Biking with Kids

We've been biking with our kid(s) as soon as our oldest was 9 months old. At each stage of their growth, we've had to get new gear and change our biking setup and routines. It's definitely a lot of overhead, but it's fun and worth it when we can finally all go biking together as a family to different places. Following are our experiences biking with the kids, and perhaps there's some helpful info here for other families wanting to bike with their kids.

Biking with an Infant or Toddler

Types of Carriers for the Kid

With infants or toddlers who can't bike on their own yet, we pretty much have to haul them around with our bikes. We've used both a baby seat mounted on the rear rack, and also towed a double trailer. My brother-in-law used a baby seat mounted in the front on the top tube, and also towed a double trailer. Each has its pros and cons.

Child Carrier Type Pros Cons
Rear Rack Mounted Baby Seat
  • Lightweight
  • Easy to communicate with kid
  • Takes up less storage space
  • Leaves option of towing a cargo trailer or a kid bike
  • Easier to navigate on narrow or unpaved trails
  • Difficult to carry other gear/stuff without towing another trailer or using a handlebar basket/bag
  • A bit harder to balance the bike, esp. when loading/unloading kid
  • Less comfortable for kid to sleep in without modification (we strapped a pillow onto the bar)
Front Mounted Baby Seat

Similar pros as rear rack mounted baby seat plus:

  • Child gets better view sitting in front
  • Leaves option of using rear rack to carry panniers, etc.

Similar cons as rear rack mounted baby seat, plus:

  • Baby seat gets in the way of pedaling. Have to angle knees outward to avoid hitting baby seat, putting lots of stress on the knees when pedaling, so not so good for biking longer distances or up hills.

Double Trailer
  • Can carry two kids
  • Can carry additional gear/stuff
  • Can detach from bike and use as a stroller
  • Heavy, especially if it's sturdy or a double (vs. single) trailer
  • Need to be aware of extra trailer when turning, going over bumps/ ditches, on narrow trails, etc.
  • Takes up a lot of storage space
  • More expensive than baby seats

Types of Bikes to Carry the Kid Carriers

We both started out with entry-level GT mountain bikes before we had kids. We used the bikes on the weekend for leisurely biking on mostly paved trails or streets, and I was commuting to work a couple days a week (@ 28 miles round trip).

Eventually due to wanting a faster commute and lighter bike for hauling more kids, we ended up getting road bikes.

We went through soooo many different biking configurations as we had additional kid(s), as the kids grew older, and as we went on longer rides. Eventually we also added a single trailer to the mix to haul cargo (food, extra clothes, toys, balance bike, etc.).

The lighter our bikes, the easier it is to carry the extra weight of the kids and kid carriers, especially if going up hills. Hence, road bikes were preferable over mountain bikes. However, the bikes need to also be study enough to handle the extra weight if going over bumps/curbs with kid carriers. I learned the hard way when the lighter weight wheels on my road bike got damaged (spokes came off) when going over a curb when I was both towing a trailer and had a rear rack mount baby seat. Too much weight on my poor wheels!

Training Kids to Ride a Bike

Balance Bikes

First J started biking a tricycle at age 3, then moved to two-wheeler with training wheels at age 4, and took off the training wheels around age 6.

Second J started biking a tricycle at age 3, then moved to two-wheeler with training wheels at age 4, and took off the training wheels around age 5.

With the third J, at age 2 he was already very eager to bike so that he could be just like his older brothers. However, his legs were too short for the smallest 12-inch bike we had. His legs couldn't reach the pedals when fully extended, haha. So, we started looking around to see if there were any even smaller bikes, and we discovered balance bikes (two-wheelers without pedals). Even amongst balance bikes, however, many brands were still too tall for him. We finally found a Strider Classic balance bike that can be adjusted very low, and boy he was off and biking in no time on it!

