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My first day on the Low Car Diet: Everyone loves the trail-a-bike

This morning, I was in a tizzy to get Philly to summer camp on time and in a tizzy to get to the Low Car Diet kick-off on time.  We set up the bikes in traditional train formation: my bike, connected to the trail-a-bike/tag-along, connected to the trailer.  In a rush, I heaved my way five miles from our N PDX home to NW Portland, to Philly's summer camp.

The problem of the morning: My girls fight over who rides the tag-along.  Now that the girls, ages 3.5 Trail_a_bikeand 6.5, are both happiest pedaling on tag-alongs; no one wants to sit in the trailer.  Sad, lonely trailer!  This morning, our biggest girl, 6.5 year old Philly, "let" her little sister have the privilege of pedaling, so I had the privilege of hauling around 45 pounds of Philly in the trailer the five miles from home to summer camp.  Ugh, ugh, ugh.  Sure the trailer can handle loads up to 100 pounds, but can ya handle pulling those 100 pounds??

After dropping off one daughter, the younger one and I pedaled the 2+ miles over to Pioneer Courthouse Square. I was panting and sweating.  Already, I knew this was going to be tough.  But, not to worry - I didn't have to bike each day of the 30 days.  I could take transit or walk, right?  But, I thought about it.  This is the summer time.  The girls have a different place to be every day.  Our schedule is varied as we romp around and enjoy summer concerts in this neighborhood and that.  Having a vehicle, albeit a web of bikes, seems like the way to go.

At the office, I enjoyed the rest afforded to my poor tired legs, after the 8 or so miles of morning pedaling.  The 5 o'clock hour approached, and I braced myself for running a few errands, picking up Philly, then heading to Sellwood Park for a friend's birthday celebration.

This afternoon, the configuration was the same as the morning: the bigger girl sittin' pretty and happy in the trailer, the younger girl loving the breeze flapping through her braids as she cruised along with me.  Heading down the Springwater Corridor, I thought: maybe we just CANNOT be a biking family if we are riding with just one parent and two children.  A double tag-along?  They don't seem to make them (too unsafe!).  A family tandem with the front sized for a parent and the rear sized for a child?  Cha-ching!  We're talking $2,000, minimum!  Pedal, pedal, pant, pant.  "Pedal, Tati!" I yelled back at our little girl.  She was so happy, cruising around, riding along, holding on, happy as a clam.  Sure, she didn't pedal and she didn't ease the burden one little bit, but she was happy as can be in her little bumble bee helmet.

About 90 minutes and almost 7 miles later, we arrived at Sellwood Park.  Still sweaty and sticky from the morning commute, I was stickier and sweatier than ever.  The music was fun, the kids ran wild, the shade was forgiving, the wine was tasty.  It was all good.  I was dreading the dusk hour, when I'd have to haul the kids back, up an incline, about 8.5 miles back home.  We all agreed that our older daughter Philly would be the tag-alonger on the way home.  "Mama can use my pedal strength!"

Indeed, I sure felt a bit easier of a load on the way home.  We pedaled all the way up to OMSI with another mama and her two boys in their trailer.  It was good to have some company halfway home.  Once we hit the Esplanade, I felt like we were on the home-stretch.  We'd be home within the half-hour.  The girls were in wonderful spirits; it was a lovely summer evening.  Philly was gabbing about how she wanted to get a new road bike.  Tati was talking about how her friends were coming over for a playdate tomorrow.  I was concentrating on the pedaling, but it was a very sweet ride in the coolish evening air.

Then: CRASH.  BAM.  BOOM.  I felt something slip loose, then I saw my sweet Philly and her tag-along, separated from me and my bike.  Her tag-along had come loose, and she had landed on her side, and she was skidding along, her body as the friction to slow.  Tati in the trailer was still sitting intact, but was scared out of her wits at the sight of her sister lying on the ground in front of her, wailing.  Frantic, I tossed my bike to the side and ran to them.  I hugged and comforted.  We were a crumpled mess in the middle of the Esplanade, while bikers of all sorts zipped passed us from every direction.  Bikers in lycra, bikers in khakis - no one was stopping to help a mother, her bleeding child, and her crying second child.  I shouted at the Willamette: "WHY IS NO ONE STOPPING FOR US??!"

