Family Biking with your Toddler: Tips from the Pros!

Family biking is gaining popularity around the country, and these days it’s not unusual to see entire families taking to the road together. It’s a great activity for people of all ages- especially kids.

Bicycling is beneficial to the body and mind as a form of exercise and stress relief. It’s also great for the environment- leaving virtually no carbon footprint whatsoever. Have you considered, though, that it’s a wonderful way to strengthen your family and enjoy spending time together?

When it comes to family biking there are so many great resources available, from community events like Kidical Mass to safety tips. And lest you think bicycling is only for the training-wheeled set and above, there’s no reason that toddlers can’t join in the fun as well.

My 3 and 4 year olds each have their own bikes but for family rides my husband pulls them in the bike trailer. This typically works well for us, but I’ll admit that they occasionally complain that it’s difficult to see from their perch in the back. I’ve been considering some other options for family riding.

In celebration of National Bike Month I asked some of my favorite family bike bloggers what they’d recommend to a newbie like me. (And a big thank you to Stacy Bisker of A Simple Six for her help!)

Here’s what they had to say.

  • It Started in Copenhagen… 1 of 12
    It Started in Copenhagen...
    My husband Matt and I started commuting by bike after a trip to Copenhagen last summer. We went there for my work but rented bikes while we were visiting and our kids fell in love with riding. We came home and decided to buy bikes instead of the second car we'd been saving for. I usually ride a Breezer Uptown 8, which is a normal commuter bike, but we got a Bobike Junior seat for it, which holds kids aged 5-10 years. When I take our son to school, it's usually on the Breezer. I can also switch out the Bobike Junior for a Bobike Maxi, a seat that holds kids 3-5 years, for rides with our daughter.
    Dorie Apollonio, Hum of the City
  • Another Option 2 of 12
    Another Option
    My husband rides a dedicated cargo bike, the Kona MinUte. We can put both our son (6.5 years) and our daughter (3 years) on the back deck, or either kid solo. The MinUte is fantastic for getting up San Francisco's intense hills, even with two kids on board. And with some maneuvering, it can even fit on a bus bike rack. The rear bags can easily handle a week's worth of groceries and then some. This is a perfect starter cargo bike for people who want to carry 1-2 kids every day because it's not as big or heavy as most cargo bikes (also, it's cheaper than most cargo bikes). It rides like a normal bike and although it's heavier than a normal bike at 40 pounds, it's not impossible to pick it up.
    Dorie Apollonio, Hum of the City
  • How to Get Started 3 of 12
    How to Get Started
     Start small. Go ahead and plan to take a bike ride once a week to start.  Think about one of those less-than-two-mile trips when you normally might take a car. Find a route on streets where you are comfortable riding.  The more you are out there on your bike, the more you'll feel comfortable doing so on your bike. Likewise, the more family bicyclists out there on the road, the safer it is for all.My family has had tons of adventures getting around town by bike. Some of those seemingly onerous parent errands suddenly became joyous when we did them together on our bikes.  So allow yourself to rediscover the joy you may have experienced pedaling out there as a kid or discover this joyful experience for the first time.
    Sara Armstrong, Full Hands
  • Maintain Balance 4 of 12
    Maintain Balance
    And I am not talking about on two wheels since I typically ride on three wheels! But balance in doing what works for your family. I personally am not car free and never will be. But I see my family biking as a way to escape the false notion of *needing* a car. So I can happily spend several car free days and then enjoy being behind the wheel to travel the freeway to a distant zoo or a friends house. Or even to run errands in dry comfort in the pouring rain. Once you open the idea up- the possiblilties by bike are endless and a lot of fun.
    Vanessa Allen, Suburban Bike Mama
  • The Importance of the Test Ride 5 of 12
    The Importance of the Test Ride
    As for riding with toddlers, Test Ride Test ride and Test Ride: Ride as many kinds of cargo bikes as you possibly can. Longtails ride very differently than bakfiets, which ride differently than trikes. They all have their merits and each person has different priorities and needs. Have fun with it and you will end up learning so much about you like best. A perfect solution will come along. There are so many more bikes available now then there was 3 years ago when I was searching.So ride, try new bikes and know that when the right solution comes, you'll look for excuses to ride as much as possible.
    Vanessa Allen, Suburban Bike Mama
  • Bakfiets, or Freight Bikes, are a Great Option 6 of 12
    Bakfiets, or Freight Bikes, are a Great Option
    For two or three small children (up to age 5 or so) and relatively flat terrain, I'd recommend a bakfiets. The kids sit in front where they get a good view of their surroundings and where you can easily have a conversation with them. If they begin to fight, you are right there to intervene. A bakfiets is also very stable when parked. Kids can climb in and out without tipping it over. And though the bike may look difficult to steer, it really isn't hard at all-- one block of riding and you'll have it figured out. When kids get a little older, a trailer bike or tandem or even a triple tandem is a great way to get kids pedaling, but to keep them safe in traffic.
    Kimberly Hubble, Monsters on a Bike
  • Good for the Body…Good for the Wallet 7 of 12
    Good for the Body...Good for the Wallet
    I'm a mother to two boys and one more on the way this summer. A little over a month ago we purchased a Madsen cargo bike. It had been something we had wanted and talked about for a while. Mainly because I wanted to bike more with the kids and use the car a lot less. Since we purchased the Madsen it has been amazing! My pregnancy is better than ever, I feel stronger, and my Type 1 Diabetes is under better control because I am getting more exercise. Plus, it has made our kids love biking on their own even more.
    I recently checked the difference in spending on gas for the car because I was interested to see how much less we bought gas. Well, we usually spend anywhere from $80 - 100 on gas per month; so far this month we have spent $10! We are still just starting out as a biking family, but hope to one day to be a family that does not rely on our car at all. My advice to parents looking into any cargo bikes is research every one you can find, if you can find a shop that has one to test out that's great too. It's definitely a little bit of a riding curve when you first get on a cargo bike. Also, once you find a cargo bike you love just go for it! Even if you don't plan on making it your main method of transport, once you get it you will be surprised at how much you will want to use it.
