Riding in the Evenings and at Night

We don't ride with kids at night very often.  They usually have a fairly early bedtime.  However, when we do expect to travel later in the day at dusk or at night, particularly in the spring and fall we make sure that we are as visible as possible.  We use a headlamp, very bright front bike light (1200 lumens, with 2 lower settings), two rear red blinking lights (just in case one goes out, and an extra one in our tool case), reflectors on the bike, and a bright yellow and orange reflective vest.  Visibility is key.  I won't go into all of the details of night riding (how to safely navigate, for example), but I will provide some resources for being seen.

Here is a video I enjoyed by Greg Hanscom on riding at night, and making sure people see you:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vNcfhfcolws

The idea I particularly liked in this video was that he hung little reflective flags from his spokes to show movement.  Very cool.

You can also make your wheels light up with LEDs that are made for the purpose, or create your own setup.  There are many different products on the market for this purpose.  Here is a blog post on the subject:  http://blog.sfgate.com/bicycle/2012/12/01/get-your-spoke-lights/

Our bike lights:
Here is a list of our bike lights, with links to where you can buy or read reviews of them on Amazon.com.

This light occasionally goes on sale, sometimes for $30 or less: Rechargeable 1200-Lumen Bicycle Light
Image credit: Bright Eyes, Rechargable 1200 Lumen Bike Headlight

 It has worked very well for us and hasn't failed us yet.  I'm not completely sure about its long-term reliability, since it is so inexpensive, but I have found it is worth its price.  It is very bright, almost too bright.  I feel bad about shining this light in others' faces when on the bike path, so I try to keep it pointed down or partially covered.  Better too bright than too dark.  It is a light that will give you lots of light to see the road or trail ahead of you.  If you are riding in the city where you just want to be seen, it is probably overkill.  Its probably worth a lot more than $30 or $40, but we've only had it for a couple of years (several night rides each season), but I can't provide a real LONG-TERM perspective of several years yet.  I'll update this when we have some more rides with it, or if it fails.

This is my favorite tail light:  Portland Design Works Danger Zone Light.  I think it has a good long-term track record, and a good price when at around $20-22.  I love the different modes and brightness, particularly the slow alternating flash.

Here is a good inexpensive backup at under $10, primarily for night-time use:
BV Bicycle 3-LED Tail Light

It might not have enough light for some folks for daytime visibility, but it does the job at night.  As with any electronics, you generally get what you pay for, so understand that there may be quality control issues with less expensive lights.  I keep a couple of inexpensive lights with me as backups (since they are so small and light these days).

We have multiple headlamps, but this is my favorite one: The Zebralight H52W
It uses just a single AA battery (very common), and provides a LOT of light for a long time.  It can run on many different kinds of AA batteries.  I love the user-interface.  I'm really partial to the Zebralight brand, as this light has held up as well as or better than any of my others over the decades.  I've had this light for several years and use it every couple of days on average.  Make sure to keep an extra battery with you, just in case, particularly if you are using it on high mode for a long time.  I use it not just for biking, but everything else.  Although there are a LOT of good headlamps out there, IMO this is the best light for the money for our needs.  Plus, I don't like plastic.

Giving headlamps to the passengers of a cargo bike is a nice thing to do as well, and putting reflectors on the kids' helmets makes sense.  Bring a couple of backups.

If you want to go all out, here's an interesting solution (I don't have any experience with one of these or any kind of relationship with the creator, I just thought it was innovative):  Torch T2 Bike Helmet with Integrated Lights

Image credit: Indiegogo Torch T2

Enjoy your night riding!   Do you have any recommendations?  Feel free to comment on what works for you.

Madsen Soft Tops, Oh My!

Finally, the Madsen kg271/BUCKET covers (called Soft Tops) are Available for Pre-Order!  Woo hoo!
For those who do not know, these are covers for the Madsen Cargo/Bucket bike that fit over the bucket to protect kids and cargo from the elements.  They make the Madsen into more of an all-weather vehicle, comparable to a convertible car putting it's top up.  My initial impression is that the design looks like it will work well for us and keep the kids a little warmer and drier in the blustery and rainy conditions that we sometimes experience in New England.  I hope that these tops are tall enough for our kids, particularly as they grow.  I think they'll be perfect, but I have to see one in real life.  They are a little pricey at $350.  However, I can't imagine how much time, energy and money I'd spend trying to make one myself.  These look elegant, functional, get out of the way when not in use, and the folding action reminds me of those old fashioned convertible cars from the early 19th century.  Now we can ride around town with the top up or down.  Makes me want to bring out the Madsen for more cold-weather rides.  I predict there will be a few spectators yelling out "Awesome Ride Dude!"

Madsen also has their Black Friday sale this week.  This is one of the best times of the year to buy one of these bikes, if you're in the market for one.  If you've read this blog, you know we are thrilled with our Madsen cargo bike.  It works well for us.  We'd love to see more families transporting their kids and other random cargo around town with any cargo bike, although we are a little biased towards this one.  We consider it a fun long-term investment for our whole family.

