he has Cerebral Palsy and a tendency to twiddle, I'm getting the single speed model with chainguard, and also the backrest with seatbelt to stop him falling off.

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  2. Thanks, Steve. The issue of parking trailers and/or bringing them inside is certainly an important one - no point in having a trailer if it's too hard to keep safe from thieves.

    I am assuming that you and your son didn't go out too much in inclement weather, but if you did, how effective was your trailer at fighting that? As you're from Nova Scotia where you get more cold and precipitation than we do in Columbus, your insight would be very valuable here.

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  3. We got caught in the rain a few times. The fenders on my bike stopped the spray, and the rain shield kept the water out. It seemed pretty dry in there - the seat was raised up so it would take quite a soaking before that got wet.

    In terms of cold, it wasn't too bad. I didn't take the trailer out when there was salt on the roads, I think the coldest I had it out was -5C or so. With the wind shield and rain shield in place it was pretty cosy in there, especially on sunny days.

    When I parked it I usually used a U-lock to lock the frame onto my bike, then another U-lock to lock onto the bike rack, which worked pretty well. It would have been nice to wheel it in, though - that was the whole point of getting the stroller attachment!

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  4. I recently bought a used trail-a-bike to use with a kid whom I mentor. The kid had never ridden a bike before and is a bit on the older/bigger end of using the bike, but we've used it a couple times and it's been very enjoyable.

    I had taken other kids out on bike rides and if the kid isn't very experienced it can be frustrating all around. I get frustrated because I always have the kids in front and then I follow behind so that I can watch them...however, it's hard to communicate and I'm always nervous about whether the front kid will remember to stop when the path meets the intersection. Plus I end up going really, really slow when you're with a kid...like 5 miles an hour.

    With the trail-a-bike both of those annoyances are taken care of-I have complete control...the kid can't go anywhere without me, but the kid still gets to pedal and participate...also we can go faster, even though I'm doing most of the work.

    I've been riding with a kid who has no sense of balance and while I definitely feel the wobbles, I don't find it to be hard at all to to compensate. It's made for a much faster introduction for the kid.

    I wish I had the trail-a-bike when I worked with kids full time, it's really a great thing.

    I have a Gary Fisher "freeloader" I haven't seen it for sale anywhere else, but I feel like it's a pretty sturdy little half-bike and the attachment bar angles and curves up so that I can keep my rack on and have plenty of room to store stuff.

    I recommend it greatly!

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  5. My cousin recommended this blog and she was totally right keep up the fantastic work!

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