Monday, January 10, 2011

Carrying Kids on Folding Bikes

A lot of young people have folding bikes for commuting or travel. Then along comes their first baby and they don't see how their flimsy folder can possibly get them around together. But don't throw the bike out with the bathwater! You can get a kid seat onto most folding bikes safely and easily. Possibly expensively, too, but we'll get to that.


Most of this information applies to regular nonfolding bikes as well.


We usually carry our brood and kilos of assorted garbage I mean cargo around in a big, heavy cargo bike. It's terrific for what it's designed for. But if you want to tootle off for the weekend for a bike ride through beautiful Oskaloosa with your happy threesome, unless you have a truck of some kind you're not bringing the cargo bike with you. 


We didn't think you could get a kid on a folding bike the time many years ago when we went to Holland for my friend's wedding and a week or two on bikes in Friesland, the northeastern part of Holland. We went with a Birdy and a Bike Friday New World Tourist, each in a suitcase (the Birdy packs smaller), and a Burley D'Lite two kid trailer. You can hook a trailer to most folding bikes pretty easily. (We quickly found out how unpopular a trailer makes you in a country with bike paths, however, since you block the lane nearly completely and all the commuters stuck behind you call you names.) We also wanted to try out the odd bikes they have there and rented every cargo bike and tandem we could find, which were pretty popular with the kids. 


The Onderwater Tandem we rented was a big hit.


But we took our folders and the trailer for our longer ride. Well, after a few days sitting squashed next to each other in the trailer with clothes and food, the kids didn't want to get along with each other anymore and no number of windmills or piece of yummy cheese or stroopwafel was going to calm them down. 


You can't hear the kids in the trailer in this picture, so it looks peaceful. 
This is a bike route in Friesland, not a picture from Chicago.
In desperation, we dropped by a little hole in the wall bike shop in a smallish city in Friesland and waited for a few minutes while two blue-gray overalled mechanics dug through decades of Sturmey-Archer parts and came up with a Bobike Maxi SC rear seat. A few more minutes and they found the ATB Adapter for it, then proceeded to bolt it on to the Bike Friday. Here's how it goes on:


The adapter is the curved arm that clamps to the seat tube, and the seat attaches to it with the little locking pin, then the supporting posts from the seat itself slide onto clamps on the seat stays. There's a lock wrapped around the seat tube in this picture but it's not related to the bike seat. You just need a hex wrench to attach the seat. It does make it impossible to fold the bike without removing the seat, but that is quick and simple, and you can't actually fold a Bike Friday quickly anyway. They're more disassemble-able than foldable.

The Bobike Maxi seat is a really good solution, but not completely perfect. Unless you cut the bolts shorter on the seat stay clamps or adjust your spacing just right, the bolt on the drive side can hit the chain in some gears. Which ones depends on the gearing system on your bike -- ours has a SRAM/Sachs 3x7 and it's the lowest (biggest) gear on the cluster that is tricky. 



If you mount it carefully, you can minimize this problem, but then the clamps are close enough to your heels to be in the way. Your kid's feet might also get in the way here, so the seat works better with small kids whose feet in those little black buckets stay high up on the seat supports. We took the toe clips off the bike to address this. All in all, though, simply mounting the clamps carefully was easy enough and it works really well. 


I think cutting the bolt might solve all the problems above, but we haven't done it since we use the seat on several bikes. Now we have the same seat on the back of our tandem, though it moves from bike to bike a bit. 


Here it is mounted a couple of inches above the pannier rack, which just barely lets
us put two fully loaded panniers AND a child on the back of the tandem.

The Bobike seats will fit on most Dahons (except probably the ones with curved or sculpted rear stays like the Curve) and Bromptons, and any other bike with a seat tube and two rear stays (or one stay that's thin enough to hook the clamps on). The seat tube can be a bit thick without causing too much problem. Again, you can't fold the bike easily once the seat is on. I think many neighborhood bike stores have begun to carry Bobike in Chicago but I know that JC Lind has had them in stock when we looked in. Kool Stop now wholesales them, so nearly any bike shop can order you one.








There's also a seat that will fit a 5 to 10 year old from Bobike, and it uses the same mounting system as the one we showed above. 

