Tandem Bikes & Attached Bikes

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Custom tow hitch from adult to child's bike

Dec 2012

I need to be able to tow my son's 20in bike behind (or next to) my bike without him on it, and I'm wondering if there is a product out there that will do this or someone who can make one? As it is, I've stopped riding my bike to work because I don't have a way to get him home from afterschool if he doesn't have his bike with him. Any recommendations? want to ride my bike to work again

Yes, there is such a product: http://www.trail-gator.com/ happy biking


Tandem bike for tall husband and tall 5-year-old

Dec 2005

I am looking for recommendations for a tandem bicycle for my tall (6'3'') husband and tall (4') son (5 years old). I am contemplating getting one as an xmas present, but know nothing about them. Any recommendations or advice would be welcome.

My husband bought a tandem about a year ago. He bought one used because he said it would be the best way to find out what he really wanted. New tandems are expensive but there are a lot of used tandems on the market. There is a type of seat extender(?) for children so the difference in height between your son and husband shouldn't be an issue. My bottom line advice is to figure out what you want to spend (check out Craig's list for ball-park figures) and give your husband a ''good-for'' so he can pick out what he wants. People who ride a lot really want to choose their own bike. Fran

Tandem options for biking with a 4 year old

June 2011

I would like to hear from experienced family bicyclists on options for biking with my 4 year old son. I've seen the Adams trail-a-bikes and tandems, and would love recommendations and hear pros-and-cons of each. I've been searching the web for answers, but have not found much. Also, I would love to hear Brands I could research. Many Many Thanks. We want to go and ride! heather

It's great that you are considering biking with your family! I started riding with my son when he was 4, too. He's pretty independent, though, and was always bored and unhappy in the Burley Trailers and even on the trail a bike, which I bought used off of BPN. The Trail Gator, a clever system similar to the trail a bike hooks your son's bike to your bike. The benefit is that your son can ride his own bike until he gets tired or on flatter terrain but get a break by connecting to your bike when needed. Not only is he on his own bike but he has the opportunity to ride independently. I noticed when my son was on the trail a bike, he often paid no attention to the ride and moved around a lot (which is manageable but annoying). I highly recommend the Trail Gator over the Trail a Bike. As for rides, I recommend starting with short, fun rides. We would often break-up the ride with lots of snack breaks or stops at various parks/fun sights. Build the mileage and difficulty as you go and before you know it, your son will be a skilled rider! IMO, riding with your son is one of the best things you can do with him. It's a great form of transportation and exercise - not to mention lots of fun! another heather

I'm of the firm belief that trailers are MUCH safer and easier to use than bike mount seats, but at 4yo your child is probably getting a bit big for a typical trailer anyway. The simplest next step option is a 'trail-a-bike' where the child sits either on his own bike (with the front wheel raised off the ground) or a sort of half-bike with a pole that connects it to your bike. The towbar type that attaches the child's own bike is less expensive and more flexible to use than the half-bike style, but you have to teach your kid not to use his brakes. Search TrailGator, Trail-a-Bike, tagalong, pedal trailer, trailer cycle. There are a number of bike forums you will find when you google, where you can see some discussions of the pros and cons of the different types and brands.

Other than that, you could try an XtraCycle or a tandem bike. XtraCycle has a lot of cool options for carrying people and/or things, and it's better than a traditional tandem for riding alone, but it's pricey. Holly

Trail-a-Bike recommendations for 5-year-old?

Sept 2007

I'd like to get a Trail-a-Bike to attach to my bike for my 5-year old. I've seen many around town but know very little about them. Any suggestions on what to look for? Favored brands? Pros? Cons? Cost? What age-range are these usually meant for? Any reason not to purchase a used one? Thanks, Marian Marian

I think a good reason for not buying one is that the window for using it (4-6 years old; occasional weekend rides) is too short to justify the expense. Sure it looks like fun, but by age 5, most kids are riding fine with no training wheels on their own. -- riding our own bikes together

We have a Co Pilot by Kent bought second hand and love it and used it from ages 3 to 6. It has one gear so the kid can help you push up the hills, no brakes so you, not the kid, are in control of stopping. We got a second hitch so my wife could trade off. Now that our boy is 8 it is for sale...look for our listing in the for sale BPN.

