Life After Bakfiets
Towards the end of last year the time came for a change from the bakfiets for transporting my two children. It was time to assess the options for carrying children by bike.
I first got a cargo bike back in 2014, when my children were 2 and a half years, and 6 months old. I had never heard of cargo bikes before and getting this was a total revelation. Suddenly I could look after both of my children and still get to cycle. I could use a healthy and sustainable form of transport and leave the car at home. I did not have to stress about parking at the playgroup which was near the school.
Over the next three years, the cargo bike became more and more central to our lives. My eldest moved on from playgroup to school nursery and now to school. My youngest went from a dependent baby, to playgroup, and now to school nursery. From using it three days a week to get to playgroup, we now use it at least five days a week. We cycle to school in the morning, then to classes or home for the rest of the morning, then back to nursery to drop of the youngest, then home for me, then back to school to pick everyone up and home again.
In a normal school week, I cover around 70 miles by cargo bike, that’s around 9 hours a week (we don’t move fast). That’s 70 miles of non-polluting, (largely) stress free, sociable transport. 9 hours a week of fresh air and exercise for me.
At the weekends and during school holidays I use the cargo bike for as many trips as I can. The botanic gardens is one of my favourite. It’s about 6 miles each way, but mostly on cycle paths. There the benefits extend to no parking fees and worrying about getting back to the car before the ticket runs out.
But over these three years, the children (inevitably) got bigger, and heavier.
With our mileage and our combined weight going up, the cargo bike was getting to be really hard work. Pulling away from a standstill was hard going, and in the kind of cycling we do there is a lot of stopping and starting. Trips to the botanics were getting to be a struggle, especially with a long climb on the way home. Our range was starting to shrink. I was also finding that, by the weekend, I was too tired to ride my road bike and road biking is something I need to feel like myself.
The weight of the bakfiets was taking it’s toll on my knees. An x-ray, a diagnosis of arthrosis (like arthritis without the swelling) and the advice of my GP to not put too much pressure on my knees meant that it was time for a change.
It’s not as simple to transport two children by bike as it is to transport one child by bike. But it is certainly possible. There are many different ways of achieving this. The trouble is that most of the options are expensive and require a considerable amount of storage space. For the majority of us, they are also not stocked in shops close enough for us to go and try before we buy. This meant that I needed to be sure to choose the right option for us. I spent weeks considering the pros and cons of all the options I could find. In doing this, the advice of the wonderful people on the Family Cycling UK Facebook page and reviews on CycleSprog were both invaluable.
If you are considering the same thing, bear in mind that you need to think carefully about what is right for you. There is no one right answer. Read everything you can and ask anyone who might know before you commit.
The Cheaper Options
Very little in cycling is cheap, but these are the cheaper options I found.
A Tagalong and a Bike Seat
We already had a tagalong which we bought second hand. We had used it a few times but not all that much to be honest. Perhaps we could use that for the older eldest with the youngest on a bike seat designed for older children. This could all be attached to one of my bikes. The reviews that I read suggested that either the Yepp Junior child seat or the Bobike Exclusive Maxi would suit our needs.
- This would only mean a cost for a new bike seat.
- The eldest would be getting more exercise than he does in the cargo bike, I am all for more physical activity for children.
- This would be complicated to attach without the tagalong attachments getting in the way of the bike seat. This is especially so as I am not all that tall so tend not to have much seat pin for attaching things.
- There would be very limited carrying capacity as adding panniers as well would be even more complicated.
- I am really not sure that my bike could take all that much weight and still be safe.
- I find the tagalong very wobbly. In my experience, if the child on it looks behind them, my bike starts to swerve. I am sure that this improves with practise.
- I also find the bike hard to handle with an older child in a bike seat. As their weight is high up and they tend not to sit still, this can be quite ‘twitchy’. Again, practise probably helps.
- If it rains, everyone gets wet. Not that huge a problem as we have plenty of waterproofs but it does make like slightly more complicated.
