There’s a real demand for carrying children on the Brompton, something we can vouch for from personal experience. It’s also probably the most common question we get asked. Integrating the bike itself with rail or bus is straightforward, but children make life much more complicated.Trailers are great, but even the most compact takes up more space than a folding bike designed for an adult, so they present a bit of a challenge on public transport.
When Alexander was two, we solved the problem by adapting a conventional child seat to fit on a Brompton seat pillar, a device that went on to give four years of priceless service.Wonderful for long trips, the child seat was nevertheless a bit clumsy for shorter journeys to shops, and later, to school. Fitting and removing it required an allen key, which was invariably at the bottom of a bag, in the wrong pocket, or worst of all, on the kitchen table at home. Strapped on top of the folded bike, the seat produced a small package, but the operation required a strap, which was invariably at the bottom of the bag, on the kitchen table, etc.
Our SP Brompton trailer bike proved to be a practical alternative – great for longer rides, but in terms of folded size, effectively two Bromptons. And guess who gets to carry the two Bromptons and the bag?
…ten minutes later, wife battles through traffic to deliver child…
When we first came across the ITchair, it seemed to promise a practical tool-free solution for short trips, although we were sceptical that a Brompton was roomy enough for two, or that the device could be fitted and removed as quickly as was claimed.
Who is it aimed at? Leisure seems the obvious market, but we’ve heard from several readers who long to eliminate that daily school-run nonsense: dad rides Brompton past school to station, ten minutes later wife battles through traffic in Volvo to deliver child, then runs home empty.The ITchair promises to carry a smallish child a modest distance, then fold away more or less out of sight, with the exercise being repeated in the evening, or not, as the case may be – it sounds like a flexible solution.There are a few complications and traps for the unwary, but by and large, it really does what it’s supposed to do.
The device is disarmingly simple.You get a steel tube (aluminium is in development), fitted with a yoke at one end and a clamp at the other.To fit it to the bike, you slide the cushioned yoke over the frame tube and push it up against the frame hinge plate, where a hook on one of the yoke arms engages with the plate, to prevent the ITchair from lifting off again. At the other end, the clamp goes round the seat post and is secured with a standard hinge clamp lever borrowed from the Brompton parts bin.
Newer Bromptons have a subtly different hinge, but the ITchair cleverly gets around this with a reversible yoke, giving two alternative hooks.This operation needs an allen key, but unless you regularly swap Bromptons of mixed vintage, you will only need to do it when initially setting the ITchair up.
From the top of the tube, a seat post protrudes horizontally, giving about 10cm fore and aft adjustment to the child saddle, and a pair of neat motorcycle footrests pop out lower down.
Alexander is slightly taller and slimmer than the average very-nearly-six year old, and as he can ride the ITchair with reasonable ease, we’d say it was suitable for children of up to six. Climbing aboard will be a problem for a nervous child (some refused to even consider it), but the more outward bound types scramble on and off like monkeys, an operation made easier if the adult is already firmly aboard.
Once in the seat, Alexander’s knees nestled comfortably below the handlebars.You might think handgrips would be useful, but in practice the child either holds the bars, puts his hands in his pockets, scratches his head or does a Mexican wave. The saddle and footrests give plenty of stability, and the rider’s arms tend to cradle the child, so they really would find it hard to fall off.With a bit of experimentation we found it was surprisingly easy to take three hands off the handlebars, so indicating is not the problem you might expect. One word of warning – if the child holds the gear shift and you change up unexpectedly, you will squidge a tiny finger.
For younger children, this central position feels secure, and there’s a perceived advantage in keeping an eye on the child too. In theory, you can carry a baby in a suitable carrier, but for the sake of your knees, you’ll need to find something very narrow. Sadly, we had neither baby nor carrier to hand, but it’s clearly possible.
The primary disadvantage for the rider is pedalling with your knees further apart than normal.This has little effect on power output, but we wouldn’t recommend putting knee joints through too much of this sort of stress.With a large five-year-old and an old short-frame Brompton, we’re looking at a worst-case scenario. Any combination of a smaller child, a post-2004 bike and a saddle set well back will make life much easier. A narrow child saddle would help too – we used a conventional saddle and found it annoyingly wide even without a child on board.
Whilst looking for disadvantages, the increased weight over the front wheel might encourage a slide on gratings and low kerbs.We didn’t experience any problems, but would certainly suggest riding with more care than usual.That’s obviously a matter of common sense with any child carrier, but our lower rear-mounted child seat handled superbly even at high speed – something we wouldn’t recommend with the child upfront.
…with 10kg in the bag, an 85kg rider and a 20kg child, we’re on the limit…
Staying with weight, Brompton suggest a gross bicycle load of about 115kg.With 10kg in the front bag, an 85kg rider and a 20kg child, we’re right on the limit.This might be all right, and it might not – we certainly noticed some slight fretting where the ITchair pushes up against the hinge, indicating that the bicycle frame and saddle stem had been bowing slightly under the stress. Once again, this is an extreme example – most adult/child combinations would be safe enough.
Folding takes just a few seconds: release the clamp, lift off the ITchair, fold the bike, and reclamp the ITchair to the lowered seat pillar, sticking out and down along the left side of the bicycle frame. This leaves a folded package little bigger than normal. It’s a bit heavier, adding 1.6kg in this case, but lighter and smaller than the alternatives. Incidentally, Alexander rather enjoys carrying the ITchair himself, but you have to watch five-year-olds – they’re liable to put things down and wander off. Luckily, you’ve got the bike. Another useful feature, as we discovered on a busy post-Christmas train, is that the ITchair can be clamped to any suitable vertical post, making an extra seat. Small boys love this kind of thing.
The ITchair is far from ideal, but it’s a brilliant bit of lateral thinking, and within reasonable limits of child size and weight, journey length and so on, it really does perform well. The real proof is whether we use it ourselves. In practice, the ITchair proved hard work on our steeply inclined school run, but has been used almost without exception on rail trips, where compact size and folding speed are more important.To date, we must have used the chair on a dozen trains (some quite busy) and ridden 50 miles or so.We very much wish it had been around three years ago, but we’re delighted to have found it now.
ITchair E199 (£135) inc European airmail delivery . mail firstname.lastname@example.org . web www.itchair.info