It's awesome but not that intuitive
A would-be family who bikes faces daunting challenges. The usual setup is a couple who have biked before, who have recently had a kid or two, and who are interested in getting their kid(s) around town by bike. They've got a pair of bikes they bought 7 years ago, which have no fenders or racks, much less a place to put a kid. And they've seen others biking kids around on literally dozens of different combinations of equipment. This leads to common questions...
Will any of those kid seats I've seen around town fit one of our bikes?
Would a trailer work better?
Should we just dive in and buy a cargo bike?
Why do people choose one over the other?
Which one will last longer?
Where do you buy any of these things?
Do we have to buy new bikes?
The answers to these questions also strongly depend on who is asking. Specifically, how many kids they have, what age the kids are, how long/hilly their commutes will be, what their budget is, what their appetite for risk is, what exact model bikes they have now, and others.
handy Chart on Family Bikes & accessories
Our friend, Nathan Vierling-Claassen of Carfree with Kids blog, created these awesome charts that can help you buy a new bike or outfit your current bike with the accessories you need to tote kids.
The Personal Touch
To get useful answers to questions, the inquiring family needs personalized help. We've found 6 categories for good info... blogs, email listservs, Safe Routes to School, Facebook groups, Kidical Mass rides and family bike shops.
Blogs can be wonderful collections of family-specific bike info. The best of them have been given most major kinds of equipment to test, and will give you honest reviews of how each is in use. They often feature their own pictures, instead of the generic manufacturer photos you've already found online.
Many cities have a Safe Routes to School Coordinator who provide resources and programming to schools to encourage kids to bike and walk to school. Besides being a great resource for families, there are 2 huge amenities they plan for the community: 1) Walking Bus and 2) Bike Train. Just like a regular bus and train, they have routes and schedules; and, in very progressive communities "run" daily or weekly.
This is one of our favorite resources because folks can post inspiring pictures, videos, maps, links to bike sales or promos AND it's all easily shareable. We're constantly meeting new biking families and it's super easy to tell them to check out X group on Facebook.
Kidical Mass Rides
Anyone familiar with Critical Mass will have a laugh at this name because nothing says civil disobedience like a bunch of smiling tots on bikes. Kidical Mass, a recurring bike ride that encourages family and kids to ride on the street, got its start in Oregon but now has "chapters" in many major cities. And if you can't find one in your city, start one!
Family Bike Shops
If you have one in your town, they will be able to look at your actual bike and their kid gear and determine if they're compatible. They'll carry different kinds of seats (hopefully), trailers (hopefully), 1-wheeled trailer bikes (surely), kid helmets (safe bet), and have good advice about what might work best for you. Note that most modern US bike shops are not family bike shops. If the sales floor is almost entirely drop bar road bikes and full suspension mountain bikes, and if no one working there has actually biked a kid around before, then they're probably not much more knowledgeable than you are on the subject. These shops are set up to view biking as just another form of exercise, not as a practical means to go about daily life. You are not their clientele.
Luckily for you, we've listed all our favorite family bike shops below. And new ones open all the time.
If you're not familiar with email listservs, they are simply a giant list of email addresses that are collected into one handy title. Once you're a member, you simply email that one title, and everyone else who is a member receives the email. Here in Boston, we have one called "Boston Area Family Bike," which has dozens of members. Frequent posts to the group include "Will the _____ seat fit my _____ bike?" or "Selling my used Burley Trailer" or "what's the best way to bike from ____ to _____?" Most questions receive quick responses, and there are many members who are deeply knowledgeable about bicycle repair, which comes in very handy. These are also a great way to see if anyone near you wants to join in a weekend ride.
A-Z CITY DIRECTORY
Cruiser Boutique (bike shop)
Perennial Cycle (bike shop)
Allo Vello (bike shop)
Metrocyclery (bike shop)
Electric Lady Bicycles (bike shop)
G+O Family Cyclery (bike shop)
Seattle Family Biking (facebook group)
What are we missing? Let us know in the comments below!