Totcycle | Family Biking

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

Not caring how much our bikes weigh since 2008.

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It's been a while since our omnibus posts about the ages and stages of family biking, and our stable has evolved enough to be worth describing a bit.

My personal favorite city bike, light cargo bike, and ride with 3-5yo passenger choice is ... the Brompton folding bike, with an obscure front-child-saddle attachment called the ITchair. There are enough odes to Brommies out there that I won't bother much here, but yes, it is all that. Magical folding clown-bike jet pack for 2. 

Totcycle at Fiets of parenthood PDX

This beloved bike has travelled with me to SF, Berkeley, NYC, Vancouver, and Portland. Gate-checking has worked very well for me, with the bonus of getting to roll your bike and bag through airports. Trains and buses and subways are a cinch. With the trifecta of Brompton + smartphone (routes and transit planning) + transit, almost any trip is possible, with panache and adventure. And with the ITchair, you can do that all with your kid. Add in Zipcar or other car-sharing services and you can ditch the car, or a car, at least. Wicked cool. There just is no other bike that folds as small, carries cargo as well, is as fun to ride, and can carry a passenger. 

ITchair's are really hard to come by (they seem to be coming back as "Pere" accessory, with novel Bobike Mini adapter for younger kids?), and quite expensive if you do. One option I've been thinking about would be a narrow "grip deck" that could be attached to the top of the main tube. Because as cool as the "passenger stands in front of you" trick is, it's just too slippery and narrow up there for my 3 year old. But with a slightly wider platform, with skateboard grip tape, that didn't interfere with fold or pedaling, I think we'd have a great solution for bike to bus days in the winter. Both Luc and I got a bit wimpier last winter about wet cold commutes to work/preschool, so often found ourselves taking the Brompton to the bus.

Luc with Brompton, back of the bus

Our youngest has also graduated from front seats (sniff), so we are rolling with a longtail version of our city bike conversion. Yes, we have joined the xtracycle tribe. It really is a remarkable platform. Rides not much different from previous city bike incarnation,with cargo and passenger flexibility available at all times. Luc's strapped into a Bobike Maxi, as he still tends to snooze on the the bike:

Improvisational nap station

Drew is following in CarFreeDays' footsteps with fancy sidesaddle, no hands riding positions and running starts, dismounts, and Secret Service escorts where she runs alongside the bike with a hand on the snap deck. This is my current favorite family cargo bike, and the Seattle family biking scene is all about Big Dummies these days, thanks in no small part to Madi's cheerful advocacy and Edward, the cargo mechanic at Ride Bicycles

Drew's first running remount, courtesy of Madi / FamilyRide

The MADSEN is still the kids' favorite choice, as they like the social seating configurations, roller-coaster ride feel, sturdy kickstand that allowed them to clamber in and out, and the ability to slump over, lie down, nap, dangle their feet out of the box, etc. I still think this bike is great for younger families where having comfortable nap options are important. A front-loader box bike works well for that as well. But that kid and cargo-loading flexibility does come at a hill-climbing cost. 

So, we added a CleanRepublic front electric hub assist, in the bike shop "build your own wheel" cheaper version, with lithium battery pack. It was a screaming deal, but a PITA to get the front disc brake to work (I think things are easier now). Even at a relatively-underpowered-for-cargo 250W, having this motor was fantastic. Still got plenty of workout - it just majorly expanded our choice of routes in a hilly town, distances we'd consider biking, improved our trip times, and really reduced any lazy barriers to piling into the bike instead of the car. It flattens mild to moderate hills, and otherwise makes a cargo bike feel like a normal bike to ride, in terms of effort. To crunch up steeper hills on a regular basis you would want a burlier assist.

Sunny Day Madsen

However. The dirty secret of the ebiking "revolution" is that lithium batteries remain seriously unreliable (and expensive), with longevity in the 1-3 year range. Ours died hard 14 months in - 2 months after the anemic warranty expired. To replace it will cost almost $500. This does not make me happy. Even with top-of-the-line systems like Bionx, battery failures are depressingly common. So. If you go electric, look for longer warranties on lithium batteries, consider getting a deal on last-gen NiMH, or budget high running costs from battery replacement. Dig into A to B magazine's fantastic commentary and reviews for more insight on electric assist.

