Posted by Madi Carlson on September 3rd, 2019 at 11:49 am
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.
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.
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.
➤ 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.
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!
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Madi Carlson (@familyride on Twitter) wrote our Family Biking column from February 2018 to November 2019. She’s the author of Urban Cycling: How to Get to Work, Save Money, and Use Your Bike for City Living (Mountaineers Books).
In her former home of Seattle, Madi was the Board President of Familybike Seattle, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting bicycling as a means for moving towards sustainable lifestyles and communities. She founded Critical Lass Seattle, an easy social group ride for new and experienced bicyclists who identify as women and was the Director of Seattle’s Kidical Mass organization, a monthly ride for families. While she primarily bikes for transportation, Madi also likes racing cyclocross, all-women alleycats, and the Disaster Relief Trials. She has been profiled in the Associated Press, Outdoors NW magazine, CoolMom, and ParentMap, and she contributed to Everyday Bicycling by Elly Blue.