Trail a bike for 4.5 year old girl

May 2006

I am thinking if I should buy a trail a bike to go bike riding with my 4 year old daughter. It's the kind of bike which attaches to an adult bike. It's pretty expensive, anywere from 200 to 350 dollars and I want to make sure if it's worth the money. I don't see a lot of people riding it with their kids and I don't know anybody who has one. It looks like fun. What are the pros and cons for this bike ? Can it attach to any bike ? I have a mountain bike. Is it dangerous in traffic ? Is it popular with the children ? anon

The Burley piccolo Is the best one I know of. It attaches to a heavy duty rear rack that come with it. they are very stable & hight quality. my daughter loves hers & I just got another for my son Just turning 4. I have tried the cheaper ones but found them wobbly to the point of unsafe. Email if you need more info Greg

Target advertised a $62 Pathfinder trail-a-bike in a circular sent out on Sunday April 30. (Although I know nothing about it's quality.) Our daughter started using her trail-a-bike just after she turned four and loved it. As far as not seeing very many people with one, I see a lot of riders using them. But maybe having one of our own makes us more aware of other people using them, too. As far as attaching to any bike: the coupler for ours attaches to a seat post. (Some mountain bikes with shock absorbing seats don't have a regular seat post.) Also, it needs a certain amount of room on the post to attach. In fact we had to raise my seat slightly in order for the coupler to fit. It wasn't a problem on my husband's bike.

As far as being dangerous in traffic is concerned, the trail-a-bike changes the weight and balance of your bike as well as it's length. I ride more cautiously because of that. In addition, we ask our daughter to make an extra effort to sit still and not peddle on tight turns or curves because it makes maneuvering easier for us. But that may not be the case for you. In general when I'm riding with my children, I try to ride the bike boulevards if possible because I find those streets calmer with better crossings for busy streets.

We bought our trail-a-bike at Missing Link and didn't ask to test drive it. But you can take any bike there (and at most bike shops) on a test ride so I don't see why you couldn't test ride a trail-a-bike. They work without a kid on the back just as well as with a child in the saddle (maybe even better because you don't have worry about balance). So you could start out getting a feel for it. Then you could pick up your kid and see how she likes it. Susan

I had a used trail-a-bike ($99-$129) I rode with my 5 year old in Fort Collins Colorado last fall and winter. We loved it. In Fort Collins there were lots of paved bike trails off the road and great bike lanes. In Berkeley we have thought about getting a new one, but I doubt we would ride it on the road much (I don't ride that much alone in Berkeley with the terrible traffic). If you get one make sure the connection is really good with your bike and that it is stable. We took one spill (hit a wet patch) because the weight is shifted back off your front wheel and I lost control. We were a little scraped up, bit otherwise OK. It was scarey for me, but my little boy hopped right back on and I rode him to school. It is really fun if you have a safe place to ride, like the waterfront bike trail. peddle pushing mama

Hi- We have a trail-a-bike (Adams brand) for our son. We used it for a 2 mile commute to preschool basically from age 4-5, connected to our mt. bikes. Before that we commuted with him in a bike trailer.

He liked it, and we still use it some around town (he now is at a walkable school, so he doesn't bike commute anymore). It was good to have him connected to the adult bike and unable to cross streets when he shouldn't, etc.

I found it much harder to manage and less safe than the bike trailer, however. When he turned his head to look at something beside him, I had to compensate immediately to keep my balance. I'm an experienced bike commuter, but I never felt 100% stable on it - I couldn't turn my head safely to look at him behind me, for example, without wobblinng. It was like biking in gusty wind, but as if the wind mostly comes directly from the side but you can never tell which side it will come from next. I suspect this doesn't vary much by brand.

