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Cargo 301: Cargo Bikes For Families

August 16, 2019

Here in the shop by far the majority of cargo bikes we sell are to young families seeking a healthier, lower-impact way to get around town. This fills our team with great pride, not just as cycling advocates, but as cargo bikers ourselves. Over the years we've learned some critical lessons about riding around with the kiddos in tow we hope will help you enjoy your riding every day.

Protected heads and strapped in kids, all ready to roll!

Step 1: Strap In For Safety

Getting everyone safely aboard your cargo bike is always priority number 1, and the best strategy will depend in large part on which type of cargo bike you've opted for. To start off, kids as young as 1 can ride along safely strapped in with one of our Yepp Maxi seats these are the most common way to carry around very young children because they are safe, easy to install, and with a 22kg weight capacity provide plenty of room for growth (the manufacturer reckons up to 6 years, not bad). For many of our longtail cargo bikes, you will be able to attach two of these seats to the rear rack.

If you have kids younger than 1 year, or are thinking of growing your family, be sure to consult your pediatrician but there are some options. Front-loaders, and cargo trikes, in particular, provide some advantages and unique options for ambitious cargo riders, with the possibility of affixing a true child's car seat into the cargo box of the bike. Top that with the ability to throw a rain/wind cover over your passengers to keep your really little ones out of the elements and these bikes can be quite compelling for very young families.

Once your kids are out of their child's seat it's time to size up their riding solution. At this point, they're likely riding on their own just not quite confidently enough for daily commuting, that's why many of these solutions engage passengers almost like they're a second rider with seats and hold on bars that put them in a riding-like position. This is most evident with long tails where high-backed seats are replaced with soft spots to sit on, running boards to put feet on, and bars to hold on to.

In these long-tail configurations, you can typically split the space between a seated passenger and a strapped in kiddo in a child's seat if you have two different sized passengers. However, if you have two kids ready to come out of child seats you can choose between a simpler hold-on bar behind the seat, or a more comprehensive solution like the Yuba Monkey Bar that completely surrounds all passengers on the back, providing a bit more security.

For front-loaders and cargo trikes,  a dedicated bench seat system with y-belts are an easy solution. These will typically hold up to two kids in the box, leaving some room upfront for extra cargo if you're making a particularly big trip. They do leave some nice flexibility out back though if you have riders of different sizes; bikes like the Yuba Supermarchecan carry two kids in the box and another in a child's seat on the rear rack, now that's some serious capacity.

Step 2: Separate Your Cargo

With our years of cargo-carrying experience, we've had some hard-learned lessons about cargo organization and separation. Clearly, there are two things you'll be hauling kids and cargo (goods for work, the days shopping, picnic supplies, sports gear, extra nappies, you name it). By and large, you want these to have their own dedicated areas on the bike.

This is one reason why we're fervent advocates for front cargo trays on longtail bikes. There may be plenty of room out back there to affix a couple of pannier bags for your shopping, but a bunch of bruised apples and crushed milk cartons (not to mention some awkward riding positions for your passengers) have sent us looking for a better solution. That solution almost always is a front cargo tray with a porteur bag. Fortunately, most of our longtails have dedicated high-capacity trays that go on in a breeze and look great on the bike. This gives you a heap of protected carrying space for just about anything you'll want to carry on a regular basis. It also ensures your bike is weighted more evenly, front to back.

It's worth pausing for a minute here to address the myriad of specific rear cargo bags for different long tails. The Tern GSD, Benno Boost, and Yuba Spicy Curry all have bags specifically designed to make the most of their long rear racks. For the most part these are not meant for use while you have passengers on the back, however, most fold out of the way when not in use so you can leave them on the back. They even provide a side benefit of keeping little legs well away from the spinning rear wheel, so many cargo families keep these on for protection and extra carrying capacity when the kids aren't aboard.

For front-loaders, the problem is reversed if a bit minimized, with passengers typically riding along upfront. The easiest way to add extra cargo space is to throw a couple of waterproof pannier bags on the rear rack that can otherwise go overlooked. That said, if your rear rack is otherwise spoken for there usually is enough room to throw a storage crate in the front of the box with legroom to spare for your passengers.

Separate cargo and a bit of cold-weather gear, make riding every day a breeze.

Step 3: Gearing Up To Ride Every Day

 While many families add a cargo bike to their household as a secondary vehicle, deferring to the car or public transit when the weather turns nasty, a little advanced prep can have you riding comfortably in a surprisingly wide range of weather. This can be critical to increasing the utility and enjoyment of your bike; plus, as we've found, the kiddos are usually the heartiest riders of the bunch.

First things first though, helmets. Everybody needs them, and everybody can love theirs. As soon as your child is able to hold their head up we have helmets that can size down to fit their noggins (once again though, if you're considering riding with a child under 1 talk to your paediatrician). The important thing to know before you get one is their head circumference; this is measured just above the eyebrows around the widest part of the head.

A lid like the Giro Scampgoes all the way down to 45 cm, with size ranges that take you all the way to small adult helmets. Fortunately, these small helmets have huge adjustment ranges since we all know little heads are wont to grow quite quickly. For you, something like the ultra-stylish helmets from Thousand not only make riding more comfortable but may well make you want to ride more.

As for weathering the elements, you'll want to make sure all your riders have a good quick-dry raincoat and a pair of gloves, along with some emergency rain pants for you. It can be quite advantageous to look for options that collapse down quite small and dedicate a part of your porteur or pannier bags solely to their storage, that way you won't get caught out by an unexpected squall. For many families, it may make sense to use existing rain gear during the winter season and use your collapsable gear for shoulder seasons and summer rains.

 Step 4: Getting In For Maintenance

Just like the family car, keeping your cargo bike in tip-top shape is critical for longevity, safety, and enjoyment. For everyday riders, we recommend a full service every 6 months, with a quick check on consumables every 3 months or 1000km (read more about this in our cargo bike maintenance post).

But we know how hectic schedules can get between school, work, sports practice, and everything else. That's why our shop offers the longest opening hours in Wellington. Our cafe opens early every day and you're always welcome to drop it off early if that suits, or our mechanics are about until 5.30 PM weekdays, and that's not to mention our weekend opening hours. If you need a specific drop off and pickup coordinated to let you get the kids to school and pick them up for sports practice in the arvo, don't fret our team has you covered. Call us any time to schedule a service, and we'll work out something that fits your schedule.

That's it, a few easy steps and your family is ready to roll on your new cargo bike! Thanks for reading, and if you have any specific questions about your cargo setup or are curious about what we'd recommend for your ride and family don't hesitate to give us a bell.

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