Biking Gear Tips

Choosing Bikes for Cycling with Kids Part 1 The Baby Years

Choosing Bikes for Cycling with Kids Part 1 Baby Years Age 0-2
Written by Stuart Wickes

Ultimate Gear Guide
Choosing Bikes for Cycling with Kids

Part 1: The Baby Years – from 0-2

Stuart Profile SmallThis post is one of a series in our Ultimate Gear Guide looking at options for cycling with kids at different ages. The series covers a lot of territory so to help you navigate we’ve split it up according to the age of your kids. Use these links to find the bits most relevant to your circumstances.

The baby years: from 0 – 2

So now you’ve got a baby, you’re itching to get out on your bike and want baby to come too. But when can you start and what’s the safest way to carry and protect your precious cargo? Well for babies and toddlers there are two main options: trailers or baby seats. And trailers usually come first.

Trailers for babies

Baby in Trailer

In our experience babies and toddlers love trailers. They are a great way to introduce them to biking, although we obviously strap them in when we’re on the move!

These days there are lots of cycle trailers available enabling you to pull young kids behind you while cycling. They‘re also great for doing the shopping, taking the dog for a ride or touring with a family sized load of camping gear. Trailers are like mini caravans for bikes; you hitch them onto the back of your bike, strap your child in and pull them along behind you until you run out of energy or your child tells you they’ve had enough.

While the internet seems to be awash with controversy about the earliest age you can safely put a baby in a trailer, it’s pretty widely accepted that once a child is strong enough to hold their own neck up they will probably be fine in a trailer.  This usually means somewhere between 6-12 months, depending upon the child. That’s not to say you have to wait that long; there are some bike trailers that have special slings, carriers and neck supports to help with carrying young babies, and some are even large enough to strap a car baby seat into for added protection.

Of course support within the trailer is not the only consideration when it comes to your child’s safety, you also need to consider protection from the elements, your riding style, route choice and the behavior of traffic where you plan to ride.

Baby in bike trailer

You can get fixings to enable you to carry young babies in trailers but it’s worth getting advice to ensure it’s safe, legal and complies with manufacturers and medical practitioners recommendations as regards both the child and suitability of the trailer.

Trailers: Pros and cons

  • A trailer can be like a little playroom for kids. They can play, read, eat, sleep, listen to stories or look out of the window. You can decorate them, or install a sound system or video player if so inclined. As a result ours loved being trailered around in their trailers.
  • Kids can sleep comfortably in a trailer without lolling around. This gives more flexibility when you go out riding. On tours we covered some great distances in peace and quiet during nap times or by riding after bedtime with the kids in the trailer in their sleeping bags.
  • Children can be well protected from the elements in a trailer, especially useful if you want to get out in colder months or poor weather. They can have blankets, waterproofs, hot drinks and with a rain cover or sun screen will stay warm, dry and pale skinned while you ride and get cold, wet or sunburnt.
  • Some trailers can take more than one child which can help you get out biking with a growing young family, although the aftermath of sibling rivalry in such constrained spaces can be unpalatable.
Two kids in a trailer

Two kids in a trailer can be fun. But it’s hard work. And don’t forget fighting in a confined space can get ugly!

  • Remember, while the kids rest and play you will be working hard pulling them along. And the older they get the harder you will have to work. Going uphill can be a serious cardio workout. And then, when you stop for a rest, they’ll be all refreshed and wanting to run around and play with you.
  • Some cycle trails are not trailer friendly. They can have barriers to stop traffic which also stop trailers. You may have to get off, get the kids out and lift the whole thing over. All without cursing.
  • When riding on the road you need to be aware you are a wider vehicle now and it may take a little time to become familiar with how far out from the kerb you need to ride and to judge how close any passing traffic is to the trailer. We generally found traffic pretty courteous but use flags, lights and bright colours to make sure we are seen and to encourage wide passing. We also try to set things up so the outer edge of bike and trailer on the side traffic passes are lined up to make it easier to  judge passing distances.
  • The kids sit low down compared to you and some distance behind you.  It’s not easy to see what they are up to nor hold a conversation. Conversation is further stunted by the fact you won’t be seeing the same things; while you look over hedgerow to the horizon, they’ll be looking out at hedges or your rear.  In traffic they may also get to breathe more exhaust fumes than you would like, although route choice may help alleviate that.
  • Sooner or later you won’t have the strength to pull your growing kids, especially if you’ve got two or more. Typically we gave up trying once the kids reached about 4 years.
Keeping Dry in a Trailer

Trailers are great for keeping babies and toddlers dry and warm in wet weather or protected from the sun if it shines. They are much less exposed to the elements than when in a bike seat.