With the trailer I never felt unstable. Also, if for some reason I was to fall when pulling the trailer, the trailer stays upright so it is safer that way too. The trailer was of course better for hauling cargo too - we each always had a backpack, plus I had to carry the extra lock for the trail-a-bike, which adds up.

We had to frequently switch whose bike it was on, and that was a little annoying but didn't take too long. I think it fits most bikes, unless you have unusually fat tubes. - Looking forward to the transition to a two wheel bike

Earlier Reviews of tandem bikes

Ride-along attachment for 4-year-old

April 2006

I am thinking about getting one of those ride along attachments for my bike - looks like half a bike with a long pole attachment - so that my almost 4 year old daughter can pedal along but still be attached to me. Can anyone who has used one of those share their experience? Was it sturdy and safe? Do you recommend a specific brand? About how long was it useful for your child? My daughter does fine on her bicycle with training wheels, but if she is riding then I can't ride too because I have to walk next to her to make sure that she stops at the corner, doesn't ride out in the street, etc. The website has some old reviews, but they are more about the kind of trailer that a child sits in, not the kind where they are actually riding a bicycle too. Wants to bike!

We have one of those ''half-bike'' extensions that you are looking for and I don't think it's recommended for children under the age of 6 or 7. My oldest didn't ride it til 8 and my youngest is almost 5 and too small for it. You might consider a trailer that hitches on your bike instead....that's what we use for her right now. anon

The trailer bike has been a huge hit with my 5 year old. It's a Trek and quite sturdy and safe. I got it on Craigs List for about $75. Useful life for a kid seems to be about 1 year to 18 months, so try to buy used.

The best one Ive tried is the Burley Piccolo. I tried 3 others that attach to the bike seatpost & found them wobbly and the bike part is of lower quality than the burley. The piccolo attaches to a very sturdy rear rack that comes with the piccolo. the rack will also work by itself and even accepts our blackburn childseat. the piccolo has 6 speeds & you can adapt a backrest sold for the adams trailabike that will allow you to belt your kid to it if they do inapproriate daredevil no hands stunts like my 4 yr old son. email me for more. Greg

We started using a trail-a-bike with our daughter just after she turned four and are still using it today (she's nine now). We bought couplers for both of our bikes so she could ride behind either parent. I am not a strong rider (although I am a very experienced and happy bike rider) and initially worried it would be too heavy for me. But I was surprised at how easy it was to use--although I'm much slower than my husband so she prefers riding behind him. It's been wonderful for longer family bike rides, particularly the supported weekend charity rides we enjoy, of twenty-five to forty miles. I used to wonder if using it had discouraged her from learning to ride on her own. But now that we have a second child who is eager to ride anything on two wheels, I see that her reluctance to ride on her own is just her. In fact we're considering buying a tandem in order to continue the kind of riding we enjoy since she's finally beginning to get too large for the trail-a-bike. The only thing we've ever had problems with--and this was at the very beginning--was maneuvering through the posts that block entrances to bike paths. She scraped a hand on one early on so we had her slide her hands toward the center of the handle bars when the posts were present. But it's been a long time since we've worried about that. We've also purchase a heavy duty bike rack (that attaches to a hitch installed on our car) because its so much easier to securely load the bikes and trail-a-bike. Susan

Trail-Gator bike tow bar

Sept 2002

We are considering ordering a Trail-Gator tow bar and wondering if anyone else has experience with one. It's a substitute for a kids trailer bike that allows you to attach their bike to yours using a tow bar (it lifts the front wheel off the ground). You can ride tandem with your kid to a park or flat bike path, then disconnect the bar which slides into a bracket on the adults bike. It has primarily been sold in Europe for 4 years and meets their (stricter) safety standards. I spoke with the designer in Florida who said they have no reports at all of failure or breakage. Here is the website in case you are curious... I am going to try to talk REI into carrying it if it seems like a good alternative to a trailer bike. www.trail-gator.com Kristin

Big disclaimer: I have *not* used a Trail-Gator, so I can't comment based on experience with this device.

