Friday, 5 December 2014

How my Bike has Changed

I've been using my bicycle for about a year and a half, so I thought I should brag about just how great it is. There have been a few permutations of our set up, since the kids' and my needs have changed.

At first, Nae-J (2 years old, 20 pounds) was seated in a front seat. Since I suspected she wouldn't be in the Yepp Mini very long, I was able to borrow the seat from a friend, keeping my costs down. Borrow till you outgrow, right!? The seat was comfortable, easy to clean, and could be removed in about 30 seconds when she wasn't riding with me. She brought her teddy along as a pillow and never complained about a sore neck, despite the awkward positions she'd end up sleeping in.

Photo by Bruce Stotesbury, Times Colonist
I had to pedal with my knees bent slightly outward, or else they would hit her seat on every stroke. I got used to this quickly and it wasn't too difficult to pedal up hills. I geared down as much as possible and pedaled furiously. If that wasn't enough, I got off the bike and walked. I've been told that handlebars that are swept back are easier to use in combination with the Yepp Mini, but cannot confirm this theory first-hand. Another feature of the seat that we didn't use was the ability to use it on many bikes. An adapter is needed for the other stem which you want the seat to go on and the child can be set up on a different bike in about two minutes.

I found the straps of the three-point harness to be less secure as I would have liked. Though there was no chance she would unbuckle herself, the straps wouldn't tighten enough, allowing them to slip off her shoulders sometimes. This problem was even worse on the Yepp Maxi. I've seen friends cope with this by turning it into a five-point harness. They've used a chip bag clip, or old helmet straps to do this.

JahJ (4 years old, 33 pounds) was in a Yepp Maxi on the back of the FreeRadical deck when we started riding together. He only spent a week in his seat before he preferred the stoker bars that were mounted on my seat post. I wasn't 100% comfortable trusting him to hold on as a distracted child, but he never fell off. He wasn't napping daily, and on the few days that he did nap on the bike, he managed to do it close to our destination. He could hold on while sleeping and I would place my hand on him to know which direction he was leaning.

About six months later, Nae-J graduated to the Yepp Maxi. She loved her orange seat and would have stayed there until 33 pounds - the seat's maximum weight capacity - but my friend needed her seat back. There was some commotion about who would sit in the blue chair, as a 4.5 year old is not the best at sharing what he thinks is his. The recommendation with longtail bikes is to have the heavier weight closest to you. I think Nae-J and seat were heavier than JahJ, but I preferred having him in front of her.

A note about tipping the bike. Yes, the bike did fall when loaded with passengers. Sometimes it was my fault for not finding a good place to park, or not packing the saddle bags evenly (weight-wise); other times it was the kids' fault for leaning to one side or trying to get off without warning me. The first time it happened I felt horrible. The kids were startled and hurt, but they got back on the bike. The Yepp Maxi offered some protection against the body hitting the pavement directly. And JahJ's ninja skills improved as he would abandon ship while it was sinking. Yes, the bike did (does) fall when loaded with passengers - but the more it happens, the better everyone becomes at preventing it!

One inconvenience with using the Yepp Maxi on the FreeRadical is finding the right place to install it on the deck without getting in the way of the saddle bags' closing clips. We couldn't find a way around it, so I came to expect a struggle every time I attempted to fully load the bags. The other solution would be to bring less stuff on our excursion, but what's the point of a cargo bike if you aren't prepared for the Zombie Apocalypse every time you leave your house!?

Around her third birthday, Nae-J preferred to sit on the deck, inviting JahJ to have his blue seat back. I took this to mean that she was ready for the Hooptie. I was concerned about naps since she would still have one daily. The internet showed me some fantastic kids sleeping on the Hooptie and now I have a few picture to add to the gallery.

Since the kids can't hop on and off without help, sometimes, I take one side of the Hooptie off and put it as a foot step, like the u-tube. But the kickstand is not as readily accessible when the u-tube is on. Though it is a stepping place for the kids, the u-tubes aren't used as foot rests when the saddle bags are full. This doesn't bother either kid, so it isn't a problem that needs fixing.

I'm not convinced that the Hooptie offers added protection when in a fall. I think most of the protection is psychological peace of mind for the parent and passersby. What I find to be the most useful function of the Hooptie is the added storage space. I can tie bungee cords off of it; I can tuck things vertically; I can even make a weather protection that ties down on it. JahJ loves advertising that the Hooptie can bring three people. He may think it's his job to promote this feature to everyone he talks to.

About the flex: The first time I rode my bike loaded with groceries, I felt the flex of the FreeRadical attachment. Thirty minutes later, by the time I had reached home, I had gotten used to the flex, hardly noticing it at all. Jose doesn't ride my bicycle often, so the flex and the kid-wiggling affect him a lot more than they do me. I think that when the kids hit a certain cumulative weight it will be safer to use a longtail bike that is one piece rather than the FreeRadical attachment.

I don't have Footsies or any additional hardware for the kids to rest their feet while we ride. The kid in the front usually puts their feet up on my bike with their knees elevated close to their trunk. Lately, there has been arguing over who sits where. We generally agree that "on return", it's the other person's turn to sit in the front. When we have three passengers, negotiations take a little bit longer, but we usually reach an amicable arrangement.

I am really grateful to have found my FreeRadical when I did. Looking back, I've been able to increase my time in the saddle and have found very little to complain about. Yes, I would love to have a new shiny bike with XYZ special features on it, every year, but that's not a need. I can get to where we are going - rain or shine - and mostly with smiles on our faces. JahJ still wishes he could sleep comfortably in his car seat, and Nae-J sometimes has tantrums that I wish I could silence by rolling up the windows, but I just pedal harder to get to where we're going.

Here's to a happy new year riding - I hope you and your family ride as often as you wish and create happy bikey memories too.


  1. Inspirational! Thank you for showing and sharing that cycling with family IS POSSIBLE :-)

    1. Not only is it possible, sometimes it's fun too! Here's hoping my family can continue to cycle for life!!

  2. Thanks for the detailed review! I just got a bike with a free radical and am so excited to start riding it with my three girls. Nice to have all the details on seats and hooptie and different seating arangements :)

    1. Hi Meg! How's it going so far? Do your kids enjoy and cheer you on?