Riding to school on the Bobike Junior

A while back Matt tore a muscle in his calf, and he’s been limping around ever since. He can walk short distances, but ideally wouldn’t be walking as much as he is, and that’s slowed his recovery. He hasn’t been able to ride his bike for at least two weeks. He’s not happy about it.

Headed for the big hill on the Bobike Junior

Our son’s school is on the way to Matt’s office (more or less) so normally they ride together, Matt drops him off, then continues on to work. He also typically does the pickup at after-school, and they ride home through Golden Gate Park. The MinUte is always ready to pop a kid (or even two, if they’re old enough to hold on) on the back.

So for the last couple of weeks, I have been doing most of our son’s drop-offs and some of the pickups. It’s been nice to have this extra time with him in the morning. I hadn’t used the Bobike Junior regularly; it pops on and off the bike in less than a minute, and for regular commutes it is mostly off. But for the last week it has been on my bike full-time. On our morning rides, we bomb down the hill from our house as a starter (no worries: the neighbors already have Child Protective Services on speed dial) and head into Golden Gate Park, over to the Panhandle, then up to Alamo Square and back down to Japantown. This is a very cool ride; in the early morning, when it’s still half-light, the park is still thin on other bicycle commuters and the trees hide the car traffic on either side.

Waiting for the light in the panhandle

Our son can be very chatty on the bike, and he enjoys the view. He is sometimes irritated by the pannier encroaching on his foot rest, and the other day, he entertained himself by lightly kicking my calf on every pedal stroke. “I don’t want to ride with the pannier again!” he yelled. “I don’t want to shove a backpack in your face,” I answered. I forget what else we talked about, and now only remember that we were laughing so hard that we were bothering the joggers, who normally reside exclusively in iPod land. We learned later that one of his classmates saw us while driving by (we arrived at school only a minute later than they did, which still astonishes me). Her dad told me that she asked why she couldn’t ride to school too.

I like the way the Breezer takes the hills, so when we’re headed up to Alamo Square and the lights are timed right, we can jump up the incline pretty fast. That day we raced a garbage truck. We lost, but held our lead for longer than I expected, given that I had a 1st grader and his school gear on the back.

The loathsome eastern approach to my office

After his drop-off I head up to work, taking the grim eastward approach to Laurel Heights, which packs all of the elevation in at once at Post Street, then drops me off at the intersection of California and Presidio, a nightmarish snarl that usually leaves me walking my bike through the intersection rather than attempting to ride it. Thank goodness I have a step-through frame: hit the red light, slither off to one side, walk the bike through the crosswalks, hop back on.

People always ask me whether the folded Junior is a battery pack

I am still vaguely amazed that a seat like the Bobike Junior even exists. It solves an unusual problem; most parents with kids our son’s age would have them riding to school on their own bikes. Traffic and hills and the transition to after-school make that impossible for us, but I don’t think our situation is exactly typical. And yet thanks to the canny Dutch, we’ve found an out-of-the-box solution that’s both effective and a lot of fun.

18 Comments

Filed under Bobike, Breezer, commuting, family biking, San Francisco

18 responses to “Riding to school on the Bobike Junior

  1. mizshan

    One idea to the pannier encroachment problem would be to get a front rack for your pannier – or a basket. I finally got a front basket a couple of months ago when I got a rear child seat that (when on the bike) makes my rear rack mostly useless. And I have to say I LOVE having a basket. No more hassling with bungee cords when I buy a few things and didn’t bring the pannier! Can’t believe I didn’t have a basket all these years riding in San Francisco.

    • I have a wicker front basket that I use sometimes, but it doesn’t hold as much weight as the pannier–as things stand I can usually get a few days worth of groceries into the panniers without annoying my son too much (up to and including a carton of milk). I hadn’t considered a front pannier rack–great idea! Or maybe I should just upgrade to a better front basket?

  2. sho

    I’m so impressed with you riding the hills! I visited SF recently (from Boston) and was pleasantly surprised with all the bicyclers. (I imagine many avoid the hills?)