I sighed.  I checked to see that Philly could still see how many fingers I was holding up, that she could move her hands, her arms, her legs.  All seemed intact, physically.  Emotionally, I was spent.  I had just hauled the girls all around the city, with mileage exceeding 20 miles.  I resigned.  The configuration wasn't even working for us.  The bike + tag-along + trailer mass of wheels wasn't exactly working.  I felt guilty for even pushing the family so far into this non-car/biking abyss.  Now, the girls were scuffed up like crazy and traumatized from the whole thing.

I called for my husband to come fetch me, and we loaded all the gear into the car.  The girls, happy to be buckled in their car seats, went back to gabbing about their summer days, though their tones were now notably somber, dampened.

What went wrong?  Well, the pin that holds the tag-along to the adult bike came loose.  When we were going down the ramps on the Esplanade, the pin must have jostled loose, and the tag-along ripped off from my bike.  Will we bike again with the tag-alongs?  For sure.  Will we continue traveling with the trifecta of bike, tag-along, and trailer.  Of course, until we find a better solution.  We've had our share of biking incidents, and I suppose this accident is just part of the process.  We've had a bike stolen and now we've had a family incident.

Now, the girls are sleeping soundly in bed.  Philly is bandaged, and Tati also has a sympathy bandage or two.  Tomorrow, we'll take the bus.  We're a bit deflated, however.  As a family, we love to bike - all around town and even beyond.  We are second-guessing whether family biking can be a reality on a day-to-day basis.  This morning at the Low Car Diet kick-off, we had a chat with Jay of the Bike Gallery, to ask for his advice on how one parent can haul two tag-along-ready children, and he says his folks are busy researching it.  We hate to turn in the bike, but I think we'll have to give our wheels a rest for a bit.

And, THAT was our eventful first day on the Low Car Diet Challenge 2007.


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As I was posting this, I saw a recall on the REI Novara Afterburner: http://www.rei.com/shared/help/recall/afterburner.html

That was a gargantuan effort on your part & you should feel good about your decision to not necessarily continue w/ the bike & the tag-along... Sometimes there is such a thing as just too much hard work. You must've been exhausted last night.

Wow, what a great effort! My hat is off to you, Olivia.

As for the two-kid dilemma, we do have the tandem w/rear pedals adjusted for a kid (they can be moved up for an adult, too), to which we attach the trailer. (Our kids are 7 and 4)

Yes, it was expensive, but we're a one-car family, and this allows us (ok, my husband, the main biker) to use that car even less, or to take the kids out when I've got the car. It works really well. The size of the "train" (which we used to do) is significantly shortened, and also the pedal-power contribution the kid can make on the tandem is higher.

I admit, I balked at the price initially (ours is a Burley and was about $1800 (this was a few years ago), but the resale value is high, and we anticipate being able to recoup a good amount when we finally sell it, if we do. I highly recommend this option.

We got our tandem at Gateway Bicycles, which has a really good selection of tandems.

Good luck!

Olivia, you are such a trooper and an inspiration! I feel I have it so much easier - smaller kids and shorter distances to go. I admire your positive attitude to brush it off and keep on going. I know that we will try to bike as much as possible, but I too am certain that there will be situations where the bike will not be our primary mode during this next month. I'm glad that there are other families that are attempting the Low Car Diet Challenge because transporting little people that aren't as mobile is so much different than when it's just adults. Keep on biking!

Oh no! I'm so sorry that happened after we parted ways! I can't believe that no one stopped to help. That makes me really mad.

And I agree that you're an inspiration. I bike with the boys a lot, but not nearly the distances you have to travel.

Hope that Philly's scrapes heal quickly, and that she's not afraid to get back on the bike.

(Did she hit her head at all? If so, you probably want to get a new helmet for her)

Oh my GOSH! I'm so glad everyone's in one piece but how scary is that??? Did REI contact you about the trailabike or did you just find out on your own? I'm not much for being litigious but this is really NOT OK for them to be selling something that can injure children! Have you talked to them yet?

