Bicycling is a great way to get outside, get exercise, and see a lot of terrain quickly. The pace of travel can also do wonders for acclimating a child to traveling at speed, as well as becoming accustomed to wind.
Safety and Gear
Safety considerations for biking with a baby or child are the same for hiking and running. For more details on these general safety and planning details, see the Activities sections for Hiking and Running.
Specifically for bicycling, the main safety issue is that of crashing at speed. To address this issue, children traveling with a parent’s bike should be secured to the bike via one of the accepted baby transport options, below, and the child and parent should both be wearing helmets. Consumer Reports, a nonprofit consumer education organization has evaluated helmets, trailers, seats, and other bicycle related items, plus provide some input on safety considerations for biking with trailers and child bike seats in this Consumer Reports Buying Guide Article. Consumer Reports recommends abstaining for bicycling with babies until they are at least 1 year old, but some manufacturers of trailers market trailers for infants (with infant car seats inserted) or bike seats for 9 month olds. Consider what the child will need to do to stay comfortable and safe before considering any activity with your baby. A baby in a trailer without a car seat should be able to slide him/herself up to sitting if (s)he slides off the trailer’s bench. a difficult task for some one-year-olds. In a hard bike seat, a baby needs to be able to confidently hold his/her head steady while the bike bounces about. It’s best to keep bike trips extremely short at first, to determine your child’s preparedness for such an outing.
All helmets should be certified by Snell or Consumer Product Safety Commision (CPSC). Helmets typically contain a compressible form of foam that will age over time, heat and sun exposure, and will compress with sudden pressure applied. For this reason, helmets should come with expiration dates stamped on them, so you can replace the helmet before the foam loses its ability to compress and protect you. Helmets can be purchased in youth sizes through your local sports or bicycle shop. Most types are adjustable for a left-right, forward-back fit; ask your vendor to show you how to adjust it. All helmets have adjustable straps that need to be fitted to your child. A chin strap is appropriately tight if one adult finger of space occurs between the bottom of the chin and the strap. To avoid pinching the baby’s neck skin when buckling the helmet on, ask your child to look to the sky/ceiling. This will improve your visibility and stretch the skin taught.
Bicycle Transport Options
There are a large range of options for traveling with a baby or child when biking.
- Trailer: This is one of the most popular bike transport options, as the child is out of the parent’s way, and there is usually some room for extra gear in the trailer. With this extra space, you can also add extra padding or even rig a car seat into a trailer, for extra support, comfort, and safety. This is the only method to safety carry more than one baby on a single bicycle.However, trailers have three main limitations:
- The trailer adds significant mass to the rear of the bike, making it extremely difficult to maneuver in tight locations or around sharp corners.
- Given the first limitation, it’s a good thing that the trailer sits so low, as if the bike falls to the side, the trailer is most likely not to spill to the side. However, the closeness of the trailer to the ground means very little clearance for passing over small road hazards, and if the trailer is overloaded with a heavy object (like a cooler or groceries), they may be left dragging along the ground.
- Most trailers lack a lot of structure to support children. Trailer companies know this and market them for older children. BOB and Chariot have worked to improve this. To judge if a trailer has the support you’ll need, imagine your child sleeping in the trailer on a moderatly bumpy ride.
Trailer features to look for:
- Always check how the trailer is attached to the bike. Some trailers have a small piece that simply grips the back of the bike with an almost inconsequential
- safety catch if the initial piece comes off. Considering that the trailer is handling its own terrain directly, the attachment of the bike to the trailer is significant.
- The trailer sits lower than the bike, so visibility is important. Some trailers come in bright colors. Others have flags that hang high. Both are excellent ideas.
- A frame for structural support. Most trailers come with a bench above a fabric floor. If baby moved off the bench to the floor, would the floor colapse to run along the ground? If the trailer tipped, would it collapse?
- Features that allow the trailer to be folded up and stored when not in use, as this is the largest bicycle transport option.
- Windows with vents so scenery can be enjoyed without too much dust, pollution, or heat.