    I’m going to be adding either a Bobike mini or Yepp mini to my Breezer. I, too, like its acceleration on inclines– but mines not loaded with a kid, yet!

    • I think some riders avoid the hills, but a lot of people just get used to them. I’ve seen some bike commuters casually climb hills around campus that I’ve never even attempted. I guess eventually you get stronger?

      The Bobike and Yepp Minis are both great seats. And I’ve heard that Boston is even windier than San Francisco, so I’m sure it will be nice to have the windscreen.

  3. Jen

    Hi there, we are looking at the Kona Minute and I wonder can you fit the Bobike junior seat to the Minute (preferably towards the back of the rack, so that another child could squeeze on in front)? Many thanks, Jen.

    • Hi Jen, You could put the Junior on the MinUte, but not at the back of the deck as it’s designed. (It attaches to the seat tube and the seat stays, so it is independent of the deck.)

      Our two (now 3 and 6.5 years) kids ride directly on the deck, and we so never needed the Bobike Junior on the MinUte. If you wanted a back support for the rear child, you could just screw a folding camp chair (~$5) to the deck. If you look at pictures of two kids on the Kona Ute flickr page, you’ll see this setup a lot, usually with two camp chairs–people fold them down when the kids aren’t riding. The Minute deck might be a tight squeeze for two seats but one would fit easily, and the front kid would be supported by the back kid.

      I hope you find something that works for you!

  4. Tanya Brown

    Hello
    I was curious does the seat have a safety harness/belt? My daughter is almost 4 and I really want one of these seats as it will last much longer for us than the Bobike+ (which only goes till 50 lbs) .. and with it being a more expensive seat it would be a little silly to buy one and only a year or two later have to buy another … what do you suggest? Do you think with a helmet could a almost 4 year old ride on this seat safely?

    Thanks so much!
    Tanya

    • The Bobike Junior does have a lap belt, but it’s more of an encouragement to stay on the seat than an actual restraint. With an older kid like my son (who ridden it since age 5), it’s not necessary; he’ll stay in the seat with or without a belt. He liked wearing it on our earlier rides but now doesn’t use it. With a younger and more volatile kid like my daughter, it was more unnerving to have her on that seat the one time we tried. (Admittedly she was not yet three; she ended up riding on the Junior when her front seat collapsed while we were riding. We put her on the Junior then as the best of a set of bad options.)

      At four years old I suspect safety on the Junior would be personality-related. My son would have been fine, as he has a cautious nature. My daughter, now three, who lusts for danger? We’ll have to see. But she has opened a car door into moving freeway traffic as well, just to see what would happen (her parents screamed and now won’t drive any rental car without child safety locks is what happened). So we have some atypical concerns with her.

  5. Tanya Brown

    Wow ok great to know!! Now, I have one more question .. do you think I could install a bobike junior on a three wheel adult tricycle cruise (think schwinn meridian) …. or somehow adapt it to work? Your blog is great and filled with information .. thanks for the great place to come! :)

    • Well, I had to look up the Schwinn Meridian because I had no idea what you were talking about, but the pictures suggest it’s possible–there are seat stays for the Junior seat-legs in the same place that a bicycle would have them. With the Meridian itself you might have to switch the stock rear basket for something shorter to have room for the attachments.

      That said I would take this question to a bike shop experienced with the Bobike if you can find one. We have yet to install a child seat ourselves; I’d rather leave it to the experts.

      Thanks for the kind words. When we started riding I had so many questions that no one could answer; it was very frustrating.

  6. Julie Walters

    If you had to choose between a Breezer uptown 8, a konw min ute and a novara fusion, which would you pick? I haven’t purchased a bike in over 30 years but now with an 18 month old, I want to get back out there for family rides around town!
    Thanks!