Here are a couple more photos of the cover fastening process, which can also be found on Madsen's Web Site.  I believe Madsen will have a video describing this as well.
Now the only question is... should we go topless or covered up?  We feel so European!
All stock Madsen kg271/BUCKET bike photos courtesy of Madsen Cycles.

Madsen Cargo Bike Ownership After 15 Months

We have now owned our Madsen 271kg/Cargo Bucket Bicycle for well over a year.  We have used it for over 750 miles (1,200 km) with kids and/or other cargo in multiple situations, although mostly for commuting.  We have used it in the heat of the summer and the cold of late fall in southern New England.  We have traversed over and under bridges both old and new, through tunnels, over railroad tracks, within a farm's vegetable picking areas and associated dirt roads, on gravel roads and sidewalks, over the Connecticut river, on remote roads and busy city streets, to bike shops, to schools and various playgrounds and parks, in a 4th of July parade, to a winter holiday town-wide event, over many miles of unknown (to us) rail trails, and to several community shops.  We shared the road with huge trucks as well as young children just learning how to ride on a bike path, with trikes, tandem and electric bikes, with skateboarders and roller bladers.  We've hauled pets and people, two kids and three adults at once at night (including the main pedal person), we've had children sleeping and awake.  We've had days of riding over 25 miles, many miles well into the darkness of the evening, including stops in town for dinner and ice cream.  We haven't had any flat tires or major breakdowns, just a few chain drops.  We've had no major animal incidents, although we did see a lot of wildlife including deer, chipmunks, bats, mice, snakes, and turkey to name a few.

We have traveled with the bike on top of our car.  Well, to be more specific, with the bike attached to the top of the car and us inside the car.  We took the bike partially apart and put it on top of our car on a Thule tandem bike rack, transporting it almost a hundred miles north for a parade.  Our 4th of July post mentions this in some detail.  There we reassembled and decorated it for the parade.  Dis-assembly & assembly only required us to take off the front wheel, the front fender, and the bucket.  The bucket was taken off only because it helped the car's aerodynamics and to reduce drag at highway speeds.  It now takes a total of about 5-10 minutes tops to put the bike on or take the bike off the car.  Wherever we went, we got a lot of interest in the bike, and continue to do so.

In terms of modifications to the bike, we installed a bell, a bike computer, a seat cable lock, a phone holder, a rear-view mirror,  a new bolt for the cargo bucket (to make it quicker & easier to take on/off), an additional washer for the rear axle to minimize chain rubbing in high gear and a spacer for the front stem to raise it up a little (a bike shop installed these for us), some ergonomic (Ergon GP1) grips, the larger Madsen-included 44 front chain ring, and a Madsen front rack.  We also use a front headlamp and 2 tail lights when riding at night.  We don't keep the lights on the bike all the time, since we don't ride at night that often. We do bring a little road kit with us holding a few emergency items (lights including headlamp, duct tape, first aid kit, gloves, pump, tools, etc).  We've changed the rear brake pads once to a higher quality, longer lasting set.

The ergonomic grips are probably our favorite accessory.  The front rack is, in our opinion, an almost required accessory if we want even just a little more capacity.  We don't use it every time, but it makes a big difference when we need it.  It is amazingly strong since it is bolted right to the frame.  It is like having a roof rack with a box on top of your car when everything doesn't quite fit, but it can also provide a place for a lightweight person to sit on a short trip.  The seat cable lock was added since it is easy for someone to unfasten the quick-release seat post and take it.  It is loose enough to allow adjusting the seat height for different riders.  The computer is nice to help track our rides - we use the trip odometer and speedometer the most.  The mirror is an inexpensive safety item that we find helpful in traffic.  The bell could be louder but fits well behind the front reflector.  The phone holder is nice for listening to music and recorded programs, but it also provides access to all the things a smartphone enables us to do in 2013, like having a GPS and text-messaging engine available at our fingertips.  I'm not sure if the laws have caught up with texting and biking yet, but I'm sure one could be found liable for distracted bicycling if causing an accident. Less likely on a sparsely populated bike path.

Before front rack and grips, with computer, bell, mirror, new chain ring.

Most frequent comments we hear:
  • I've never seen a bike like that.
  • Wow, that's a handy vehicle to have.
  • We have a bike trailer, but that's so much better!
  • That's awesome, I love it!

Most frequently asked questions:

Q: Did you custom build it?
A: No, it came this way directly from Madsen (pointing to name on bike to show proper spelling).  It was shipped directly to us.  We did make some minor modifications and added some accessories.

Q: Is it hard to pedal?  Any problems riding it?
A: That depends on how much you are hauling, but in general it is only a little harder than a typical mountain bike.  It is a little heavier and longer, like a limousine, so you need to plan ahead in tight areas when you want to turn around. Need to watch out over curbs too, as the rear fender or rear chain cog can touch the ground if you're not careful.  Its a little longer, wider, and lower than most bikes, but most of the time you wouldn't know it.