*hugs* to Philly and Tati - I hope they bounce back and *hugs* to the mama who held her family together through all that... it's so hard!!!

Ouch, what a scare. Glad everyone is okay, and sorry no one stopped for you.

We have about 4 miles each way from out house to our 6 year old daughter's elementary school, and faced the same issue with the "bike train" like you have, and decided to invest in a Bike Friday tandem. We just didn't feel safe with the train and all the heavy traffic we had to cross (I-84, Burnside, Broadway). At about $1500, once the stoker seat was outfitted for a child (smaller seat, handlebar extensions, and shortening the crank on the pedals), it was a great investment- certainly cheaper then getting a second car.

The Bike Friday's have 20" wheels so you can put a seat in the lowest position and a kid can ride on it, but can be raised for an adult. No chain extenders like are often on full size tandems, that seem really off balance to me.

We currently have a baby seat on it for our 2.5 year old, but will add on a burley piccolo when he gets bigger.


Good luck with the rest of the challenge. If we didn't already have a number of out of town trip planned (our main use of our car)
we'd be joining you!

That is SOOOO awful. I just received a notice from REI that the tag-along we own has been recalled due to the pin slipping and separating (sound familiar). It is the Novara Afterburner. Check out REI's website, or I can forward you the info.

Oops! Sorry...didn't see the first post.

I am so impressed with everything you did, but how awful that no one stopped! What a nightmare. And it raises a question for me, when I'm biking or anyplace else with my little one - does everybody else carry some kind of first aid kit with them? If so, what's in it? I hate the thought of putting something else in the diaper bag, but lately all I can think of is scrapes and split lips and bee stings, if not worse.

That's an impressive haul! My daughter and I ride to work and school (each of us on our own bikes) but it is less than 1.5 miles each way.

Have you looked at an xtracycle at http://www.xtracycle.com ? I've seen plenty of kids riding the back of them. Heck, I've seen two kids on the back of one! I've also seen a tandem with a trail-a-bike attached.

the adams "folder" trail-a-bike has had a similar recall. we got a replacement piece from a local bike shop...

kate sends philly an e-bandaid and hopes she feels better soon...

I was going to suggest an xtracycle as well; you could do one kid on the back platform and one in a kid seat (either front or rear mounted), or two on the back, or one on the back and one in the trailer... you can also carry a lot of stuff in the panniers. they wouldn't be pedaling but it might be enough of a novelty to make up for that. a super spendy but amazing option is the dutch bakfiets, you can fit three kids or one or two kids plus groceries (http://www.clevercycles.com)!

What about a bakfiets? Toss the little one in the box and attach a non-defective tag-along for the elder one.

One thing that will slow you down considerably is under-inflated tires - make sure the pressure is high and that you aren't running too fat of tires, and that they are road tires.

Secondly, removing the trailer will reduce the friction from its wheels a bit - not sure how much, but the bakfiets do seem to be popular in the Netherlands and Denmark! And kids usually love them...


I hope it's OK for a dad to post here...

I'm so proud of you Olivia - you are doing a wonderful thing for yourself and your family! I got rid of my car a year ago and have never looked back.

I bike regularly with my 5yo son and we often tow a cargo trailer as well. It has taken quite some time to build up the strength and endurance to pull that much weight. I think initial moderation and gradual build-up are probably beneficial. Also, sometimes it just makes sense to ride TriMet.

There can be no excuse for fellow cyclists not stopping to help you and your daughters. It's odd though, since I've found that whenever I stop to fix a flat I'm inundated with offers of help. In turn, I never pass by another stopped cyclist without checking in.

Have you read Joe Kurmaskie's book, Momentum is Your Friend? It's a fun book about a Portland dad's trip cross-country towing the same setup as yours. It might offer some good tips. It is definitely good for some laughs.

Hang in there Olivia!

Thanks everyone for the support, encouragements, and e-bandaids from all the mamas and papa. Our family has loved hearing from everyone. We've even found our story on BikePortland: http://bikeportland.org/2007/07/11/low-car-dieter-has-rough-first-day-on-the-bike

Yesterday was a bike-free day for us (we used transit), but today we were back on the bike, tag-along, and trailer. We also have gotten an extra adapter set and will look into a safety upgrade.

