biking with kids: commuting into the colder months

Fall bike ride with C

When I first started this blog, I wrote it to chronicle the self-imposed challenge of biking year-round, winter notwithstanding. At the time, I learned a lot about what it meant to transport myself in below freezing weather on a bicycle. I learned to layer wool socks and warm mittens, to choose wools and cashmeres (my constant thrift store search items) over synthetic blends for warmth, to sometimes just throw in the towel and leave my bike snowed-in, and to appreciate the revitalizing effect of a hot drink after a cold ride.

But how to bike through fall and winter with a child? That’s the challenge I’m facing this year as temperatures drop and we head into November. October’s Kidical Mass ride was an eye opening experience to the limitations of the front mounted child seat when it comes to weathering the elements. While the other kids stayed warm and protected from the wind during our 40F bike ride, our poor daughter had nothing shielding her from the cold air and strong wind as she faced it head-on sitting up by the bike’s handlebars. Although she braved it like a trooper and still managed to give us lots of snot-drenched grins every time we looked over at her, we felt terrible that we couldn’t keep her warmer and more insulated from the cold.

Enter: the Burley Solo bike trailer.

We realized that if we want to continue cycling into the colder months, our front mounted child seat won’t do. For those of you living in warmer climates, this may not be an issue. But with our Iowa winters, our iBert bike seat will have to go into storage to be replaced by the enclosed seat of the bike trailer.

C in her trailer

We’ve been using the bike trailer for about two weeks now and I have lots of reactions to the pros, cons, and unexpected discoveries of using a trailer. I’ll devote an entire post to that soon.

The most immediate and satisfying result of this change in our daily transportation system is that I don’t have to think twice about biking even now as the days grow colder and frost covers the ground on our early morning rides. C. has gotten used to the trailer surprisingly quickly and she always feels warm and comfortable when I touch her hands or face to gage her temperature. In fact, it’s a lot easier keeping her warm on the bike now than it is me. How do I dress for 40F bike rides again? It’s been a while…

So this is how we’re approaching the coming winter by bike. Armed with a trailer filled with books, toys, a blanket, and a snack or two. And of course with lights on my bike as the days are shorter and we’re much more likely to be biking in the dark. So far, so good. It’s going to be a an adventure!

Do you bike with your children into the colder months? How cold does it get on your side of the country or the world? What have you learned about cold-weather commuting with kids? Please share your tips with this novice! Your comments, as always, are much appreciated!

Post-script: After giving the bike trailer a reasonable trial period, I wrote this post comparing the iBert bike seat with the Burley trailer.

You may also find this “bike trailer vs. bike seat review” useful (co-written with another cycling mama).

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About simplybike

{Bikes, a new baby, and the story of us.}
This entry was posted in Bike 101, Biking with Kids, Fall Cycling, Winter Cycling and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to biking with kids: commuting into the colder months

  1. Yay for cozy rides! I love that closing the weather barrier makes a huge difference. How do you keep C’s gloves on? That’s the only issue we have with Lila and she tends to have chilly hands. Now the only problem is keeping Benny warm!!!

    • simplybike says:

      She hasn’t faught them too much, so they just stay on. I also have them attached to a string that is run though her sleeves to keep from losing them. Just like we had as kids :) If you can picture what I mean. That helps in keeping them always nearby.

  2. glennebo says:

    Last year I got my 8-year-old out on a chilly—but refreshing—day, for some riding around our oversized driveway, with my goal being a trip to our local rail trail. My instructions were simple: just avoid the one spot with chunks of ice and water. Well, she promptly drove straight into it on our first lap, got wet, then mad, and called it a day. “I’m not going biking in the winter again!” I’m hoping for better luck this year!

  3. ibikeubike says:

    I’m glad to hear about your trailer success! As a carfree family with three kids, 12, 5 & 1 we bike year round in wet and sometimes snowy/icy conditions. I plan on purchasing a cargo bike but will not give up my trailer for the days the little ones need some extra insulation.
    We get some pretty decent precipitation here so I am upgrading to studded tires for the icy days but it is nice that even if I slip, with the trailer the little ones stay stable.

    Warmest bikey love,


    • simplybike says:

      Hi Sarah,

      thanks for stopping by and for the comment! I have been thinking about getting studded tires, something I hadn’t done in the past for a number of reasons. But now, with the little one in tow, I think it would be nice to have the extra stability on the road come winter. Any thoughts or tips on getting studded tires put on? I just hope that they makes ones compatible with the tires on my Peugeot.

      • malenki says:

        I recommend studded tires also. Won’t go without them anymore in Winter.
        Best™ producer of studded tires is Nokian. They have some experience since with harsh winters since they are located in Finland.
        The other manufacturers of bicycle tires meanwhile also created usable studded tires.
        But don’t buy tires with steels studs. They last only a short while – I’ve heard the number of 500 km until they where dull. Wolfram-carbide studs are the choice.

        The more studs the tire has the better the grip on ice and hard snow, but also the higher the rolling resistance on dry roads. (My decision fell for the Nokian Hakkapelliitaa with 240 studs). The choice also depends on which ways you plan to bicycle on, how harsh the winter in your region is and how well the roads get cleared.

        For matching with your bike: I am pretty sure there are enough available.
        Normally there are only three things you have to regard: the diameter of the wheel, normally given in inch. Most common are 26” and 28” wheels.
        Second, the width of your rims. The ETRTO gives recommendations for the size of tires according to the width of rims; a helpful guy created a table from it:

        Third point: you have to check the room at your forks and to the fenders. The tire should still be able to turn and have some room for sticking snow/mud/ice. Here an example of to little room: ;)

        If you want to buy some do as soon as possible. As I wanted to get some on October two years ago there were out of stock everywhere…

        Replying to your question of temperatures and kids:
        I don’t have childs (so far).
        My region in the Ore Mountains is 500m above the sea, the winters can be quite varying. Last year the by far lowest temperature was -32°C. The normal average ranges from -5°C to -15°C.

