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By Janet Lafleur

About this blog: My love affair with the bicycle began with a crush on my first red tricycle that I pedaled in circles on the driveway. The crush grew into full-blown passion when my dad threw Stingray handlebars and a banana seat on my older sist...  (More)

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Family Bikes: The Minivans of Bicycles

Uploaded: Oct 18, 2013
In the morning it's school or day care drop-off. In the afternoon it's pick-up then soccer practice, swim lessons or dance class. On the way or in between there's shopping for groceries or craft supplies for school projects. For most, being a parent means lots of driving around town and waiting in long lines of cars. But in our area more and more parents are hopping on bikes instead of into minivans and SUVs for their "mom's taxi" trips, especially now that there are more options for carrying kids and gear on bikes.

For the past 30 years, parents have had two basic options: mount a child seat on a rack over their bike's rear wheel or drag a trailer behind it. More recently, single-wheeled trail-a-bikes that let a school-aged child pedal along have appeared, and now there are small child seats that mount just behind the handlebars too. These are all easy, relatively inexpensive options for converting a standard bike into a kid-hauling machine.

But for more kids and bigger loads, some local families have graduated to bikes that are designed from the wheels up for the job. Cargo and family bikes come in all shapes and sizes, each with advantages and disadvantages. Here are three basic types that local parents are piloting.

Long-Tail Bikes
Cherie lives with her husband and two children in Mountain View's Jackson Park neighborhood. When her kids were toddlers she hooked a trailer to the back of her mountain bike and took them with her on errands and to their favorite playgrounds all over town. But as they kids got heavier, she found it tougher to stay balanced starting and stopping and she didn't have as much room for gear as she needed. So Cherie bought a long-tail Xtracycle family bike.

Long-tail bikes look like mountain bikes where someone grabbed the rear wheel and stretched the frame back. This longer wheelbase means there's more space for a longer rear rack and larger panniers (saddle bags). For Cherie, that means room for up to three giggling kids and four oversized bags of groceries. And if her seven-year-old daughter gets too tired to ride her own bike mid-ride, Cherie can secure the front wheel of her daughter's bike in a pannier and drag the bike behind while her daughter catches a ride on the rear rack.

Bucket Bikes
Even before her son started kindergarten in Dublin in the East Bay, Kristi had heard enough horror stories about long lines at school drop-off to push her to look for better options than driving. Walking the mile to school wasn't a problem for her, but would have been a challenge for her son and his 2-year-old brother. She considered and rejected pulling a wagon due to the hills, and she didn't think a stroller was a dignified way for her little man to roll up to school. After searching family bike options, Kristi went with a Madsen bucket bike.

Bucket bikes have longer wheelbases like long-tail bikes, but instead of a rear rack, they have a cargo bucket in the back, usually with a bench seat and room for extra gear. Even though she hadn't ridden in years, Kristi found the bike comfortable immediately, making it easy to get started. Her sons love being in the fresh air riding in her Madsen, and she loves pedaling straight to the school entrance and skipping the queue of cars, as well as doing errands after work. She recently added an electric-assist motor so she can climb some of the steeper hills more easily.

Box Bikes
If you're in San Carlos and see a mother pedaling two towhead toddlers in a Dutch-style bakfiets, or box bike, it's probably Tyra. Tyra's husband was itching to buy this classic cargo bike, but until they moved to London she had no interest. After dragging kids and a stroller on buses and on the underground to get around the city, Tyra decided to give a bakfiets a chance. She loved it so much they shipped it here when they moved back to the US.

Dutch-style box bikes have a distinctive low-riding box in front of the bike rider instead of the rear like the bucket bikes. While there are three-wheeled models available, Tyra chose a classic two-wheeler from because it rides more like a standard bike. She likes having her kids in front where it's easy to keep an eye on them and to chat. Her also has a rain cover that keeps her kids completely dry and comfortable on wet days. She was the only one who had to brave London's infamous drizzle.

Replacing a Second Car
Tyra can get almost anywhere within 2-3 miles of her home in downtown San Carlos as easily on the bakfiets as in a car. That means she and her husband are able to share a single family car. Ditto for Cherie and Kristi. Having a family bike saves them the expense of buying and maintaining two cars. It also means they have more space in their garages for more bikes. As Kristi explained, family bikes can become an obsession.

