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Family Biking: Two tweens on a family bike (part one)

Posted by on September 3rd, 2019 at 11:49 am

160 pounds of carefully-placed 12-year old and 10-year old. Not easy, but doable!
(Photos: Madi Carlson)

I just realized I can still carry both my kids on my bike! But just barely. The barely part is due both to my ability to carry them and the amount of space on my bike. The ability part isn’t about not having an e-assist (though that would certainly make it easier and more fun), but being able to muscle the bike off its kick-stand and to hold it upright when stopped.

This has me thinking about biking with two tweens in general — as a single unit, that is — and how/if it’s really feasible.

Our Family Biking column is sponsored by Clever Cycles.

➤ Read past entries here.

I’m happy to, lucky to, and able to fashion our lives around not needing to use a car — most of our family destinations are very close to home so we can ride separate bikes using carefully-chosen routes. We’ve also got a school bus that takes my older son to and from middle school if I can’t escort him on our two bikes. And if we want to get out of town, we bike or take transit to the train station. However, lots of families with one parent transporting two tweens have barriers that make the easiest or only option seem like a car. Is there a bike solution if you have to get somewhere far away quickly? With my bike I can carry three small kids (four if I were to add a front child seat) or one adult so a two-tween solution may work for many human cargo solutions.

Please let me know if you’ve seen or imagined any bike rigs that fit the bill. I’ve seen some and will dig up photos and additional ideas before part two in a few weeks. This week I’ll share a little more about my two-tweens-on-my-bike experience.

Same thing, two years and forty pounds ago.

First of all, I’d like to point out that while I love biking for transportation for all the “right” reasons (healthy body, healthy mind, no pollution, saves money) a big part of it is that it’s simply the easiest (and therefore feels the laziest) option. To get to the train station at 7:30 am last Saturday we could spend over an hour to take a bus plus a MAX train plus walk a mile. I love that we have such a robust transit system here in Portland, but getting to bus stops on time always stresses me out. As does having to use two transit vehicles, though when one is the MAX that leaves me less stressed than having to use multiple buses since we tend to go places served by low-frequency lines. My original less-stressful plan was to carry the kids on my bike to the closest MAX station, two flattish miles away. This would still take about an hour, but at least we wouldn’t have to transfer vehicles. But as I thought about the hassles that still existed with this plan — breaking the rules by putting my cargo bike on the MAX and having to stop and purchase youth tickets at the kiosk since my beloved TriMet Tickets mobile app that can hold tickets for multiple riders has been retired — I settled on the plan that the easiest thing to do would be to just carry the kids the whole eight miles to Union Station. I probably wouldn’t match Google maps’ estimate of 40 minutes, but it’d still be quicker than any other method and it’d certainly be cheaper and simpler. I’m probably wrong in thinking I’m quicker carrying the kids on my bike than having us ride separate bikes, but I didn’t want to force tired kids onto bikes so early in the morning, plus I felt better having just my one bike locked up at the train station (with every lock we own!) for 10 hours.

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➤ About my bike
My bike is a Surly Big Dummy longtail cargo bike. Its weight limit is 400 pounds (rider and cargo). I haven’t weighed the kids recently and I haven’t weighed myself in a long time, but they are about 160 pounds together and I’m probably about 160 pounds, too. There’s a chance once they weigh more than me I’ll suddenly be unable to carry them, but bicycles are magical in the way they level playing fields so I think they can continue to grow and it’ll be all right.

That said, I do need to position them just so: I need the 90-pound kid at the front of the deck and I need him sitting backwards so the bulk of his weight is closest to me. It’d probably be easiest if the 70-pound kid was also backwards, but he sits sideways (because he doesn’t fit facing forwards) so he can talk with his brother. They reported that they were uncomfortable squished in like this. By the way, I discovered this kid placement two years ago when my older son broke his arm and wanted to hold my single Hooptie rail (I keep the curb-side one off to make it easier for the kids to climb on and off) with his good arm. Things were quite a bit easier then since it was forty kid-pounds ago and I had just moved here from hilly Seattle so I was stronger…not to mention two years younger.

It was quite hard (but possible) when stopped for red lights and stop signs to hold the weight of my bike up braced on my left foot. My bike weighs about 70 pounds, though they can be built much lighter, around 45 pounds, without so many fun accessories (dynamo lights, Rolling Jackass center stand, basket, fenders, leather mud flaps, five bells, one horn, etc etc). I’d undoubtedly get better at balancing the heavy bike if I did it more often, possibly training the kids to very slight shift their weight opposite mine for each stop. Fortunately at 6:45 a.m. on a Saturday we didn’t need to stop much.

Tandem plus trailer bike (and camping gear)

Tandem plus trailer bike (and camping gear).

Tell me all about tandems, triples, huge trailers, extra large cargo bikes and trikes, adaptive solutions, custom one-of-a-kind-things, and even ideas you think might work so I can compile a list for the follow-up. Thanks for reading!

Remember, we’re always looking for people to profile. Get in touch at madidotcom [at] gmail [dot] com if it sounds like fun to you.

— Madi Carlson, @familyride on Instagram and Twitter

Browse past Family Biking posts here.

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15 Comments
  • Avatar
    dan September 3, 2019 at 12:29 pm

    They look old enough for bikes of their own, why try to engineer a solution when kid’s bikes are so readily available?

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      Dan A September 3, 2019 at 12:45 pm

      The reason is in the story.

