The Co-Rider (aka Bike Tutor) debacle

I have avoided writing about our experience with the Co-Rider for some time, because thinking about it makes me feel nauseated to this day. But it’s probably worth putting down.

Before we realized installing the Co-Rider was a horrible mistake

I knew when I got my bicycle that I wanted to be able to carry both kids. My two children were heavy enough that even the more “conventional” setups for carrying two children on a bike were not really an option. The Bobike Mini/Bobike Maxi combination looked stellar, but at 32 pounds my daughter was only a pound away from the Mini’s weight limit. This was a shame because we trusted the Bobike line at that point. The Yepp Mini seat had the same weight limit. Bike shops we visited that knew anything about child seats liked the Bobike and didn’t object to the Yepp, although the Yepp had been recalled for safety reasons in the past and that tipped the scales toward Bobike.

I wanted a front seat that could hold more weight. There seemed to be only two options. One was the iBert seat, aka The Green Sled, an instantly recognizable bright green plastic seat that held up to 38 pounds. The other was the glowingly reviewed Co-Rider, which claimed to be able to hold a child up to 5 years.

The iBert was cheaper and easily available online, so we asked about it first. We had seen this seat all over the place on Sundays in Golden Gate Park. But we were unable to find a bike shop willing to install it, and none of them would sell it either. The first shop we asked said it was unsafe because it hung from the handlebars and compromised steering, too much of a risk with a child on board, particularly one nearing the top of the acceptable weight range, so they wouldn’t install it for us even if we bought it ourselves. The second shop we asked said it was unsafe because the back of the seat was too low and risked the spine of the child riding it, and they wouldn’t install it even if we bought it ourselves. The third shop said that the mounting bracket was nothing more than a giant steel spike that was a riding death trap, and what’s more the plastic would weaken with anything more than occasional recreational use, risking dropping the kid to the ground, and they wouldn’t install it even if we bought it ourselves. We didn’t get the iBert.

We have since learned that there is at least one well-respected shop in San Francisco that sells the iBert (Roaring Mouse), and ultimately, none of these things would have been as bad as what happened with the Co-Rider. So from my revised perspective we might as well have just taken our chances with the iBert, especially since none of the proposed horror scenarios seems to have actually come to pass. Although in general I think following the advice of informed people is a better idea altogether. More realistically, we should have given up the idea, accepted that we’d missed the window for using a front seat, and looked for a bike for me that could carry two on the back.

Testing the Co-Rider for stability didn't help any: it seemed stable but would collapse less than 15 minutes later

We then moved to the Co-Rider. It looked like what we wanted, and the weight limit was no problem. None of the bike shops we visited had any objection to installing it, probably because none of them had ever heard of it. The setup looked reasonable enough and it attached to the frame, which was apparently desirable. I had to order it myself but Ocean Cyclery was willing to put the Co-Rider on the front of my Breezer and the Bobike Junior on the back. They were confused as to how it could work on a frame without a level top tube, but the Co-Rider website and literature was vehement that the seat could be installed on a step-through frame, and in fact showed one mounted on what looked like an Omafiets, which had the most sloped tube I’ve ever seen on a bicycle.

When I came to pick up my Breezer the Co-Rider was installed on it but the bike shop was, if anything, even more skeptical about the seat. (This is where I should have listened more closely.) They felt it didn’t have any support at the back and that if the screws loosened even slightly, inevitable from the various bumps and impacts that come with regular riding, that the seat would tip. To test it, the shop owner had spent extra time on the installation and taken his six-year-old on an extended test ride to ensure it was stable. He felt it wasn’t going anywhere but was nervous about the design and insisted that I check the stability of the seat every time I put our daughter in it. His concern was prescient.

What the Co-Rider looked like when first installed, correct position

I rode with my daughter in that seat (sometimes with our son in the Bobike Junior in the back) for three weeks, checking the seat for stability every time we rode because I am paranoid like that. On the third weekend, riding in Golden Gate Park after once again checking the seat for stability before departing (no problem), the screws loosened, the seat tipped up 90 degrees, and she tumbled back out of it nearly into the street.