However, my daughter and I have logged some 1,000 miles or so with a Burley trailer bike in the last year and a half, so I have some experience with add-on bikes for kids.

My first concern with the Trail-Gator is that the child's bike is tipped up compared to the normal riding orientation. For the child, this changes the whole seating geometry a bit -- the seat is tilted back, the pedals are relatively farther forward compared to the seat, and the handlebars are higher up. I know that I'm fussy about micro-adjustments to the seat and handle bars on my bike, and would be bothered by the amount of tilt shown in the pictures; probably the same goes for kids.

Their Web site indicates that it should only be used with freewheeling bikes, or those without coaster (pedal) brakes. Such bikes will still have hand brakes for that rear wheel. The situation is much simpler in an arrangement where the child cannot apply brakes; the Trail-Gator set up adds that complexity to the equation.

(I've thought about what it might be like to add brakes to my daughter's trailer bike. The first issue is one of communication or mixed signals: if the kid is braking while the adult is trying to pedal, there's going to be a problem. Another thing that occurred to me is that on a heavily braked, steep descent, if the child's rear wheel were to break free into a skid while the adult was still applying brakes heavily, it's possible for the trailer to swing around forward, kind of ''folding'' the whole double bike setup -- or at least swing out away from the center track of the adult's bike. No brakes on a trailer for us.)

Also, those little bikes for kids are often geared *very* low. Even at moderate speeds for the adult, the kid will likely not be able to spin her cranks quickly enough to push or feel any resistance. Even our six-speed Burley is geared a bit low for our taste; I'm currently investigating replacing Emily's cranks with a set that accomodates removable gears so that we can put on a much larger front sprocket.

We're sold on the Burley trailer. We got an amazing deal on a used one, but, given that we ride it most days of the year for our daily commute, it would be worth it to us to pay full price for this trailer. I've talked with parents who ride with trailers from other manufactures, most of which attach to the adult bike's seat post (as does the Trail-Gator). The Burley attaches to its own special rear rack on the adult's bike, which seems to make for a sturdier attachment. Also, adult riders of seat-post-mounting trailers have told me that those trailers really feel very long and kind of bouncy, due to the length of the whole assembly. The Burley pivots right above the adult bike's rear wheel (making for a shorter lever length), while the Trail-Gator gives me the impression of being longer still than the typical seat-post-mounting trailers.

While it seems like I'm slamming the Trail-Gator, I suspect that it's great for the occasional short local ride on the Greenway or the Bay Trail, or for taking on vacations from time to time. However, if you're thinking of doing 5, 10, or 20+ miles at a shot, or if you were to ride it several times per week or daily, I think that the concerns that I express above would start to make the riders unhappy. Good luck! -Greg

Have you used a trail-a-bike attachment?

Oct 2001

I'd like to hear from parents who use trail-a-bike attachments where the kids can pedal along... in terms of overall safety, how well the adult's bike handles with the attachment, if the kids like them, at what age or size the kid should be, etc. I had a burley trailer (which I loved) when I lived in SF but now that I'm back in Berkeley, I don't like how narrow the roads are and don't feel right about using the Burley here. Plus, my 3 year old is more interested in doing rather than just sitting. KK

here's one suggestion: Try a Trail-a-Bike by Renting One. I know the Missing Link on Shattuck (near Berkeley Way) and the bike store on Solano (can't remember it's name) both let you rent Alley-Cats. You can rent a bike with one already attached or take in your bike and they'll help you attach it. My kids both loved it. I liked it but found it pretty tough going up hills. It didn't help that my daughter kept resting her feet on my back tire! Be sure to call the bike shop to make sure the Alley Cats are available because I think they're rented often on weekends. Ann

Yes! My daughter (now 7) and I have logged over 500 miles since January on the streets of Berkeley with our Burley Piccolo. (Hee, yes, that's no typo - over five hundred miles! I've also done at least that many miles again pulling the trailer without my daughter on board.)

