Tag Archives: bike trailers

A few more thoughts on transporting toddlers

Among the toddler-toting parents I know, I’m one of the only ones who opted for a trailer. Which kind of surprises me, since I was always one of those people who, driving along in my car would look at the rosy little face staring with trusting eyes into the spinning hubcaps just a few feet away, and ask myself how a parent could possibly place their child in such a vulnerable position. Well, it depends on a lot of things, including your cycling style, the city you ride in, and your comfort level with the volume and type of traffic on your streets.

The German national automobile club did a comparative safety test with the child on the bike and in a trailer. (Wow, you’re thinking, their automobile club does bike safety tests?) Here’s what they found.

There is no clear winner in the contest. When it comes to safety, all else considered, the trailer is marginally safer.  This is mainly because of its stability. You can fall on your bike, and the trailer will still stay upright, whereas if you fall with the child on a bike seat, the child falls with you. This also means that if you hit an unexpected obstacle, your child will be safer in the trailer. And changing lanes is safer with a trailer, particularly where there are streetcar tracks. Also, your ability to swerve out of danger is slightly worse with the bike seat.

And don’t forget the lighting. If I have to be out after dusk or in the rain, my trailer is lit up like a Xmas tree. Also, I cycle all year, so S. stays dry in the rain (I get wet) and warm in the snow (I get cold).  And she can sleep underway. Like she did today on her way back from Trinity Bellwoods Park. The other thing that speaks for the trailer is, paradoxically, the very reaction I described at the beginning. Drivers see much more clearly that there is a child in transit, and most of them react accordingly.

That said, the child on the bike seat is less likely to be injured if a car hits you from behind, and braking handling is generally better with the child on the bike. Also, a lot of parents like the fact that their child is sitting on the bar in front of them, where they have the sense that their arms are enfolding them.

ConsumerReports.org is more unequivocal in favour of the trailer. They state three main reasons: 1) it’s lower to the ground, more stable, less risk in case of a fall; 2) it’s easier to maneuver; and 3) the child is surrounded by framing & better protected.

But the main message coming from ConsumerReport.org and the German Automobile Association tests is that your child’s safety depends mainly on your cycling skills, on being correctly secured, and wearing a helmet.  Remember you’ll need longer to brake, and stability will possibly be an issue.

My first decision was to rule out the on-bike option. For me it was purely practical. I wanted to use the trailer all year, and I wasn’t happy about the stability issues. My main route was going to be home to day-care and the park, and I was confident of my ability to keep S. out of traffic while using the trailer. But I did like the idea of having her in front of me, rather than behind where I couldn’t see her.

This got me really excited about the Zigo Leader X2, a trike with two wheels in the front, holding a child carrier.

The Zigo Leader X2

It converts through an ingenious method to a two-wheeler. I thought this would be ideal for me, so I went down to Urbane Cyclist to try it. The result was more than disappointing. The turning circle was terrible, you can’t even turn right on the street without stopping and lifting the rear wheel. Then you should have seen the guys at Urbane trying patiently to do the conversion. It took literally 15 minutes. And all this for between $1,300 and $1,500.

There is a huge choice when it comes to trailers. Here is an excellent article on trailer buying, written it seems, by a professor of Astrophysics at Harvard. Hmmm, that says something about the kind of people who take their kids in bike trailers.

I finally opted for a Chariot CX.

It’s easy to hitch and unhitch, can be moved from bike to bike.

It’s extremely stable and easy to handle, and it keeps S. warm and dry through rain and snow. I’m the one getting cold and wet.

I only have two complaints – it’s very hard to fold, and impossible to get the covering off to give it a good clean.

If you want to be more adventurous, and if you have the luxury of more parking space than I do, you can look at the really exotic (and expensive!) territory: the Long-Johns,

Long John

Jakob Nordin's conversion from longjohn.org

the Christiania bikes,

Photo from christianiabikes.com

I get really excited when I see these on Toronto’s streets. It makes me hope that by the sheer pressure of public usage, biking will become increasingly viable here.


Changing the World one Kid-Trailer at a Time

Abigail Pugh wrote this great article a few years ago.

