What's the safest, fastest, smoothest way to transport a young kid by bike?
We asked Sara Davidson, new director of Kidical Mass PDX, a group modeled on Critical Mass that plans family-oriented bike rides, to discuss the options.
She ranked them based on safety, speed and a factor we call squirm and squeal—basically, how comfortable the kiddo is on each contraption. Because safety is obviously the most important factor, we assigned it 50 points. The other two categories are each 25.
Biking with kids under age 5 is something any casual cyclist can do. And for the hardcore rider, there's really no minimum age—Davidson started biking with her newborn when she was just 3 weeks old.
No matter what accessory you choose, remember helmets for the kids, which, as Davidson says, are "never going to hurt." And if you want the support of other families, the next Kidical Mass ride is May 22. The ride leaves at noon from the People's Food Co-op, 3029 SE 21st Ave., and travels to the OHSU tram.
Safety: 40 points (out of 50)
Speed: 20 (out of 25)
Squirm and squeal: 25 (out of 25)
Price: A good one goes for $300 new, or about $175
Trailers from brands like Burley, Thule and even Schwinn aren't just good for cross-country bikepackers and can collectors, they can also be used to haul kids. According to Davidson, they're "absolutely the best choice for someone eager to try family biking without investing a ton of money."
They're safe and comfortable, and if you get a good one, they might not slow you down as much as you think. Davidson bought a special insert from Germany to start biking with her newborn daughter at 3 weeks old.
"Ideally, pick a nicer one like a Burley that won't tip over even if your bike does, and use the big flag that comes with it," she says. "They're also really easy to buy used—just make sure to clean off the unavoidable gunk. My family likes both slow and fast biking, so we'll sometimes put the kids in the trailer and go for long rides out to places like Kelley Point. Super-comfortable for kids—mine always fall fast asleep. Great for winter, too, to keep everyone warm and dry."
Cargo Bike with Seat (Long Tail)
Squirm and squeal: 20
Price: $1,000 & up new, about the same on Craigslist.
Kids are a lot like a case of beer—at least when you're loading them onto the back of a long-tail cargo bike. Davidson says they're "a fun choice" that can be "nicer than pulling a heavy trailer." They typically require that the child be old enough to hold on, but for younger kids you can get bars that hold them in place.
"Having your kids right next to you can also feel much safer than having them on the ground behind you, but if you tip over, they're going too," she says. "Your riding speed will depend on your comfort on the bike, the construction and quality, and how much load you carry—but it can be quite fast, once you're used to it. Bigger kids absolutely love to sit on the back. This kind of bike is better for bigger kids who are less likely to fall asleep."
Beware, though, you need the right fit for the bike—especially if the kids are wiggly.
Squirm and squeal: 20
Price: $175 new, $75 on Craigslist.
There are many options for seats that attach to the back of a bike, where a cargo rack would normally go. The most popular seats attach to the back of the bike, but there are some for smaller children that are designed to sit on the handlebars. Many are only for children between ages 1 and 3, and obviously, it's hard to handle more than one kid. But these seats are the most inexpensive route, and they can travel fast—if you feel comfortable. Davidson says it's better-suited to "more confident riders."
"Putting a heavy seat and a kid on the back of a standard bike will drastically change the way the bike rides, making it more prone to tipping, so give yourself time to get used to it before you go far," she says. "Speed will be as high as you're comfortable going, since you haven't added a ton of weight to your bike. It's a comfortable option for younger kids who may still want to sleep while they ride."
Squirm and squeal: 25
Price: $4,500 new, $2,000 on Craigslist.
The Dutch go everywhere by bike, so it makes sense that their style of cargo bike, typically called a bakfiets, is well-suited to child-rearing and grocery shopping. These cargo bikes normally have a large front bucket for children and groceries. They're not cheap, and they're not fast, but they are good at what they do.
"A bakfiets is the gold standard of cargo bikes," Davidson says, "and an absolutely wonderful choice. They're really safe—kids are low to the ground, in front of you, belted in, surrounded by a big box."
Some have electric assist to help you pedal faster, but at that point you're spending as much as a cheap car. You could, however, bring a newborn home from the hospital in one of these. "They're absolutely the most comfortable—custom rain covers will keep passengers dry in the winter, and cushy seats are great all year," Davidson says. "Bakfiets is also the best way to transport a very small baby—you can just easily bolt in a car seat and still have room for your groceries."
More inexpensive versions have a box in the back. Portland also has several options for bespoke bakfietsen, at both high and low price points.