Talk to Other Parents
These three bikes are just a taste of the many family bike options available. You'll find long-tail bikes at several local shops, and A Street Bike Named Desire in Palo Alto sells European box bikes. But the best way to find one that works for you is to talk to parents, both in person and online, about their experiences. One great opportunity is Kidical Mass, a ride for kids and families on Saturday, October 19 that rolls from Eagle Park in Mountain View at 10am. There will be a wide variety of bikes on hand, and you can get straight advice from parents who use them day in and day out.

Kidical Mass Ride:
Family Bike Photos by Bike Fun:
Local Journalism.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by KW, a resident of Shoreline West,
on Oct 18, 2013 at 10:59 am

KW is a registered user.

This is great information even for those of us without kids. My husband and I are still transitioning into using our bikes more often for shopping. My panniers aren't big enough to handle "real" shopping so am looking to upgrade. Thanks for a good introduction.

Posted by Greg Perry, a resident of Cuesta Park,
on Oct 18, 2013 at 2:41 pm

Two other good options:

Parent/child tandems that let the child ride in front, while the parent steers from the rear. Brown Cycles (Colorado) and Onderwater (Netherlands) each make a good one.

Trail-a-bike style attachments that let the kid pedal behind a regular bike. Adams is pretty wobbly, but Burley Piccolos are nice and stable.

Posted by Janet Lafleur, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Oct 20, 2013 at 11:09 am

Janet Lafleur is a registered user.

@KW I don't have kids either. I have an inexpensive cargo trailer for carrying bigger loads, like Costco trips where I buy the massive toilet paper bundles. It works well enough, but I must say I like the ideal of a long-tail so I can ride the back and get dropped off places occasionally by Dick.

@Greg I love those parent/child tandems with the kid in front. When I was researching about tandem rentals I saw that Blazing Saddles in SF rents them too. Have you seen the recumbent trail-a-bike attachments for kids. I saw one riding by near my house and then saw them for sale at Walt's in Sunnyvale. So many options these days!

Posted by Dangerous, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Oct 20, 2013 at 1:00 pm

As fun and Eco-friendly as all this sounds, I truly believe that people are unnecessarily endangering their children by forcing them onto bicycles. It\'s one thing to make a choice to ride and a choice to where one rides, but a child does not have this choice. The places I\'ve seen family bikes being ridden,the parents should be arrested for child endangerment. It\'s one thing to ride trails or in parks, even dedicated bike lines, but when I see kids toted along on Castro St., I can\'t help but wonder what their narrow minded, self serving parents are thinking.

Posted by Janet Lafleur, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Oct 20, 2013 at 6:31 pm

Janet Lafleur is a registered user.

@Dangerous You didn't directly say why it's more dangerous to ride on city streets than on trails, but I'll presume you're talking about the risk of being hit by a car. If so, I agree that motor vehicle collisions are dangerous. It's the #1 cause of death for children under 14 in the US. But the vast majority of those children were actually riding inside the car, not biking or walking. Web Link

The #1 way to reduce motor vehicle related deaths is to reduce vehicle speeds. The slower the speed, the sooner people can react and avoid a collision and slow speed crashes do far less damage. If a driver sees something in the road 100 feet ahead going 40 mph and hits the brakes immediately, the car will be going 38 mph at impact. If the driver is going 25 mph instead, the car will stop in time.

Speed kills even on the freeway. That's why when they lowered limits to 55 mph in the 1970s, the death rate went down. But drivers keep pressuring authorities to raise speed limits and ignoring the fact that 32,000 people die due to vehicle collisions each year in the US.

Given these facts, should we arrest parents for speeding and other forms of dangerous driving? After all, they are endangering not only the kids on bikes and on foot, but also their own kids in their cars.

Posted by Byron Kidd, a resident of another community,
on Oct 20, 2013 at 8:00 pm

In Tokyo due to the high cost and inconvenience of car ownership (yes, inconvenience) the bicycle has taken the place of the family station wagon for millions. From grocery shopping and running children to kindergarten and after school activities, almost any situation you'd envision an American family using a station wagon a Japanese family is doing it by bike.

The Mamachari Bicycle is the family station wagon of Japan.
Web Link

Posted by Dangerous, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Oct 20, 2013 at 8:03 pm

That is interesting reading. Of course there are more motor vehicle fatalities. That is obvious. I would like to see that data broken down to fatalities per 1000 trips taken. I can't say for certain, but I would venture to guess that the fatalities ->per 100 trips<- for cycling is far higher than motor vehicle deaths.