In a perfect world, we’d never look up at the lighted windows of a downtown gym and see rows of sweaty people pedaling off their Timbits to an iPod beat.

sears.ca

Instead, they’d be speeding homeward along heated, lighted car-free roadways. Only an eccentric few urbanites would bother getting their driver’s licence. Converted garages would replace basements as the new affordable rental housing. “Obesity” and “type 2 diabetes” would sound quaint, like suffering from rickets or scurvy. Bike sales would outstrip car sales a hundredfold. All so far fetched, so speculative, it might as well be sci-fi.

Clive Power on Wikimedia Commons

A more mundane prediction? In a perfect world, people hauling everything from kids to aging relatives to dogs to Ikea purchases, by bike, would be common. Like, seen-several-times-a-day or part-of-the-landscape common. Kids in trailers wouldn’t be the eccentrics of our urban traffic, as they are today.

bikeshophub.com/oscar-likes-the-strider-balance-bike/

Right now, those two-wheeled canvas and aluminum bike trailers for kids elicit raised eyebrows…even from other cyclists. The received wisdom seems to be “rather your kids than mine”, or “cool gesture – but what about safety?”.

Derek Baker is a sales guy at Dukes at Queen and Bathurst, so he can be expected to walk the walk. He hauled his son by bike, rain or shine, for five years: “My son rode in ours from when he was 3 years old to when he was 7. Then I gave it to my sister. We’re at the decade mark with it now.” What’s it like sitting in one? “My son loved it: with its padding and its metal structure, it’s like sitting in a rocket ship.”

Is Derek worried about safety? “There’s a big flag on the back, and these companies don’t chintz out: there’s an aluminum frame, and there’s a ball joint so the trailer can rotate 360 degrees and isn’t likely to tip if the bike does.” Derek says that in his experience drivers are more respectful and give proper distance when they see a child in a trailer. Nancy Kendrew of Urbane Cyclist agrees, remarking ironically that “it’s a psychological thing with traffic. A driver’s willing to risk running down a man on a bike who might be a breadwinner to a family – but if he sees a kid in a trailer he’ll give lots of room and be very courteous”.

There’s a sidecar kid carrier on the market now. Most stores haven’t started carrying it – but Derek enthuses: ”when I found out about it, it almost made me want to have another kid.” One believes him. Mark Newman, who has worked at Duke’s for 15 years and sold countless trailers, says he generally advises customers to stick to parks or dedicated bike lanes with sidecars, simply because otherwise the bike is taking up an entire lane which, in present-day (non sci-fi) Toronto might cause problems like road rage and traffic jams. He also notes, however: “In the 15 years I’ve been selling bike trailers, I’ve never had a single parent come to me and say they’ve had a tricky or a dangerous situation with one.”

Bike Trailer Safety Tips

  •  Plan ahead; don’t necessarily use the same route you’d use when traveling alone: smog and traffic are even bigger considerations when hauling kids.
  •  Make sure the child stays hydrated; don’t forget sunscreen, even in winter.
  •  Don’t tuck the child in with loose blankets, scarves or anything else that could come loose and drag.
  •  Kids in trailers need bike helmets, just like the rest of us do when we’re biking.
  •  Watch for the curb: the trailer makes your vehicle wider, and the few tipping accidents that do happen, are often from inexperienced users clipping the curb.

The Experts on Hauling Kids by Bike

Barb Wentworth, head of bike safety for the Can Bike program:

 “Trailers are a great boon because they actively engage kids in bikes as transportation or recreation. Parents can drop kids off and then commute. In my personal experience with a trailer, car drivers are more cognizant of the need to keep a safe space from the bike.”

A.A Heaps, Chair of the Toronto Cycling Committee (disbanded by Rob Ford in April this year together with 20 other citizens’ committees):

“In principle (bike trailers are) a great idea. They’re encouraging a future audience (for the pro-bike message) which is very positive. Personally I’d be concerned because they add 2-3 metres to the length of the bicycle and someone in an SUV can’t see over the hood. Also, trailers are at tailpipe level, which is a health and safety issue. The safest application is on dedicated bike trails.”

Urbane Cyclist - alastairwallace - Panoramio

Nancy Kendrew, Owner, Urbane Cyclist Cooperative

“I’ve had customers who buy a single trailer, then a double one. Then when the kids are old enough to bike by themselves so the parents start hauling groceries or going to Ikea with them. Then they say to themselves: ‘I don’t even need a car’; they’ve proven to themselves they can easily be car-free.”