What I’ve learned in two years of bicycling with my child + front-mounted kid seats we love

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Photo by Rachael Friese.
Photo by Rachael Friese.

Recently we received this question:

I’m super-excited to go carless and use a bike and child trailer to get around this summer.

Who’s got tips on biking with toddlers, from what to look for in equipment to the practicalities of getting around?

— Amy

… and I was totally stoked that we did! Back in 2010, I wrote about picking a bicycle seat for our then-one-and-a-half-year-old. That toddler has now grown into a full-fledged kid (he’ll be three soon! You guys!), and also recently graduated from his bicycle seat (we’ve been using the Bobike Mini Seat). We’ve spent the last few weeks looking for something new. Here are my favorites of the options we saw and a few things I’ve learned about bicycling with our child on board.

First and foremost: I very, very, VERY much recommend that you look around for a local bike shop and ask them any questions you might have — they’re the experts. It’s fun to look for seats online, but if you have ANY questions about whether or not a seat is safe, if it will work on your bike, or how long it might last, the bike shop is the place to go.

The practicalities of bicycling with a kid

So now let’s get into the nitty-gritty of what bicycling with your kid is like. In one word: FUN. Our son LOVES to ride around on our bicycles. He has his own tricycle that he’ll occasionally cruise around the neighborhood on, but if we’re taking a trip to a nearby cafe or grocery store, he totally loves going on the bike. In general, here are the guidelines we follow:

Check the weather ahead of time

Nothing makes you feel shittier than when you’re out biking with your kid, everyone’s having fun and singing songs, and then all of the sudden — BOOM. Thunder. We live in Alabama, and our springs are notoriously intense. Trust me, it’s totally not fun for anyone when your kid is getting rained on and you can’t do anything about it. It’s not practical or safe to carry your child and push the bike, so you’re kind of stuck making your kid endure the rain. I’m not talking a few sprinkles, but downpour. You don’t have to save your biking excursions for only perfect sunny days, but if you’re planning to be out for a few hours… try to know what might happen.

Make sure you’re all properly attired

Late winter and early spring can be pretty chilly — sometimes you’re fine in a t-shirt and jeans if you’re hanging out in the yard, but getting on a bicycle in only those items can leave you both cold. Even if it seems too warm for it, bringing a jacket or windbreaker along for your kid is probably a good idea.

Stick to less-traveled roads

My husband has no fear about bicycling with our son on the road, but he always tries to take the back roads. If we’re in a neighborhood on the way to a park I don’t mind getting in the road, but otherwise I stick to the sidewalks. I know that’s not what you’re supposed to do, but we don’t live in a bicycling-friendly city… and I’d rather not take my chances with my kid and drivers who might not realize he’s there. It’s one thing to harass me on my bike (which happens), but it’s another to do so when my child is sitting in front of me.

Now let’s talk front-mounted seats for toddlers and kids

I’m still a HUGE fan of kids sitting at the front of the bike — or rather, a big fan of my kid sitting at the front. Unfortunately, it seems like all of the front seats only carry kids up to 40 lbs. If your kid falls under that weight limit, and you think he or she will for a while, here are some awesome choices:

At $179 the Co-Rider Front Facing Mid-Mount Child Bike Seat is a little on the pricey side, but it’s perfect for kids between 2 and 5 and up to 45 lbs. It can be attached to men’s, women’s, hybrid, road, and mountain bikes, and it also has leg shields for the kidlet. I think my favorite aesthetic feature is the attached handlebars — I imagine it makes your kiddo feel like he or she is also steering the bike! I also dig the harnessing around the waist — your kid is definitely safe, but also gets to learn to balance with his or her top half free:

The Co-Rider Front Facing Mid-Mount Child Bike Seat.

The iBert Safe-T-Seat Front Child Seat ($97) is nearly half the cost of the Co-Rider, and also NEON GREEN. I had to type in all caps because you guys… it’s NEON GREEN:

The iBert Safe-T-Seat Front Child Seat.

I like this one because it was created by bicycling parents who were frustrated with their perceived lack of alternatives to bicycle trailers. It holds kids up to 38 lbs, so it’s not quite as long-lasting as other options, but it’s awesome for parents who prefer something in front of the child to keep him or her in place. It’s also super easy to load and unload — no swiveling parts or extra straps here!

