“There is no bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.” Ranulph Fiennes
The best way to keep a child warm on a bike in the winter
In Cargo bikes vs bike trailers, I recommend cargo bikes over bike trailers for carrying kids. But bike trailers have one thing going for them: the weather canopies are great taking the chill off a winter ride as well as protection for the rain.
Weather canopies are great in the winter because they cut the wind chill and also because they work like a little greenhouse: both trapping some of the heat from the sun (if any!) as well as trapping some of the heat from the passengers with in. Here's a story and photo to illustrate
Cargo bike weather canopies for winter cycling
In the photo above, we'd done the usual 6 mile (10 km) round trip to church at 10 degrees Fahrenheit (-12C).
Soon after we left the house, she took off both her hat and gloves. Half way through the 25 minute ride there I asked if she was warm enough and she said she was. When we arrived, I checked her ears and hands, which she had done nothing to cover. Her fingers were warmer than mine, which had been under two layers of mittens!
The insulation effect of the canopy is quite strong. Even on our coldest days it appears to be warm enough for a child to sit under comfortably for trips around town.
(We only rode down this snow-covered bike path long enough to take some photos)
As a parent, a weather canopy potentially means less time adding extra layers of clothes to your child and the peace of mind that your child will be a bit more comfortable when you are biking around town.
For a treat on a cold day, add a classic rubber hot bottle under the weather canopy.
If you are shopping for a cargo bike to use for kids, look for one that has an option for a weather canopy, whether you buy one upfront or want to have the option to get one later.
Weather canopy options for cargo bikes
For longtails, there's the Yuba Pop Top:
Yuba reports that it works with their longtail models, including the Mundo, Spicy Curry, Boda Boda, and Kombi, while Xtracycle reports that it works with Surly Big Dummy and other longtails that use their "Hooptie" bars.
The benefit of a canopy like the frontloader Supercargo Canopy is that it completely surrounds the passenger cabin and creates a seal.
Perhaps the most versatile cargo bike weather canopy is the Madsen Soft Top. Like a convertible car, this canopy can easily be put up or retracted and stored on the bike when the conditions change. With this benefit comes a premium in the price.
Winter cycling with kids without a weather canopy
My family went all-in on cargo bikes so we had more than one... but only our bakfiets frontloader had a weather canopy, while our Yuba Mundo longtail had electric assist. Without a weather canopy, we were still able to keep the kids warm for cold trips with additional bundling.
The photo is from a bike trip I took with my daughter to daycare when the temperature was 15F (-9.4C). She reported that nothing was cold upon arrival, despite the sometimes 20 mph (32 kph) windchill generated from the moving bike.
She is wearing a winter helmet with built-in ear covers, a “thick and thin” balaclava, ski googles, as well as some snow pants and snow boots. I’m wearing a merino wool hat, face mask, OTG ski googles and a scarf. NEOS overshoes help keep my feet warm on especially cold days, and Bar Mitts keep my hands warm while allowing me to wear modest gloves.
Electric vs Weather Canopy for winter cycling
If you've got limited funds, should you spend them on an electric assist bike or a weather canopy upgrade?
The electric assist will get used year-round and it does help with the cold in a less obvious way: Electric assist enables faster travel times, which translates to less time out in the cold. So even if you do start to get cold on the ride, with an e-bike you can get there faster and start to warm up again upon arrival.
If you are able to have a bike with both a weather canopy and electric assist then you've got the best of both worlds!