Guest Author - Sharry Miller
Finding ways to include our children in our favorite activities makes it more likely that weíll be able to indulge in them, and that weíll encourage our childrenís interest in the activities. The earlier we can get them interested in activities like cycling, the more likely they are to have an active lifestyle that will carry through into their adult lives.
One option for taking your young child cycling is in a trailer. There are many easy-to-use options available that can carry one or two children and all their necessities. Always use a trailer designed for carrying children, not a cargo trailer. Child trailers are specifically designed to help ensure the safety of your child.
If you are going to tow your child in a trailer, your child should be old enough to hold their head steady and have strong enough neck and shoulder muscles to tolerate the extra weight of a helmet, generally about 12 months old. Even in a trailer, children should wear helmets to help protect them in the event of an accident. Of course, you should be wearing your helmet, too!
The American Academy of Pediatrics (www.healthychildren.org) recommends using trailers rather than bike-mounted seats for taking young children cycling. Trailers are generally considered more stable and safer than seats, and are less prone to tipping over if the bike tips. Trailers are less likely to affect bike handling than seats, especially if they have a chain stay hitch rather than attaching to the bikeís seat post. Be sure to get a trailer with a swiveling hitch so that the trailer is even less likely to tip if the bike falls over.
Trailers provide good protection from the weather, rain and sun, as long as you remember to use the covers. I took my daughter out for a ride several years ago and it started to rain after we were underway. I didnít think to close the plastic cover on the trailer; by the time we got home, she was covered in mud from the spray off my rear tire. I canít imagine why she didnít squawk about it!
There are pros and cons regarding the size and visibility of trailers. They to significantly increase the footprint of the bike; this may make them harder to ride and park in urban areas or on narrow roads. They are also low to the ground and therefore may be outside of the normal range of view for car drivers. This last, however, is counteracted by the bright colors of which most trailers are made. To be safest, attach a tall, bright safety flag to the back of the trailer (most new trailers come with one). Always carefully assess roads for the ability to safely tow a trailer before riding. You may need to stick to trails if you live in an area with fast, heavy traffic and/or narrow roads.
One thing to remember is that trailers do not have any sort of suspension system. The bouncing and jostling your child is subjected to can be quite extreme. You may need to prop up a small child with pillows (remember to leave clearance for his helmet), and always use a safety harness. The last thing you need is to have your child trying to crawl out of a moving trailer!
As when you add anything new to your bike, take it out for a few practice runs in safe areas before you hit the streets. Make sure you are comfortable with how the bike handles while towing a trailer, and become aware of any changes to your turning radius. Itís also important to understand how much space you take up, especially if youíre riding on the side of a road. Most importantly, get out there and have fun with your kids! Youíll all be better for it.