Three years ago our son Luke was born and our lives changed. When we started bike touring, it was hard to imagine that a few years later we’d be taking a third little cyclist along for the ride on weekend trips, across Europe and even as far away as Cuba.
Family bike adventures are certainly a far cry from the expedition-style touring we did during our world tour. We’ve swapped the 100km days of yesterday for half the distance or less, with plenty of stops at playgrounds, ice cream shops and swimming pools along the way.
This might seem boring to many but we love it. As fellow bike tourist Willie Weir says:
How many places have I sped through because there was no physical impediment to my fast-forward progress? How many interesting sights and experiences have we missed in the pursuit of arriving somewhere else? Bicycles are amazing when they are moving fast, but they are usually the best travel vehicles when moving slow.
And it’s a good thing that we’ve settled happily into this slower routine because this year we’re likely to slow down even a bit more. TravellingTwo is expanding. Yes, that’s right — Luke is about to become a big brother early this summer.
This exciting development has us reconsidering our family bike touring plans (we’re hoping to sneak in a lazy autumn tour when the little one is 3-4 months old) and our mode of transport.
Our current bikes aren’t designed to carry two kids and while we could pair a touring bike (with child seat) with a trailer — both of which we already own — we find this a bit cumbersome for daily commuting.
Instead, we’re looking for the holy grail: a bike which can be used for touring as well as commuting, which can carry a baby safely from infancy onwards and which will allow us to transport two kids plus a little bit of luggage such as a tent or some groceries simultaneously.
Does such a bike exist? Maybe. At least we’re about to find out.
This weekend we’ve been testing out an Onderwater Family Tandem and while it’s not perfect, it’s the bike that so far comes the closest to meeting all of our requirements.
Here’s what we like about it:
- Can be used from approximately 2 months old with a special cargo box + car seat (with suspension under the cargo box to minimise bumps).
- Can carry up to 3 kids, with room left over for shopping. Many configurations are possible, including an extended luggage rack for a back seat + panniers.
- As kids grow, they can cycle too! The front seat allows a child to pedal from about 4-5 years of age. A smaller child’s seat, without pedals, can be added behind the parent’s handlebar for kids from about 3 years old.
- Can be taken on trains in Europe — maybe not every train but enough to give us some options if we want to travel further afield.
- Weighs “just” 30kg (approximately). This is clearly far heavier than most touring bikes but it’s not massively heavier than other longtail cargo bikes (they tend to weigh about 25kg) and is a good 15kg lighter than the lightest bakfiets-style cargo bikes (these can weigh anywhere up to 60kg).
- Broadly high quality parts, though we’d upgrade it in a few places (see below).
- Electric assist available, if you want it. We are leaning towards getting an e-bike version of this tandem, simply because we will want to do longer distances and e-bike charging points are reasonably easy to find now in Europe.
- High re-sale value. If we want to go for another bike in a few years, we can recoup most of our money by selling the bike on to someone else.
On the flipside, here’s our list of concerns and potential upgrades:
- The saddle that comes with it is terrible! Definitely needs an upgrade to a Brooks (or your favourite saddle). The brake levers and pedals also seem to be on the cheaper side.
- The handlebars feel a bit cramped for our riding style. We’d like to replace them with something closer to the ones on our touring bike.
- Only available with a maximum of 8 speeds, which is okay for touring in Holland and other flatter destinations but (combined with the weight of two kids + luggage) is unlikely to get us very far if we try and tackle the Alps.
- We wonder if we could make the whole bike a bit lighter by getting a different back rack (the standard one seems quite chunky and heavy), seatposts and handlebars.
- If we use it to carry an infant in a car seat, we’ll have to work out a way of protecting the baby from wind and sun. Protection from the elements would be better in a trailer or a bakfiets-style cargo bike.
- The long wheelbase means that taking sharp corners isn’t as straightforward as with a shorter bike but the Onderwater tandem is surprisingly nimble for its length, far more so than we first expected.
Other alternatives for touring families might include the highly praised Hase Pino, Bike Friday’s family tandem, the Yuba Mundo or Surly’s Big Dummy. We’ve ruled all of these out for various reasons. In a few years they might be great but for the immediate future, none of them are capable (as far as we know) of safely carrying a baby in the way that the Onderwater tandem or a standard bakfiets cargo bike can, and this is an essential part of everyday family life in the Netherlands. We don’t have a car and we need a way not only to tour but also to make daycare, work and shopping runs as a family.