    • Wow, interesting question. They’re really very different bikes. I don’t know much about the Novara, but I’d probably rule it out because it costs more than the Breezer but lacks some of the useful features (front and rear wired lights, rear wheel lock), although it is definitely prettier. But if you’re looking for a pretty bike you could get a very nice Linus for less money, so I would probably go that route instead (and then ask the shop to wire up a front dynamo for the lights, but that’s me).

      I think my answer would depend on how I was using the bike and wanted to use it in the future. Either bike could take a Bobike/Yepp Mini seat for an 18-month-old.

      For a regular commute-focused bike+kid hauler, the Breezer is grab-and-go. With the lights, chain guard, on-board lock, and internal hub, I never have to worry about gearing up for a ride, rolling up a pants leg, and things like that. So it’s a good bike for riding to work hassle-free. But there is more effort involved in putting an older kid on board; you have to add the attachment points for a rear seat and possibly take the seat on and off. And the Breezer can’t carry nearly as much as even a smaller cargo bike. And no one will ever compliment on its looks except guys at bike shops.

      For cargo hauling, recreational rides (particularly off pavement), or if you know you’re planning to have a second kid, the MinUte is more versatile. At age 3 or so it’s probably safe to put a firstborn kid on the back deck, and then there would be space for a younger sibling in the front seat. And a nice feature of putting an older kid on the rear deck is that the seat is always available; you don’t have to worry about putting it on or taking it off like a seat. The stoker bars weigh almost nothing, unlike a Bobike/Yepp rear seat. The MinUte is faster and better at climbing hills. But it doesn’t have a chain guard or integrated lights, and comparatively speaking, that can be a hassle. On the other hand for doing regular grocery runs with a kid on board, the MinUte is better because it can haul more and has a real cargo kickstand. I wouldn’t like riding the MinUte as my regular commuter as much as I like the Breezer, but I prefer riding the MinUte on weekends. Upgrading the brakes on the MinUte would be a smart decision no matter what.

      All that said, if I lived someplace flat (or had been willing to put enough money into the question to retrofit with an electric assist), I would have seriously considered some kind of box-bike–bakfiets, Metrofiets, Madsen, etc. I think they are more fun for the kids, particularly when they’re young, and I’ve seen infant seats rigged in them as well. For 2-3 kids people who ride a lot start thinking pretty seriously about a Surly Big Dummy or Yuba Mundo, which have a lot more cargo capacity, but are longer and heavier. We would be more interested in those bikes if we didn’t live in a major city where they seem like overkill. Although I see both kinds of bikes around the neighborhood at times, it’s more common to see smaller and nimbler bikes around here.

      Do you have a local bike shop that has put together bikes for families? Our bike shop initially didn’t have a clue but has learned fast. They’ve now rigged up over a dozen family bikes, and they’re getting pretty good at helping people figure out what works for them.

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  8. Excellent post. I’m experiencing a few of these issues as well..

  9. MamaStewart

    does the bobike junior seat come with a seat belt?

    • Yes, but it’s just a lap belt.

      • MamaStewart

        I was wondering if the Bobike Junior fit any bike? I purchased a rode bike and wanted to see if the bobike junior will fit it. I will send you a website link below this comment of the exact road bike I have. Thank you!
        http://www.performancebike.com/bikes/Product_10052_10551_1126229_-1_1821015__1821015

      • I’m not sure. Our Bobike Junior attaches to the seat stays in the rear, and on the bike you link those look fine. In the front it attaches to the seat tube, which extends far enough above the crossbar that there is room to clamp on the attachment. The bicycle you link doesn’t seem to have as much room on the seat tube, so you might have to try to attach it to the seat POST, and I’m not sure whether that is kosher or not.

        I’d suggest (1) measuring the seat tube above the cross bar to see whether there is room to attach the Bobike clamp–you need a couple of inches–and if not (2) calling a shop like Rolling Orange in NYC that sells Bobikes (the attachment is the same for the Maxi and the Junior) and asking them whether it is legit to put the attachment on the seat post rather than the seat tube.

        I hope that makes sense. Good luck!

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