Family bike options in Ottawa from Modal Mom
Right now I’m doing all the daycare drop-offs and pickups with our car. I love having this one-on-one and usually happy time with my daughter. But…sometimes I’m a little green-eyed that while I’m battling rush hour traffic in the snow with a backseat passenger asking the same questions 102 times or throwing a tantrum because she dropped her cracker, my partner is enjoying solo bike rides along the Rideau Canal.
But, come spring he’ll be able to do some of the kid-transport on his bike. We’re all excited because it means more flexibility, more outside time and more biking for everyone! He’ll start by using our rear child seat but he’s considering some occasional chariot-use.
We’re probably not the only urban family that’s counting down the days until our bikes can be the go-to mode of transport.
Below is an awesome piece on family biking options in Ottawa from Lana Stewart of Modal Mom, a blog that covers walking, cycling and urban issues in Ottawa. Lana is a downtown parent who has been using a bike to get around the city since university. She lives car-free with her husband and son and can often be found doing the daycare run on their bakfiets.
Thanks Lana for allowing PPP to publish your post!
By Lana Stewart
There are lots of ways to tweak a bike that you currently own to transport your kids and there’s a growing number of complete bikes that can do double duty for kid hauling and grocery getting.
I’ve tried to assemble a complete list of family biking options and where you can find them in Ottawa. (If I’ve missed anything, just let me know.)
Bike seats – Young – Under 1 to 3
For the early years, many people use a bike seat that attaches to the front or rear of the bike. They are fairly affordable and easy to add on your bike. You’ll probably notice that loading and unloading the tot into the seat takes some balancing, so you may want to ask your bike shop about a sturdy double kickstand that will reduce some of the balance issues.
Front mounted seats are great for small kids as they are nestled between your arms and you can keep on eye on them. Rear mounted seats can accommodate kids up to about age three – depending on the brand.
The only downside is that your passenger is exposed to the elements and could get a bit disgruntled. Although, if you are biking through the rain, it’s really only fair that the kid gets to share some of the raindrops.
- Mamma Cangura
Trailers – Toddler +
Kids over the age of one can easily be carried in a bike trailer. They’re easy to use, some can double as strollers when off the bike and they give you lots of room for carrying 1-2 kids, or one kid, groceries and a collection of stuffed animals.
Trailers can get pricey, but if you’re also using it as a stroller, the cost is likely easier to absorb. They can also be found readily on used websites. (I started out with a used low-end trailer and it worked just fine!)
Trailers are great for climates like Ottawa if you plan to bike through the seasons and through any weather. Your passenger stays nice and dry and you can wrap them in blankets on really cold days. They’re also super for surprise naps or on longer rides. On the downside, they are big – so you’ll want to have a place (backyard, porch, shed, etc.) where you can store it when not in use.
- Mamma Cangura
Toddler – Preschool – 4+
Midtail cargo bike
To the best of my knowledge, the only midtail currently available in Ottawa is the Kona MinUte. (Yuba makes one called the Boda Boda, but I don’t think they are carried locally.)
A midtail bike is a halfway between a regular bike and a longtail. The rear rack platform is long enough to easily carry one kid or two if they’re ok with being cozy. The rear rack looks a bit like a surfboard and the child can sit “horseback style” on the platform or you can attach a child seat to the rack. There’s lots of cargo capacity in the ample panniers that come standard with the bike. A basket can be attached to the front as well for even more carrying opportunity.
A midtail or longtail combined with a child seat can be your vehicle of choice for 6+ years of kid hauling.
Longtails come in two forms: as a complete bike or you can transform any bike into a longtail using the Xtracycle Free Radical. Using a bike you already own really cuts down on the costs. Again, older kids can ride “horseback style” and younger kids can be fitted into child seats on the rear rack.
The new Xtracycle Edgerunner has a small back wheel, this keeps the weight of your passengers lower to the ground and provides more stability (so I read). There’s a bar that fits completely around the back deck called the “hooptie” for the kids to hold onto. The kids can sit facing frontwards or backwards using the hooptie. I’ve never tried an Xtracycle, but I only hear good things about their products. They are well thought out with accessories for comfortable kid hauling.
You can turn any bike you currently own into a longtail using the Xtracycle Free Radical.
- Kona Ute
- Xtracycle Edgerunner
- Yuba Mundo
- Trek Transport
- Surly Big Dummy
Car replacement bikes – Bakfiets
“Bakfiets” literally means ‘box bike’. These bikes have a big box on the front and resemble a wheelbarrow. They can easily take the place of a vehicle since they can carry multiple kids (1-4) and lots of groceries. The box for the kids can also be fitted with a cover to keep them protected from wind, rain or snow. It’s very cozy and very comfortable for your passengers and the rider.
While they are the most expensive of the kid hauling options, if you are already car-free or looking to downsize a vehicle, it’s an economical option in the long run. With the kids at the front, it’s easy to talk to each other and keep an eye out for any shenanigans if toting more than one kid. You know what I mean.
And when you need to do a BIG grocery shop, this bike can handle it. Potatoes, toilet paper, bags of apples, boxes of cereal? Pile it all it in. It’s huge.
There aren’t many options in Ottawa.
- Babboe (2 and 3 wheel options)
- Nihola (I’ve heard this can be special ordered)
Trail-a-bikes are like a half bike that attaches to your bike. These are great for kids over four who can pedal and not fall asleep during the trip. The kid gets to pedal, but you’re in control. This is great for riding along roads where you wouldn’t feel comfortable letting the kids bike solo (which is most).
Most attach via your seatpost, but the Burly ones use an attachment to your rear rack. This means there’s no wiggle room and the bike won’t twist around. Burly also offers the “Burly Plus” which transforms a trail-a-bike into a regular two-wheeler, so it extends the lifespan of this option.
The Weehoo is a bit unusual (pictured above). The child is fully strapped into a seat and pedals much like a recumbent bike. This trailer can grow with your child from about age 3-9. Kids can fall asleep in the seat and not fall out (a good thing). It’s also good for kids who may have other coordination or mobility issues. And the two side panniers can carry favourite stuffed animals, snacks and whatever else you collect along the way.
Personally, I like using a trail-a-bike for longer rides, since I find the added length more difficult to get parked at work.
- Burly Piccolo
- Burly Kazoo
- Burly Plus
And in Ottawa, there is an abundance of pedaling parents. If you see someone with an interesting bike, say hello, ask them how they like their bike.
For reference, here is a big chart of the bike options mentioned above with links to all of the manufacturers and where you can find them in Ottawa.