Q: That's a interesting design.  How does that bucket fit on there?
A: Its bolted on with 3 bolts and fits over the frame in a safe, sturdy way.  It is based on a long-tail bike with a custom bucket made by the company.  The bucket can hold an amazing amount of weight over the 20" (51 cm) rear wheel.  Its a very intelligent use of space, and designed well in that regard.  That bucket is what makes it different than all other cargo bikes, and frankly I think its brilliant.

Q: Is it a Dutch company that makes these?
A: No, it is an American company out of Utah.  However, the Dutch would probably love these bikes.  They have a long tradition of hauling things with bakfiets or freight bicycles.

Most frequent information given out:
  • Madsen (out of Utah) makes these bikes, we didn't build it ourselves.  
  • It has 2 bench seats with seat belts for 4 kids!
  • It can hold 600 pounds (271 kg) in the back!  That's almost four 150 pound (68 kg) people, if you can fit them in there.
  • We like it better than other cargo bikes because it feels like a regular bike, just a little heavier.  
  • Other cargo bikes with the kids up front aren't as efficient or maneuverable, and those with the kids in their own seats (similar to a tandem) don't give you as much cargo capacity.  This is the best of both worlds.
  • The kids ride in it to school and back, and we usually stop to pick up groceries or farm produce on the way home.
  • Someday we want to add an electric motor, but so far this works great for us. 
  • Go to the Madsen Cycles website.  You can learn all about it.

Here are some of our current Pros and Cons.  Having this bicycle and using it regularly for over a year helps us get a better picture of our investment.  I've listed Pros and Cons before, but this is an update of some notable things to mention.

  • The kids enjoy talking and waving to people on the bike path as they are free to look around and interact with their environment in a unique way that most forms of transport restrict.  The speeds at which people pass each other or ride near each other allow for some fun conversations that could be as long as you like, depending on your fitness level and desire to interact.
  • It is super convenient and easy to get the kids in and out of, easier than car seats.
  • Plenty of cargo capacity for our needs, which often includes extra kids and groceries.
  • Feels like a regular bike with a little more weight in the back.  One doesn't feel like one's carrying a huge cargo until one looks back at the kids and groceries.
  • Good maneuverability in traffic and in city environments.
  • Good for longer trips where we need more efficiency than typical cargo bikes, some of which have 3 wheels and may be better for city life.  We typically average 12 to 14 miles (19 to 23 km) a day when commuting, more for special events.
  • Good customer service (Jared Madsen called me directly to help me install the front rack).
  • The front wheel lock is very convenient.  We use it often when we need to run in somewhere for only a few minutes.
  • The seat is very comfortable for longer rides.
  • Frequently used to replace short car trips under 15 miles (24 km).
  • Stable at speed, strong steel construction.
  • Larger chain ring (44 tooth) works well for higher speeds.
  • A unique vehicle that draws a lot of attention (this could be a pro or con at times!)
  • The kids love it, particularly down hills!

Cons (not all bad or specific to Madsen):
  • The gearing and shifting could be a little better, as we've had our chain fall off and the chain rub in places (which have mostly been remedied).  This isn't the worst thing in the world, since the design of having a long chain (on a long-tail) makes it inherently prone to some adjustment issues.  Physics are working against this design element due to having a super-long chain, gears, a chain guard, and a bucket over all of it.  However, one doesn't want to have to worry about a chain falling off or rubbing against something, which has happened to us.
  • As with any bike and traveling with cargo, there is worry about theft when parking/locking up a bike in certain locations, particularly when loaded up with gear and nobody is around to watch the bike.  A way for us to secure our gear and/or hide it in the bucket would be nice, such as having the waterproof soft cover that has been advertised but not yet available, along with something like a Pacsafe bag protector to secure gear in the bucket.
  • The Madsen kg271 may be a little expensive, but that depends on what you compare it to.  It is more expensive than a bicycle and trailer, which isn't even close to the same functionality or elegance.  They are cheaper than most of their cargo bike peers.  They often go on sale later in the year which makes them an incredible value compared with other cargo bikes.
  • The rubber on the pedals that we received partially came off within the first couple hundred miles, a very minor issue.
  • The 20 inch (51 cm) wheel in the back isn't as efficient when there is little weight in the bucket.  If a 26" (66 cm) wheel were in the back, there would be a lot less physical storage capacity but it would be a quicker and more efficient bicycle.  I'm glad it has the 20" (51 cm) wheel, as I don't think it could work any other way and do what it does.  
  • Kids moving around can effect the stability of the ride, particularly when they unexpectedly reach out for something.  They like to touch plants along the bike path, which is both a pro (for the kids) and a management con (for the pedaling adult).  Kid management is a bit of an issue, but that's probably true with most bikes where kids are not confined (as opposed to a trailer, where they can't go anywhere or reach out easily).
  • Installing the front rack was difficult at first, but easier once I understood the installation process.  Detailed installation instructions and possibly including a special tool for the installation may have been helpful.  I may have paid a little more for that.  Overall, it was slightly more work than it should have been.
  • I am guessing the market in cargo bicycles isn't as big in the USA as it might be in Europe.  Since Madsen is a fairly small company, new accessories or widespread product changes may take a little longer to come to market than expected.  I find I need to work on my patience in this regard.  I hope it will be worth the wait and that Madsen will continue to grow and innovate.
Although there seem to be more Cons than Pros here, I strongly believe that the Pros outweigh the Cons by a wide margin.