EDIT 7/11/11: we have one of these now, called a Junior, and it works OK but has a tendency to twist to the side, sliding the clamps down the tapered seat stay on our bike. The kids love it but you should try one first if possible. A seat stay that tapers, narrowing toward the back wheel hub, makes this problem worse. The Junior supposedly holds panniers but really doesn't do a good job - they swing into the wheel and they're poorly supported at the top. But, again, it gets our 10 year old on a seat in a pinch, so it has its advantages too. He's pushing now for the other kids-on-folding-bikes solution: he wants his own! He'll fit on a Brompton but the nice inexpensive Dahons have too long a reach. Still looking for a good cheap option. (End of Edit)


Here's why you can't get a seat like this on the Birdy (or Curve, etc):


The rear stays are rectangular extruded aluminum and no standard clamps will fit on it. 

For this bike, since a rack can be fitted, either a cantilevered seat that fits thick tubing might work, or you probably need to get either a GMG 910 or 911 that sits on the rack (for larger kids; the 911 folds and then holds panniers, available in Chicago at JC Lind, maybe others) or a standard American child seat like the one in the next picture (a Blackburn, Rhode Gear, Co-Pilot or Topeak, available everywhere including garage sales, Rapid Transit and Roscoe Village Bikes). The basically standard Blackburn rack that comes with most of this style of bike seat will fit on many folding bikes and let you carry a kid, but it's a pain to remove to fold the bike and it's so high above the small back wheel that it changes the handling a lot. It only holds panniers when the child seat is removed and they tend to dangle into the spokes since there's no long seatstay to hold them back on a folder. 

You should mount it to the rear triangle so the bike will still fold. We have tried this seat on a folder but it isn't my favorite. It gave our kids very little room in front and it made the bike handle oddly, and it was hard to carry anything. A backpack would squash the kid more and there's no place for a pannier to hook on. If you could find a Blackburn type rack designed for a 20 inch wheel, that would solve most of the problem. Another issue is that the giant plastic seat won't pack smaller. This is an advantage of the folding GMG seat.

You can fit a standard rack like this one on the back of a Birdy if you do a little fiddling with the front attachment strips and mount them to the elastomer suspension bolt. The vinyl covered stainless steel loops we used on this old Schwinn Twinn tandem are available in neighborhood bike stores and might be a good solution for attaching the rack securely to your folding bike.

Make sure the rack attachment is very strong, or Junior won't be protected.
If you have a Brompton and you need a seat that really folds, there is one specially made for that bike in Catalonia formerly called the ItChair and now the Pere that fits a 4-6 year old (who can hold on) and sold for about $350 from Clever Cycles in Portland Oregon. This is too expensive for me, or I'd have a picture to show you of it, but it is really the perfect solution for a Brompton and a pre-kindergartener, and it doesn't affect your ability to carry luggage with the front pannier bag or the rear rack. The same manufacturer, Milan, makes a bracket that allows a Bobike Mini front handlebar mounted seat to work on the Brompton too. If I had to put someone on a Brompton folding bike right now, I'd probably try the regular old Bobike first, even though it messes up the folding feature, since it's cheaper.

So, OK, the Bobike seats have their own mounting brackets that hook to the seat tube and the seat stays. Others like the Co-Pilot and Topeak use a standard type rack that's too high for folding bikes' small wheels and changes the bike balance and handling, but will work if you can attach them to the rear triangle securely, and they fit a Birdy. Another group of seats just hang cantilevered off the seat tube.

These seats look like they might work well, but I haven't personally tried them. I think the important thing with all of them, though, is to hook them to the actual seat tube that is part of the main frame, and not to the seat post. The seat post on a folder is built to be strong, but I wouldn't trust it with the twisting load of a kid seat, and if it breaks you are both going to fall off. These seats include GMG Yepp, though don't buy one used without looking it up since a bunch were recalled years ago for safety issues. Others include Hamax and  Kettler. Kettler and Yepp seem to be available in several neighborhood bike stores in Chicago though I haven't seen a Hamax dealer here.