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    Tom Hardy September 3, 2019 at 12:54 pm

    I am from a time that the typical paperboy delivered papers year around at between 4 and 6 A.M. I did it for 5 years starting at 8 years old. This was solo after the first week when my dad helped established the route with me with 60 customers in a 6 block area. The papers were picked up by me a bit over a mile away. Only one wreck needing stitches. 7 on my right knee when I hit a Chevy taillight parked in front of a doctor’s office avoiding a car, that was in the process of passing me, brushing my handlebar. This was on a 26″ singlespeed.

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      Steve Scarich September 3, 2019 at 4:00 pm

      I had a paper-route, too, from about age 11 to 14. Putting 90 papers on the back was problematic balance-wise, but doable, except on Sundays. I had a handlebar-mounted bag then, so was probably carrying 75+ lbs. Rode like a tank, but I never crashed in 4 years. Rolling terrain, multi-speed Schwinn, about a 10 mile route.

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    Tom Hardy September 3, 2019 at 12:55 pm

    P.S. I am 75 now

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    q September 3, 2019 at 3:37 pm

    I love this article, and I always love seeing non-standard bikes of all sorts.

    I don’t love that Portland is building infrastructure that doesn’t accommodate even the most basic types of non-standard bikes. Tandems, bikes with kids’ trailers, and recumbent bikes are common enough that there’s no excuse for building turns they can’t make or railings they can’t fit through.

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      Dan September 4, 2019 at 9:34 am

      Yes! Hollywood Transit Station and the overpass over 84 there is a constant pain point – no way to get down the ramp on the north side and the wheel gutters don’t work for a trailer.

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    Maddy September 3, 2019 at 5:04 pm

    The infrastructure being built isn’t safe or predictable either. I know there is a big push by some vocal parts of the bike community to make driving unpredictable and stressful, but the reality is that we now have higher fatalities. We get wonky bike infrastructure fixes, and wonky car infrastructure, and it isn’t working for anyone. Everyone is stressed and angry, and people are dying. I ride my kids to school, but they will not be riding themselves in my neighborhood.

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    Suburban September 3, 2019 at 6:51 pm

    Plenty of infrastructure , wee fraction is safe or predictable. Let’s forget safe, and consider why it’s unpredictable. There are no safe routes to schools( work, shops)it’s not a list of programs or grant recipients. It’s not real, it’s marketing, and a perfect foil for a dot. Who does it benefit that predictability is so low? My research suggests asking on this forum may help answer. Im happy these kids have a strong model.

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      Dan A September 3, 2019 at 8:23 pm

      I’d be fine with PBOT scrapping all of the little, confusing crap, and focus on bigger projects that will get butts on bikes, like separated bike paths that span longer distances.

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    Carrie September 4, 2019 at 10:36 am

    Dan A
    I’d be fine with PBOT scrapping all of the little, confusing crap, and focus on bigger projects that will get butts on bikes, like separated bike paths that span longer distances.

    I think one reason we have a skewed gender differential in cycling usage is that transportation designs often focus on long distance straight shot A-to-B commuting. I heard you on scrapping the confusing crap — I’m all for that too. BUT to replace 1-3 mile car trips with bike/walk trips, which IMO does more for neighborhood livability AND does more to get more “non traditional” people on bikes you do need ‘little’ projects that can get people from their house to school/library/store. We need to really tackle the big barriers (Powell Blvd, 82nd Ave, 52nd Ave) that keep many folks from ditching the car on the little trips. And, keep many women from ditching the car on their daily, many-stop, trips. In my neighborhood the infrastructure that provides a mostly SRTS also provides for a mostly safe walk/bike route to the grocery store, the library, the frozen yogurt shop, and the movie theater for my elderly neighbor AND my teenager (who’s been free-range in the neighborhood since 5th grade). In my opinion, this does more for the livability and vibrancy of the neighborhood than the Springwater, thought I use the Springwater daily for my point A-to-B ride to work. I want both, but I’d rather have the small projects work, to serve all those in the community who are generally not designed for.

    Back on topic: it’s amazing to me how Maddie and I live relatively close to each other in Portland, and yet how the infrastructure matters! My kids have been getting themselves to school independently (via bike, school bus, or TriMet) since 5th grade. And often meeting us other afterschool places as well. But I think we are ‘lucky’ in that sense that we do have mostly good infrastructure where we are and good connections to where they need to go via TriMet. We have struggled with doing things as a group. Often we’ll do some combo of bike/bus/Car2Go — I’ve actually become a pretty big fan of Car2Go for things like getting to the train station, but that wouldn’t work with your cargo bike :(. It works just fine with our ‘standard’ bikes though.

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    • Madi Carlson (Family Biking Columnist)
      Madi Carlson (Family Biking Columnist) September 4, 2019 at 12:28 pm

      Back when Cars2Go were all Smart Cars (and in Seattle where they didn’t have bike racks) I saw an amazing variety of methods people used to squish regular bikes into them 🙂

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    mark smith September 7, 2019 at 8:17 pm

    So, maybe I am just tired and don’t see it..but are one or both the kids delayed so they can’t ride on their own?

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    • Madi Carlson (Family Biking Columnist)
      Madi Carlson (Family Biking Columnist) September 9, 2019 at 9:33 am

      They ride short distances on their own on calm streets. I’m just musing on bike solutions for replacing longer trips via big streets one would normally drive one+ tweens to.

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    casey September 24, 2019 at 11:13 am

    Whenever I have to stop with a heavy/awkward load, I sit on the top tube. Works for motorcyclists, works for me.

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