        • simplybike says:

          Thank you so much for all the helpful advice regarding studded tires! I’ll have to look into this and also see what my local bike shop offers. And wow, you sure have Iowa beat with those temperatures! And I thought it got cold here! Do lots of people still bike in that kind of cold during the winter or are you unique in equipping your bike for winter and braving the cold still? What’s the local bike culture like? I’d love to know!

          • malenki says:

            I rediscovered some pictures I took last year with a close look on the studded tires. Also, why it is a bad idea to wrap up your face and wear glasses :)

            Wen it is real winter here there aren’t much people going on biking. So far I’ve seen two or three which commute really all year round. My little brother does this also but was stupid enough to freeze his ears a little last year as it was so cold. Luckily no harm was done. Now he knows how and why to use a bonnet. :)
            Regrettably I have a company car and have to go around with it all the time so I don’t bike as much as I’d like to…

            For biking culture as far as I can describe it: This is a rural region and a lot of people think it is impossible, admirable or crazy to go by bike to the next town – a distance of about 8 km. *sigh*
            Though one person I met lately commutes there by bike only in the warm time of the year. In wintertime – she walks! (Which takes her about one hour.)
            Most seniors cycle on footways on all directions and thus give a bad example to the kids which do often the same. Mostly kids go around on bike “for fun”, not so much of the grown ups but there are some, too.

            Thankfully there are also rays of hope. Still some people I see taking te lane. And one couple I know in the next village intentionally decided to not have a car. They go by bike and public transport; after doing a big shopping they call a cab. In my town with about 11k inhabitants I know/heard of three or four men (plus me :) ) doing long distance bicycle trips.
            Mountain biking is quite a point around here since the region is hilly and offers a lot of good trails. Here one made by some volunteers which I found by accident:
            Since I go around for errands and fun “only” I don’t know much about the sporting. MTBing and racing scene.

            Car drivers around here are mostly considerate regarding bicyclists. Luckily here are also not much bicycle lanes accompagning the streets.

            Then there is the “crazy” German from Berlin who travelled Siberia in winter (!) by bike (!!). Lowest temperature he experienced was -50°C during a night while camping:
            Despite the site’s name he writes his reports (as I do mostly) only in German. Though the images (to find at “Bilder”) tell quite a story. Or you have a try with google translate.

            For farewell by now one last picture where my bike got stuck on a moist forest track. Still I don’t know how I got away with dry feet and shoes:

      • malenki says:

        PS: I forgot to mention the mostly obvious:
        The studded tires with low-key tyre profile are designed for the use on mostly well cleared ways. Example: Marathon Winter
        The ones with harsh profile are to be used when there will often be deeper snow one wants to plough by bike.
        Example: Nokian Extreme 294:

  4. Stacy says:

    We did enjoy our trailer for the wind/weather protection. I was always a bit envious of Family Rides and Tiny Helmet fairings/windshields for their front mount seat/child. If it was our first wee one, we would have gone for that. This year I am thinking about Pedal Powered Family’s DIY weather cover for our decking, but might get the trailer out for slippery days, if we venture out on bike at all. Sometimes we just decide not to go when the roads are iffy. While last winter was an exception, our winters are modest 30Fs to teens with several small snowfalls. Snow melt/turned ice on the shady side of hills is more of a problem. Leaves are also a problem right now.

  5. Natalie says:

    My husband bike commutes at least half the time, and takes the kidlet to school. When our son started preschool a few blocks from his office, he brought him along in a rear-mounted child seat. When he outgrew that by age four, we got a trail-a-bike. We used that through kindergarten, which was at a new school a bit farther away. Now we have a cargo bike, which is about as heavy as the bike+trail-a-bike, but is easier to load up with the day’s necessities and is more stable (son was not helping much with the pedaling anyway).

    Since our young passenger is just along for the ride, he gets dressed for much colder weather. Snow pants under a warm parka, preferably a little too long so they keep everything covered even while sitting. Thick wool socks and the warmest, most wind-resistant mittens we can find. He changes into regular socks at school and brings a pair of normal mittens for recess. A wind-proof helmet liner that covers his ears and a wind-proof neck gaiter that can be pulled up over his nose. A liberal application of good lip balm. On really cold mornings (here that means ~20F), a hot water bottle tucked in the snow pants next to his belly keeps him toasty. We went to IKEA recently and they had some obnoxious florescent yellow vests with big reflective stripes, and he wanted one for wearing on the bike, so that goes over his parka. It looks hilarious, but certainly helps with visibility.

    • simplybike says:

      Thanks for this great comment, Natalie! Like you said, it’s all a matter of figuring out what it takes to keep them warm and then that becomes the routine and the go-to. I actually have an easier time dressing her and me for biking in the cold when I do it daily and I become really in tune with what kind of clothes each temperature requires. If we don’t bike for a whiles and the temperatures drop, I start to question what I need to put on and the whole thing becomes much more difficult. So consistency is key too, in my experience.

      And I like the hot water bottle idea! :)


  6. I’m afraid it’s time for us to give up the IBert for the trailer, too. I’m bummed because I’ve so enjoyed having him right in front of me for the past few months, and I’m not sure we’ll have much time with the IBert, come spring, due to his weight and height.

    I’m also not looking forward to lugging the trailer again . . . .

    I’m also a novice, but I found that the same thin balaclava that I wear under my helmet works for him, and we already have an extra, so that will be great, whether in the front seat or the trailer.

    Oh, and I like your “new” bike, by the way :)

  7. Pingback: Simply Bike » biking with kids: the bike trailer vs the ibert seat

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