FAMILY CYCLING Take the whole family with you when you cycle. The range of good quality bikes and equipment expands every year and there has never been more awareness of the need to establish good healthy habits at an early age. But whatever your motivation, saving money or saving the planet, your kids will have a blast. What better reason to get them on a bike? Any cyclists who regretfully hang up their wheels with the arrival of children are doing both themselves and their kids a disservice. Children enjoy cycling and need not be shut away from fresh air, sounds, scents and sunlight. There are other options to the stuffy depths of an estate car. Purpose-built machines and devices for carrying children are enjoying a renaissance. It's no longer difficult to cycle with children of any age. Family cycling doesn't begin and end with the childseat. Children of different ages and sizes demand different means of transportation. Your typical daily ride and your purse will dictate which you choose, but be aware that there is a good range of alternatives, if not in the bike shops then from specialist sources. Trailers, for instance, can keep a couple of little ones warm and dry in the winter; while trailer cycles or kiddy-cranked tandems allow older children make a real contribution to the ride. Whatever you choose, never compromise on safety. Child-carrying devices are not intrinsically dangerous, but they are only as safe as the quality of their construction, the safety of the bike to which they're attached and the common sense of the rider. Ride a bike which is suitable: that has low gears, a stiff frame, good brakes and which is well maintained. Keep all bolts tight and straps secure. Baby slings/papooses Slings and papooses carry the child on the front or back of the parent. They're suitable only for confident parents with very young (ie light) children for relatively short and safe journeys. Safety and comfort demand that the parent rides a stable, upright bike, preferably with a step-through frame. A tricycle is better still. Slings are cheap and convenient and are equally useful off the bike, but the child needs to be protected against wind-chill. The young one is at risk in the event of an accident, but no more so than when he or she is being carried by a pedestrian. Child trailers Trailers attach to the seat-post, the left-hand chainstay or the rear axle of the lead bike. They usually have two wheels, a rain hood (with windows) and seat two children. They're suitable for children from newborn (though you may need to improvise by strapping in a carrycot) right up to six-year-olds. Other than an increase in drag, trailers have a negligible effect on bike handling, but you do need low gears and good brakes. Check that the trailer's hitch is compatible with the particulars of your bicycle's rear end. Features like hub (or disc) brakes or smaller than usual wheels may cause fitting problems. Although children are low down in a trailer, and behind the bike they are not vulnerable. The frame of the trailer forms a rigid roll-cage which will protect your valuable cargo if it comes into contact with another vehicle. More importantly (and in the experience of anyone who has towed one) because a trailer is unmissable on the road cars will treat you with much more respect than usual and give you a really wide berth. Good quality trailers aren't cheap but do hold their value very well so you can be confident of selling your trailer easily when your kids eventually grow out of it. Most trailers will handle two children and also carry goods, such as nappy changing equipment or a week's groceries. All fold down for storage. Rear-fitting childseats Rear childseats fit over the back wheel, either to a compatible pannier rack or by means of an integral seat rack. Attachment methods vary, but tend to be at the seat post or brake bolt and either on the seat stays or rack eyelets at the rear axle. Sturdiness is essential. Some childseats only fit with difficulty to certain bikes. To avoid incompatibility, take both bike and prospective passenger to the shop. Put the seat on the bike and the child in the seat. Childseats can't be used until the infant can sit up and show adequate head support (usually by nine months). The upper limit is set by weight: around 20kg, depending on the seat. Even tiny children affect bike handling as the weight is far above, and perhaps behind, the rear axle. Step-thru framed bikes may flex alarmingly; a diamond or mixte frame is better. There are numerous childseats on the market. Choose one which has some support for the child's head - many don't - as even older children will fall asleep on rides. Dangling over the side is distressing for children and also affects bike handling. Other essential features are: footrests, which should be adjustable and have straps; waist and shoulder straps; and infallible spoke and wheel protection. Any luggage is best carried in low-rider front panniers to stabilise the load. Be careful to cover saddle springs as probing fingers can easily get caught in them. Front-fitting childseats Front-fitting