Cycling in Sydney Australia
As any self-respecting cyclist would do upon the news that their first child was on the way, I immediately started investigating ways of transporting kids with bikes. As it was not urgent, I also monitored the large UK based internet stores for specials at the same time. I snagged a good trailer for cheap from Chain Reaction Cycles. However, one of my most enduring childhood memories is of my mum putting a 4-5 year old Si on the bus into town (in a small city in the UK) and my dad meeting me at the other end, taking me to my weekly piano lesson and then riding back on a smaller seat bolted to his top-tube talking and singing all the way. That would not really happen with a trailer. So I started investigating front child seats.
My goal was to find a seat that would not force us to ride like a clown or cause legs to hit the seat. This eliminated pretty much all of them except the steerer tube mounted Yepp Mini and BoBike Mini, both having basically the same design and both being from The Netherlands whose inhabitants seem to know a thing or two about this kind of thing (although, lets be honest, very little about doing so up hills).
Wiggle had 20% off discount voucher, so I took a punt and bought the Yepp Mini and aheadset adapter with the aim of fitting it to my wife's Trek 4500 WSD (women's hardtail MTB). Alas, while the aheadset adapter does work, the seat itself requires a bike's frame to be so step-through that it has effectively no top tube. If this is not the case the legs of the seat will hit the top tube and reduce the turning circle, unfortunately beyond what is practical with this bike.
So, ditch the seat? Go rear seat? Stick with just the trailer? Nah, as any self-respecting cyclist would agree, the best solution in a situation like this is always to buy another bike! N+1 FTW! My wife had expressed her desire for a vintage-esque ladies bicycle so this was a sillily easy sell. I am also secure enough in my masculinity, what there is of it anyway, to use a ladies bike for bubba transport. Being the same height as my wife is also pretty handy, even if she is all leg and I am all body.
One problem I was soon to discover with most ladies and dutch bicycles was gearing. We have ~4% climb to get, well, anywhere except the beach and shops up to ~5 mins walk away. With the added weight of a 10 month old (and growing, of course) the gearing offered on almost all the vintage-esqe ladies bikes (generally 42t single chain ring and 6 speed rear with 28t largest sprocket) and cheaper Dutch bikes would simple not be suitable. (No, motors are not an acceptable solution). I was certainly not going to spend $1000 (+ potentially a lot more) on a Gazelle as suitable as they would be. Simply way out of budget.
By sheer coincidence, I rode past two different women riding creme coloured ladies bike with what looked like MTB gearing at very different points on one commute. Whilst trying my hardest to appear non-stalker-like, I observed that they were Trek bicycles. Adaquately geared ladies bikes do exist after all! Huzzah! To the internet! $599 RRP too! Trek Allant WSDs FTW... perhaps.
Finding myself having a post ride coffee in Manly at shop opening time on a Saturday I thought I would investigate the Allant WSD and ladies bicycles in general so headed to the local Trek stockist. The Allant WSD looked good, but I was still concerned about the turning circle and they would only allow me to hold up the seat, not fit it to test this. I was also informed that front seats were dangerous - "of course this was my choice" though. So...
I headed off to Manly Cycles to see what they had and after describing my requirements was pointed towards the $549 Specialized Expedition Sport Low Entry and...
"Can we put the seat on and have a little spin around outside?"
"Of course. Just bring it in."
"Sold on that alone, if it works", me thinks.
(Note to retailers - this is the kind of thing which gives you a MASSIVE advantage over the internet /justsayin. What do I know though, I only buy the stuff you sell)
The Specialized does not look as good as the Allant WSD, but the gearing is pretty-much-climb-up-walls 42/32/22 14-34 seven speed compared to the still pretty low 48/38/28 12-32 of the Allant. I was not enamored by the twist shifters on the Specialized, however, I have since realized that twisties are actually better than triggers with a front child seat because investigative little fingers cannot change gear unexpectedly (saying that, he'll find a way no doubt, they always do). No mudguards on the Specialized, but it is $50 cheaper so I could fit some if needed anyway. Most importantly the Specialized has virtually no top tube, so turning circle would be unaffected and I still had a little concern about this with the Allant, but no way of testing it properly.
