Re-thinking the Minivan

Jennifer Blaise Kramer had an article in yesterday’s online edition of the Boston Globe called “Cycling on the Mommy Track.” (I was grateful for for some good news alongside the tragic reports of the Red Sox’ ALCS Game 7 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays.) Among other things, she considers a couple of different options for transporting kids using a bicycle (viz., front- and rear-mounted carriers and pull-behind trailers), and weighs the anxieties against the attraction to cycling with kids in tow. (On the issue of setup, Austin Bike Blog’s comparison of the Xtracylce and Bakfiet, — two options not mentioned in Kramer’s piece — favors the latter for hauling people,even though the Xtracycle wins out overall.)

I have two daughters: a 21-month-old and another who is three weeks old today. Obviously, my older daughter is the only one able to ride at this point, so this is something I’ve just begun investigating and experimenting with. I tried a pull-behind trailer first. My daughter didn’t hate it, but she wasn’t thrilled about it either.

(Note Bene: I think the helmet is to be blamed in large part. From what I’ve seen, helmets for the very young leave much to be desired in terms of design. If we cannot design better helmets for kids, then anything made to haul kids while wearing a bicycle helmet should feature seating that better accommodates the helmet so that the child’s head is not forced into an uncomfortable position.)

On the whole, I like the trailer option. I think there is a lot to commend it:

  • The trailer does not have a significantly negative effect on the bike’s handling;
  • It is more versatile, allowing me (eventually) to carry both kids, gear, or whatever else; and
  • It is easier to keep my child warm when using a trailer on account of being able to limit air flow, cover the kids with a blanket, etc.

However, there were some disadvantages to the trailer:

  • It is not ideal for quick, get-up-and-go hops to nearby locations;
  • The kids seem to feel bumps more; and
  • The child is farther away from the parent, which may make her or him feel somewhat anxious, and which certainly makes it more difficult to hear one another.

This prompted me to give a rear-mounted child seat a try. My daughter has shown a clear preference for this option, so it’s what we’ll be using for a while, at least until she and her sister can ride together in the trailer. To be sure, the rack-mounted carrier has its share of drawbacks, too, the biggest of which is that it’s difficult (if not altogether impossible) to find a way to carry anything else (e.g., a diaper bag, my bike lock, etc.) Having had no interest in them previously, I am now in the market for a handlebar bag. I am also finding it more challenging to make sure my daughter is warm enough when we’re riding in cooler weather, and the rear-mounted child seat does impact the bike’s handling in a very noticeable way.

The big advantage I see to this option, however, is that it removes one of the biggest obstacles to commuting by bike when a child is involved: hassle. Until she’s riding her own bike, this is as close we’ll ever be to a simple get-on-and-go situation. The rear-mounted seat doesn’t limit what routes I can take, nor does it prevent me from parking the bike certain places, both of which are concerns with the pull-behind trailer.

I’m getting closer and closer every day to selling one of our cars.

Follow up: This morning I was alerted to two articles of related interest. Bicycle Design has a post on Riding with Kids, and Scoop (New Zealand) has a piece on front-mounted child carriers.


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