Where the Co-Rider ended up while my daughter was in it and we were crossing six lanes of traffic

The good news is that it was a front seat and I could catch her. The bad news is that we were crossing Masonic at Fell when it happened, and even on a Sunday, this is easily one of the most dangerous intersections in the entire city of San Francisco. Even thinking about this experience months later makes my palms sweat and a headache start.

Because it was my daughter and not my son, she laughed it off like it was an adventure ride I’d created just for her and cheerfully rode in the Bobike Junior the rest of the way home. When I called Ocean Cyclery to tell them how right they were they were mortified that they’d ever installed it.

I was left wondering why I had such a different experience than everyone else who wrote about this seat. When I called the distributor in LA to get a refund (well past the return window, but clearly the seat was defective, and to their credit I did get the full refund) he said that I was the 3rd or 4th person to call with a story of a seat failure like this on a step-through frame. The distributor felt that these people were installing the seat incorrectly but I was pretty sure this was not the case for me, because my seat had been installed by a bike shop with extensive experience. I also thought that given that the problem had been identified by more than a couple of people with the same frame, it was time to investigate the seat design or the fabrication. The distributor said he was sending a request to manufacturer to investigate the problem. But since then there have been no changes in the advertising by the manufacturer, which continues to claim the Co-Rider is appropriate for step-through frames.

In the meantime my feeling is that either I got a seat with defective parts, and I am not the only one, or the seat is fundamentally unsuited to installation anything but a frame with a level top tube. Either option would suggest that the Co-Rider doesn’t belong on anything but a diamond frame, at best. It would be impossible for the seat to tip if installed on a level top tube, because the tube itself would hold up the entire length of the seat. I assume that the people who had good experiences with this seat were riding on diamond frames.

If the Co-Rider hadn’t tipped and nearly sent my daughter head-first and backwards into the street (other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?) I would have other issues, but they are minor. San Francisco is windy and my daughter didn’t like to ride very fast on this seat, because of the wind chill (both the Bobike and Yepp seats come with optional windscreens). The footrests look impressive but don’t have straps to hold her feet in, so she liked to kick sideways, which at times made the bike wobble. The seat is heavy and rattles when a child isn’t riding in it, and the welds are sloppy. Heavy is understandable given that it’s supposed to hold an older child; the sloppy welds and rattles (and my terrible experience) made me suspect that the seat is poorly made.

I liked riding with my daughter in a front seat, because it was easy to have a conversation and felt intimate. Putting the kid on the front also makes the ride a lot smoother; crossing Muni tracks with a child in a front seat makes the bumps forgettable, and there was never any risk of popping a wheelie on the uphills. I would  have loved to have her there longer and if I were riding a diamond-frame bike, without any need for a rear child seat, we would probably have enjoyed using this seat for a couple of years to come. Admittedly we would have ridden at a very slow pace. After having the seat literally collapse underneath my daughter, however, I can’t imagine ever using it again.

28 Comments

Filed under Co-Rider, family biking, reviews

28 responses to “The Co-Rider (aka Bike Tutor) debacle

  1. Oh my goodness! I’ve been so intrigued by Bike Tutor and have recommended it to people with the caveat that I don’t know anyone who has one yet. Have you seen Mamafiets’s Workcycles Fr8? It’s so cool! Of course it’s a whole new bike, but it’s a beaut.

    • I have seen her Fr8 and that’s one cool bike. I think for a bike carrying both of our two we’d want more cargo room for all the kids’ accessories, though.

      A parent at our son’s school took an old saddle, bolted it to his top tube, and carries his kindergarten daughter on it every day (diamond frame, obviously). I thought at first it looked a little ad hoc, but with the benefit of hindsight I wonder whether he is onto something. A cheap front seat experiment for those who are interested, perhaps.

      Although I am bad about commenting, I love reading your blog. Thanks for visiting!

    • Madi, would this be a good time to introduce you to Dorie? :) Looks like you all know of each other and I email with you both, so I will send you another intro later.

  2. Have you seen the WeeRide Kangaroo bike seat? That’s the one we got. Basically, you add a sort of top tube to your bike that the seat rests on, so you lose the advantage of having a step-through frame. But on the other hand, it’s not attached to the handlebars so it doesn’t affect steering, and it can hold a child up to 40 pounds. We’ve been happy with it.