44 tooth chain ring (supplied with bike, a nice upgrade for us).  Pedals with loose rubber.

Accessories We Are Hoping to Add Next Year - If Time and Our Bike Budget Allows
  • A passenger rain cover for the bucket, so the kids can be warmer and drier when it rains or gets coldI might need to make one myself, as we've been waiting for this to be available for a while.
  • An electric motor, if possible, for the rear wheel to decrease the effort required on longer rides.  This will increase our range and allow us to more easily visit our friends further up the bike path.  Good ones are expensive though, so we might be waiting a while to justify the purchase.
  • A louder bell.
  • A slightly better way to install the phone mount - it is currently just strapped securely to the middle of the handlebars.
  • Any new accessory that Madsen makes available.

How to Improve the Bike as It Comes From the Factory
(this is assuming that the newer models of the Madsen kg271 have not already addressed these issues).
  •  Although it might be a bit of a challenge due to the physics involved, we would recommend investing in the gearing components to make them a little more robust and easier to adjust over the long-term.
  • Add a mount for a tail light on the top-rear of the bucket, and a loop/mount for one on the top-rear of the passenger rain cover when it becomes available.  It would be really cool if these worked like real brake lights too, but that might be too much to ask.
  • Allow for a higher handlebar position for taller riders.
  • Fit the bike rack better to the bike (we think this was fixed in the newer version).
  • Make the bolt holding the center part of the bucket easier to take off and put on
  • Pedals without an issue with the rubber (very minor).
  • Integrated seat lock (these seats are extremely comfortable, yet easy to take).

Overall, this has been a fantastic bike that has worked well for us with only some minor issues.  It isn't easy making an innovative, extremely functional, quality bike that will pass the test of time at a reasonable cost for the masses.  We hope to hang onto this bike for a long time.  It seems to be a great investment thus far.  I continue to be optimistic about this bike and the future of the company that makes them.

4th of July Parade on the Madsen Cargo Bike with Bubble Machine

This summer we decided to be part of a 4th of July parade in Vermont.  This particular parade was rather artsy, so we really didn't know how to decorate ourselves.  There were so many options.  We decided to go as Uncle Sam transporting his two kids by bicycle, decorating the bike with flags and toting along a bubble machine.

Here is a photo and a couple of videos (below) of riding in the parade in the Madsen Kg271 Bucket Bike.  Uncle Sam riding a cargo bike ended up being a great effect! 

It was a blast!  We had a bubble machine in the bucket that the kids could play with.  The machine was a Gazillion Bubble Typhoon and produced a crazy amount of bubbles with the right bubble solution (their proprietary blend).  It literally made thousands of bubbles every minute, and the light breeze was perfect to take the bubbles high up into the air.  The entire parade route was around a mile long, so we would turn it on when we saw the crowds.   We ended up just leaving it on after a while.  It got a little much when we stopped, which was often being in a parade, so we had to keep moving to keep the bubbles away from us.

There were thousands of people cheering us on.  People of all ages thought the bike was cool, and the kids loved the attention.  Many had said they'd never seen anything like it.  Some people asked if it was a custom-built bike, but we kept saying we bought it this way directly from Madsen.  Often, people in the crowds were yelling how enthused they were about our choice of transportation.  We were too!  Our friends who live in Vermont told us we should ride in the parade every year since many of their friends and people in the crowds were talking about us.  We had no idea.

Here are a couple of video clips of riding in the parade:

In the video one can see that our front rack is now installed.   At first, installing the rack was a little more difficult than expected, but Jared Madsen gave me a call to talk me through the process.  Yes, Jared himself!  I was thrilled to have the owner of this great bike company walk me through this.  Once I knew how to do it, it wasn't as bad as it seemed.  What great customer service!

Although it may be hard to tell here, the larger 44 tooth front chain ring is also installed (the bicycle ships with 2 chain rings).  This larger chain ring provides a higher end speed, compromising on low end hauling power.  Most of our commuting is done on relatively flat roads with only a few hills, so the larger chain ring made sense.  It helps a lot on slight declines where we want to ride faster.  It was a simple installation.

To transport the bike up to the parade we put it up on the roof of our car with a Thule bike rack built for tandem bicycles.  It has a pivoting front end.  All we had to do was take the front wheel (and fender) off, tighten the front fork in the fastener, and then pivot the rear of the bike onto the rack.  All quite simple.  I did take the bucket off the back of the bike, which made it more aerodynamic for highway travel.  The bucket came off easily with three bolts, but I did have a little difficulty putting it back on.  The bolt used to connect the top part of the bucket was rather difficult to thread (one couldn't see the connection and had to do it by feel), so I just found another bolt and nut that fit.  It will make future transport quicker and easier.  I could have continued to use the original bolt, but it was simpler using a traditional bolt and nut combo.

