Totcycle | Family Biking

Tots on bikes, kids as cargo, family cycling, and other high-occupancy velo goodness.

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sleep dog on duty: Farlow Road

Naps. They are a blessing and a curse. If you ride with kids under age 5 on bikes, you know this. Two-wheeled kid transport is soporific, better than a benadryl blowdart, so biking parents need to be able to make naps happen while out and about. 

Some family bike setups excel at unexpected naps, some do not. Having done toddler-on-a-bike twice now, on a variety of kid conveyances, here is what we have found.

We've included images and inspirado from others in "our tribe." Hover for links and credits, big thanks to Mark, Sarah, Henry, Paul, Allan, Katie, and other bikey family flickr friends (BFFFs).


Infant seat in trailer worked every time for my reluctant baby napper. Who needs the Baby Whisperer? I'll show you the Happiest Baby on the BlockTM 

Shhh ...

But for older kids in the unhacked trailer seat, the weight of the helmet and the lack of adequate clearance for the back of the helmet leads to head nodding, bobble-head, and other uncomfortable, painful-looking nap scenarios. Unless you've got company:after the parade, everett and truman fell asleep in the trailer

Front Seats

I love front-monted seats for the littles, but they're not great for napping. The WeeRide has a big napping pad, which is nice, but the straps were a joke, and you still end up needing to use an arm to support the head to some degree. Dutch front seats like the Bobike Mini and Yepp Mini have "sleeproll" accessories, but they're narrow enough that you'll still need to dedicate an arm to maintain the nap, which makes steering awkward, leads to cramps, and makes stop and go riding more frustrating. Doable, but not exactly comfortable.

Some biking mamas have learned to just slow down or stop when that nap happens.

Heading home by light railOn our last outing, I hacked a wacky noodle to be my substitute arm. It worked OK.

Napping at the end of the rideI like this solution, from mamafiets, where you stuff your extra kid clothes into a sling or bag.


Rear Seats

Dutch-style rear seats don't have much head support, and even the US "drastic plastic" wraparound jobbies don't keep a child's big 'ol head from nodding forward, lolling from side to side. Doesn't look comfortable to me, and rear seats are right over the axle, so it's a bumpier ride. This situation tends to limit the length, route, or speed of travel, and doesn't feel as restful as some of the other options. But maybe I'm picky.

First bikeride

Bakfietsen and Other Long-John Cargo-Forward Bikes

These are so versatile when it comes to naps. Infant seat strapped rear-facing, child seated on Sleep Dog, kid laid out in the box with cushions and blankies, cozy under a rain canopy ... naptastic. Plus you can keep an eye on them, in case you get a bad case of the "ohmigod are they still breathing" parent jitters. Easy, secure parking too. 

snug as bug in rugs cargobike canopy

Sleep dog gets rejected for a backpack

Luc does Portland

Merry Christmas

MADSEN "Bucket Bike"

The MADSEN cargo bike also makes it to the napping podium, as it's so versatile in terms of napping positions, and accomodating 2 kids at different napping ages & stages, with some separation from the central divider.

Nap configurationFor kids on the bench seats, variations on "Sleep Dog" work well.

Driveway slumbersAs does leaning forward on the groceries.

MADSEN infant seat with sunshadeOur infant seat was nap Xanadu ...

AsleepFor older kids it's so easy to pull up a bench seat, put down a cushion or some jackets, use the belts if you wish (they're bolted below the benches), and cover with cozy blankets. Protection from the elements is key. That's an Uppababy shade, but a waterproof canopy for the MADSEN is in the works.

MADSEN Nap ModeOr you can put the two benches together for an actual elevated bed solution.

Hemingway Tea and Sleeping KidsIn the year where our older one refused to nap at home, I had many a craftily-timed "Mystery Ride" where I'd arrive at our destination with both kids asleep, leaving 45 minutes of me-time, followed by excited wakeups at the beach or Aquarium or wherever my Urban Family Flâneur fancy took us.

Xtracycles and Other Longtails

You can fit front or rear seats to xtracycles, but a longtail does open up some additional, er, creative solutions.

On our first long ride, as we rode home on the Elliott Bay Trail, I felt our  almost 4yo's nodding head bonk my behind a few times as Drew started to fall asleep, holding onto the stoker bars. What to do? My wife suggested we play "Marco Polo" which worked well for awhile. Car Free Days keeps some candy handy, and I indeed had a lollipop hit to offer Drew. 

wake up Joji - we're home!Other parents swear that their napping stokers don't fall off, and in fact need to be pried from the handlebars when they get home.

I'm told that a parent's backside makes a lovely forward-leaning cushion. But I'm still nervous; ours is a kid that falls out of bed every other night. Maybe on a bike trail, but not in traffic. So we've moved some Bobike Maxi mounts over to the xtracycle, for all-day action.

And if you thought that was iffy ...

In my defense ...And on our first xtracycle ride, too! In my defense, Luc fell asleep in the front seat just before we got to the cyclocross race at the zoo, and I'd been longtail-obsessed long enough to have seen the Adkins clan pull this off. So I walked the bike around the race for a bit, and then rode a few blocks on sidewalk to a cafe. Where I parked it outside (in view, natch) until he woke up. Great setup if you like double-takes and don't mind CPS involvement. Wideloader extensions would make a tipover slightly less sketchy, but overall I don't think I'll be doing this on any regular basis.

The safest napping options seem to involve an enclosure of some sort, in case of a crash. We've only ever had flukey low-speed slo-motion harmless tipovers in our family, but I don't think we're giving into our "culture of fear" to plan for the possibility of going down on the bike.