We started shopping last December, phoning bike shops from Pinole to Fremont to research models, features and pricing. The low end of bike-shop price seemed to be about $189. This was for single-speed models that mount to the adult bike's seat post. As you go up in price, you add things like gear shifting for the kid and and folding hinges on the trailer for stowage/transport. The Burley is the only model we found with a fancier mount design -- there's a special rear rack for the adult bike, and the trailer mounts to it with a beefy universal joint style hitch.

The Burley isn't cheap, but we were amazingly lucky to find one on consignment, virtually unused, for about the same price as the base models of the other brands.

We've talked to a number of parents who've seen our trailer and remarked on how much they like the Burley's hitch design when compared to their seat post mounting trailers -- our seat post mounting trailer feels unstable and my bike was damaged by the trailer, and I had to get the frame welded are some of comments we've heard. Given what we've heard since buying the Burley, we suspect that the lower price of the other brands makes for false economy in the long run, given heavy daily use. (To be fair, we have actually not tried any of the others.)

Emily was surprised by the feel of the first couple of turns we took on our test ride, but quickly learned to recognize that the normal leaning of a bike through turns is o.k. (She's only just started riding a two wheeler on her own, and had only ridden solo with training wheels at that point.)

The Burley rides very smoothly. I can feel that it's there, but it tracks very nicely. There wasn't much adjustment or getting used to the trailer that was required. You have to make sure you allow for the length when rounding tight corners (or in any other situation).

On any given day, I either take my daughter to school or pick her up in the afternoon with the trailer bike. We live near Alcatraz and MLK, and she goes to Berkeley Montessori School near the top of Cedar (a block east of Euclid) in north Berkeley. It's about 3.5 miles, but the kicker is the 400 foot net elevation difference. It took us a week or two before we could climb the last couple of blocks to school, and the trip took us about 45 minutes. Now we pedal all the way, and we do it in under half an hour.

The gears on the trailer are critically important to us. While Emily doesn't have the strength and endurance to completely pull her own weight, her contribution is critical to us making it up the hill; I cannot do it without her effort.

It took a little doing to find the best route between home and school. There's a free map of Berkeley bike lanes and bike routes available at the commute store on... is it Center Street? half a block from Shattuck. We have a mix of bike-laned roads, bike routes, bike-friendly streets, and regular streets that we take. We will occasionally ride on Shattuck.

We follow automobile traffic rules, as cyclists are supposed to do. (Besides -- I've got an enforcer right behind me at all times, and she'll rake me over the coals if I blow it.) Following all of the rules can be strangely awkward at a four-way stop when an auto arrives first, but assumes that the cyclist will ignore the stop sign. Car stops, waits for bike, but bike stops, waits for car, etc.

We typically dismount and walk the bike across crosswalks at busier streets. Once, Euclid was dead of auto traffic, so, after a pause, I began to pedal across. Emily had presumed we were going to dismount, and gave a quick shout to let me know I'd began without her! We've now got a very clear system of confirmation before dismounting. (Let's hop off and walk the bike. Hop off? Yes, let's hop off and walk.) Ditto for mounting the bike and starting off on a trip -- Are you ready? Ready, dad or just a second.

We've learned that neither of us is very comfortable when the other stands up -- the standing rider will tend to rock the bike side-to-side when pedalling.

If Emily needs to stop, she lets me know ASAP -- uncomfortable clothes, an itch under the helmet, etc. This is especially critical when going up the hill, as I need her continous, steady effort. If she's gotta stop pedalling on the climb, she lets me know right away and we just stop the bike altogether.