For another perspective on family cargo options from a Hill People perspective, don't miss Hum of the City's saga on finding the perfect cargo bike to replace their car. Stay tuned for the thrilling finale ... eMundo? Bionx Big Dummy? Or a dark horse like an electric Bullitt or Metrofiets?

As for us, we also also shed a car this year. We still have our Subaru, but my first car, an '89 Honda Civic with custom paint from my friends at Maria's Children, went off to the junkyard this year after conclusively giving up the ghost. Sad to see it go, but nice to realize that we didn't really need 2 cars. I have a Zipcar backup option, but haven't needed it yet. If I can get a new battery and MADSEN raincover going for this winter I think we'll be in great shape.

Decommissioning my car

I couldn't bear to part with the hood. So I kept it. It now adorns our garden.

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Reader Comments (9)

Oh, rad! Another family rocking a Brompton. I spend a lot of time ogling those things. Just to be clear, it only carries one passenger, right? Or have you found a way to carry two?

August 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMain Tank

Believe me I've thought about it! With the rear rack option plus grip tape the older one could conceivably surf the rear rack while the front one rode the ITchair but damn that just feels like a CPS referral waiting to happen. Even to me.

But on train trips to PDX with 2 kids I've used a folding Chariot bike trailer we have ...

August 29, 2012 | Registered CommenterJulian / Totcycle

You may have already seen this on the <a href="">twitter</a>: <a href="">Hum of the City</a> sent me a link to this family who commented on her blog about fitting <a href="">three on a Brompton</a> utilizing a Trail Gator!

August 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFamily Ride

Wow! And my twin-in-law has a Trailgator ... HMMMMMMM. Might just try that.

And I just remembered this:

3 kids on Brompton! But that folding trail-a-bike requires a donor Brompton, which is one expensive kludge.

Time for a kids on Bromptons post ...

August 30, 2012 | Registered CommenterJulian / Totcycle

Alas, the suggested mount for the Trail-Gator requires sawing through the seat post, which I'm not willing to do. But we're still thinking about how to make it work anyway! We got a little distracted.

I agree completely about the Brompton, even with the capacity for just one kid. It seemed like an impractical purchase at the time but it is so, so useful. Our (tall) son will be seven in November and although he's big for the IT Chair he'll be able to ride it for a while nonetheless. And I didn't realize you could gate-check the Brompton; woo hoo!

August 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDorie

Somewhere I saw a photo of a trail-a-Brompton that merely removed the trailing Brompton's front wheel, the idea being that when the kid got bigger he's have a bike out of the whole thing. Alas those were pre-baby days and I didn't save the link.

We've got ours on the front in the BoBike Mini and have already had enough wonderful adventures to make the purchase of two Bromtons and the chair worthwhile. I'm excited to see other options for when he's outgrown the front seat. I sob too

August 31, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCharlotte

I'm confused about the mount. Couldn't you just remove the saddle/seat post adapter and leave the flared bottom alone?

August 31, 2012 | Registered CommenterJulian / Totcycle

Hi! I had a few questions about your Xtracycle setup. I recently started commuting by bike with my kids. I have a bike that I like and a found a Bobike Mini for my 2-year-old and have a tag-along for my 6-year-old. This setup leaves me with no room for cargo and as I am sure you know, 2 kids = tons of crap to carry around. I want an Xtracycle but don't want to spend too much money on all the accessories. The only one riding in the back would be my 6-year-old so I don't think the Hooptie would be necessary. My questions are mostly about: Flightdeck or Snapdeck? MagicCarpet (cushion)? Stoker bar (pretty sure I will get one of those but Xtracycle's seem kind of short)? and the Kickback Kickstand (I would love one but it's pretty pricey)? What accesories do you have/recommend? Thank you so much for your help!

November 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVeronica B.

Do you still use your Madsen? Do you think 2, 5 1/2 and 7 are too old for the Madsen?

March 1, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjenny

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