Kids to school by bike

We’re all aware of the climate emergency and the need for things to change. One thing I’d like to do is use bikes more. The round trip to school twice a day uses a gallon of petrol a day, plus the short journey isn’t great for the car.

My car is on 90,000 miles now so will need to be replaced sometime. With a bit of luck it will go on for a long time yet. Hopefully it will be replaced by an electric car. However:

  • I can’t afford an electric car
  • The range is ok, but charging away from home is a problem
  • Very few electric cars can legally tow a trailer
  • It seems very inefficient to carry around over a tonne of stuff to transport 150kgs of people a short distance.

EBikes sound like a much more optimal design and would be a huge help on the hills round here. But I’m getting ahead of myself – let’s start on the bike.

School is around 8 miles away and it is uphill most of the way there. That’s actually ok – getting the kids out of the house an hour earlier to cycle to school isn’t going to happen, so we’re only looking at cycling home from school which is mostly downhill. Much easier.

I’ve got two kids and not much money so what are the options for moving them around?

The requirements are:

  • Low cost
  • Kids should be pedalling – I don’t want a cargo bike or trailer – as otherwise they’ll get bored
  • Able to climb steep hills (they are really steep round here)
  • Safe coming down the hills (ditto)
  • Fun!

Kids on their own bikes

This option doesn’t work. They are not yet old enough to cycle safely, nor strong enough to get up the hills on their own.

Triplet tandem

Putting us all on one bike would be great. I can do the hard work; the kids can assist if they want. As long as they don’t try to pedal backwards I should be ok.

Downside is cost. The Thorn Me’n’U2 isn’t in production any more; if available new it costs around £2000. When they appear second hand they are sold very quickly and are still expensive. The U2 also has a time limit – the kids will outgrow it in 5 years or so. However there is a strong second hand market so I’d probably get a lot of the money back.

The Circe triplet is another 3-seater. More expensive at £2850. However it is very adjustable so suitable for adults as well as kids. Plus the triplet bit can be unbolted and the bike used as a two-seater tandem. Sounds good on paper if the money is available.

Tandem and trailer

Decent two-seat tandems can be found for a few hundred pounds. Trailer bikes can be found for under £50. Would this work?

Possibly, but stability would be an issue. If the journey was fairly flat I’d go for this option:

  • It would be cheap
  • The system would be flexible – I could put the trailer bike on another bike and/or use the tandem as a two seater

However I don’t much fancy coming down a really steep hill in the wet with a trailer bike sliding around at the back. (Did I mention the hills were steep?)

I’ve spoken to a couple of people who’ve had trailer bikes and both have mentioned stability. One person eventually found a trailer bike with two back wheels (trike style) which was much better. However these are also rarer and more expensive.

Convert cheap tandem

It would be possible to convert a steel tandem to three seats. I should be able to do it given time, or my local frame shop could do it. There are downsides:

  • If it wasn’t done well it would look awful
  • Doing it well would cost more and take longer
  • If it looked awful I wouldn’t be able to sell it when the kids get bigger
  • I wouldn’t want to cut up a decent tandem so I’d be starting with a cheap tandem. Components wouldn’t be much good leading to reliability problems.

Where to go from here?

I’m going to try tandem riding with the kids to see what they think.

After that I’m not sure.

It would be nice to have an ebike conversion kit to take some of the sting out of the hills. That will have to wait though – I don’t have the money or time for that just now. Plus if I get fit then it might not be necessary.

Hopefully I can get some more work to earn enough money for one of the proper triplets. I’ll report back…

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