Gloves are a must for chilly mornings. Also, Em will wear a thin rain jacket as a wind breaker, and will wear the hood under her helmet. A scarf is required on the coldest east bay mornings. (This is not a terribly big deal in this climate if you're prepared -- she was used to getting pulled to school through the snow to in a little sled when we lived in Michigan!)

We don't ride at night very often, but we can get caught out. We have front and rear lights, and have just ordered a monster (2mi visibility) flashing red rear light. I may actually start using the rear light all the time, even during the day. The Burley has an orange flag, and the bikes have the regular reflectors. The biggest factors for safety seem to be picking a sensible route and being very conservative in how you ride.

We've gotten caught in the rain a few times. Makes for a nice hot chocloate session afterwards. Also, www.wunderground.com's up-to-the-minute radar has helped us to decide to ride or not -- we can often hit gaps in scattered showers. We're gearing up with fenders for all three wheels so that we can ride more comfortably through the puddles and wet streets after a rain.

Our trailer has paid for itself in saved AC transit fares, we've cut our commute time in half, we get fabulous exercise, and we're more inclined to patronize local businesses since it's much easier to take a side trip or stop for a few minutes when you're on bike. Bike parking downtown is free, easy, and abundant, too. The trailer can swing around to nearly parallel to my bike for lockup -- the whole grand assembly pretty much folds in half.

There are also the intangibles. Emily absolutely loves the trailer. Bike time is very quality time for us. We actually have more conversations on the bike than we did riding the bus! The hill climb is also an activity that absolutely requires a joint effort, and, though routine, is also a hard-won accomplishment every time we do it. Once my chain broke, and she did all of the pedalling for the two of us for many blocks on flat roads -- she still beams with pride about that. Other kids point and wow as we ride by, and it's a very stylish way to arrive to school. We've also taken it to Angel Island on the ferry, and have gone on a docent-led bike tour of historic Oakland.

We got it when she was six and a half. I think that the biggest issues with a three-year-old would be related to questions of cooperation and communication -- never standing up, being certain of when to stay on the bike and when to get off, etc.

We'd be happy to show you our trailer some afternoon. Also, I work on campus, so you could stop by to check it out if you're near. Greg

Six months ago, my son, who had just turned four, was looking to graduate from his tricycle, and was envious of my 'big boy bicycle'. He was less than enthusiastic for training wheels, but intrigued by an 'attaching bike'. So we went to Missing Link, rented an Alley Cat. Worked very well, so we bought one (they deduct the rental fee). We ride about every other weekend, strictly recreationally, most typically out the Nimitz at Inspiration Point, or the Bay Trail in Richmond. It's a blast! He loves riding his 'big bike', clamors to go riding, and is very proud of all the approving comments we get.

A few other notes. I'm not very comfortable riding on Berkeley Streets. The bike is long, requires good verbal coordination for stops, has a much longer stopping distance (a particular concern on down hills) and Berkeley's potholed streets can be disturbing to the low riding rear rider... That said, there is nothing to prevent you from doing so, and we know others who do. What to buy. We got the single speed model, I think it was about $125. Great value, and seems perfectly adequate to me. I agree that the hitch which attaches to the seat post seems ultimately destined for metal stress failure, but I doubt it would crack the frame or seat post, and I don't think that there is any instability. I have wondered if gears would have made my son who is a good peddler even more helpful? I still doubt it. Good luck! Kevin

I don't have much to add to Greg's comments, except a warning about Ally Cats: we aren't happy with its hitch, which can come undone while riding. (My husband and I both had this experience more than once, and we're sure it was tight at the beginning of the ride.) Our son has been commuting with it since he was 4 or 5. Often he's fallen asleep on it, and kept his hands clutched to the bars and never fallen off. (NOT recommended, but at least it hasn't been a problem.) I think it has a weight limit of 80 pounds. Fran