Biking Gear Tips

Choosing Bikes for Cycling with Kids Part 3 Tandems and Tag Alongs

Choosing Bikes for Cycling with Kids Part 3 Tandems and TagAlongs
Written by Stuart Wickes

Ultimate Gear Guide
Choosing bikes for cycling with kids

Part 3: Tandems and Tag Alongs

Stuart Profile SmallThis post is one of a series in our Ultimate Gear Guide looking at options for cycling with kids at different ages. The series covers a lot of territory so to help you navigate we’ve split it up according to the age of your kids. Use these links to find the bits most relevant to your circumstances.

The towing and tandem options

So you want to get out on the road, take on longer rides or maybe go touring but your kid’s skills and stamina aren’t up to it. How do you go further for longer without putting the little ones off for life? You need to think about a tag-along, trailgater or tandem.

Many people think you have to wait until the teenage years before trying something as ambitious as a multi day bike tour, but believe me, nothing is further from the truth. We’ve toured long distance with kids since they were babies and while each age has brought its own set of challenges, all our tours have been incredible family experiences for us all.

Coupler or TrailGater

Couplers like the TrailGater allow you to connect a small child’s bike to an adult’s bike so you can give them a tow when tired or control them in tricky situations like heavy traffic or on shared use paths.

Couplers: Pros and cons

  • A reassuring arm connects you and your child’s bike together. It allows your child to ride on their own when full of energy or you judge it to be safe to do so, but to connect together when they are tired or you are concerned for their safety in traffic.
  • A TrailGater may not feel as steady as a tandem or as sturdy and protective as a trailer, but it will probably be cheaper then a tag along and significantly cheaper than a tandem.
  • Some models can be difficult to fit and adjust so that the child’s bike wheels are lifted off the ground. The child’s bike can end up leaning making for an uncomfortable and perhaps unsatisfactory riding experience which could put the child off more than it encourages them. Although some have said it gave them the push they needed to keep riding solo!
  • There are mixed reports of the efficacy of some couplers so do take advice or check out some bike forums before buying.

Couplers: What to look for

  • Amongst connecting bars, the Follow Me gets much better reports. It is well designed and considerably more expensive than simple couplers but will work with bikes up to 20 inch wheels and we have heard reports of some cyclists who have used them on long distance tours.

Tag alongs or trailer bikes

Having fun on a tag along

Tag alongs can be great fun for growing kids, even without a beard. A chance to get out on longer rides, pedal when you want to, take a rest if you’re tired, develop your sense of balance and learn some road skills safely.

Kids as young as 3 or 4 may be able to move onto a tag along. A tag along is a one wheeled bike that attaches to the back of your adult bike, either by clamping onto the seat post or by attaching to a rack fitted to your bike. Tag alongs (also known as trailer bikes or third wheels) are a great way to start doing longer rides or for introducing kids to the experience of riding on a road with traffic. Basic models are usually single speed while higher end models come with gears which can help if you’re going to be tackling any hills.

Geared models are also great for teaching kids about gears and how and when to change them, in an environment where they are not having to concentrate on steering and braking because you’re handling all that on the lead bike. This ability to focus on one skill at a time can help the learning process along.

Most tag-alongs also have a freewheel which means the child can pedal and contribute power when they want to or take a rest, freewheel and let you do the work when they get tired. This is great for tackling longer rides since when they get tired you don’t have to stop, provided you’ve enough energy and strength to pedal for the two of you!

Riding a tag along

This six geared tag along gives a child a chance to learn about gears too. And find out for themselves how they can help them get up hills.

Tag-alongs: Pros and cons

  • Kids get a sense of contribution and satisfaction at having helped you get there.
  • You can get a bit of wobble. This is good in that it helps them learn balance. But it may be a bit nervy for you, particularly at first.
  • You lose a lot of energy in the connection so don’t expect an easy ride yourself.
  • Kids are exposed to the elements and traffic. You need to think about protection from rain, and they can get cold, especially if they choose not to pedal.

Tag-alongs: What to look for

  • Look for one with mudguards, safety flag, adjustable seat and adjustable bar reach.
  • Check out the hitching mechanism and ensure it will work with your bike and any baggage you carry.
  • Try out a few and see which seems the most stable for you and your child.
  • Consider getting a tag along with gears as it’s a great way for kids to learn about using them.
  • The Burley Piccolo is one of the best that we know; they are no longer in production but you may be able to find one second hand.

Tandems

Tandem in the Tulips in Holland

A tandem is a great way to go long distance touring with kids. The kiddy cranks on this adapted tandem allow young kids an adult experience of biking. Your child  joins the pedalling team as a stoker (in the rear position) using special pedals mounted high on the down tube but connected to the drive train. The Captain (at the front) handles the steering, braking and road safety. We’ve had kids as young as three get up and ride on tour with us using this kind of set up.

In our opinion, (and we’ve been using them for some time) tandems are one of the best ways to safely cover long distances with younger kids. Tandems are bicycles made for two, but don’t worry, you don’t need to sing ‘Daisy Daisy’ as you go.