Figures don't lie but liars can figure...

The NMSL was lowered to 55mph in an effort to reduce oil consumption and the only reason the states all adopted it was because their federal highway funding was dependent on adopting the 55mph limit. SCIENCE and FACTS have proven that our highways are no more dangerous at 65/75/or even 80+, than they were at 55mph.

Your notion of reducing speed limits to reduce bicycle deaths is ignorant, selfish, and typical of your entitled generation. Speed limits are determined by the reasonable speed at which people travel the roads. If a survey indicates that the average speed traveled is higher than the prima facia speed limit, then that limit is raised, as it should be.

You should be more concerned about the creation of more dedicated bike routes than inconveniencing those that choose not to cycle for whatever reason they prefer to use their car. You're never going to mandate people out of cars and if you choose to pedal routes where bicycles don't mesh well, then you should expect fatalities. As far as I'm concerned, bicycles should be BANNED from the entire length of Castro from ECR to Central Expy. This is simply not a safe route for them. A bike boulevard should be striped in on View St. and all stop signs removed for cyclists since they don' abide by them anyway. (myself included) Stop signs could be left in place four all four ways for cars and the speed humps will continue to regulate the paltry vehicle flow along this street. The problem is people won't think outside the box and do this. The city council will need to spend $100K on a study performed by a cousin/uncle/friend of someone on city staff before they can even consider it instead of spending a few grand on signs and paint to try it out.

Bottom line, in my opinion, if you travel with your children on bicycles anywhere with high congestion traffic and no bicycles lanes, then you are unfit as a parent and should be allowed to endanger your children any further.

Posted by Dangerous, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Oct 20, 2013 at 8:05 pm

Should NOT that is...

Posted by Janet Lafleur, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Oct 20, 2013 at 8:38 pm

Janet Lafleur is a registered user.

@Dangerous You said: "You should be more concerned about the creation of more dedicated bike routes than inconveniencing those that choose not to cycle for whatever reason they prefer to use their car."

I am completely for having dedicated bike lanes and I have written and spoken many times on this matter. What I'm not for is banning people from riding on a 25 mph speed limit road, which is what Castro Street is. As for inconveniencing drivers, I hardly think enforcing speed limits qualifies as inconveniencing them.

As for my attitudes being typical of my "entitled generation," I'm not really sure which is the "entitled generation" you speak of, but I'm guessing you think I'm much younger than I am. (thanks for the compliment) I'm part of the Baby Boom generation and I remember the "even or odd" days of gasoline rationing after the oil embargo.

Posted by Zak, a resident of another community,
on Oct 20, 2013 at 8:53 pm

We sold one of our cars several years ago and have been biking as a family more ever since. It has been great for our family. It's interesting...when we used to drive everywhere we never thought about the dangers of driving. Now that we bike I'm constantly reminded that I'm endangering my family. We should be clear though...the only dangerous part of riding a bike is the part where someone driving a car runs my family down.

Posted by Alex Anderson, a resident of Shoreline West,
on Oct 21, 2013 at 10:43 am

EVERY day I see cars run red lights, cars NOT stop at a red light before turning right, cars speeding, cars not using turn signals. We are so used to bad driving that it barely registers. But we see bikes do similar things and many car drivers are outraged. When people like 'Dangerous' start to complain about poor driving and ask for stringent enforcement action (including red light cameras) then I will believe they are concerned about safety. Until then I am convinced that their concern is only their convenience and that waiting 5 seconds behind a slower moving bicycle is the real issue.

Posted by Betsy Mooney, a resident of Cuesta Park,
on Oct 21, 2013 at 9:05 pm

@dangerous -- yes, biking is probably the most dangerous thing I do with my kids, possibly including the 100 mile (car) freeway trip to their grandparents' each weekend. But it makes them strong and self-reliant. Whatever happened to "Be the change you want to see in the world?"

Posted by Ralph, a resident of another community,
on Oct 25, 2013 at 12:40 pm

@ Dangerous. The data indicate from CDC statistics that cycling is just about as dangerous as driving a car on a per hour basis. That means if I'm out on the road for 2 hours my risk is the same on a bike as in a car. The data for light trucks and SUV show that they are more dangerous per hour of activity and don't even mention motorcycles or horseback riding. They are way up their for risk.

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