- Although this would be lighter than the bakfiets, the child on the tagalong does not actually have to pedal, leaving my knees still taking a lot of pressure.
A Tagalong and an Independent Cyclist
My eldest is now a fairly competent cyclist and is keen to ride his own bike to school. Perhaps I could use the tagalong for the youngest and have the eldest ride his own bike.
- More cycling time for the eldest.
- Both children would be getting more exercise than they do as passengers in the cargo bike.
- Even cheaper – we would not need to buy anything we didn’t already have.
- Carrying panniers with a tagalong is not a problem.
- A lighter option as I would only be shifting one child and a fairly light bike.
- Although we have cycle paths and quiet routes to get to school on, I still experience inconsiderate and dangerous driving every single day. I feel confident handling this as I have ridden bikes for years and know when to anticipate and how to react. At 5 and a half years old, I do not feel that it is safe to allow my son to ride on the roads we would have to use, even riding beside me. This is especially so at school run time which seems to bring out the worst in some drivers. The times I have ridden with him on the roads I have found it beyond stressful.
- If it rains we all get wet – see above.
- Feeling wobbly with the tagalong – see above.
Adams make a double tagalong. I wondered if this might be the answer.
- Both children would get some exercise on this one.
- I couldn’t find anyone who had tried this in the UK and this makes me a bit nervous.
- I am concerned about how stable this would be given I find a single tagalong quite wobbly.
- I couldn’t find any stockists in the UK.
- New, these are pretty expensive. I have a hopeful Gumtree alert just in case one ever comes up second hand as it would be great to try, but risky to pay the full price and then not like it.
- The reviews I found weren’t all that great.
- The same issues with wet weather.
- Lighter than the bakfiets but neither of the children have to pedal which would leave me pushing all the weight again.
- This is advertised to carry children aged 4 to 6 years. With one 3 and a half and the other 5 and a half right now, this would not make it feasible to use for very long.
A FollowMe and a Bike Seat / Independent Cyclist
The FollowMe is an incredible contraption which allows you to hook up your child’s bike to your own bike to make a kind of tandem. Perhaps I could use one of these with my eldest’s bike and the youngest on a bike seat, or use it with the youngest’s bike with the eldest cycling his own bike next to me.
- I have never used a FollowMe but the reviews I have read suggest that they are very good. I am told they are much more stable than a tagalong.
- The great thing about this is that you can let the child ride on their own when it is safe to do so (ie. traffic free routes) and then hook them up when there is traffic to deal with or when they are tired.
- At least one child would be getting some exercise.
- They are quite expensive (although the reviews do suggest that they are well worth the money).
- The same issues over one child cycling independently.
- The same issues over carrying a heavy child in a bike seat.
- The same issues of carrying capacity with a bike seat.
- The same issues with rain.
- Lighter than the bakfiets but again, the child on the follow me doesn’t actually have to pedal which would leave me taking all the weight again.
I can’t remember how I came across this option. At first glance it looked great. It is like a double tagalong but with seats with a 3-point harness and the option for children to pedal or put their feet up. Perhaps this would do the job for us.
- It is relatively cheap (around £400).
- It gives both children the chance for some exercise.
- There is an option for a rain cover with it.
- The children are pretty low down on it which I am not that keen on when cycling on roads.
- I don’t know anyone who has actually tried one in the UK.
- It is pretty heavy and if the children both choose not to pedal, I am doing all the work again.
- The reviews I have read of it are not very reassuring.
- Luggage is an issue again with the attachment getting in the way of panniers.
The Expensive Options
The expensive options are a much bigger commitment. Still cheaper than a car, and we use our bakfiets more than our car, but into four figures.
A Triplet / A Tandem with a Tagalong
Circe Cycles make a bike called the Helios. The helios is a thing of beauty. It is a tandem bike, designed so that fairly young children can ride on the rear seat and pedal. We tried one out and my (admittedly very tall) 3 year old could reach the pedals. As well as the double option, they produce a triplet. As the name suggests, the bike carries three people. The double can also be retrofitted to make it a triplet.
