As active adults, we hope to pass on our good habits to our children. The younger we start them on the path to good health, the more likely they will be to follow it throughout their lives. One way to do set them on the right path is to involve them in our favorite activities, including cycling. Of course, if we can figure out a way to bring our children along when we cycle then we actually get to go riding more often – a plus for everyone!
One option for taking your very young child along on the bike is in a baby seat. For this option, your child needs to be old enough to hold their head steady and have strong enough neck and shoulder muscles to tolerate the extra weight of a helmet. (You and your kids do wear helmets, right?) It is generally recommended that children be at least 12 months old before you take them on a bike. If your child is older, it is generally recommended that children over 44 pounds are too heavy to safely ride in a child seat.
Child seats come in rear-mounted or front-mounted versions. Rear-mounted have traditionally been more common, but front-mounted are gaining popularity.
Rear-mounted seats put the weight of the child over the bike’s rear wheel. The child sits facing forward in a plastic seat that normally has good side support (if the child slumps to the side when asleep). Some even have a head rest in front of the child if he slumps forward when sleeping. One disadvantage to these seats is that the adult cannot see the child while riding; use of a rear-view mirror can help compensate, however. Having the child behind also makes it harder to interact with the child while riding. A rear-mounted seat may make it more difficult to mount and dismount your bike. It also takes practice to balance the bike while loading and unloading the child.
Front-mounted seats put the child’s weight over the front tire, a more stable position for the cyclist. They also put the child in a spot where the parent can interact with them more easily and where they can see the world better. However, because these seats sit between the rider and the handlebars, the rider has to reach around the seat to steer. The seat may also interfere with the knees of a long-legged rider. Most front-mounted seats do support a slumped sleeping child as well as a rear-mounted seat. If you choose to use a front-mounted seat, do not let your child hold any sort of object. If she should drop it, it could cause an accident by getting into the spokes of the front wheel.
Ultimately, the choice bike seats will depend on which you are most comfortable with. Take the time to research safe options, test ride before you commit (or buy and return if you’re not happy), and practice riding before you put your child in the seat. A stack of heavy books can help simulate the extra weight of a child and get you used to handling your bike with this new center of gravity. The cyclist should always be an adult strong enough to balance the heavier bike when it comes to a stop. Also, before purchasing your baby bicycle seat be sure that it is certified by the Consumer Product Safety Commission to meet their high safety standards.
Ride safe and have fun!