I ran into a friend the other day who was despondently heading home via bus to then get his car to pick up his daughter from a school about a mile from his home. He’d bike but they have an intensely tight bike parking situation that doesn’t allow for even the smallest of cargo bikes. And the SFUSD lottery gods didn’t place them in a school in walking distance of their home.
He’s hardly alone in these problems, and my heart goes out to their family. A stressful daily commute takes a huge toll on the whole family.
But it also got me thinking more about the many other people who are trying to figure out how to bike their elementary-age kids without a cargo bike. While I continue to see a steady increase in the number of cargo bikes on the streets, I’m also seeing a lot more parents with setups for older kids on their personal bikes. So I thought I’d lay out the best options for families who need/want to make do without a cargo bike.
If your child is sidewalk/street ready and you have a route that feels comfortable for all, then consider riding one or both ways to school together (if one, usually the route that’s most downhill) on your own bikes. Kid bikes are reasonably light and can be carried into homes. If you, like me, live on a big hill, you’ll enjoy a bike ride downhill to school, a personal ride to work (or wherever — and keep in mind you can always leave your bike at the school) and back to the school, and a bus ride home with your bikes riding pretty on the front of the bus. I was initially nervous to try to put my son’s 20″ bike on the bus rack, but it fits just fine on MUNI buses, so we do it all the time. He does occasionally also ride home up the big hills with his dad; sadly, I can’t actually bike up my hills on my own regular bike, so I’m not exactly pushing the option. 😉
The pluses of this arrangement are that both of us get to ride on our own bikes. Since he goes to a neighborhood-y school, I get to beat rush hour traffic in and out of downtown and then enjoy a relatively empty bus ride with him since most people have already gotten off the bus before the stop at his school. The caveats are that this only really works for me when I’m only dealing with my son, and don’t have my other, younger child in tow. It may be possible for some people to lift their bike with a child seat onto the bus rack, but it’s pretty heavy, and managing the logistics with a second, very small child on hand would be difficult. (And for two+ elementary school kids, you’d be short a space on the bus bike rack.) And of course this is all possible because I feel confident in my son’s sidewalk/street riding skills — largely thanks to excellent training at Wheelkids camp.
The Junior Seat
If your child isn’t sidewalk/street ready, or you just don’t have time/patience to bike at their speed, consider adding either the Yepp Junior or Bobike Junior to your personal bike. Both seats work for kids about 5-10 years old. The seats are easily removed, so you can take it off and ride your personal bike without any kid stuff as you wish. Contact us to help you set up your bike with the Yepp Junior (usually requires a sturdy rack and/or adapter). The other trick here is to ensure that your bike doesn’t feel tippy because of the added weight in the back. These seats are best for commuter-style bikes. And we recommend that you have a front rack or basket of some sort to help balance the weight. Very important: Always use the foot guards to keep your child’s feet protected from your wheels. Always! (Note: the above photo lacks the recommended feet protection guards.) Fun things to add for the kids: stoker bars for their hands (tip: this discourages from sticking their freezing cold hand up the back of your shirt), a kid bell and/or a sturdy phone holder if you, like my husband, have been beaten down into always allowing your child to listen to audio stories on the way home but are tired of having to take your phone to the repair store for cracked screens. 🙂
If this sounds nice but impossibly heavy to pedal without bionic effort, you can also consider adding an e-RAD electric assist system to your personal bike. You’ll have the power plus the kid carrying capacity to get around with ease, with zero change to the dimensions of your bike.