    • I did see that seat, and loved the sleeping pad. However it seems as though it would only work on a bike with a level top tube. With a child seat on the back as well, I needed a step-through frame to be able to get on and off the bike.

      I’m glad to hear it’s working for you, though! We have had some parents at our daughter’s preschool asking us for suggestions.

  3. This whole situation is incredible. The install on the iBert wouldn’t require a bike shop, but I read your post on your mechanical diy inclinations. We only chose the iBert b/c it was less expensive and had just as good comments/ratings as others. It was annoying at first that Oliver napped slopped over, but he did that in the upright seat, in the trailer or his car seat, so we just accepted it. We do take it on and off a lot and the head of the bolt and allen wrench is wearing down, but that is a $5 fix when we need it. Actually I was a bit miffed when we were in an REI last month and the iBert was $48 and we paid something like $90 on amazon…

    I look forward to hearing about you next solution. Sometimes I think the bicycling gig gets complex, but then I remember when I was learning to drive and that was a daunting task in it’s own right. There’s a learning curve.

    • Yes, in retrospect there are many things we would have done differently. That seat is the most dramatic example. It is hard that riding is not plug and play. I had a lot of help learning to drive; it was a familiar idea by the time I got behind the wheel, and my parents could help. I hope that our kids will be more comfortable and make better choices.

      If the iBert had been $50 when we were looking we probably would have tried to find a shop like Roaring Mouse. And I suspect we would have been better off. Hindsight.

  4. Hello –

    I am the distributor for the Co-Rider in the U.S. and I am very sorry for the experience you and your daughter had.

    I must say however, based on the photo of the Co-Rider installation that the support arms should have been installed farther down the top tube so that they would be perpendicular to the seat and ground.

    It looks as though the support arms and mounting bracket are positioned so that there is no downward support. It almost seems as though the support arms were installed close to horizontal, which would create an unsafe situation.

    It really does appear that the mounting bracket can be slid farther down the top tube and towards the rear tire. This way the downward force from the weight of your child is not bearing fully on the bolts but it is supported by the arms.

    Again I apologize for the experience you had and wish the seat worked out for you.

    Co-Rider NA

    • Hi Neerad,
      We discussed this before by phone and when you first reviewed the photos I sent of the seat installation by email. As I noted at the time (and in your email to me, you agreed), the support arms were installed as advised. I’m sorry the seat didn’t work as well, but I’d stick by my assessment that it’s most appropriate for mounting to diamond frames. And I would believe this even if it had been a mounting error, given that you noted in our phone call that a few other customers have had similar issues–at a minimum, their experiences would suggest that the instructions for installing the seat were inadequate. I appreciate your concern.

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  6. Mel

    About the iBert, I don’t know how old your daughter is, but in my experience, kids outgrow it by length much sooner than by weight. The problem is that the seat limits how long their legs can be. If you have high handlebars, it’s possible that she would be able to bend her legs to fit, but I don’t know how comfortable that would be. My 3.5-year old daughter still doesn’t exceed the weight limit (she’s only 36 lbs), but she outgrew it by length more than a year ago. My 20-month old son has about 2 inches of legroom left. Other than the lack of longevity, it’s been a great seat for us and I personally find it much safer than the Topeak Babyseat on the back, which really affects the center of balance.

  7. brianshiro

    I have used a Bobike Mini with both of my kids (now ages 4 and 1). Once my son hit 2 years old, we got him a balance bike, and he stopped using the Bobike (By the time he was 3, he was riding a regular pedal bike and never needed training wheels.) My daughter is currently 14 months and has been riding the Bobike for the past four or five months. She loves it. The other day I tried to get her to ride in our bike trailer instead, but she hated it. She’d much rather be up front and see what’s going on. I’ve never had any safety concerns with the Bobike Mini other than the fact that it limits your steering agility. One must get used to making wider turns. I see people with iBerts occasionally, and they seem okay but not made as well as the Bobike. I’ve looked at a Yepp Mini in the local bike shop. It seems to be a direct knock-off of the Bobike.

