I love a lot of outdoor pursuits. Things like: backpacking, cycling, sailing, RV’ing, hiking, outdoor photography, rafting and nordic skiing. Near the top of this list is cycling, even better yet might be family cycling. When I speak of family cycling a few challenges immediately raise their ugly heads. You already know what the issues are: Things like keeping the kids happy, keeping the kids hydrated, keeping the kids on the right side of the road and keeping the kids motivated to push the pedals. At a young age, their attention span is simply too short, they lag behind and become uninterested. In fact, one of the biggest challenges of cycling with kids is keeping yourself from screaming at your kids instead of enjoying your kids.
So what’s the solution? Although not the only solution, the best solution from my way of thinking is a tandem. Yes, a bicycle built for 2. The benefits of the tandem riding with your kids are:
- Your child never lags behind
- Your child never feels like they’re too slow
- Your child never swerves out into the road
- Your child feels like they’re part of a team, cuz they are
- Your child doesn’t need to navigate
- Your child doesn’t need to shift gears
- Your child doesn’t need to brake and/or steer
This leaves your child free to sing and tell stories as you cycle along at a much faster pace than otherwise possible. And, sing they will. Trust me, I’ve owned four tandems in my past and always been amazed at how children open up while riding a tandem.
But, tandems companies have fallen by the way side over the last decade or so, leaving fewer and fewer manufactures. Subsequently, tandem prices have risen significantly and many families have chosen to forgo this most excellent form of family togetherness. Additionally, many tandem manufactures have decided to cater to the high end performance market, leaving the availability of family tandems even further behind. As I have scoured the market for what I feel represents a great family machine for a fair price, I’ve found one offering that seems to stand out amongst the others.
First, Let’s review my family tandem criteria:
- Tire size accommodation: This is hugely important and rarely address by manufactures. Idaho has a ton of great off road trails. You simply cannot ride these trails with a 1″ or even a 1.25″ tire, yet few manufactures understand this or at least care to address this critical issue. I’ve tried on several occasions to get CoMotion Cycles to widen the legs of their Periscope (which otherwise would make an excellent family tandem), without success. I refuse to buy a tandem that won’t allow good tire clearances for different trail conditions. If you can’t run a 2″ tire, many of our trails would be utterly unridable. Why say no to these trails? Why not allow for wider tires? How hard is it folks? Truth is, it’s not hard at all, they’re just stuck in their corporate ways.
- Adjustability for different rider heights: Frames with small stoker positions help fit a wider range of riders. This can be accomplished by several tandems once the kids reach about 10 and above.
- Rack compatible: What if we want to run the Great Allegheny Passage? We’ll need both tire clearance and a full complement of panniers with possibly even a trailer. Versatile tandems offer a plethora of mounting points for bicycle touring.
- Value oriented: Still a lot of money at $3,500 each. But, I wasn’t happy with the cheaper options offered by KHS and Raleigh. They simply didn’t fit the criteria stated above. For a quality built versatile tandem, you’ll need to spend around this amount (at least that’s been my experience).
Here’s what we settled on:
Meet the DaVinci Grand Junction. This quality tandem, developed by DaVinci Cycles out of Colorado, will be our next wonder horse. Given our family size, we needed two. One bought one in size Small, the other in size Medium. My wife can captain the small, while I can captain the medium. This will allow us to attend tandem rallies and experience other trails with our youngest children in the stoker position.
Benefits of a Grand Junction:
- Tire widths accommodating a full 2,1/4″ knobby.
- Independent pedaling: DaVinci uses the term “independent coasting”. This allows your child to stop pedaling to eat a granola bar, shed a jacket or take a drink, while you continue pedaling. If they get tired, let ’em take a break while you continue to make forward progress. This may prove very beneficial with younger stokers. With linked pedals…they stop and you stop. I would prefer to keep moving forward even if it means only under solo power.
- Drop bars for efficient crossings. I prefer drop bars for road riding and non aggressive off road riding. Think multiple hand positions.
- Disc brakes for smooth control on the down hills.
- Good stand over range accommodated by sloping top tube.
- Steel Frame: I would always choose a good chrome moly frame over an aluminum frame, especially when comfort is on the line.
- Quality: DaVinci is an quality American company whose products will last a lifetime. You can also pick up the phone and speak to them any day of the week.
Check out their web site for a host of other advantages. I’ll do a full review of these tandems once we log a few hundred miles. Let’s just say on paper, I’m sold.
Is it worth the expense?
You’ll need to answer that question for yourself. As for us, we’re dreaming of doing the C&O Tow Path and the Great Allegheny Passage with our kids. That trip alone would make this investment totally worth it to me. Add on all the local rides, along with tandem rallies and family cycling works out to be a very affordable form of family recreation. Let’s do this another way: For the price of one cheap ATV, you could buy 2 family tandems and do a ton of family riding, with very little continued expense. Your ATV will require yearly Off Road stickers, oil changes, tune-ups, a trailer to haul it and a tow vehicle to pull it. Not to mention another garage to store it. The list goes on and on. Family cycling teaching your kids a much healthier lifestyle. It teaches them to enjoy the simple things, to experience and appreciate nature. The quiet things of life that are so desperately missing from their daily lifestyles of texting and tweeting. And, might I add a much more sustainable lifestyle going forward. Yes, to us, it’s definitely worth the expense.