Review: Shotgun Bike Tow Rope

We’ve recently had the pleasure of testing a Shotgun Bike Tow Rope ($60.00, or $90 Shotgun Bike Tow Rope + Child Hip Pack Combo) and it’s great! Six thumbs and two dew claws (that’s all of us) up.

The Shotgun Bike Tow Rope, like most bike tow ropes, is designed for mountain biking and I’ll admit we’re not big mountain bikers, but I’ve long seen the benefits of have a means for towing kids uphill, paved or not. Despite intuiting how useful a tow rope could be, I hadn’t used one (a “real” one, that is) prior to the Shotgun since I didn’t see a way to tow the two kiddos at once. Having kids close enough and size and ability that I could carry them together on my bike was wonderful when they were little, but having them always wanting to be doing the same thing at the same time made towing unworkable. Back in the day I toyed with the idea of getting two tow ropes and trying to tow the kids side by side, but was told it’d probably only work to tow inline with me towing one kid who then towed the other and I knew they wouldn’t be amenable to that.

Attaching the Shotgun Bike Tow Rope
My Big Dummy is a foot longer than a regular bike so rather than lasso the rope over my saddle as designed I looped it through the hole at the back of my Xtracycle FlightDeck. It seems very versatile in terms of attaching to various parts of your rig if the back of your bike has a lot going on that might get in the way of the traditional saddle lassoing method. That said, I also did some towing with a regular bike to confirm it didn’t feel weird to sit on the strap and it was perfectly comfortable. I assumed this product designed for mountain bikers in two-part baggy mtb shorts over padded liners might not feel the same with unpadded mom jeans so I’m happy to report I was wrong. As for the trailing end of the rope, I towed the kids attaching it to their bikes using both methods–quickly slung over the stem and carefully clipped under the stem (see the video at the bottom of the page for details). Both felt secure.

Towing both kids around the park (and then towing one home while waving a big stick around and not pedaling whatsoever) was a lot of fun, but wasn’t the hardiest test of what the Shotgun Bike Tow Rope can do. Enter a long ride to the pumpkin farm. Into a headwind.

First I should note that I’ve done my fair share of DIY towing using long non-stretchy cargo straps, dragging the kids around on their bikes, skateboards, longboards, and snowboards. The kids love it and I find it fun for the novelty, but it’s a heck of a lot of work! I’m glad to have had all this DIY towing experience because it’s made me uniquely qualified to say the Shotgun Bike Tow Rope is AMAZING! My 14-year old has a creative pedaling cadence that makes riding a tandem together or towing with a non-stretchy cargo strap very unpleasant for me, but the Shotgun completely dampens any jerkiness happening behind me! We linked up for three miles in the middle of our 16-mile journey to the pumpkin farm on a very slight uphill and into a headwind and while it was tiring, the stop-and-go pedaling happening behind was impossible to detect. I could tell when there was absolutely no pedaling happening for long stretches of coasting because I had to work harder, but the pedal-pedal-coast……pedal-pedal-coast…… typical of my co-tester didn’t register.

DIY towing three years ago:

Proper towing with the Shotgun Bike Tow Rope this year:

As noted above you can purchase the tow rope à la carte, but the hip pack is adorable. I love that the waist strap adjusts big enough to fit on me so I’ve claimed the hip pack as mine. But I also love that it’s designed to be worn by the kiddo. Having the towed kid in charge of bringing the tow rope and tasked with carrying it is just brilliant. The pack is covered with cute animals riding bikes (whom you can find in the book “Shred Til Bed – The MTB Animal Alphabet”, available on the Kids Ride Shotgun website) and it comes with cute stickers, too.

We all have 26-inch wheels these days and the tow rope works for all sizes of bikes. The website FAQ states the tow rope is designed for kids, but works for adults, too (it’s rated to 500lb). When I posted one of our test runs on my Instagram, BikePOC PNW adventurers commented that they bring theirs on all BikePOC PNW group rides in case of “catastrophic mechanicals.” I don’t know if this means they often haul adults with broken chains 50 miles up gravel mountains, but that’s certainly what I’m picturing.

The tow rope ships free to the US from New Zealand (free US shipping on all orders over $39). If you’re in Portland, like me, you can find them at REI and The Outer Rim–check the find a stockist page for other retailers in any area.

30 Days of Biking 2021 wrap up!

It’s April! That means 30 Days of Biking and biking every day and hopefully blogging about it each day.

What a difference a year makes–I’m still amazed 30 Days of Biking was so easy to do this year after how hard just getting out of bed was last year. Looking back at 2019’s 30 Days of Biking I see I called that a “slow month” with just 503 miles due to a sickly kid. The previous month the school commute + work added up to 734 miles so that was my norm back then, wow. So this year, biking 541 miles this month with nowhere to go is quite the feat.

As always, it’s not about the miles. I still think getting everything done by bike while biking very few miles is the real deal and sets a great example. But I admit I like spending one month of the year tallying my miles and seeing big numbers. In fact, I realized if I rode 13 miles today I could hit 550 for the month, so that’s what I did.

I’m not spontaneous enough to bike 6.5 miles with no destination and then turn back to hit my 13-mile quota so I routed a test run to Powell Butte, using the Pipeline Trail friends told me about on Instagram. It’s apparently the gentlest way up. I couldn’t tell how to get to the bottom of the Pipeline so I took a different trail on the way up, figuring it’d be easy to figure out Pipeline on the way down. It all worked OK on my road bike (I was testing to see if I could bring my friends on their road bikes, but I don’t think it’s quite that road-bike-friendly), but I’ll be back on my Straggler or my kid’s mountain bike. Even the trail that wasn’t named Pipeline had a pipeline on it, which I found cute.

It seems fitting that I ended the month with a ride on my road bike–it goes to show how much my riding has changed lately. I didn’t even use my cargo bike to pick up school lunches today–I walked! I’m rarely in family biker mode these days and have been thinking about archiving this blog. I’m awfully change averse so it probably won’t happen too soon. And hopefully my kids will humor me with one more ride soon so we have one last ride to write about.

Today’s miles: 14
Total April miles: 551

30 Days of Biking 2021 – day 29

It’s April! That means 30 Days of Biking and biking every day and hopefully blogging about it each day.

Just two tiny trips today, both on the cargo bike with Pixie in the basket. First Pixie and I fetched school lunches for the kids, and then we biked through the Dairy Queen drive through for the kids’ dinner. We were in line behind two families on bikes and a scooter so that was cool!

Today’s miles: 1.6
Total April miles: 537

30 Days of Biking 2021 – days 28

It’s April! That means 30 Days of Biking and biking every day and hopefully blogging about it each day.

It finally happened–a day with nowhere to go. I’ve been wondering if I’d skip riding on a day like this, but I borrowed my 14-year old’s bike (which used to be my bike) and rode around outside a little tonight while Pixie walked alongside. Now I really feel like I’m doing 30 Days of Biking.

Today’s miles: 0.1
Total April miles: 535.4

30 Days of Biking 2021 – days 26 & 27

It’s April! That means 30 Days of Biking and biking every day and hopefully blogging about it each day.

Two days of riding with friends up and down hills–Council Crest yesterday and the less-horrible part of Mount Scott today, because apparently I didn’t make it clear how awful it was (see day 25). Skipping the steeper, hillier, busier square-shaped loop after climbing up through Lincoln Memorial Cemetery made things better, but it’s still quite a mountain. Oh, and then we went and did my five #hillkillerz hill repeats together since our ride was shorter than usual. It was really nice having friends do my hill with me. One of them has a mellow hill and one has a very short and steep hill so you can probably guess which of the two I’d like to join for his hill.

Council Crest yesterday

Not so much today since I had company to keep me busy, but on Sunday when I wove my way up the cemetery hill alone (well, alone with Pixie–sorry Pixie!) I pondered all the space we use for cemeteries. Sure these hilly cemeteries were initially built way out of town, but the city has sprawled towards them and swallowed them up, making them prime real estate that’s already spoken for and probably wanting to do its own expanding. The other cemetery we ride through has lots of trees, but this one is mostly acres and acres of grass-covered hills filled with graves. I imagined if each plot had a tall tree on it and how visitors would weave in and out of a beautiful forest to pay their respects. How different it would feel. I wondered if urbanists are on the case of cemetery land use and didn’t find as many articles as I thought I would, but here’s a good one: Cemeteries use a lot of space and are terrible for the environment. Is there a better way? I intend to dig for more information now that I’m curious. My mom died 20 years ago and donated her body to science. My brother and I wanted something tangible to visit so we bought a little plaque in front of a tree in a memorial garden in Santa Barbara. I don’t know if that’s the best solution, but it seems pretty sustainable.

Yesterday’s miles: 21
Today’s miles: 18.6
Total April miles: 535.3

30 Days of Biking 2021 – day 25

It’s April! That means 30 Days of Biking and biking every day and hopefully blogging about it each day.

Today threatened to be my first day of the month with no reason to ride and I didn’t want to risk messing up 30 Days of Biking so I convinced myself I should route test a new hill for the weekly ride from the dentist’s. I don’t know why I feel the need to find hilly routes for us–my friends seem to like riding up mountains, but I know for a fact they also like long flat rides. They’ve been riding together for years and years and train for centuries (100-mile rides) so I guess I feel a little out of my depth. I don’t know how my finding new routes up big hills helps with that, but that’s what I’m doing. Except I don’t want to take them on the route I tested today–it was too much.

Apparently hearing about a mountain nearby and then looking for random people’s routes up it on Ride with GPS doesn’t necessarily yield the perfect ride. That random person might just be a hill-climbing beast. Also, I don’t know how to look at a map and tell if I’ll like a route. I see the hill profile and the numbers, but it’s just wiggly lines to me. Now I’m noticing that there was a 12.8% climb and several 10% climbs so I know for in the future those are numbers I’ll want to avoid. However, today I rode my Straggler rather than my road bike, and while I may have disliked the ride on the lighter bike, too, it wouldn’t have been quite as hard. And can I blame a 48-hour-old Moderna vaccine? I dunno. Oh, and Pixie came along and she’s put on a bit of weight lately so I had a heavy basket. So many excuses! My heart hasn’t pounded as hard as it did climbing the biggest hill in I don’t know how long.

And it turns out I didn’t need to make an excuse to get myself out today after all, because later I rode one flat mile with Pixie and just one kid (still working on getting them both out of the house and on their bikes) to pick up a pizza. Pizza is easier without Pixie so it can ride in or atop the basket, so today got me thinking about putting a milk crate or other bin on my deck. I rarely carry the kids, but I don’t feel ready to get rid of the Xtracycle Mini Magic Carpet pads on my deck and bolt a bin on. I think I could run straps or zip ties through a bin and attach it on top of the pads. This would also work well on the days I fill more than five grocery bags at the store. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for free milk crates.

Today’s miles: 14.9
Total April miles: 495.7

30 Days of Biking 2021 – days 23 & 24

It’s April! That means 30 Days of Biking and biking every day and hopefully blogging about it each day.

Yesterday I rode to my first COVID vaccination and back–five flat miles.

Today was looking to be my first day of the month with no errand to run or friend to ride with. I was worried it’d be hard to get out…especially because it was raining. I’m fine going out in the rain when I have somewhere to go, but going for a ride just for the sake of going for a ride is already hard for me, so doing it in the rain is just blech. But then I remembered I hadn’t done my hill yet this week!

There was even a lull in the rain and I set out to do my Hill Killerz hill repeats. This was my first time using my recorded route so I didn’t have to worry about counting to five and could simply focus on how much I don’t like riding uphill–it was great! Also, there were tomato plants for sale on my hill. It’s such a good hill.

Yesterday’s miles: 5.1
Today’s miles: 6.5
Total April miles: 480.8

30 Days of Biking 2021 – days 21 & 22

It’s April! That means 30 Days of Biking and biking every day and hopefully blogging about it each day.

I’ve missed my first day of blogging, but not yet a day of riding–phew. Yesterday I only biked a mile to pick up school lunches. That was on my cargo bike with Pixie in the basket. No photos.

Today I finished the job from day 20 and toted Kath’s new patio chairs home for her. Pro tip: Lay chairs flat so as not to encourage hop-ons.

Then I went grocery shopping with my cargo bike. I meant to go at 6am, but totally forgot come morning so I went at 6pm. I’ve avoided the grocery store in the evening for over a year for fear of it being crowded. Today it wasn’t at all crowded, but it was quite surreal–some of the directional aisle markers have come back (they were all removed several weeks ago–I’m assuming because restrictions were relaxed), but they’re pointing the opposite directions from before. It’s really, really weird to be routed oppositely. Of course there were still the obligatory couple of people wandering the wrong way.

I came out of the grocery store to find a very fancy bike parked next to me and it made me feel frumpy.

Yesterday’s miles: 1.2
Today’s miles: 9.7
Total April miles: 469.2

30 Days of Biking 2021 – day 20

It’s April! That means 30 Days of Biking and biking every day and hopefully blogging about it each day.

Big fun bikey day! During lunch I met Maria to kill her hill with her. It doesn’t count towards my own hill killerz challenge and I’ll always hate hills, but I really like getting to see Maria, even if we’re at opposite ends of the hill and just wave in passing.

At 3:30 I hooked up my trailer and met Kath at a hardware store to pick up her new outdoor set. She’s got a cargo bike and could totally carry it, but I love that she doesn’t realize that and lets me tote big things around for her. The four chairs weren’t in yet so we’ll get to do a repeat, but today I got to carry a table and umbrella, and even better: see Kath for the first time in forever. The portion of the trip spent carrying the furniture was less than a mile and all downhill, but the entire trip to and from home was 7.5 miles so it felt like a big deal.

And finally I met my friends for an after work ride. Normally I like doing a lot of research on my routes and testing them before dragging friends along, but in the parking lot outside the dentist I Google mapped our way to a dropped pin near Powell Butte and it worked OK! I’ve mountain biked up Powell Butte from the south once and that was nice, but we were on road bikes and needed a paved way up and it was steep! I don’t want to go back anytime soon. However, I very much liked the pipes exhibit outside the visitors center. And we got an excellent view of Mt. Hood. I wish a bus went up there so I could bring my kids. I wouldn’t subject them to the steep climb on bikes nor would I want to lock our bikes at the bottom of the hill and hike up the trails (because I don’t think the bikes would be safe parked along the Springwater Corridor Trail) or walk up the paved street because there’s no sidewalk.

Today’s miles: 35
Total April miles: 458.3

30 Days of Biking 2021 – day 19

It’s April! That means 30 Days of Biking and biking every day and hopefully blogging about it each day.

At lunchtime, two miles on my Big Dummy to New Seasons Market for a few items I can’t get at Safeway. After work, a loop with my friends, and this time I led the ride (I love getting to just follow along, but it’s only fair to do the leading sometimes!) up Rocky Butte and then Mount Tabor. At the tippy top of Rocky Butte (I have to walk my road bike up the loose gravel to the tippy top) we saw a couple with a full fancy dinner spread–on a short table, seated on an array of pillows, with tablecloth, candles, and champagne! I took a sneaky shot of them through my bike:

Today’s miles: 24.2
Total April miles: 423.3