We're exploring new options - so, thank you for sharing the ideas above. The bakfiet and xtracycle probably won't work for us. We are looking for our pedal-happy girls to provide some pedal power. Clever Cycles has a Bike Friday family tandem we'll try. We're also considering a traditional tandem with an adapter to make the rear rideable for Philly.

Happy and safe riding, everyone. We are working on a post for tips and tricks for riding with a tag-along.... stay tuned!

I am SOOOOO glad everyone is alright. I cannot believe that someone didn't stop for you? do you remember when I used to pull Jasper on the tag a long, ambrose in the trailer and I was pregnant?? those were the days. Now Jasper rides, Ambrose on tag and Felix in new trailer as we wore out our older one. I just wanted to comment and say "good for you" for such an effort - this kind of attitude makes me miss Portland and you guys so much.
Have you seen the trail a bike that attaches to your bike, but can also be used as a bike. so Philly could do some of the riding and when she gets tired, maybe hook up to your bike, or the trailer?
take care!!


Dear Olivia -
Heard about the accident, and glad to hear all 3 of you are ok. It's unbelievable that no one stopped for you. Philly's definitely a tough girl and i'm happy to hear that she's back on the bike again. Be careful out there, ok? Hope to see you all soon!

It sounds like you need a better ride. As a father of two who carted them both in a two seat tow behind trailer, I feel for you. You need a better system. Instead of spending $1000 or more on a new tandem and trailer and so on, I might have another solution. I might be able to put something together for you that would meet your needs, and it would only cost you the materials. Buy two or three used bikes for $10-20 each and a few other bits and I can build you something that will meet your needs. I would be honored to donate my labor and equipment to help someone so dedicated to this cause.

Hi, Olivia.

Could you share with the folks here as you did on bikeportland.org that, in fact, some folks DID stop and help you out rather quickly?

Everyone who is up in arms about your statement that no one stopped might relax a bit if you filled in the whole story.

Also how does the car-free thing work? You stated in the other blog that your husband came and picked you up in the car. Is it just you and the kids who took the pledge? Or do you reserve the right to use your auto in emergencies (as was plainly the case here.) Not calling you out on this at all, just wondering what the parameters of the experiment are. I think I'd like to give the pledge a try some day soon.

That said, your experience did spur our family to action. We just purchased a new first aid kit and tossed it into our trailer.

Stay safe and we'll see you on the avenues!


So the trail-a-bike disengaged but I lost the screw as I was disassembling it from my bike! It probably fell onto the ground as a passerby kicked it nowhere to be found. Thankfully, Olivia had contacted REI and they have extra threads and screws. So along with a first aid kit, carry some spare parts for the trail-a-bike. It only costs $5!

Thanks everyone for their support & kind words of encouragement. Philly's wounds are now probably permanent scars. Tati has overcome her fear of the "Esclanade", though not without many tears the first time we rode on it again.

We are still biking around town as our primary transit during these summer and no-car days. In a comment to Hau's recent post, we mentioned a thread on the bikeportland site about family bike riding.

We have since decided to minimize the use of the bike train (adult bike to trail-a-bike to trailer). The load is too wide! We decided to go with an xtracycle http://www.xtracycle.com to use when one parent is bike-commuting with two kids. But, in a more typical scenario when both my husband and I are biking, we will each have a daughter on a trail-a-bike, since they still very much love pedaling.

We have swapped out all our old trail-a-bike/tag-along adapters for new ones with new pins and screws. We have a few extra on hand at all times. We also now carry a first-aid kit with lots of bandages, antibiotic cream, tweezers and scissors. We bought a kit from GI Joes, but I'm sure it's easy enough to assemble the contents without buying a kit.

We are still very much a biking family, but we are also seeing the advantages of being multi-modal (using MAX, bus, bike, foot).

Off to GI Joe's I go! Or Joe's, or whatever they call it. You are making some brave girls there - and helping other mom riders be brave, too.

Your trailer bike was probably part of this recall:


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