Former top pro mountain bike racer Dara Marks Marino keeps her personal blog the mama trail regularly updated with posts of her life in Flagstaff. Her in-depth, reflective style covers a wide range of topics and often circles back to her love of cycling. Most of her commuting these days is with a bike child trailer.
My husband, Troy and I are chronically way too early when it comes to getting our daughter, McKenna, on things that roll. We MacGyvered her infant car seat into our Burley trailer when she was six weeks old, then inverted the frame of her Skuut when she was about 18 months to make it small enough for her. When the Skuut’s frame broke, we duct-taped it back together to extend its life until we could get her on a sturdier balance bike; then she was riding her balance bike like a champ by her second birthday.
So it really comes as no surprise that I was ready to push the age and size minimums to get her on a trail-a-bike.
Enter: the Adams Original Folder Compact Trail-A-Bike (retail price $189). Note the word “compact” in the name. They designed this trail-a-bike to fit younger kids, down to age three. Since no one was checking IDs at the door, I knew that her size would be the bigger limiter than being a couple months underage. Poor girl, her mom barely tops five foot three, and she gets only minimal help in the vertical department from her dad’s side.
Sure enough, her little feet were just grazing the pedals, without enough contact to really turn them over. So we had the seat post hacksawed down a bit. Then we rolled the handlebars back towards her to improve her reach. And lo and behold, it fit her, more or less.
We saddled up and spun it down the street. My first impression was: Holy cow, how does John Coe ride trails with his daughter on this kind of thing? Then I remembered that my daughter isn’t even three yet, I was on my cross/commuter bike, and this was our very first ride. We would give it another try.
Over our next three or four rides, I really started to feel confident with my handling on the bike. I find that it does take a lot of upper body strength — much more so than riding with a trailer, but is absolutely do-able.
McKenna and I are now confidently riding uphills, downhills, around corners, and even on the gravel urban trails around town. I do not think we are ready for real trails, although I have yet to try the trail-a-bike on my mountain bike, which could make all the difference. Either way, we are saving that adventure for next year, when her feet reach the pedals a little more solidly. (So I can count on her to pedal us up all the hills, right?)
After two or three rides, I asked McKenna which she preferred: her trailer or her trail-a-bike. To my horror she said she preferred her trailer. When I asked her why, she said it was because the trail-a-bike was too bumpy. I realized that she did not know to stand up on the pedals when going over bumps, so she was getting pretty bumped around. Once I showed her how to do that, she got the hang of it right away and now doesn’t mind the bumps at all. Phew!
In fact, she and I both love riding together so much that the whole time we ride this is what I hear behind me: WooHooo! I love riding with you, Mama! This is so fun! This is the best ride EVER! Yes, I do want to go for a longer ride!
Yeh, the girl’s got spirit. Mountain biking with her until three weeks before she was born must have had some positive effect.
There are, however, a few drawbacks on this trail-a-bike. The first was fixable: going from having a trailer to a trail-a-bike, we totally lost our cargo room. But I just put my front panniers back on so we can still ride to the store and carry our odds and ends.
The second drawback, not so fixable. The hitch design earns about a C- in my book. There have been times when I was so frustrated trying to attach the trail-a-bike to my bike that I about threw it all out the garage.
Now, I’m no mechanic or engineer, but it seems to me that it would have been both simple and safe to use a dropout-plus-quick-release-plus-safety latch design. As it is, lining up the male and female ends, while trying to steady my bike with one hand and the trail-a-bike with the other, is just too much for me some days. And inevitably when I go to remove the pin I have to use something to tap it out because it just doesn’t slide out easily.
This really makes commuting a challenge. I end up hitching and unhitching the trail-a-bike frequently, and I know people who like to ride their kid to school, unhitch the trail-a-bike to leave it at the school, then ride to work. But nonetheless, it sure is better than having no way to commute with your kid.
Don’t we all want our kids to see bike commuting as just a normal way of life? So, until they redesign the hitch, I’ll just get on with it.
And besides, the fun factor of having my daughter pedaling along right there with me outweighs the poor hitch design. Next year: watch out for us shredding the gnar together!