Tandems: Pros and cons

  • On a tandem you have companionship, fun and lots of opportunities for I-spy, if the traffic noise beside you isn’t too loud.
  • Your child can ride on a tandem fairly early on. We got ours stoking (riding on the rear position) from about age three. Tandems are more rigid and efficient than tag alongs and you can teach the child about cadence and traffic safety, and get them involved in signaling. You might spend a lot of time with them on the tandem, and this can be quality time for educating them about cycling, as well as having fun.
  • Riding stoker is less pressure for a child than riding their own bike. They can help out with the power and the pedals will always go round, but the onus isn’t all on them. Your child is part of a team. And you know they are safe in your hands, as long as you have confidence in your steering!
  • They sit up high with you, even if all they ever see is your backside.
  • Tandems are great for long distances and multi day tours as it doesn’t matter if the child gets tired. Their feet will still go round, but they can relax and take in the scenery.
  • If you are an attention seeker you will love people’s reactions to your tandem, particularly if your child is young or small or in countries where bicycles for two are an unusual sight.
  • Tandems are expensive to buy and can be a bit more complex to maintain. On the plus side they keep their resale value if you don’t get on with yours and decide to sell on.
  • They can be difficult to travel with. Very few planes, buses or trains will accept them. You can get hydraulic roof racks for your car, but these are more expense. You can get S&S couplers to dismantle but this also adds cost.
  • You need to watch out for the child falling asleep as this could be dangerous and it’s not always easy to spot the signs when they are behind you.
  • A drag brake (a special third brake that can be fitted to a tandem) can help with braking and stop your rims getting hot on steep downhills, but in the rain, the weight of the bike, luggage and people on it can make it harder to stop. You may need nerves of steel, at least at first until you get used to the handling.
Toddler on Tandem

You can fit a bike seat to a tandem if you want and carry a passenger too. Watch out for fighting on the back though!

Tandems: What to look for

  • Buying a tandem is a specialist purchase. It can be a big investment and you’ll want to get it right. It’s worth doing some research, visiting a good bike shop and trying a few different models and makes before you buy. Or take advice from others on one of the biking forums.
  • You can get kiddy back tandems where the frame is built for an adult at the front and a child at the back. These are great fun, kids can step onto and off them easily themselves and the reach of handlebars and geometry is all set up with kids in mind. Their life can be limited through by the fact that sooner or later your child will grow out of it. They are quite specialist and can be difficult to find and expensive to buy.
  • We think a better solution is to fit a regular tandem with kiddy cranks. Kiddy cranks are an adaption you fit to the stoker position to provide a set of pedals a child can reach, enabling kids to act as a stoker on a full size tandem. This can work out a cheaper option as there are more adult sized tandems on the market and you can often pick them up cheaply second hand.  If you don’t feel comfortable adding on the kiddy cranks yourself you always can get a mechanic to do it. A kiddy crank set up is a little more difficult for a child to get on and off but we found ours quickly got used to it and loved being high up like a grown up. As they grow you can adjust the reach of the pedals so they can continue riding stoker until they get too embarrassed to be seen out with you. You can also quickly remove kiddy crank and pedals to turn the bike back into a normal adult tandem which you and your wife, partner or friend can ride, making for a much more flexible machine.
Cycling a tandem while reading

On a tandem the stoker doesn’t always contribute power! If you attach a trailer you can bring babies and toddlers along too for a family day out or even a fully fledged family cycle tour.

Beyond tandems

Beyond tandems you can get triplets and more for family cycling with two, three or more kids. We know of one family that rode a quint (yes, a bike for five) across America. That really is a family on a bike. We’ve only got as far as a triplet, using a Thorn Me’nU2, a kiddy back triplet designed for an adult captain and two kids of varying sizes in the stoker positions. It’s a lot of fun to ride and very fast when everyone puts the power in. And very very slow when it’s left to the captain. Add a trailer for two and you can get a family of four out all on your own, if you dare.

Family on a triplet

The Thorn Me’nU2 is a kiddy back triplet and a great family adventure machine.

The combined approach

If you have children of varying ages, you may try a combination of approaches. A tandem with a trailer and a child on a single bike up front works well. Some tag alongs have the ability to hook a trailer behind too. With set-ups like these you may find yourself traveling through town like a long train attracting stares, but at least you’ll be out and about on your bike – which is great for the whole family!

Family on a bike

It is possible to combine tandems, tag alongs and trailers for the ultimate family cycling train. But don’t expect to get very far, especially uphill. And watch out for jack-knifing. Seriously. And remember everyone will stop and stare.

Up Next: Part 4 – Going Solo


Choosing Bikes for Cycling with Kids Part 4 Going Solo Age 6+

Or navigate to other parts of the guide, according to the age of your kids using these links.

Disclosure Note: This post was brought to you thanks to support from Argos. The content, views, experience and opinions remain, as ever, entirely our own.

About the author

Stuart Wickes

Stuart's the adventure addict half of the team, always trying to persuade the family to get out, do more, go further. As co-founder and co-director he handles the business, creative, design, technical and publishing aspects of the project. He is our chief photographer and videographer. With training as a professional learning and development consultant. an engineer and musician, his contribution is eclectic and unpredictable!

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