If we had known about balance bikes earlier, we would have completely skipped the tricycle and training wheels for the first 2 kids. Balance bikes are a terrific way to get used to biking and balancing without the fuss of learning how to pedal or how to work the brakes. It comes very naturally to the kid since it's basically just like walking or scooting. With tricycles and training wheels, the kids are actually learning to balance the exact opposite way of how they'd balance on a two-wheeler bike w/o training wheels. When taking corners with tricycles or training wheels, because the bike can't "move", the kid has to lean the body inward to the curve in order to keep from falling over. When taking corners with a two-wheeler, it's the exact opposite, where we lean the bike inward to the curve and keep the body stable. So basically, the kids have to unlearn how they balanced when going from tricycles/training wheels to two-wheeler w/o training wheels, so it takes longer to relearn how to balance. With a balance bike, there's no re-learning needed. It's exactly the same way to balance. We also outfitted the balance bike with a single hand brake for the front wheel. That way he could learn right from the get-go how to use a hand brake rather than going to coaster brakes and then having to relearn how to brake when transitioning to hand brakes. It took Little J just half an hour to transition from the balance bike to successfully biking a pedal bike with no training wheels and using two hand brakes.

Teaching Essential Biking Skills

Initially, the kids just biked around our side yard, or we'd drive them and the bikes to the school's big open flat blacktop area to bike around. Our house sits on a slope, so to go anywhere from our house the kids had to learn how to brake and go slowly down a slope, and how to turn corners. So, we had them practice these skills on the school's blacktop area:

When they got more comfortable and proficient, we started biking on the sidewalks, then trails, on residential streets, and with people/obstacles on the routes, and with that came a whole new bunch of things for them to learn:

Riding Longer Distances with Kids

Progressively Longer Rides

We trained our kids to ride longer distances in the following progression:

At around 5 years old, 4-5 miles was pretty much the limit for our kid in terms of biking distance. Since we had 3 kids in succession, it was also pretty much the limit that our entire family could bike at any given time, until we discovered this awesome tandem/towing device (see more info below).

We purchased two tandem devices, so each of us could tow one kid, which then meant our biking distance was limited to how far we could tow, haha. We discovered another benefit with the tandem device - it was much easier to get our middle kid out biking, because initially he would balk at having to bike too far. However, once we got the tandem device, he was actually eager to go biking since he knew he could always be towed if he got tired. Often on the way to our destination, he'd ask to be towed once he got tired, but on the way back, he'd want to start out biking on his own until he got tired again and needed towing. Once the oldest kid started biking a 24", the tandem/towing device could no longer accommodate that larger size wheel, so then we were limited by how far the oldest J could bike. At 10 years old, though, he was able to bike 22-24 miles on his own.

FollowMe Tandem Coupling Device

Originally we were considering a tandem bike or something like Trail-A-Bike. However, a tandem bike meant a brand new longer bike taking up more space and costing upwards of $3K for a nice one (i.e. not from Walmart). Trail-A-Bike is less expensive at $200-$600, and is basically one wheel and a pedal with a bar attaching to the adult bike's seat tube. Both of these options are rather inflexible in that the child doesn't have a chance to bike on his own at all.

Then we came across the FollowMe Tandem Coupling Device, and it's perfect for our needs:

The FollowMe Tandem Coupling Device in action:

Purchasing FollowMe Tandem Coupling Device

We ordered the devices from Clever Cycles bike shop (in Washington state), because the device was not carried in local shops at all.

I emailed them with pictures of our adult and kids' bikes so that they could verify whether the coupling device would work with our bikes before purchasing. They were very friendly and replied quickly. I called them directly to ask for a discount. They couldn't give a discount, but they waived the shipping fee.

Update: Looks like Amazon also now carries this device for only $299

Setting Up and Using FollowMe Tandem Coupling Device

The device does take some time to set up, so be sure to allow enough time (i.e. don't wait until the morning of a ride to set it up, haha).

When towing the kid using the device, for safety, we instruct the kid as follows and practice with him first before going on a real ride:

Have fun!! :)