If you prefer bicycle trailers (and there’s no practical reason not to — they’re just not a personal preference of mine), here’s a rad one that has room for two kids and possibly a small pet:

The InStep Take 2 Double BicycleTrailer.

Speaking of pets… I don’t know if it’s safe, but I’ve totally seen cyclists arrive at the dog park with their pet inside one of these. Cyclist pet-parents: check it out!

Comments on What I’ve learned in two years of bicycling with my child + front-mounted kid seats we love

  1. Thanks for this! Our daughter will be one soon (!!), and I’m looking forward to getting her out on the bike as soon as she’s old enough. I have wanted a front-of-the-bike seat ever since I discovered them while pregnant. I’ve still never seen anyone around here use one, though.
    I’m also looking to pick up a balance bike for her to use to get her used to cycling. Hooray for cycling families!

    • We’ve been cycling with Jasper since he was around one — the trick is finding a helmet that fits. I hope she has a lot of fun with it! 🙂

      • Getting the helmet was such a pain! We couldn’t find one for the longest time.

      • Jasper has a nutcase helmet — they’re a little expensive ($60) but it’ll last a while (the size is adjustable) and we looooved that it doesn’t have a traditional clip, so it doesn’t get caught on his neck.

  2. We are LOVING our new Croozer for 2 kid trailer. Expensive but we don’t have a car so it makes sense for us. I actually think it feels better pulling that with my 3 yo & 5 mth old on than it did having the one child in a bikeseat.

  3. Finding a helmet to fit a young toddler is definitely a challenge. We ended up special-ordering the Lazer BOB through our local bike shop. We figure it should continue to fit our little guy for at least another year.

    We’ve been cycling with our son since he was around 9 months old (he’s 19 months now) and we absolutely love our Chariot Cougar, which we use as a regular stroller, a jogging stroller, and a bike trailer!

    We’ll likely pick up a front-mounted seat as well this year just for variety. Although my dream is to buy a Christiania or a Madsen cargo bike.

  4. Are front seats ‘better’ than back seats? If so, why? We’re looking at getting a seat for our almost 2 year old and hadn’t considered front-mounted seats…..

    • I don’t think one is better than the other — I just prefer front seats because I like being able to physically see my son, talk to him during the bike ride, that kind of thing. I can’t handle the idea of the back seat or a trailer, but I think they’re all safe. It’s best to talk to your local bike shop about it! 🙂

      • Thanks. I’ll definitely give it some thought. The more i think about it the more I like the idea 🙂

        Although it’s not for me, my partner is the one with the bike….

        • In my experience (not necessarily with children, but with carrying weight on bikes) it also depend on how you feel comfortable balancing. Weight in the front will definitely influence steering a bit, esp. if the kid is moving. Not so much once you’re actually moving, but starting and stopping. Of course this becomes more relevant the bigger the kid gets.
          It also means that the kid is attached to a movable part of the bike.
          In the back the kid is attached to the solid bike frame.
          Of course if the bike falls over the kid will fall with it. Back seats often offer more protection and are available for larger kids.
          Trailers mean that the kids will unaffected even if the bike falls over. Of course they might not be a safe option if you live somewhere where people migh overlook them.

          It all depends on the size and movents of the kid, and the person driving. Strong arms mean less concern for weight on the handlebars etc.. It also depends on the kind of bike you’re using an how you’re sitting on it. I wouldn’t try to attach a front seat to a mountain-bike, but a trailer might be doable and so on.

          So, basically I second the advice of going to a bike shop and asking them what they can recommend.

    • I honestly wasn’t a fan of the front seats, after hearing how much everyone else loved them I ended up preferring the rear seat (and ultimately, the trailer). On my small-framed bicycle, my knees were always hitting the seat or I had to splay them out very uncomfortably. It worked better for my husband, who is very tall and rides a much bigger bicycle. I liked the rear seat fairly well, though I couldn’t see my daughter as well she gets a better view and seemed to enjoy it fine. We use our Chariot Cougar 1 (we found it used for a great deal) now exclusively with our 20-month old, and we are all happy. We had to buy an extra hitch so that we can easily switch it back and forth between my husbands bike and mine, and it easily converts into stroller (or running stroller, or you can pull it hiking or skiing with a harness).