Our Thule Tandem Pivoting bike rack itself is not the latest version (we luckily found a used one on Craigslist), but here is a link to a rack very similar to ours, the latest one made by Thule:

Thule Tandem Carrier 558p

Spring has finally arrived in New England!

Spring is here!  The leaves are coming out, and the bicycle paths are filled with people riding all kinds of bikes, rollerblading, running, and just enjoying the fresh air.   Western Massachusetts is beautiful this time of year.  It is fantastic to see so many people out and about.  And the plants blooming... reminds me of a song: Bright yellow forsythia, just as pretty as can be, daffodils and lilacs, and the dogwood trees...

For the past month we have been regular users of the bike path and transporting ourselves around the local towns.  The kids still love being out on the bike, whether it is to school or back and forth from an errand.  They wave at nearly everyone they see on the bike path.

On average we have been traveling back and forth from school three or four times a week in the cargo bike. It is about 6 miles each way.  On a good day, it takes me about 40 minutes when the kids are on the bike, and less than 25 minutes without.  With the kids, this usually includes a water break.  More than half the days that I pick them up from school I will also include a playground break.  The average speed I see on my speedometer is between 10 and 15 miles per hour.  In flat sections it is usually around 13.  We've been as fast as 29 down one of the steeper and longer hills, and I'm sure going 30 MPH will be attained.  I don't think there is a speed limit on the bike path, only a rule that you can't be motorized.  The bike feels amazingly stable going fast, but I still tell the kids not to sway too much at any time since it can disorient me.

The few hills we do have are fairly small, but there are some long sections that have a gradual slope that feel like they take forever.  This sometimes makes we wish we had an electric motor, particularly near the end of the trip.  However, I will say it feels like I'm getting back in shape after this snowy winter and cool spring.

Here are a couple photos from early April (not quite spring yet).  We were transporting some raw milk back home in the cooler.

The photo below also shows my saddle lock and velcro, something I probably don't need where we live but I do feel better about.  The Madsen saddles are very comfortable.  This setup still allows my wife to lower it without any adjustment to the lock.  It also shows that we might need to get some larger kids' helmets soon.
Over the past couple of weeks, the weather has been in the 70's (Fahrenheit) during the days and down into the 40's at night.  There hasn't been much rain in weeks, but there is no drought to speak of yet.  I fueled up one of our cars today (May 2nd), and the last time it was filled was April 11th!  It wasn't our fuel sipping commuting car either.  That makes me feel pretty good saving that much fuel, and getting a good workout on the bike multiple times per week.

Every day this week that we've been on the bike path we have seen a tandem bike of some kind.  I even saw a tandem recumbent bike! That was really cool. Tandems seem to be a cousin of the Madsen Bucket bike, since it also has a long wheel base, so there is often a bond we have with tandem bicyclists.  Still, we must be a sight as we get smiles and waves regularly.

There was one random guy yelling something I couldn't understand out his car window earlier this week, but it was a positive "thumbs up" type statement or maybe it was how we should all be riding around with one of these.  Weird but cool dude.  Usually I hear some random words mumbled from others as we pass by.  Something like "cool" or "wow" or "neat".  It is often not understandable due to the Doppler Effect. We see one or two trailers with kids in them each day.  I'm happy that our kids are able to be a part of the growing group of people who commute by bike.

Here is a photo from last week on the bike path.  A random biker was nice enough to take our picture!

We are planning to do a 17+ mile (each way) bike camping/overnight trip with the cargo bike in the coming months.  It will be interesting to see how all of our gear fits.   I also ordered a front rack that I have but haven't been able to get on yet.  Stay tuned!

Cold Weather Biking with Kids

Winter weather presents its challenges for family bicycling adventures.  Where one lives plays a huge part in how much of the year one can comfortably ride a bicycle, particularly when riding with children.  Living in New England presents some 2-wheel mobility limitations this time of the year, and it is not as easy biking once the snow has fallen and the temperatures get below freezing.  However, given the difficulties that may be presented, riding in the winter is a completely different experience that can be absolutely wonderful.  Touring communities filled with holiday lights, lights reflecting off of bodies of water (if not frozen), and having far fewer other bicyclists on the roads and trails makes it a unique and special experience all its own.  The other bicyclists that you do meet seem friendlier, since they are braving the same elements you are.  Fewer leaves on the trees allow you to see further.  Providing a different experience for your children, and knowing that you can do it may also make it worth the effort.  Arriving at an event on a bicycle in the winter is almost unheard of in most communities, but in most cases it is not all that much more difficult than riding in the fall.

At our Community Supported Agriculture, picking up the farm share at the end of October. Although their faces don't always show their enthusiasm, they loved being in the cargo bike on every occasion.  They even asked to be on the bike on some of the coldest days where it wasn't particularly feasible.