childseats are either small saddles which bolt to the crossbar, or smaller versions of rear childseats which fit to the stem or head tube. The former are suitable for children aged from about two to five years; the latter for children from about nine months to two-and-a-half years. The advantage of having the child in front of you is that you can see the child and that he or she is between your arms. Although you may have to ride with your knees out (not good for you long distance or long-term), bike handling is good. You will need a bike with upright bars and handlebar-mounted gear levers. You will also need to ride carefully and confidently. As the child grows older, if the footrests aren't equipped with straps, you must protect the front wheel to prevent small feet from getting caught in it. Tandems Tandems are an excellent family investment. In the early days when your children are smaller, they'll take one or two childseats (the second precludes a stoker). Alternatively, they are useful for towing trailers along, since no one parent is burdened with the load. When children reach three or four they can take the role of stoker. They are then actively cycling, but remain under your control and don't have to pedal if they don't want to. Many modern off-the-shelf tandems are low enough at the rear to accommodate children from around seven-years-old. Any standard tandem can be adapted by the substitution of a smaller saddle and the addition of kiddy-cranks and/or crank shorteners. As well as these you may need child safety bars to prevent the child slipping off. Kiddy-cranks are a small pair of cranks which clamp onto the tandem's rear seat tube. A chain links them to a freewheel sprocket of the same size at the tandem's bottom bracket. Crank shorteners make tandem cranks suitable for shorter legs. They are basically steel blocks which screw into the pedal hole; the pedal then fits into the inner end of the shortener, about 3.5cm further up the crank. Trikes Purpose-built child-carrying tricycles are stable and sociable workhorses. Most carry two children in rear or forward-facing seats, with space for luggage in the tray below. Unlike a bicycle with a child seat, trikes don't present problems of balance. You are safer on slippery roads, can ride easily at very slow speeds and you can park anywhere with the child in situ. A trike is heavier and slower than a bike, but is probably no slower than a bike plus trailer. Tandem trikes (see first image) The ultimate pedal-powered family transport, tandem trikes aren't cheap, but they are a snip compared with the price of a car. Carrying capacity and versatility are good. Tandem trikes will take two childseats between the axles and can take kiddy-cranks and crank shorteners in the same way as conventional tandems. Although heavy and relatively difficult to store, tandem trikes will outperform the traditional solo family trike, and are therefore more useful for wide-open-road touring. Trailer bicycles A trailer bicycle is essentially the back half of a bike which attaches to a conventional bike, trike or tandem via the tractor bike's seat-post or a special rack. Available in single or two seater versions and with one or two wheels, trailer bikes are suitable for children aged between four and 10 years, rather like a junior back tandem. The difference between a junior back tandem and a trailer bike is that the trailer bicycle is articulated and has its own gears which are under the child's control. Separate brakes are rarely fitted. The real bonus is that the trailer bicycle can be fitted to and removed from any existing bike. Once the rack or bracket is in place, it takes almost no time to switch the trailer bicycle between bikes. Big Rigs A fairly recent innovation in pedal-powered child carrying, specially adapted heavy-duty load-carriers can carry up to six kids and their school bags in a dedicated passenger compartment. Available from a few forward thinking Dutch, Danish and German manufacturers these school-run behemoths feature super strong brakes, very robust componentry, weather-proof roofs and even Ackerman steering. Big Rigs are expensive to buy in bicycle terms but a fraction of the price of any new seven seat motor vehicle (even when the cost of all the extra breakfast cereal is accounted for!). Safety matters Always err on the side of caution with all child-carrying devices. Check nuts, bolts and stress points regularly. Take care to prevent straps, scarves or gloves on strings from dangling into a wheel. Practise on quiet roads when you first try out any child-carrying device, particularly childseats. Never leave a child unattended in a childseat on a bicycle. Remember that children can easily become cold when you are cycling, because they are not doing anything to keep warm (ie pedalling). Be aware that children can easily become bored on longer journeys. You may need to stop every few miles to let your child play. If you carry on regardless, your child could come to have a real antipathy toward cycling. If you have a trailer taking along your child's favourite toy may help.