What are the best options for family bikes? Learn the pros and cons of trailers, cargo bikes, bike seats, trail-a-bikes, and more!
We own a ridiculous amount of bikes. Brad always says the number of bikes we need is N+1. It’s a joke for mathy-types, and in plain English, it means that we always need another bike.
Our collection of bikes stems from a car-free justification. Bikes are relatively cheap, easily bought secondhand, and last forever. Of our set of 9 bikes, only 3 were purchased brand new, and all of them are used on a weekly basis.
The focus of our collection is on family bikes that can be used to haul kids, cats, and other cargo. Hauling stuff on a bike becomes pretty important when you don’t have a car!
We have literally owned a box bike, longtail bike, kid trailer, flat trailer, tandem, trail-a-bike, bike seats, and trail-gater.
I am frequently asked about what is the best way to bike with kids, do large grocery shops or take the cats to the vet.
The answer depends on what you want to do and how much space you have to store bike-related gear. However, there is one universal truth, cheap cycling equipment sucks. I learned this lesson while cycle touring on a tandem. And it is true for every piece of cycling equipment I’ve used. Cheap bikes have cheap components that will constantly need replacing. They are heavy, and slow and make cycling a slog. I’m certain that it’s why so many people have bikes they never use.
Whenever we lend out our bikes the #1 comment we get is that the bikes practically seem to cycle themselves. And it’s not because we have electric assists. Well-maintained bikes are simply easier to ride.
1. Long-Tail Cargo Bike
If I was only allowed to have one bike, it would have to be my long tail. It can haul pretty much everything I need. It’s so easy to use, and it’s a pretty turquoise (never underestimate the importance of color).
- Long-tail bikes are good for hauling up to 3 kids, loads of groceries, camping gear, and more. (See photo at the top of the post).
- Mine has saddlebags and a metal frame that can be widened to fit a large plastic container. It also has zippered pockets that are perfect for things that I always carry with me, like reusable shopping bags, emergency snacks, bandaids, bike lights, etc.
- They are expensive. Even secondhand, they are expensive.
- I bought my bike from someone who found it too heavy. The fat wheels and long frame make it a slow bike. And the more you pile on the bike, the more you have to haul. Many long tails come with electric assists, however, that only makes them more expensive.
- Long tails are long, so storage is an issue. You can’t hang them and you need at least 5 feet of storage space.
2. Box bike
I love my box bike. It is so FUN to ride. And it freaks the cars out, so I get lots of space on the road. It was the perfect way to get around town when Una was a baby. We could keep her warm, cozy, and dry.
- The box area can really be loaded up with stuff. Pretty much the same amount of stuff can fit in the box bike as the long-tail bike.
- They usually come with a rain cover, so you can keep kids and cargo warm and dry on rainy days.
- It’s perfect for hauling pets. We bought our box bike from someone who used it for their dog, and we use it to take our cats to the vet.
- Box bikes are EXTREMELY heavy. They usually have an electric assist… ours doesn’t, and I actually ended up with a chronic injury from regularly commuting with two preschoolers.
- They are also very expensive.
- You need at least 6 feet of space to store a box bike.
Tandems are pretty much only useful for hauling two people. If you want to haul more stuff then you need trailers, panniers, etc. However, they are definitely a FUN way to travel!
- Tandems are the perfect way for a strong cyclist to help someone else along.
- It’s really great for cycling longer distances with kids. They can sit in the stoker seat and help move the bike.
- It’s a good way to teach kids about riding in traffic. They get used to the traffic without having to be on their own bike or a trail-a-bike.
- They are fun for long-distance riding as both cyclists can easily chat together.
- Like the other two family bikes, tandems are more expensive; about the price of two individual bikes of similar quality.
- They need 5 feet of storage space.
We’ve used a BOB, flatbed trailer, and Chariot trailer. The Chariot is good for hauling kids, cats, and stuff. The other two trailers are good for hauling stuff. The Bob trailer only holds a Bob bag, however, it is fast and light. The flatbed trailer can haul more than our family bikes, but it’s slower.
- Trailers are usually collapsible, so they are easy to store.
- They are also a good option for overseas travel.
- Trailers are MUCH less expensive than buying a cargo bike.
- My kids always liked napping in the trailer, making it the best option for longer rides with kids under age 3.
- They are uni-purpose. Kid trailers are best at hauling kids. Pet trailers are best for hauling pets. And cargo trailers are best for hauling cargo.
- Trailers add a lot of drag and are harder to cycle with than a similarly weighted long-tail bike.
- Towing a trailer makes you very long in traffic, and it can be hard to get around parked cars.
We had two different trail-a-bikes and a trail-gator. The trail-gator was certainly the most useful, because it connects a kid’s bike to your bike, allowing you to be separated again at a later point. Perfect for school drop-offs or longer rides.
- Towing a kid behind your bike is a safer way to cycle in traffic with older kids who aren’t quite ready for their own bikes.
- They are pretty inexpensive and easily found secondhand.
- They are very compact and easy to store.
- If your kid isn’t pedaling, then it’s quite heavy to tow them along behind you.
- No matter how much you shim them, trail-a-bikes are a bit wobbly. They get easier as kids learn how to balance, but in the beginning, your kid will knock you around, and it’s quite hard on your shoulders to hold everything steady.
6. Bike Seats
- Child bike seats are FUN. The view is good. They can easily talk with you. We zap-strapped toys and snack containers to the bike seat, and it was always fun.
- They are perfect for toddler-aged kids that you need to keep an eye on.
- Bike seats are much less expensive than other options and they are easy to store.
- Front seats really only work for certain body types. I could never really wrap around it and still see well enough to cycle.
- Rear bike seats require a lot of strength and balance to hoist a kid up behind you.
- My kids always fell asleep in the bike seats. Then I would have to cycle with them slumped over in an unstable way. We even had a reclining rear seat made for kids to sleep in, but they still always slumped sideways.
- They are only good for 1 kid.