This fall and early winter we went bicycling with the cargo bike on several occasions.  This stopped around the New Year's holiday, since the temperatures and the snow limited our mobility. Our favorite bike path was covered in snow.  However, while it was dry and relatively warm (roughly above freezing), we were able to attend some events throughout the fall.  In November and December, snow suits were worn below blankets, and blankets and hoods were pulled over the tops of the kids' heads.  Kids were toted to and from school.  In all cases, the kids were snug and warm, although their faces did get a little cold.  We may end up using scarves or ski masks in these situations.

There are many factors involved in riding in the winter that need to be addressed in order to be prepared for what nature has to offer.  It is increasingly more important to be aware of all climate factors and automobile driver behavioral factors when riding with children.  Children need to build up their experience of riding in a variety of conditions over time. If children ride their own bike they may benefit from the self-created warmth of pedaling, but they also may be chilled by their own sweat.  If they are riding their own bike, sitting on a bicycle or bicycle accessory (such as on the seat of a cargo bike, on a tethered seat, or within a bicycle trailer), they must be observed closely throughout the ride and frequently asked about their well-being. Children often do not know how quickly they are becoming cold.  Some children just deal with the cold while others complain like a squeaky wheel.  It is helpful for each adult in the group to know each individual child's communication patterns so that knowledge of discomfort is obvious, and that comfort itself is maximized.  This just basically means that you want to interact with each of your children regularly when your are outside in cold temperatures.  Still, hands and faces need to be checked regularly to see how cold they are.  Cover them with a face mask or a scarf if the conditions warrant it.  If kids' bodies may be exposed to rain, splashes, sweat, or other potential wetness, these areas need to be checked to see if they are OK (yes, this includes diapers!).  Frostbite and hypothermia can sneak up on anyone unaware of the dangers.  Have a plan for whatever may come up.

Being picked up from school in mid to late-November, after drinking some hot chocolate.  This photo shows where I taped our rear tail light on the back of the bike.  I plan to create a better connector that is more re-usable.  The kids loved looking at all the holiday lights on the ride home and loved to point them out to each other.  This ride took about 45 minutes, but they were happy as can be and wanted to do it again the next day!