If you have another idea, let us know. Otherwise, it’s likely that we’ll be on an Onderwater tandem before too long!
8th March 2015 at 9:06 pm #
Touring on a cargo bike next, interesting concept.
9th March 2015 at 2:43 am #
Gefeliciteerd! I have a couple idea for you:
You could make a longtail work for an infant by adding boxes to the side like Katie Proctor in Portland. However, this is very wide and heavy! But certainly an option.
I have seen an infant car seat on the front seat of a Bilenky Viewpoint which is very similar to the Hase Pino. I’m not sure the best solution for the second kid in this situation–probably a Wehoo iGo recumbent trailer bike for the option to pedal and nap.
A longjohn more versatile than a traditional bakfiets is the Larry vs Harry Bullitt. It’s aluminum and lighter, and you can get it geared for hills. Many people have eyelets added for rear rack and have added stable rack-mounted trail-a-bikes (like Burley Piccolo by Wheelha.us and Totcycle. There’s a nice perch in front of the driver that Luke would probably fit on so he could mix it up if he doesn’t want to squeeze in the box with the baby or sit in a rear seat.
And it looks like trailer for the baby isn’t on the table–that’s always a nice solution! My second baby did most of his napping in a car seat in a trailer.
Can’t wait to see what you decide on!
9th March 2015 at 6:01 am #
Those boxes on the side of the longtail are beautiful! Quite wide and heavy though… if we did go touring, would we make it through gates on bike paths? And parking could be an issue. These are quite NL specific issues but nonetheless ones we have to consider.
I’ve never seen a car seat on the front of a tandem. Will investigate further! I know there are attachments to put car seats on top of bike racks but they don’t seem overly safe to me. This is a “gut” feeling rather than anything based on stats.
The same shop that sells the Onderwater tandem near us also sells the Bullitt series and I did think about that. I will ask them about it. The nice thing about the Onderwater tandem option is that the box for carrying a car seat comes with suspension for a smoother ride. Not sure about the Bullitt in that regard?
And yes, a trailer is an option and probably will be used for longer tours but for daily commuting I find a bike + trailer a little bit cumbersome. For us, it means hauling a lot of stuff in and out of the house (we can’t just leave it hooked up and ride away), trouble with parking and less agility when weaving through rush-hour bike traffic and fighting headwinds.
13th June 2015 at 1:03 am #
Greetings from the land of Oz. Just on two years ago I purchased a variation of the Mike Burrows-designed 8freight. This was from the guy who had commissioned a local maker to do the job. He had a few pressing requirements to accommodate…high mortgage on recently purchased home, pregnant lady…I think you get the picture! So the variations included making the rear box much more square-ish in shape and level all round at the top, enabling the carrying of large flat items easily(think Ikea flatpacks) and, with the inclusion of a polycarbonate rear box and lid which he made himself, a child capsule was easily accommodated and held in place with webbing seat belts rivetted to the polycarbonate. Move on a couple of years and number two arrived and grew into a chatty two year old too big for the box setup and hankering for her own set of wheels(sis has her own bike…why can’t I have one too?) and the ad to which I responded was an inevitability.
As was my response. WOW! Just the ticket. I have added an “E-ZEE” pedal-assist since then and have a couple of add-ons in my head for further development. I regularly fill the box with mulch for the garden and being able to park right next to where you need to put the mulch saves a lot of double handling. I have also been known to do “pirate pete” trips along bike paths that get overgrown with weeds at the sides of the path thus compromising user’s safety, or overhead branches that get ignored by council workers because they have their own pressurecooking schedules to complete. A whippersnipper ,petrol for it and assorted garden tools is a regular load. However, I also was involved in a massive relocation of two friends moving from the family house to their own separate dwellings, and on that occasion freighted loads up to 80 kg to the new residences. I am eternally grateful for the thought put into this design, and as the rear rack was extended to reach the length of the rear wheel, the bike could be stood on end in the shed, if the shed height had allowed. Manouverable, great cornering, low load height, low stepover to mount/dismount and stable centrestand have made this bike an absolute gem.
To recap- 8frieght, square up the rear box section and extend the rear rack over the rear wheel,add polycarbonate box and lid (which is rivetted by the way) and some webbing seat belts…VOILE. A new carriage for the new Prince or Princess.
Cheers for now.
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