- Rear Bike Seat: This is one of the most popular options for traveling with a baby or toddler when biking. Here, a hard plastic seat equipped with a seat belt and often a safety bar, is permanently attached to the back of the bike, over the rear wheel. There are a few drawbacks to this form of baby transport:
- The extra weight on the back means that the center of gravity is shifted back. This means that the kick stand, which was placed for a center of gravity farther forward, may not work.
- The seat sits in the already compact space of the bike, so you may not be able to wear a backpack while riding.
Rear bike seat features to look for:
- Adjustable seat belt.
- Padded seat.
- Be sure that the seat will attach to the bike if the bike is small or the seat must be at its lowest setting.
- Front Bike Seat: This device fits above the front wheel of the bike, near the handlebars. This may be the most enjoyable for baby, as (s)he can see so easily, as well as the parent, as there’s no need to look back to check on baby.Here are a few drawbacks to this form of baby transport:
- For parents with smaller torsos, it may be difficult to maneuver the bike and look forward, without getting a mouthful of baby’s bike helmet.
- Similarly, it may require a new riding posture so the adult’s knees aren’t banging into the baby seat, which may furthermore make it really difficult to ride efficiently up long, steep hills.
- Some of the designs put baby’s legs beneath the handlebars, limiting the foot and leg size of the baby, meaning you may not be able to use this for a long time or with large, hard shoes on baby.
Front bike seat features to look for:
- Adjustable seat belt.
- Padded seat.
- Be sure that the seat will attach to the bike is the bike is small or the handlebars are low and narrow, or have curve to them.
Smooth is the rule for initial riding with a young child. Avoid those potholes and rugged trails until your child is old enough to take directions (3 years of age or older), then start him/her on a trailer-cycle or a tandem seat behind you or his/her own bike!
Regardless of your baby transport choice, your bicycle will become heavier and potentially wider, plus you’ll have precious cargo to look out for.
Characteristics of trails suitable for early family outings include paved trails, wide trails, and trails with two lanes. Find a trail using the search engine at the top right of this window or see the recommendations in the Stroller Hikes Location Comparison Chart.
Favoring trails over city streets means avoiding dangerous motorized traffic, but nevertheless be aware that trails are often busy with their own human-powered traffic. Here are the rules of the trail to be aware of:
- Non-humans rule. If you come upon any animal, including a horse, while riding, slow and change your position to give ample space to the animal to get past you. Animals are unpredictable and will not always yield to you.
- Stay to the right with other forward-facing traffic as if you were driving on a street.
- Faster traffic passes on the left, then returns to the right. This is also a rule of cars, as if you were driving on the street.
- Be predictable. With traffic potentially ahead and behind, it’s important to select a line and pace of travel, and stick to it.
- Communicate with others. Non-verbal communication is key for communicating a change in pace, direction, passing, and so on. Use body language, eye contact, and verbal cues to tell others of your intentions, so sharing the trail is easier. Popular terms include:
- Rider up: Indicates another bike rider is ahead of you, in your group. Tell a biker that is overtaking you (in the same direction as you) this so (s)he can anticipate passing another bike.
- Rider back: Indicates another bike rider is behind you, in your group. Tell a biker that is passing you (going in the opposite direction as you) this so (s)he can anticipate passing another bike.
- Uphill traffic gets priority over downhill traffic, as it’s far easier to start from a stop, going downhill, than it is going uphill. If passing on a hill, remember this.
- Rules can be broken when safety is an issue, but ideally they are broken at slow speeds. For instance, when riding with my son on a narrow path on a steep hill, I decided to ride on the left side of the path, as it was farthest from the downhill side of the hill and safest if we were to stop and tip to the side. However, while I was riding on the left side of the hill, I made plenty of room for others, reduced my speed in case I needed to stop suddenly, and announced my presence at blind turns.
- Avoid big bumps, jumps, and sudden stops with baby. Remember that your child cannot generally anticipate big changes in motion, moving off of the seat or bracing him/herself.
Recommendations for Biking
Biking solo can be done on some of the trails at StrollerHikes.com. For more information about recommended trails, use the Trail Comparison Chart and look for the following icon:.
Alternatively, look for a trail geographically using the Interactive Map and look for the bike-with-baby icon in that trail’s description.