The following may affect one's ability or desire to ride a bike in cold weather (in no particular order).  
  • Experience - it might go without saying, but one's experience riding in cold weather probably has the greatest impact in overall success of handling the unpredictable situations that one might run into.  I am far from an expert in riding in winter conditions, although I have had my share of winter riding experience over the years on a variety of open-air vehicles.  Predicting how and where to stop is a critical skill, particularly when kids are involved.  At times, I take the kids out riding in our cargo bicycle in the winter.  Every time we ride together I learn something new.  The next time we go riding, I make a slight adjustment to something that didn't quite work perfectly the last time.
  • Equipment - This mainly refers to bicycles and bicycle accessories, but also may apply to how the equipment may handle the weather.  Different bicycles will handle completely differently depending on what is on the ground (snow, ice, water, sand, pavement, trail).  Tires, weight distribution of the bike, dynamics of using a bike trailer, and a variety of other specifics of the bicycle must be take into consideration for the terrain being encountered.  Generally, fat tires are better in the winter than skinny tires when encountering snow.  Studs on tires for ice might be a useful option but requires some experience.  Lights and reflectors are important in the winter since the sun sets earlier this time of year, and drivers do not expect to see bicyclists as frequently.  It is important to have bike lights on the front and back of the bicycle, and running them when on the street in the winter throughout the day.  Visibility is a key ingredient to safety throughout the year, particularly when applied to automobile traffic.  Wear something bright and (preferably) reflective.  This includes the kids, bike trailers, and if you have one, anything that may be a part of your caravan.  If you live in an area that salts and sands the roads in the winter, make sure to clean your bike thoroughly of road salt and sand after every ride.  Preferably, bring it indoors or into a garage and give it a good cleaning with a damp rag, then oil it appropriately.  Ideally, store the bike in a heated, dry space over the winter.  It may last longer.
  • Temperature - in our experience, temperatures below 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7 deg. Celsius) require additional insulation, particularly for kids on trips of more than 10 minutes.  This would be insulation in addition to coats, boots, mittens and other typical clothing for cool weather.  This may include extra blankets, hot pads, scarves, face masks, and hoods that go over helmets. Hypothermia can result if movement is limited, as is the case with children that sit quietly on a bike in cold weather.  Frostbite can result if skin is exposed to cold temperatures and/or wind for too long.  Make sure that everyone keeps moving, even just a little.  While riding, have children sing and clap hands to a favorite song, and if children are sitting without a lot of movement, stop en-route to have everyone get off the bike and walk around a little.  This will help keep the blood flowing and may prevent kids from getting cold too quickly.
  • Wind and Wind Chill - headwinds and side winds limit riding efficiency.  Wind from any direction can create extreme wind chill that makes it very unpleasant to ride or be a passenger.  Wind chill charts can tell you how cold it feels when air is blowing at exposed human flesh at a certain temperature.  Check out: http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/windchill/ for more info.  Wet exposed skin (from sweat, for example) is even worse!  Make sure to stay dry and covered up in the wind.  Make sure faces are covered.  If possible wear goggles or sunglasses.  Sand blowing around may get into eyes.  If possible, having kids face backwards helps keep the wind from hitting exposed faces and other body parts as well, and may minimize wind drag.
  • Precipitation - limits visibility, can reduce traction, can cause hypothermia.  Plan for precipitation appropriately.  A tarp and/or rain gear may help keep cargo bike passengers dry.  A rain suit and other waterproof gear is highly recommended for the driver.  Although we don't own one, a rain cover made especially for cargo bikes might be particularly useful to keep passengers dry and warm. It is probably worth the investment if you plan to ride occasionally when it rains or snows, or if you think you'll be caught out in the rain.
  • Snow and Freezing Rain - This may be obvious, but snow can be unpredictable.  It can be dry, wet, icy, or in-between and change while you are riding.  It can be similar to sand in how it is unpredictable.  Depth may be hard to judge.  Depths of less than an inch in some terrain can stop you in your tracks, particularly when combined with an incline and/or poor tires.  Snow coming down while you are riding can be a special experience for the first few minutes.  After that, if it is heavy it might be a drag that gets you and (potentially) your cargo wet if you aren't ready for it.  It might cover up hazardous areas (such as ice).  It also increases the possibility of an accident due to lower visibility and a general lack of traction.  If you are having extreme difficulty in the snow, it might be best to call for a ride home.  That would be better than an accident or health problem caused by overexertion.  Pushing a bike for too long isn't fun either, and you may have no other choice than to abandon the bike (locking it up somewhere) and walk, or calling for a ride home.  If you do leave the bike somewhere, try to get it out of the weather and/or cover it with a tarp.
  • Ice - in various forms, sometimes under snow, sometimes "black ice" that is not easily seen on dark asphalt, sometimes in the form of freezing rain or freezing fog.  Not ideal for bicycle transport.  Riding over frozen bodies of water is not recommended unless one plans for the adventure.  One may fall through the ice or slip in wet sections.  If the ice is plenty thick for travel, studded tires made especially for ice are required in most situations.  This is really only for the more extreme of winter bicycle adventurers.
  • Sand - sand left from plow trucks used to clear roads of snow may make roads more slippery than usual for two wheeled vehicles.  In areas of sand, take it slow and plan to stop before you think you need to.  It is easy to slip and slide on sand.  Sand is also well known to stick to greasy parts of your bike, so make sure to clean those areas up after your ride.  Sand can also blow around, so if it is a windy day make sure to wear sunglasses or goggles as appropriate for both the driver and the passengers to minimize sand blowing into the eyes.
  • Sun - sunlight can reflect off of wet roads and snow and make it very difficult to see.  Be sure to wear sunglasses appropriate for both the driver and passengers.  Although sunscreen may not be a thought this time of year, it is a good idea for exposed areas.  The dry air this time of year can reek havoc on the skin.  Use liberal amounts of oil and sunscreen on exposed areas.  You'll be glad you did.  Just be careful not to get it on your sunglasses!
  • Time/duration on the road or trail - extended riding periods in winter can be more difficult than shorter periods because over time one can get cold.  Getting tired over time goes without saying.  If you're riding, getting cold may not be as much of a problem as your passengers if you are dressed for the conditions. Although it may not be worth the hassle to get everyone together for a short trip, it may be fun if the conditions are right and/or if the event is worth the effort.  Usually, a great destination or just the novelty of riding the bicycles in the winter may make the trip worth the effort.  We sometimes enjoy going to pick up our nearby CSA farm share in late fall which may take us less than 10 minutes to get there.  It takes more time to get the bike out and get the kids geared up, but its worth it if the conditions allow.  We try to limit our winter trips (segments) to under a half-hour each, but have had longer trips.  NIGHT TIME TRAVEL - For longer trips in somewhat milder conditions we often provide pillows for the kids if they get sleepy.  Pillows also provide good insulation, although they are bulky.
  • Unknown roads, trails, obstacles - winter can present snow and ice where there is none expected, as well as less maintained trails where trees or branches may have come down.  In some cases, trails that are commonly used in the summer may be impassible in the winter due to snow and ice.  Snow banks, large snow piles, and cars parked in unusual areas may limit room on the road or inhibit paths that one may normally take at other times of the year. Declines of the road or trail may need to be handled with care, since they may be more slippery than expected.
  • Clothing and insulation levels - Having insulation above, below, and around a child is important when placing them in a cargo bike.  If they have their own bike, a snowsuit with a good windbreaker in the key (frontal) regions is essential.  A face mask might be essential depending on the trip.  A snowsuit is also essential for sitting in a cargo bike as well, since this closes up the little gaps that may let cold air in.  A blanket or sleeping bag over a child can help a lot, as long as the child knows to keep it over and around him/her.  Make sure the blanket does not fall off the child, off the bike, or get caught in the spokes of the wheel(s)!  Often, R-value is a way in which insulation from the cold is measured.  Everything from houses to camping mattresses use this to gauge how much heat is lost due to the insulation material and its thickness.  If they are riding in a cargo bike, think about the R-Value of the insulation around your kids.  Think about the space that your children occupy and how much heat may be lost or retained around them (above, below, and from the sides) due to the material that may be next to them.  Filling in the gaps with good quality insulation (like down) might make a big difference in the comfort of the child.  If the seat they are sitting on isn't padded, cutting a foam pad to fit under them may help to keep their bottom warm.
  • Warm Things - a term we use in our family, these are cloth sacks (heating pads) filled with rice, corn, or other grain that can be heated up in the microwave prior to a ride.  They can make all the difference in the world for comfort on short trips (about 15 minutes) to medium length (an hour or so) trips. They can be made at home in various shapes and sizes.  Plenty of designs are available on the Internet.  Search for "Homemade Heating Pad".
  • Health and "Reserves" of the Bike Driver and Children - this is often overlooked, but people generally exercise less in the winter.  Aerobically, one may be in worse shape during this time of the year when going outside is less desirable.  One must be careful not to over-estimate one's abilities.  Also, calories get burned quicker when outside in the winter, requiring more fuel (food) than at other times of year.  Although it may be counter-intuitive, drinking water and staying hydrated is even more important when the weather gets cold compared to when the weather is just "cool".  Make sure to have insulated drinking containers and plenty of fluids available for everyone.  Make sure that kids use the bathroom and have clean & dry diapers before setting off on any trip.  Have snacks ready, as needed.  Know where to stop temporarily if someone gets cold or needs to use a bathroom.  If a cargo bike trip is longer than a half-hour, stop in a safe place to let everyone get off the bike and run around for a few minutes.  It will get their blood flowing and warm them up a little - as long as they don't play in the snow too much and get wet as a result.  Find a good location that will minimize getting physically wet while still being able to run around safely.
  • Night-Time Lights - Many bike paths may not have lighting, and some roads may have "semi-invisible" potholes, so in addition to safety around automobiles, having a good light is important for you to see in dark areas.  You want a light to see and to be seen.  As with other times of the year, your bicycle headlight may blind those coming towards you.  Try to be understanding of other people's night vision by partially covering your headlight when encountering others, if your light is particularly bright.  Bright blinking lights can also be annoying to other bicyclists behind you, so make sure to select a light that has a few different blinking options for the type of road or trail that you might be on.  A steady or slightly dimmer light might be best on a bike path, while a bright blinking light might be better in automobile traffic.  Having an extra light might help just in case your main bike light runs out of batteries.  I often carry a headlamp mounted to my helmet that is used for seeing in dark areas when parked, and sometimes when I am in traffic.  This headlamp doubles as my bicycle headlight if my main battery dies on me.  I also carry an additional tail light, just in case.  On longer trips I will put two different tail lights on the cargo bike, one in each corner to tell cars how wide I am.  This might be a good idea for bike trailers too.  Make sure that your lights are all charged up or have fresh batteries, and carry extra batteries if possible.

