With rising fuel costs and a greater awareness of the fragility of our planet’s eco-system, bikes are regaining their prominence as a legitimate form of transport. However, the problem that families face when considering cycling as a primary means of transport is the same problem that families face when considering anything – convenience.
Fortunately, the last few years have seen some advancements in bicycle equipment that have made it easier for every member of the family to pedal their way around town.
Ian Terry of Bicycle Tasmania credits the increasing prevalence of bike trailers in making it easier for young mums and dads to get the family out the door and on the road. “Ten years ago a bike trailer was a novelty” says Mr Terry. “But these days they are much more common”. The advantages of a trailer over a fixed child seat are many and include the carrying capacity that allows the cyclist to carry up to two children plus bags or shopping, the centre of gravity being at the rear which makes the bike easier to handle and as the trailer is completely enclosed it is more comfortable for kids.
As trailers have become more common they have reduced in price. Prices for trailers now range from $150 to $1500. No matter the price, the issues to look for in a bike trailer are how resistant they are to tipping and how secure the harnesses are.
As versatile as bike trailers are they do have their draw backs – firstly they can be expensive and, secondly, they can be cumbersome to handle such as when taking a bike on and off public transport. As child seats have been on the market in Australia for a number of years there are plenty to choose from, covering a broad price spectrum.
Laurence of King Street Cyclery in Sydney says the biggest differential between child seats is how easily they can be removed from the bike – some have quick release mechanisms for one handed removal while others require every tool you have in the house to unhinge them from your bike’s frame. For comfort, some seats are able to recline while others have cross-bars for kids to hold on to. A child seat that allows you to hang a bag off the back is also very convenient.
WeeRide offer a forward facing bike seat that places the child in front of the adult, just behind the handle bars. This has the obvious advantage of allowing you to chat to your child while also putting their weight in the centre of the bike which helps with balance.
Tag-Alongs and Tandems
A tag-along is a single wheeled bike that attaches to the seat post of an adult bike to convert a standard adult bike into a tandem bike. Just as with bike trailers, these are increasing in popularity and are becoming more ubiquitous. They are a great way of transitioning your child out of a child seat and onto their own bike. A tag-along allows you to travel greater distances on the bike without hearing the dreaded “I’m tired. I want to stop now” when your about 3ks from home. They are also a great way of teaching your child how to ride around traffic.
Long a staple of the Netherlands and Denmark, where the urban terrain is mostly flat, cargo bikes are two or three wheeled bikes that have a solid timber cargo box set at the front. The cargo box is great for carrying up to three kids and, when the kids are at school, can be used to cart around just about anything. Styles and pricing differ, but many come with rain covers to keep kids safe and some have the option of an electric motor. It is hard to imagine a cooler way to deliver your kids to school!
For littlies who want to scoot along with mum and dad as they walk around the block, a balance bike is perfect. Famed for their ability to teach kids how to balance before they tackle a “real” bike, balance bikes have exploded in popularity. Essentially a balance bike is a kids bike without any crank or pedals, so kids propel themselves by pushing their feet along the ground. As their confidence grows, kids learn to generate more speed and balance on the bike as it zooms along.
Balance bikes come in a rainbow of styles and colours and are made from wood, alloy or steel. The first generation didn’t have any brakes but most new models now feature a hand brake. Also, while some have fixed seats, others allow you to adjust the seat as your child grows.
It was so much easier when I was a kid. You either didn’t bother with a bike helmet or, if your parents were the protective type, whacked on a trusty yellow stack-hat. These day of course both parents and the government have grown more protective and helmets are a given.
The first thing to look for in a helmet is that it meets Australian standards. After that, it is simply a case of finding the one that fits your child best and, most importantly, one that is easy to adjust as your child grows.
If your child is going to be sitting in a child seat, then it is best to choose a helmet with a round shape rather than the ‘aero’ styled helmets to prevent the helmet hitting the back of the seat.
If style is your thing then there are a growing number of helmet makers making helmets specifically for kids. Netti have a range of cute helmets for kids while Nutcase have released a Little Nutty range that that is not only broad, but very, very stylish.
Getting Out There
Once you are fully kitted up and you and the kids are helmeted, all that is left is to get out there and ride.
If you are looking for other families to ride with, or a list of great bike paths or even just some general advice on bike riding and bicycle safety then visit your state cycling organisation: