The mix and match bike

I hesitate to call Engine-Engine-Engine a good solution for carrying two kids with a regular bike, but it’s certainly a versatile solution and I made great use of its versatility today. I’m not the inventor of bike + trailer bike + trailer–I first saw one at Moving Planet a year ago and most recently saw a mom taking her kids to preschool with one last week. I initially got the Trail-a-Bike for my five-year old to practice his pedaling and hoped the trailer would help keep it stable (trailer bikes that connect to the seat post are notoriously wobbly). I find it very heavy and personally wouldn’t choose it as an everyday rig, but my kindergartener loves it and it’s come in handy when friends are visiting since I can carry a third kid with it.

I’m surprised by the attention Engine-Engine-Engine gets. Sure, it’s longer than my Big Dummy, but it’s just a regular ol’ bike! When Hum of the City was visiting last month I put her on my Big Dummy one day and used EEE. We were spotted by Barb Chamberlain, Executive Director of the Bicycle Alliance of Washington, who described seeing me on EEE “…and there was another bike involved, too.” Another bike?! That other bike was a gorgeous pink cargo bike! But it only had one kid on the back at that point (I was using Hum’s big kid to help me pedal) and was dwarfed by EEE.

I took eight trips today, using four different versions of Engine-Engine-Engine–or five versions if I count the extra kid in the trailer as a unique use, and six if I count putting the big Engine on the Big Dummy.

Leg one. Engine-Engine-Engine: road bike + five-year old on Trail-a-Bike + three-year old in trailer. I consider Engine-Engine-Engine a recreational rig, best suited to wide bike paths and gentle turns. The bike/ped sidewalk of the Fremont Bridge was thankfully empty when I boarded, but a bike approached before I go over it. We both fit! But I wouldn’t want to dance this dance every day. My success was short-lived because I was taken out by this pedestrian island two blocks later:

when I caught a trailer wheel while turning right. Easy enough to correct, but it kept our ride to school from being error free. But here’s where the beauty of the modular system starts: I disconnected the trailer and locked it up outside preschool.

Leg two. Engine-Engine: road bike + five-year old on Trail-a-Bike. What a light ride! My son is a little short for this Trail-a-Bike so I prefer it when he’s not pedaling–the ride is much smoother with him sitting still than when he jerks around trying to help, but like any bike, the more I ride Engine-Engine or Engine-Engine-Engine, the easier it gets. So we zoomed back up the hill to kindergarten where I unhitched the Trail-a-Bike and left it at the school bike rack. I’d like to get a lock for it eventually (cheapie combination lock so I don’t have to worry about another key or nicer, colorful Knog Party Frank that comes with three keys to gradually lose?), but I only own two locks at the moment and half the bikes on the rack aren’t locked so I figure it’s safe enough.

Here’s the point I discovered my first big problem: I left the kindergartener’s backpack in the trailer. Last time we Trail-a-Biked he said the backpack was too heavy so I’d planned to wear it myself after preschool dropoff.

I had just resigned myself to race down to the trailer and back when our school’s other cargo biking mom found me to ask for a loaner bike since she’d locked herself out of her house and garage. She was willing to take the old mamabike, but since the Big Dummy was conveniently taking the day off, I gave her my winter helmet, my lock, and the longtail. And while heading to my house I realized I could just make a second kindergartener lunch rather than ride the extra five miles. I have to say the best part was opening my garage and hearing Julie say, “It looks just like our garage.” I usually hear, “Wow, you have a lot of bikes in there.”

Speaking of helping out a friend, yesterday Julie was on her mountain bike while her Madsen is getting BionX-ized and was contemplating skipping farmers market since her first grader didn’t have his bike at school. No problem! I just stuck him between my two kids to haul the three kids and our two kid bikes to the park. The hills were very slow, but what a fun favor!

Photo courtesy The Main Tank

I rode the five blocks back to school with my messenger bag on my back and my old backpack on my front. It wasn’t very comfortable, and wouldn’t enjoy riding two miles this way between the two schools. Kinks to work out. I think his more adjustable backpack will fit on my back, either over or under my messenger bag until he’s ready to wear and ride.

Leg three. Road bike. With both supporting Engines left at their respective schools, I was solo on a one-person bike! And even with the extra stop at home and back at kindergarten to deliver the replacement lunch, I was only 3 minutes late for my 10am hair cut (where I brought my bike inside due to no lock now). I’m particularly excited about this new set up for being able to accurately time returning for preschool pickup with the road bike–I’m never sure how much time to add to Google maps’ bike directions estimate on the Big Dummy. I ended up having extra time today and was able to stop by Floating Farmers Market for Six Strawberries bike-based ice pops and Hart Coffee.

Leg four. Engine-Kitty Caboose: road bike + three-year old in trailer. Behold the versatility–reattaching the pieces in reverse order! After preschool we hit the playground with friends where I had to find a tree to lean my kickstand-less road bike on while The Main Tank just parked on the grass like I’m used to doing. Thank goodness for this morning’s forgotten kindergartener lunch because all this racing around on various bike setups is hungry work. Heading back downhill for kindergarten pickup, I felt myself bonking–that’s a technical term for feeling dizzy from not eating and drinking enough. Or in toddler terms, Me have no more ener-ghee!.

Leg five. Engine-Engine-Engine: road bike + five-year old on Trail-a-Bike + three-year old in trailer. I returned to school a little early to hook back up in our original configuration. I’ve got a line on a used Burley Piccolo which will be much stabler and come off and on more easily, but for the cheapie Trail-a-Bike I need to give myself extra time and get things lined up just so to make the pin go in. I gave up last week when I was first going to try this system and ended up having to drag the [empty] Big Dummy up Capitol Hill.

Leg six. Engine-Kitty Caboose: road bike + both kids in trailer. I dropped the Trail-a-Bike at home and conveyed both kids in the double trailer. This is the first time I’ve done so since Hum of the City’s visit last month. The bite marks the three-year old made on his brother have finally faded away from that day. Today went better, thank goodness. I dropped the kids and the trailer off at The Main Tank’s house for a playdate (her garage looks just like mine, by the way) and took off on…

Leg seven. Road bike. Solo again! I biked downtown for I Bike SEA Happy Hour:

Drinks are on us at the I Bike SEA Happy Hour from 5:30 – 7:30 at the offices of Cascadia Consulting Group located at 1109 1st Ave, Suite 400. Participate in a group discussion with with City of Seattle Councilmember Sally Bagshaw and other I Bike SEA participants from 5:30 – 6:30 about ways the City of Seattle can help make biking a more accessible form of transportation for all. Learn from Aldan Shank, co-founder of cycle boutique Hub and Bespoke, about how to “bike in comfort and arrive in style” from 6:30 to 7:30.

Sally Bagshaw gave a great talk with lots of promising news for the future of Seattle bicycle infrastruture. And Aldan answered all our questions about riding in bad weather.

Meanwhile, Mr. Family Ride picked up the kids with the car. My dream is to get him on a Big Dummy, too, at some point, but today this was the easiest way, unfortunately.

Leg eight. Big Dummy hauling road bike. I swung by Julie’s house on my way home to retrieve the Big Dummy. She offered to bring it to me, but her house was on my way home and this was much more exciting since it meant putting the road bike’s front tire in the Big Dummy’s FreeLoader bag to drag it.

The net effect is down one trailer in The Main Tank’s garage so the day wasn’t seamless, but talk about action packed! I hope to utilize the system again and make better use of my kid-free time with a long and/or hilly errand on the road bike.

8 thoughts on “The mix and match bike

  1. I am so, so impressed by this story. And I am thinking that there is a big unmet market demand for this kind of modular family biking rig, since just reading it makes me wonder if I could try something along the same lines.

    • Aw, thank you! I spent the morning ogling Rodriguez Bicycles (not because I’m ready for another bike, just because I wanted to park at their bike corral and see their in-shop coffee shop). They do a lot of S&S couplings, primarily for traveling with bikes, but this page has a picture of a triple-to-tandem they built. I have a feeling they’ve done a few custom jobs like this. But single-to-tandem-to-triple would be sweet!

  2. We have been planning the same thing for our seattle school trips! We have our kindergartener on a trail a bike with the seat post sawed off a bit so he could start at age 3. He also has a high back on it with straps, which allow him to strap his backpack on the seat back (and be safer when he gets distracted). You could try that. Larry at Working Dog bikes now has experience with the sawing etc.

    Now I just need to get the extra trail a bike piece for the stem mounted one, or to fix up the rack mounted one I just bought.

    Also, cool that your school has a rack. Ours has a sort of decorative bike sign that has been hit by a truck or something because the cement is out of the ground. It is an official Seattle bike rack which worries me because despite the fact that one could not lock any bikes to it, its presence may make my case to get a real rack more difficult. Current plan is to use the no parking signs to store the trail a bike. That is where I lock my bike now.

    I found your site because I am doing research to figure out a workable front box bucket for the 1 yr old twins, so I can continue on from Kindergarten to downtown with ’em. (their office is in the same building as mine).

      • Ok, I just joined that group. Am a little grumpy about Facebook, but would love to hear from 3 (or more I guess) child families. I think I saw you bicycle by with Davey Oil last night. I was waiting to cross Pine with the 5 yr old on my shoulders.

      • Ooh, I’m jealous of people not addicted to Facebook–you go! :) But post to the group and see what people say. If you are close to my height (5’6″) and would like to try my city bike with front and rear seats plus trailer hooked up to it, you can give it a go. 5yo would probably fit in either rear seat or trailer with babies in other two spots. Not as elegant as a cargo bike, but would probably work. And yes, that was us!

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