Tweed Ride Portland 2010-61Here's how Katie and Dave tricked out their Yuba Mundo as a baby-napping Green Machine. Solid. Baby on Board indeed.

Asleep on the Wheel

What works for your younguns? How do they loll while you roll?

We want to know how you've pulled this off. Please add your images and comments below ... to include an image, put the image url surrounded by exclamation points, as in !imageurl!

Bakfiets For the Win Addendum

Todd Fahrner nominates this video in the comments, in which a Dutch dad pedals 3 sleeping kids down a cyclepath while shooting a one-handed "Panda" video. No helmets, 'cause they're Dutch, and protected by the magical powers of separate bicycle infrastructure, decades of motorist-taming, and riding bikes since the womb (not to mention elves in blackface). Top this, people:

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Reader Comments (17)


December 2, 2010 | Unregistered Commentersplendid cycles

this is one of the best/cutest posts i've ever seen. great advice!

when our little man was napping in the trailer, we found it easier to put him in one side (as opposed to the middle)... that way he could slump against the sidewall. ours was a two-kid model, so i'm not sure if that's a problem with single-child trailers.

December 2, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterdavid p.

Excellent post. Very well timed! I am in the process of trying to decide what sort of bike-based kid-conveyance to get and nap suitability is at the top of my list of criteria!

December 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterWayne

Another lovely resource, Julian. Where were you when we started riding in the family way? Info like this would have helped immensely. Oh right, you were a single, childless 'bent rider back then.

BTW, bonus points for using soporific and benadryl blowdart in the same sentence.

December 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTim K.

Hilarious pics - the napping stoker and Xtracleepcycler. I have had a 'lil napper on the back of the Xtracycle with her head against my backside, but only for short, short distances.

December 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTerry

We've moved Jasper up to a Yepp these days, but still put him in the carseat in the back boxes for when errands coincide with naptime (like now; ahhh, quiet). I keep thinking we should take off the plywood boxes to lighten things up, now that J can ride up front, but haven't made the switch precisely because napping in the back seat is so convenient.

December 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKatie

Great post. I'm loving the Bakfiets nap set-up...

as well as the trailer/carseat one:

Though that was then.... now with three it's going to get very interesting. I haven't even figured out carrying them awake, let alone sleeping!

December 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShane

Thanks all! I am tempted to work on our trailer to make it easy to convert to a lay-down cozy nest mode, but I think I'll build the MADSEN canopy first, with battery-powered light strings inside. Madi says they're cheap at IKEA these days.

Shane - I think the double-decker bak is the way to go. Or read up on historic British Navy hammock technique. They figured out how to really pack them in.

December 2, 2010 | Registered CommenterJulian / Totcycle

I love this post, Julian! And how cool to see our own Little up there, snoozing away on your fabulous blog.

Thanks for the thorough rundown of napping possibilities!

December 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEmily

Thanks Emily ... I was happy to find your blog. Loved the phonebooth post too. I hope you'll like Henry's front seat for the FR8. One of the few ways to let older kids keep riding up front with you ... I'm hooked on that too.

December 4, 2010 | Registered CommenterJulian / Totcycle

gotta work this in somehow julian:

a "click" moment for me came when our 4-yo son was having his first sleep-over, at friends almost 5 miles away. we got the call at about 11 that he was crying and wanted to come home. it was about 35F out and sleeting. so, naturally, i tossed a thick blanket in the bakfiets under the canopy and pedaled on over by generator light. he had fallen asleep again by that time. i picked up his sleeping form and laid him out full length in the bed, wrapped well, and we rode home in the cold peaceful rain. he stayed warm and dry, and never woke. no other bike...

i remember the head-flop napping days too, 2003, on our 3rd xtracycle: . i remember noodling a necklace with a velcro interface to the top of his helmet as a means of holding his head upright while retaining use of both hands.

December 5, 2010 | Unregistered Commentertodd

Thanks for your kind words, Julian.

We are really looking forward to getting the front kid saddle soon -- Little has almost outgrown the Bobike Mini. Which bike do you have your front kid saddle on right now? And out of curiosity, does your little boy ride up there, or only his big sister?

December 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEmily

Thanks for the video, Todd ... I posted it above to throw down the gauntlet. I think Shane might be able to challenge the Dutch napping title if he gets his twin setup worked out.

I remember Luc's first front seat ride. Such a mix of pride, exhilaration, vulnerability,"my little boy's growing up," ... he loved it, of course. You know you're a biking fool when first bobike ride is as big a milestone as walking.

Luc taking ownership of the cockpit on his very first ride.

How'd that velcro necklace thing work out? Did you end up using it much?

Emily - we now just have a bobike mini for the 22mo (on the xtracycle or globe live now), and a Brompton-specific front saddle called an ITchair (from Todd, actually!) for the 4yo. But I've demo'd the FR8 with front saddle and really liked it.

December 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJulian / Totcycle

Julian, I never made the velcro necklace. Just an idea (noodle). He stopped falling asleep so fast before i got it together...

December 6, 2010 | Unregistered Commentertodd

Ah, that noodle. Not this one:

December 6, 2010 | Registered CommenterJulian / Totcycle

LOVE this collection of photos. Posting this on Fb. Weird to think that none of my boys are under five now so no napping on the bikes these days....

December 9, 2010 | Unregistered Commentersara

I can't help but wonder if the sleeping-stoker death-grip is a heretofore unbeknownst naturally selected feature and perfectly safe to rely upon. :-)

January 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAllanF

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