Choosing the right gear to cycle with your kids, ensures not only their safety, but also makes cycling together more comfortable and a whole lot of fun.
CHOOSING A CARRIER FOR THE EARLY YEARS
As a new parent, you can’t wait to get out on your bike and take your little one along too. But at what age can you start and what’s the safest way to carry and protect your precious cargo?
For babies and toddlers there are three main options: trailers or baby seats or cargo bikes. Which one you choose depends on your budget, the age of your child, where you plan to ride and of course your bike type and setup. Here we weigh up the pros and cons of each.
Trailers are a great option for toddlers and children up to 6 years old. Most can be used for babies from around 12 months, when they can support their own head, although some makes can be equipped to carry even younger babies or are large enough to strap a car baby seat into for added protection. Trailers hitch onto the back of your bike and enable you to pull your kids along behind you. Trailers come in single or double versions and are fully waterproof, come with sun nets.
The best thing about trailers is that they are like a little playroom for kids. While you cycle; the kids can play, eat, read, sleep or look out of the window. Inside the trailer, kids are well protected from the elements and on long rides they can fall easily asleep in their cosy nest. They are also very stable, easy to steer and even if you fall, your child won’t. Just remember to cycle gently and slow your speed as little ones can be sensitive to jolts and bumps. A bonus is that trailers are also great for carrying shopping or pets or touring with a family sized load of camping gear!
Cheaper models can be heavier making them more difficult to carry up and down stairs. They also take up a lot of room and require storage space at home. When riding on the road be aware that you are now a wider vehicle and make adjustments to road positioning and passing. Use flags, lights and bright colours to be seen by motorists and to encourage wide passing.As your kids sit behind you and at a lower level, it’s not easy to hold a conversation. Their field of view is also limited and while you can look out at the horizon, they’ll be looking at the side of the road or your rear. The older your kids get, the harder you will have to pedal, which can make going uphill a serious cardio.
REAR-MOUNTED CHILD SEATS
From around 12 months (when a baby can sit up and support its head with a helmet on), kids can be carried in a rear or front-mounted child seat. Straps and padded headrests are essential because kids tend to nod off during a ride! Good foot support and seat padding also makes the ride much more comfortable. Look for a seat that can grow with your child and always check your child is within the weight range of the one you choose.
Rear-mounted seats are cost effective and some have the added advantage of reclining so your toddler can sleep. Rear mounted seats usually have good cushioning which you can increase further by inflating your tires to slightly below their maximum setting.
The only downside is you can’t talk easily to your toddler or see them. Rear mounted seats make getting on and off the bike more difficult than front- mounted seats, as it requires you to hold the weight of the bike and the child upright as you climb on. A rear mounted seat can’t be fitted to a full suspension mountain bike.
Front-mounted seats can also be used from around 12 months (when a baby can sit up and support its head with a helmet on). If you are a confident rider you can even cycle with two toddlers in bike seats. Use a front-mounted seat for your youngest, and a rear-mounted one for your eldest. Be sure to check your brakes regularly as you’ll be carrying extra weight.
Front mounted seats have the added advantage of enabling you to easily see and talk to your kid as you pedal, and they can see where you’re going! It also makes getting on and off your bike easier than a rear-mounted seat, as you can hop on the bike and then lift your child up.
It can affect your steering and balance, but keeping it slow and steady should mitigate this. Front child sets can’t be fitted to bikes with drop bars and are best suited to a more upright riding position.
Freight bikes/cargo bikes, are hugely popular in Europe. They usually have three wheels and the kids sit in a sturdy box in front of you, strapped in with a safety harness.
These bikes are a super option if you want to carry several children (and your cargo!). Plus the kids get to see where you’re going and have space to shift around. Some even come with fittings for a baby car seat.
Cargo bikes are very expensive and hard to come by in South Africa. They are also heavy and are best suited to flat areas in the city – after all they were invented in Holland!
NEW or SECONDHAND?
While new trailers and bike seats can be expensive, you can find good second-hand ones for sale both online and at bike shops. There are also companies who offer them for rental, allowing you to give them a try before you decide to buy.
CYCLING TANDEM (3yrs and up)
Now that your kids are a bit older you are probably itching to get out on the road and go on longer rides together. Using a tag-along, trailgater or tandem enables you to cycle further and longer than your child’s stamina might otherwise allow and even take on multi-day touring!
TAG-ALONG TRAILER BIKE
Tag-alongs (also known as trailer bikes or third wheels) are single-wheeled kids bikes that attach either to your seat post or on a rear rack so that they can pivot for turning.
They allow a child to be towed along and are great as your child can choose to pedal, or just freewheel and enjoy the ride. They are suitable for 4- to 7-year-olds and enable you to cycle farther than your child’s stamina might otherwise allow. Tag alongs are a great for introducing kids to the experience of riding on a road with traffic.
You can get a bit of wobble, which can be a bit unnerving at first. It is best to try out a few kinds and see which is the most stable. Kids are exposed to the elements and traffic and will need to be dressed to protect them from the rain and sun. They can get much colder than you, especially if they choose not to pedal.
Tandems are bicycles made for two and are one of the best ways to safely cover long distances with younger kids. Kids can learn to ride on a tandem from as early as three. Riding stoker (is less pressure for a child than riding their own bike.
On a tandem you get to spend quality time with your kid, having fun and lots of opportunities for I-spy and other games along the way. Being more rigid and efficient than tag alongs, tandems are great to ride. They enable you to teach your child about cadence and road safety, and get them involved in signaling. Kids learn to be part of a team – they can help out with pedaling but if they get tired, their feet will still go round, but they can relax and take in the scenery.
Tandems can be expensive and are a bit more complex to maintain. Traveling with a tandem is not easy as very few planes, buses or trains will accept them. As your child sits behind you, it is difficult to spot if they are falling asleep which can be dangerous. Handling the bike takes getting used to. You may need to fit a drag brake (a third brake) to help with braking on downhills, or when cycling in wet weather and fully loaded.
Ready to get started cycling with your kids?
PRE-RIDE CHECK LIST
When it comes to cycling with your toddler, being prepared really helps.
- Check your bike is roadworthy before going cycling with your little ones on board (repairs are better done at home or at a bike shop than on the road). Tyres should be inflated to the correct pressure and have plenty of tread. Check that the brake pads aren’t worn and the chain isn’t rusty or broken.
- You should also have reflectors on the front and back, a bell, and a front and rear light if you plan to cycle in the dark.
- Check that your bike is set up correctly ( frame size, handle bar position and seat height) to ensure you’re getting the most pedaling power and not straining. Your local bike shop can provide you with a bike fit.
CLOTHING AND HELMETS
- Wear the right clothes for the weather and activity. You don’t have to wear head-to-toe lycra. If you’re commuting to work then tailored trousers or a skirt work just as well. For rainy weather choose a breathable, waterproof jacket (check out our tips on seasonal riding).
- Keep your toddler warm and dry. As they’re sitting pretty still they won’t be generating much heat so even on a fine day, take some extra layers – just in case. The same goes for making sure that they are not overheated.
- Both you and your child must wear a helmet. It’s easier to instill this important safety step in a child’s early years before peer pressure sets in. Make sure the helmet is level when worn (not tilted back or angled to one side). It should fit snugly with side straps forming a “V” under each ear, and the chin strap should be tightened enough to allow you to slide only two fingers underneath.
BAGS, TOOLS AND EXTRAS
- Use a sturdy back pack or pannier to carry equipment – for the bike and your child.
- Take a pump, basic puncture repair kit and some bike oil for your chain.
- A good strong bike lock
- Sun screen for you and baby
- Water for both of you and a few snacks
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