Trailers: What to look for

  • For maximum protection for your child look for models with a roll bar, approved safety harnesses (seat belts) and good neck support or sling options, especially if you want to carry younger babies. If you want your child to wear a helmet in the trailer (and it may be a legal requirement in some countries) then look for designs with head rests that accommodate this.
  • Look for something with materials that are easy to clean goo (or worse) off. Some models use canvas or fabric panels while others are solid in design. This can affect not just clean-ability but durability, waterproofing, storage and transportation too. Oh and if spills are an issue, don’t forget to choose something with a little drainage hole or plug.
  • If storage and transportation are a concern for you, look for designs that fold flat and where the wheels are simple to release.
  • Storage space is handy too, especially if you like to carry baby paraphernalia, shopping or other gear with you while out. Two kinds of storage are handy; something within reach of the child for toys, drinks and things you want them to get; and something out of reach for stuff you don’t!
  • If you’re a fair-weather cyclist, then look for trailers with a sunscreen and some way to adjust ventilation. If you’re more the kind to venture out in the rain then make sure there’s good protection from wind and rain.
  • Different trailers have different ways of hitching to bikes so check the hitching mechanism will work with the main bike you intend to use for towing. If you want to tow on several different bikes, check it will fit them all or buy adapters or additional hitches to enable you to switch it around.
  • Typically trailers kept in good condition hold their value pretty well so don’t be shy about investing; you can often sell them on and recoup the money later. And there’s usually a good supply available second hand, many of which have had relatively little use.

Cycle toddling: bike seats

Child in a bike seat

Kids on rear mounted bike seats don’t necessarily get the best view but they’re close enough to chat to, keep an eye on and to bug you when they’ve had enough.

Bike seats are a great way to get toddlers out on a bike, especially if the weather is fine. We carried ours this way from about age 1-4. Bike seats are more exposed and offer a bit less support than trailers so the rule of thumb here is whether or not the child can sit comfortably unsupported, without lolling around.

Bike seats these days come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Some clamp to the seat tube, others to a rear rack while others still attach to the top tube or even handlebar stems. The systems vary in the position of the child, intimacy and sense of stability.

The most popular child seat designs put the child behind the rider, in a seat that sits over the back wheel attached to the rack or down tube. While this arrangement is pretty stable and leaves you free to concentrate on riding, it can be difficult to communicate and the child’s view is mostly of your back.

For smaller tots popular options include seats that sit over the front handlebars or directly in front of the rider on the top tube. These gives a more intimate riding experience and make communication easier, although having an active toddler wriggling around in front of you can be something of a challenge.

Child in bike seat

Bike seats can be tricky for parents to load. You have to hold or balance the bike, while lifting your toddler in and then get them all strapped in, all without the bike falling over. Get a friend to help if you can. 

Bike Seats: Pros and cons

  • With a bike seat your child is up high with you; it’s a more sociable experience riding together, you can talk, chat and play together and they get to see much more too.
  • Compared to a trailer, a child in a bike seat is more exposed both to the elements and in the event of you falling over. But being closer together, it’s easier to keep an eye on their mood, comfort and temperature.
  • Getting on and off can be tricky, especially if you are on your own. It’s a bit of a balancing act juggling the bike and the child, doing up straps and then getting on yourself.
  • Rear mounted bike seats can interfere with your ability to carry panniers, luggage or even to wear a rucksack which can make carrying gear, shopping or bits and bobs more difficult.
  • Carrying a child on a bike seat changes the handling of your bike. The heavier the child, the more they jiggle or the further to the front or back of the bike the seat is, the more unsteady things can become. Centrally mounted models tend to be most stable although not necessarily most convenient.  To keep the bike stable you need to learn to counteract your child’s movements, even the unpredictable ones.
  • While the intimacy of a child seat can be appealing, the close-up wailing of a hungry little one, unwanted back slapping of an angry toddler or persistent questions of a curious pre-schooler are hard to ignore compared to putting them in a trailer.
Baby asleep on bike seat

It’s not uncommon for kids to fall asleep on a bike seat so it can be worth looking for models that recline and make it a more comfortable experience. And of course less lolling for them means a more stable ride for you.

Bike Seats: What to look for

  • If you want to be able to swap the seat between bikes easily look for models where you can buy spare adapters easily to save the hassle of uninstalling and reinstalling each time you want to change bikes.
  • Look for models that are easy to fit and remove, both for initial installation and for getting on and off the bike when you want to go solo or swap the seat between bikes.
  • Look for seat designs that accommodate helmets easily, otherwise things can get uncomfortable for your passenger. And if wearing a helmet becomes uncomfortable they are not going to want to put it on.
  • Look for secure harnesses and childproof buckles, even if it makes it a bit harder to do up. There’s nothing worse than a child trying to escape mid-ride.
  • Some cushioning can make for a more comfortable ride but look for removable cushions for cleaning or drying. Waterproof seat cushions can prevent soggy bottoms and are easier to clean in the event of an accident.
  • Foot rests are useful, and particularly important on rear seats to stop kicking or legs dangling into moving parts. Look for foot rests that can be adjusted as the child grows and with straps to secure feet in place.
  • Some ‘luxury’ models can recline the seat which reduces lolling if your child likes to sleep while out on the ride. There must be something about the motion which encourages this as many do.
  • Some front facing models have fun features like mini handlebars so kids can play steering as you ride along, or have windscreens to protect little ones from wind, rain or flies!

Up Next: Part 2 – The Toddler Years

Choosing Bikes for Cycling with Kids Part 2 Toddler Years Age 3-6

Or navigate to other parts of the guide, according to the age of your kids using these links.

Disclosure Note: This post was brought to you thanks to support from Argos. The content, views, experience and opinions remain, as ever, entirely our own.

About the author

Stuart Wickes

Stuart's the adventure addict half of the team, always trying to persuade the family to get out, do more, go further. As co-founder and co-director he handles the business, creative, design, technical and publishing aspects of the project. He is our chief photographer and videographer. With training as a professional learning and development consultant. an engineer and musician, his contribution is eclectic and unpredictable!

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