    Megan Gray, Megan Gray Photography
  • Little Trips to Start 8 of 12
    Little Trips to Start
    We suggest if families take little trips to start to favorite low key places. The library, a favorite cafe, a friend's house. Something easy with a nice place to hang out before turning back but a place that you tend to go pretty often. We look for quiet routes with little traffic and ply those quiet streets. So when thinking of your usual route in the car to say the library or cafe think in terms not of where you might drive that is a faster busy route but investigate on a map or just by walking or riding around a little where there are quiet, and more pleasant for being on your bike.
    I don't suggest parents ride in the street with kids to start or as a jumping off point to begin family riding as it is too pressured. We spend tons of time at the University next door and at the park pretending to use the little fake intersections to practice crossing the street and riding around. University and College campuses especially in summer are great places to get out and ride with smaller kids and really let them rip on their own bikes. In terms of sidewalk riding we have a good post on that-- our kids ride both the street and sidewalk but as I said usually we don't start them in the street till they are six or so. Sidewalks need attention as cars can't see kids turning or getting on and off the sidewalk to cross the streets so use extra time to teach kids to move off of the sidewalk and out onto the cross walk carefully- again University campuses and parks are the good pressure free places to practice fake intersections. We seriously teach our kids to never never ever move out into the street between two parked cars as they are not visible to cars at all!
    Doug Hinckley & Jennifer James,Chicargo Bike
  • Tips from a Car Free Family 9 of 12
    Tips from a Car Free Family
    We are a car-free family living in Tallahassee Florida.Ever since our youngest turned 1 she has been riding in a wee-ride front seat. She is now 2 and a half. Our 4 and a half year old rides his own bike in the neighborhood, but when we go beyond he assumes the stoker position on the Xtracycle. We are still able to give our 9 year old lifts on the deck behind her brother, though she can almost always be counted on to ride her own two wheels regardless of the destination.
    Marie-Claire Leman
  • A Lifestyle Change 10 of 12
    A Lifestyle Change
    I'm new to this, I'm out of shape, I spent the last 20 years avoiding any form of physical activity. When I had my son 2 years ago, everything changed and suddenly I felt a huge sense of responsibility to guide him into a healthier lifestyle. I let those feelings build up, until finally I knew I had to make a drastic change, so I gave up driving for 12 months, bought a Yuba Mundo and et it up to carry Jack. Now we ride everywhere and are gradually building on our distances. It's been an amazing 6 months!
    Cargo cyclists tend to be friendly and we want to share our passion with everyone we meet. If you are considering joining our ranks, take advantage of this; wave us down on the street, ask us questions online, and be prepared to get an earful! Learning as much as you can before you buy will not only make you more confident in your purchase, but will also enable you to get the right bike for your needs. This applies even more so to those of us with kids, getting help picking out bike seats and learning ways to keep your precious cargo happy will make the ride more enjoyable and fulfilling.
    Lindsay Aronson, You Ain't Got Jack
  • Some Practical Tips 11 of 12
    Some Practical Tips
    As a carfree family in Cambridge, MA, we often ride with our two kids (ages 6 & 3) on busy city streets where it's not possible for them to ride independently.  After starting with a bike trailer, and then an Xtracycle free-radical, we're now happiest riding our Workcycles Short Bakfiets, a European bike with a wodden box in the front with seats and seatbelts for the kids.
    With the children sitting low between the wheels, the bike is extremely stable, far easier to handle than the many other trailer, bike-mounted seat and cargo bike set-ups we have ridden. Loading and unloading are a breeze because the bike is so stable when parked. The kids are in front, well protected in the box, where they can see and enjoy the ride, and where we can easily keep tabs on what they're doing. The only downside is weight, which is manageable for us on our relatively flat routes, but wouldn't be ideal in a very hilly environment.
    The cost for a bike like this can be high, but for us it has been worth every penny. We anticipate using this bike, sometimes with our burley piccolo trailer bike attached behind for our older child, until our youngest is old enough to pedal himself at about age five. At that point we'll likely move onto a tandem set-up for city-street riding.
    Dorea, Carfree with Kids
  • Some More Options 12 of 12
    Some More Options
    On-bike seats are great for turning a regular city bike into a small-kid-toting rig. Front seats have lower weight limits so you may have already outgrown this option. I'm partial to the Dutch brands: Bobike mini (up to 33 pounds) and Yepp mini (up to 33 pounds). The iBert safe-T-seat has the highest weight limit I'm aware of at 38 pounds. The Bobike and Yepp have an optional windscreen I've found indispensable in shielding the front passenger from the elements (and allowing me to "bomb" down hills at slightly faster than my flat speed).
    However, kids rarely come without oodles of paraphernalia and there's no better tool for kid and supply toting than a cargo bike. My bike of choice is the Surly Big Dummy as its a very stable ride on Seattle's big hills, but a similar and cheaper alternative is extending any bike into a longtail with the Xtracycle FreeRadical. I can carry two kids and six full bags of groceries, or two kids and their two little balance bikes, or if I really want to show off: three kids and three little bikes (and snacks, changes of clothing, toys).
    Madeleine Carlson, Family Ride

Thanks to all of our contributors, and happy bike month!

Top Photo Credit: Megan Gray Photography

Mary Lauren Weimer is a social worker turned mother turned writer. Her blog, My 3 Little Birds, encourages moms to put down the baby books for a moment and tell their own stories. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

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