Attending a local holiday celebration in December where hot chocolate and cookies were served.  This was a great event, allowing the kids to ride around town looking at the holiday lights.  They were able to get out of the bike to warm up, then return for the 15 minute ride back home.

DISCLAIMER: This post provides some of my own tips for cold weather bicycling with children.  Although it is my intention to assist other families that may want to pursue bicycle riding together, possibly in winter conditions, riding bicycles in the winter (and at other times of the year) with kids can be hazardous.  Children may get hurt in a variety of ways related to bicycle travel. Please take common-sense precautions whenever bicycling with your children.  These recommendations are provided for information purposes only.  I do not take any responsibility for an individual or a family using the information contained in this post or any other posts when applied to real world situations.

Please comment about what you do to adapt to cold weather bicycle riding, or if you have any comments about riding in cold weather with your kids!

Madsen Cycles - Online Sale!

Just a quick note for those people interested in the Madsen kg271/Bucket Bicycle.   Madsen is having a sale on all remaining 2012 bikes and on the upcoming 2013 bikes. I'm not sure how long the sale will be in effect.  Go check out the site for more details, but here's a summary:

New 2012 Madsen bikes are on sale for $1200 (plus shipping), (normally $1750), in time for Christmas!

New 2013 Madsen bikes are on sale for $1300 (plus shipping), (normally $1850), and it comes with a free front rack, normally $85.  Pre-orders are expected to deliver in February.

This is probably the best time of year to buy one of these if you've been waiting to justify the purchase.  I consider them an incredible value, especially if you compare them to other utility bicycles on the market.  I don't think anything similar in this price range can touch the quality and functionality you'll get with the Madsen.  If you want to know how we've used it over the past several months, as well as how we made the decision to buy a Madsen, check out some of our other posts on the right.

For more info, check out their site: http://www.madsencycles.com/

Coming soon - cold weather biking with kids in the Madsen.