A couple of weeks later Clan Si heads down to Manly Cycles with the Yepp Mini seat and fittings (of which, somewhat embarrassingly to me, they now stock themselves). Fit it to the bike, check the turning circle, have a spin around outside, "Do you have a heavy duty two legged kick stand?", the cheap single leg one I got off ebay is not suitable. "Yes. Here it is.". Manly Cycles are good like that, kudos to them.
Purchased the bike and kickstand. They fitted the seat for free.
So far we have ridden about 10-15km on it and really like it. I have ridden up some reasonable hills with bubba on board too e.g. Griffin Rd, Dee Why. Slowly though, but I have not bottomed out on the gearing, in fact I have actually not used the granny in anger so my wife should also be able cope with any of the local hills which means we can ride it to Manly, Warrigah Mall and Dee Why easily and therefore the world! Could always get off and push as well I guess.
I did need to adjust the front derailleur though as it was rubbing on the lowest three gears when on the granny ring and lowest when on the middle. Tsk tsk LBS post sale check thing. The kickstand made this really easy though as it raises the rear wheel off the ground.
NOTE: Do not place complete confidence in the kickstand with a mounted bubba. Nothing has happened, but common sense says "use it as an aid only". Use it also to occupy the last remaining floor space in the garage which also has nothing available to lean against. N+1 to the max, literally. We have to move two bikes and a pram out of the way to get the car out now - a good excuse to ride more, if you ask me.
So far, after a few hours of riding, mission successful. Bubba seems more than happy, "the rides not over till the bubba stops singing" is a new family saying, based on fact. Loads of "woooooooooos" going down hill with no prompting from mum or dad either.
Yepp Mini ~$93.78 (+ aheadset adaptor shows as $0 on invoice due to discount voucher, but $18.88 line price) at time of purchase, exchange rates etc
Light, very nice looking and apparently well made. Seems comfortable for bubba. Foot straps too big for our 10 months old, but this does no seem to be an issue. Very easy to mount to threaded steerer, requiring just a 6mm hex/allen key. Did this on a bikes shop floor to test turning circle. With adjustable threaded steerer it can more than likely be positioned so legs do not hit seat and without being forced to ride clown style. Unless mounted a bicycle with a very-step-through-frame the legs of the seat will hit the top tube and reduce the turning circle a lot. On my my wife's Trek 4500 WSD (with Yepp aheadset adaptor) this was too large to be practical. Aheadset adaptor works, but it is a little fiddly to install. You need to remove the headset top cap, handlebars, and possibly spacers. The adaptor itself has a u-bolt with very long threads which are time consuming and annoying to spin the nyloc nuts up. The main problem though is that aheadsets allow very little adjustment for seat positioning compared to a threaded headset and the chances are you will not find a bike with enough step-through that has an aheadset - at least I did not really come across any during my research. In other words, you will probably suffer from a reduced turning circle when using an aheadset. Seat has an actual lock with keys and stuff, which locks it onto it's mount. The seat also hides the hex key bolts so the mount cannot be undone and removed from the bike - great anti-light-fingers design. Seat is easy to remove from bike and mount is relatively unobtrusive.
Specialized Expedition Sport Low Entry $549 + Kickstand $35 from Manly Cycles.
Cheap. Heavy, but this is normal at this price range (or style for that matter) and, seriously, if you actually care about the weight of bikes you would probably not be look at this one anyway. Effectively no top tube, which is ideal for steerer mounted child seats, or really any child seat as you do not need to swing legs over anything. Excellent gearing range for carrying heavy things up hills (42/32/22 14-34 7spd). Twist shift, ideal for front mounted seats because kids cannot shift them accidentally - they will probably figure out a way though. Neither of us like twisties as much as triggers but I have no doubt we'll get used to them. Has internal cabling which keeps most of the cables out of bad weather - my wife might use it as a commuter too, but this might make servicing harder when they eventually do need replacing. Front suspension, which seems to be quite handy for going up curb-ramp-things and speed bumps without jarring bubba (not something I had considered until riding with him for a while). Nice fat tyres for excellent stability at (very) low speeds (slow walking pace even) and also only require a low pressure which smooths out the bumps even more. Can take rack and muddies easily. Doesn't look that feminine... plus for me, not so much for my wife (I guess). I actually enjoy riding situp locally, but would hate it on my usually 24km each way commute although I would commute on this bike if it was the last one in our fleet still working though, just ssslllooowwwlllyyy.
(excuse my smartphone newb finger)