Let me know using the comments if you know of other brands or information. 
Another less than ideal option is a handlebar mounted seat. Some of these mount on a bracket clamped to the stem like this black Bobike Mini one, others fit on a different clamp: (we have used one for ages, but never on a folding bike - see the itchair link above for Brompton attachment for it)




The green one is an IBert. I think this whole class of seats, although they are terrific on a sturdy bike (some let the child sleep on a padded support in front), are a really bad idea on a folder unless they're tested and approved by TÜV or someone.  If the stem is long, unsupported, and dismantles or folds, it just doesn't guarantee the strength or reliability to carry a kid safely. Add to that the short seat to stem distance on most folders and you have an unsafe bike that's hard to control. Generally I think you should stay away from this tempting solution. 

If you do this a lot, another good option with older kids is a folding tandem like the ones from Bike Friday. They make triples and longer if you ask them about it. Rapid Transit is their Chicago dealer and the folding bike and recumbent specialist in the city. Again, most BF bikes are not quick to fold and unfold but very versatile. Or if your kids are big enough, you might also like those kidback trailer things that turn a regular bike into a tandem (available everywhere, sometimes called child carrier trailers). Some will fit on the back of a folding bike, though not all of them. We always find them available at Working Bikes.


Remember if you use a kickstand that you can't rely on it to hold your bike up when your child is in the new seat!


When we headed out again on our quick tour around Friesland, we were surprised at how simple it was to put the child seat on the folding bikes, and we were really happy to get the kids separated and out of the trailer that they had grown to dislike so much. Both of them really enjoyed having their own space, and they swapped places often. Since then, if we can't take the cargo bike,the Bobike seat follows us most places we go, attached to one bike or another. It fits on pretty much any bike, but it's hard to beat the combination with the Bike Friday, since it is low and stable and makes a good rack for groceries even if a kid isn't using it, and since you're not giving up much daily convenience by limiting the folding capabilities of the bike.


last update 9/12/12

17 comments:

  1. I'm jonesing to get one of those bo-bike junior seats (the age 5+ one) for the batavus but I know as soon as P sees it she'll want to ride on it and I'm not sure she's quite there in balance for it yet. I should call Jon and see if he has any in the shop.

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  2. Hey - great blog! Glad I found you, via Dottie's recent post.

    We have the fabled Brompton/ITchair combo ... I basically trolled CL and ebay for over a year until affordable Brompton came up. Itchair never did, but Todd from Clever Cycles "passed the torch" to us up here in Seattle.

    It is a magical combo. Still folds well, one of the few ways to have an older preschooler up front, jet pack for two.

    I've wanted to put a Yepp on the back but apparently Brompton discourages even heavy saddlebags d/t the length of the exposed seat post, so I'm a bit nervous about hanging weight way off the back.

    I'd love to find a way to do it though. Folder plus 2 kids would be "eipc". For now, when we take the train to Portland it's Brompton plus folding trailer for second kid/napping/shelter.

    The A to B magazine family has a bunch of creative Brompton kid-carrying setups, including this one:
    http://brizzly.com/pic/2K5C

    I love the Henshaws. That's an electric Brompton.

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    1. Hello Julian,

      I am not sure if you are still monitoring this blog post, but i am looking for a bike carrier for my soon to arrive Brompton. Can you elaborate on which folding trailer you are using with your Brompton. I have the Chariot Cougar 1 that i use on my existing non-folding bike, but not sure if that would fit on the Brompton

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  3. The Henshaws have the most complicatedly wonderful folding child carrier Brompton I have ever seen. Thanks for the link!

    I was thinking that a (custom) version of a Blackburn rack adapted to fit on the (any folding bike including) Brompton's little wheels would let you carry an inexpensive Co-Pilot seat without having to worry about the carrying capacity of the standard rack. A small disadvantage for the quick kickstand fold when the seat is off, but altogether possible and likely cheaper than the other options I mentioned in the post.

    Everyone who is interested should click on Julian's name above to check out his excellent though largely snow-free blog.

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  4. Montague bikes would be a great option for a folding bike that you can still use all your rack / carrier accessories with. They make full size folding bikes that use industry standard components so they are very much like a standard bike. However, they still fold down for easy transport or storage. Check them out at www.montaguebikes.com

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  5. Advertising is not welcome here. Photos of a cumbersome, heavy Montague bike are on the newer More About Folding Bikes post, April 2012. Dahon and Tern also make large wheel folders.