- All three of us would be getting some exercise. The ‘stokers’ (those on the middle and rear seats have to keep pedalling – there is no option to freewheel.
- Nothing is attached. It is a solid and sturdy bike in its own right.
- The bike takes a pannier rack so luggage is not an issue.
- The suggested age range is 5+ years (no upper limit) for the middle seat and 3.5 to 10 years for the rear seat. With my youngest currently 3 and a half, this should give us a good 7 years use from the bike.
- This is a big bike but nowhere near as heavy as the bakfiets and the children have to pedal so I am not doing all the work.
- I know someone locally who has used a helios for years in every combination you can imagine and who swears by them.
- Rain again.
- The triplet costs around £2700 new and they do not come up second hand very often.
- While the day to day luggage of the school run is fine, the helios can’t carry a week’s shopping like a cargo bike can.
An Electric Cargo Bike
I love my cargo bike. Perhaps I should stick with what I know but add in electric-assist.
- Another heavy bike but the e-assist would give me the option to take almost all the pressure off my knees.
- There is very little you cannot carry on a cargo bike. After three tears with a bakfiets I am used to being able to drop the children off, go to the supermarket for a week’s shopping, take that home and then collect the children. A cargo bike is the only option which makes this possible.
- Cargo bikes have rain covers. No matter how hard it rains, I am the only one getting wet.
- The children and I are used to cargo bikes. For my youngest, this has been her main mode of transport since 6 months old.
- The children can eat snacks during journeys.
- The cargo bike is a sociable way to travel. The children sit side-by-side and I am right behind them. We can chat and I can sort arguments (including one memorable argument over whose turn it was to throw the imaginary ball to the imaginary dog).
- The children are passive passengers on a cargo bike. I get plenty of exercise but they do not.
- E-assist cargo bikes are expensive. Around £2500 to around £4000. Still, cheaper than a car.
New Versus Second Hand
I am all for buying second hand bikes. I am very fortunate that my husband likes to fix bikes and is therefore able to act as mechanic in checking over used bikes (I am sure that I could also learn to to this, it’s just that fixing bikes is really not my thing and I would rather spend the time doing other things).
We were also very fortunate in having a friend who decided to sell his bakfiets just as we were looking to buy one.
For all the new options I considered, I set up alerts for various second hand sites. To me the ideal would be to buy second hand because then you get to try things out and if they don’t work out, you can just sell them on again. Second hand also makes some very expensive options less budget breaking.
The trouble is that these things don’t come up very often second hand and when they do, they are often hundreds of miles away. Cargo bikes especially are wonderful forms of transport, but transporting them anyhow other than pedalling them can be something of a headache.
With the need to take the pressure off my knees becoming more urgent, it was time to face the fact that we were going to have to buy new. If we were going to but new, we really had to get the choice right.
The Deciding Factor
In the end we went with the e-assist cargo bike option and bought a Babboe City E-Essist.
The cheaper options just all seemed to have too many cons to outweigh the pros. That left a helios or an e-assist cargo bike. In a world where money was not an issue, I would have bought both. Meanwhile, in the real world, it had to be one or the other.
The deciding factor was versatility. I have never yet come across a load I needed to carry and could not somehow carry in the cargo bike. This allows me to do everything I need to do by bike and this for me is the ideal. The fact that cargo bikes have rain covers is also a big benefit. The children stay dry, their school bags stay dry, the shopping stays dry. It’s only me that gets wet and I’m not all that bothered (unless I manage to forget my waterproofs – hasn’t happened yet). My only regret in going with this option is that the children remain passive passengers rather than physically active.
I have had the Babboe for almost three months now and I have to say I have not regretted the choice yet. It is a little bit bigger than the Bakfiets which is a good thing with the children also getting bigger. The children love it. My knee pain has almost disappeared. E-assist was definitely the right call for us.
I still have search alerts for a second hand helios though.
After all, you can never have too many bikes!