    • The Yepps do seem to be knock-offs of the Bobikes, but after riding around with my daughter in a Yepp Maxi in Seattle, I think they made some improvements in the design. I liked the holes for drainage in the rain (it was raining), and having the cushion integrated into the seat instead of attached by velcro is a nice touch. I wish my daughter had been small enough for either Mini seat! I have suggested them to a couple of parents here who complained about how terrifying it was to ride with a baby in a trailer in San Francisco.

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  9. Thanks for sharing this – I updated that front child seat post with a note about your experience

  10. Hi! I have a trail-gator and a front child seat on my Brompton to bring my 2 kids on longer rides. Love it, and it sure turns heads. Good thing in Singapore people don’t talk to strangers so much, so I overhear lots of comments but seldom get interrupted on my rides with them! See http://www.ethantalia.info/2012/05/brompton-with-trail-gator-and-front.html

    • Wow, that is an amazing setup! Your front seat is really interesting. Now that I know a Trail-Gator will definitely work on the Brompton, I will be scouring craigslist. Thanks so much for the link!

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  14. TheCoonsFamily@gmail.com

    I’m just wondering, I’ve researched everything and it seems that the co-rider is the only thing that will work for my families situation. I have a cruiser bike (http://www.walmart.com/ip/Schwinn-Clairmont-26-Ladies-Cruiser-Bike/15711184) and I am very nervous that the same thing may happen. I was going to purchase a Thule Frame adapter, which hold up to 65lbs, and have it attached as a back up. I’l worried that this will prevent the co-rider from being attached directly to the bike – I don’t want to attach it to the adapter – I only want it as a back up. Seeing as you have seen this installed, and know where it hooks on, what do you think? I also thought of buying the bar that attaches to the weerider, but I could not find specs on it. I’m really hoping this will work…I can’t contact the company by phone because the only number is overseas. I appreciate your help! Thanks!

    • Steve

      i had a wonderful experience with the bike tutor, you can see our picture on the San Francisco Bike Coalition Family Biking Guide (http://www.sfbike.org/?family_guide). I stumbled across this review as I am getting ready to sell the bike tutor. I self-installed the bike tutor and have a least 100 hours of great fun with my son. I don’t know about the co-pilot, the revision to the bike tutor, but I would recommend this product.

    • Personally I might investigate a WeeRide Kangaroo, which comes with its own support bar.

  15. Amanda

    I have the co-rider which I installed myslef on a step through bike and have had no problems whatsoever with it. I do check the fastenings now and then for tightness, but never been an issue. I have to say, I don’t know why you are so reluctant to accept the possibility that the bike shop installed it incorrectly. The way you describe the accident, there is no way that could happen with my one, just no physical way, which is why I have to surmise that the bike shop did indeed install it incorrectly.

    • When I wrote to Co-Rider’s distributor with detailed photos of the seat’s mounting on my bike, they agreed that the seat had been installed correctly, and gave me a refund for the seat based on that assessment even though it was well past the return window. As a result, it’s difficult to believe that the bike shop was at fault. See also this family’s review, which makes some of the same points. http://carfreecambridge.com/2012/11/co-rider-the-good-the-bad-the-ugly/

      I’m happy that the seat has worked for you, but there are many other people who’ve had the seat fail on step-through frames.

  16. Ryan; Rochester, NY

    My daughter rode her Bike Tutor for 4 summers (age 2-5). I was so sad to take it off after our final ride in November, even though she was excited to pass it on to a 2 year old friend of ours (I’m waiting for the inevitable tears when she wants another ride). Some of our favorite summer time memories were with the Bike Tutor & I wholeheartedly recommend a front seat to everyone out there. I never once had a concern for her safety, those bolts stayed tight from the day I put it on; although it was installed on a horizontal bar. The construction is rock solid.

  17. Charles

    Should have tried the iBert. No need to have a shop install it you can do it yourself in about 3 minutes (two bolts and comes with a wrench). It works great!

  18. Lila

    To be honest it looks like that bike wasn’t built for that seat, I don’t think I could put my child on that seat with that bike frame.

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