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  6. oh, hello, i hope you can help me. I have a dahon vitesse d7 and have been told that the bobike junior can't fit on it, but you seem to think differently?
    It would be the perfect seat for us, so i'm keen to pursue it, if it's workable. Or if you can think of any other similar seats that might work, i'd be pathetically grateful for the advice...

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  7. hi. We don't have a Dahon to try it on so think it over well and try it in the store if you can before you buy anything.
    The problem I see with the Vitesse D7 is that the seat tube is reinforced and doesn't go very high before the seatpost takes over. This makes it hard to attach anything to that key part of the frame. I guess if your seatpost is really strong you could try attaching the Bobike seat, using the mountain bike bracket, to the bottom of the seatpost and then connecting the footrests to the seat stays. There may not be much room for the brackets on the stays either, and you may need to cut down the bolts to keep them from hitting the chain. It must be far enough back that it doesn't hit your heels with pedaling.
    To be honest, I am not sure that the Junior will fit this bike. Let us know. We aren't as happy with our own Junior as we originally thought - no good for panniers and slips down on many bikes easily...
    Yepp style seats only need attachment in the front and may be easier, again only if the seat tube or seat post can manage it. I guess you can almost always put on a Blackburn style rack and a Co-Pilot or Topeak seat but that won't balance well since so high up.
    Look carefully at the image of the green Bike Friday above to see how the Junior needs to attach. Interesting question considering the unforgiving shape of the Vitesse frame. Sorry we can't be more help. If we get a chance to borrow a Vitesse we'll try it out.
    Pfuadi!

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  8. do you think that I could put a bobike rear seat on a citizen folding bike, such as the gotham? From the pictures it looks like it would attach the same way, with an adapter for the rack..I can't afford the bike friday.

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  9. Hey our resident folding bike expert is in the White Mountains today soon to be home. I tried to find a citizen to check out in town this morning but have not found one yet. Stay tuned. We should be able to get this question answered easily.

    Purely in terms of a cheaper bike if you already have the Citizen it would be best to find a way to get a seat on. If not and you have a baby that is bike seat sized there are lots of inexpensive options for bikes to carry a seat folding or otherwise on other parts of the blog like carrying your child on a old schwinn or any bike you might have now that isn't a floder. The advice applies to pretty much any non folder out there.

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  10. Hi. Bikes are easier than mountains.
    I had a look at the Citizen website and saw one on the street. I haven't tried the kid seat on one yet. But I think the Alhambra model (which looks most compatible of all), and probably the Gotham1, have thin not-too-badly-tapered seat stays that would allow the Bobike clamps to attach. I am not so sure about the Miami, Tokyo or Gotham2 models, which have thicker tubes there. Again, the clamp may hit the chain.
    This may be a situation where trying a Yepp or similar might work well. They don't have the seat stay attachments, just the clamp on the seat tube. Hopefully not too close to the chainring.
    If you can't try out the specific seat and bike combination you are thinking of, maybe it's best to go conservative and try an American style gray and orange plastic seat on a standard rack - there is almost always a good way to attach one of those, even if it isn't wonderful, and chances are you can find one to test out in your circle of friends.
    If I get my hands on a Citizen Gotham I'll try it with our seat.
    Good luck, and if you find out what works please post it here.

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  11. Hello. I've attached a Bobike Maxi on the my 2007 Dahon Boardwalk. Here's my experience.
    The first thing you need is the special ATB adapter, if you don't already have one.
    The only place on the seat tube with enough room to attach the adapter is above the top tube but below the seat stays. It attaches there just fine.
    The first problem is the standard racks that Dahon puts on the Boardwalks. They have a bar sticking up on the end nearest the saddle that sticks up too high and prevents the seat from resting level. You either need to remove that bar (like i did) or remove the rack entirely.
    The second problem is that it is impossible to attach the bottom brackets of the seat on the seat stays as the directions instruct. There isn't enough room for them because of the chain. Instead, I have attached them on the chain stays, about 1" in front of the rear axle. This allows the foot rests to be attached normally and still leaves enough heel clearance for me.
    I haven't actually used it with my child yet, as she is still too small, but I foresee a couple of problems. First, the seat rides very low on the frame, and I'm fairly tall and need the saddle up pretty high. I'm afraid the saddle is going to hit her in the face. Second, I'm worried about whether it is safe to attach the seat to the chain stays instead of the seat stays. Can anyone tell me whether this is a problem? Are the chain stays strong enough to support this weight, or am I likely to damage the frame with this arrangement?

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  12. Thanks for writing! That sounds like a great arrangement from your description. Having the child down low keeps the center of gravity low and makes the bike fun to ride, in our experience. The child has less distance to potentially fall, as well, which is an advantage. It sounds as though your seat may be a couple of inches below where we've put ours.
    Clever idea to modify the rack. We didn't have a rack to worry about at first and conveniently every bike we have with a rack does work with a seat so far. Can you still put anything on the rack too or is it not usable? If it isn't, why not pop it off if it gets in the way?
    I doubt very much that the chain stays will be any more damaged than the seat stays by the child seat. Most bikes use the same tubes for both, and it isn't a big load. Can't guarantee it but I bet it'll be fine. They have to be strong since they support the rider's weight and keep the back wheel on.
    Maybe if you keep your seat as far forward as you can comfortably, you can keep your saddle out of your daughter's space. If it has springs consider putting a guard there to keep little fingers from getting pinched.
    Let us know here if it doesn't work out for some reason, but it sounds great.

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  13. Hi, my kid is finally big enough to try her out in the bobike maxi on the back of my dahon boardwalk. Sad to say it was a complete failure. Even though the seat attached securely, when I raised the saddle to my appropriate height, there was no room for my daughter's head. Her helmet actually got pinned between the back of her seat and the back of my saddle. Back to the old drawing board. Think I'm just going to get a folder with 26" wheels and a front mounted child seat.

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  14. Uh, oh! I wonder what went wrong? Another Anonymous above here had better luck with a Boardwalk.
    Looking at our Bike Friday and Maxi, here are a couple of thoughts:
    - the Maxi is on our folder using a Bobike "ATB Adaptor", a piece of metal (older, what we used) or plastic (newer, tried it too and seems to work nearly the same) that extends the reach between the seat post and the seat. I guess it adds about 3-4 inches (7-10 cm) between the seat and the post. Did you use one of these? The Maxi might fit without one.
    - The child seat on our bike is leaning back slightly rather than entirely level at the base. It just wound up that way with where the clamps fit best, but maybe that adds a little kid headroom
    - sorry if we encouraged you to do something impossible. If you figure it out let us know what went wrong in your case! Let us know if you like the new bike, too, if you wind up getting one.
    - Thanks for writing. Good luck!

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  15. Hi, both of the above anonymous posts were me. Sorry for the confusion.

    After my failure with putting my daughter in the Bobike Maxi on the back of my Dahon, I began searching for other child transport solutions. Searching on Craigslist I found someone selling a used Sparta Amazone Trendy Mamafiets. It has a Bobike Maxi on the back and a Bobike Mini in front, along with many other cool features. I bought it and am very happy with it. But upon closer inspection, I noticed that the mounting bracket they use for their Bobike Maxi is not the same as the mounting bracket being sold in the US as the "ATB Adapter." The "Euro" version is actually quite a bit longer.

    Having nothing to lose, I decided to try switching the two mounting brackets, and "problem solved." The Euro bracket gives me an extra 3-4 inches of clearance behind the saddle on my Dahon, and leaves plenty of room for my 10 month old daughter.

    The US "ATB Adapter" makes the Bobike Maxi on my Sparta slightly more cramped, but my 5 year old son is still pretty comfortable back there. When riding with my daughter on the Sparta, I put her in the Bobike Mini in front.

    So, I seem to have solved my problem. But I'm not sure how useful this info might be to other biking families in the US. The only mounting bracket I've seen available in the US is the so-called ATB Adapter, and it is much to short to work on folders. Perhaps there is some way to special order them from the company? I should also mention that the Sparta Amazone I bought was about 3-4 years old, so it's possible that Bobike doesn't even sell this longer mounting bracket anymore.

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    1. I think the long one you have must be the same as our older metal adapter. Metal pin holds the seat on? The ATB adapter screws onto the seat connector differently. I hadn't noticed they were different lengths but I guess now that you mention it they are. We'll try to find out next time we talk to someone who might know whether the longer version is available. Hmmm.

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