  5. We were so determined to keep biking after our kid was born, but it hasn’t been as easy as we hoped. I found a toppeak rear seat on craigslist and realized there was no way to mount it to my bike. We got a used Burley trailer and she just hates being in it.
    We gave the toppeak to a friend and our kiddo likes riding in that. (Is it worth me getting a new bike?) I’ve wanted to get a front seat like the ones posted here, but my partner thinks they aren’t safe. Maybe I’ll show him this article and see if I can sway him…

    • We love love love our front seat experience! I suggest talking to your local bike shop people about it as well, and see what they think.

      • I’ve been informed that since my bike frame is so small, there wouldn’t be room for a front seat. Anyone here have an Xtracycle? It’s a big investment, but people seem to love them.

        • My partner and I just got an extracycle last week and have already spent over 25 hours out with our four year. It’s amazing. Slightly heavier to get used to and going uphill can sometimes be daunting but now, even just a week in, we’re in love with our new cargo bike. we got ours at Clevercycles.com in Portland and had awesome customer service and they offer a free tuneup for bike purchases.

  6. We are major fans of the back-mounted Yepp seat. We’ve been using it for a year now for commuting and fun times around the East Bay, and Uli, our son, loves it. Our guy is tall and big, so I think the stability is a little better having him behind us. Plus, a lot of our friends have had issues with having their knees knocking against their front seats or having to bow out their legs, which makes biking for more than a mile or so really taxing. Uli has taken naps in his seat, and while we don’t go a long ways in any one trip, we’ve gone up to 10 miles at once and he’s been happy the entire way. I really recommend checking out the Yepp Maxi: http://www.rei.com/product/815613/yepp-maxi-rear-bicycle-child-carrier

  7. We’ve got a trailer, and I like it a lot. It’s take Oz a while to get used to it (he haaaaated the helmet at first), but now he’s good to go as long as we’re actually *going.* If we stop, he starts to get antsy.

    I’m not so keen on having him way back there, but the trailer serves a multitude of purposes for us (kid-hauler, grocery-hauler, multiple kid-hauler), and Consumer Reports found them to be the safest, so. I totally want one of those front seats, though.

    • I haven’t tried it, but my local baby consignment shop sells them (new) so I’ve had a chance to look at it (as I’m in the market for a trailer myself).
      We have a CityMini stroller for our daughter, and we love BabyJogger, but are not sure that the POD is worth it. It’s in the same price range as some of the Chariot models ($600), and I figure if I’m going to pay that much money I’m going to go with the company that has been making the best rated bike trailers for the last 20-something years.
      It wasn’t that the POD was bad… it converts, has space for 2, storage space and all that jazz. I just preferred the Chariot (especially the versawings which makes going from a bike trailer to a stroller a snap).
      Oh – And good quality Chariots are fairly easy to find 2nd hand – POD, being brand new, are not. 🙂

  8. My son rides happily in a trailer we got off of craigslist. He’s four. But I’m about to have another baby in August and having an infant that far from me seems uncomfortable. Mostly for me. Anyone know any bike seats good for an infant?

    • I looked into this. I may have missed something, but I couldn’t find any seat recommended for under 12 months. That’s why we ended up with a trailer from having a bikeseat (& so we could bike with infant as well as preschooler)

    • I looked into this. I may have missed something, but I couldn’t find any seat recommended for under 12 months. That’s why we ended up with a trailer from having a bikeseat (& so we could bike with infant as well as preschooler)

      • I think you’re right. We didn’t have J on the bike in a seat until we could find a helmet to fit him, and I’m pretty sure this was all after 12 months. His head has always been fairly large compared to the rest of him, so that helped. 😉 We also have a car, so we used that or the bus to get around before then.

        • I’m from a biking country, but I’m pretty sure that my mom carried us all in a sling (an Ergo type carrier) on her bike when my siblings and I were newborns. As soon as we could sit for a longer period, she put us in the front seat. Safety can be an issue, but if you bike on bike paths etc. it should be fine.

    • Biking with an infant is not generally recommended until the child is at least 6mths old and can sit up on their own and wear a helmet. The general recommendations are to wait until 1 year of age.
      Chariot makes both a Baby Sling and Baby Bivy for newborns 0-6mths that fit into their trailers, however they are meant for strolling only and not biking. They also have a Baby Supporter meant for kids 6-18mths, to be used for biking and strolling.

  9. Sorry for double comment! You can’t put babies in any trailer, there are only some models that are suitable. Chariot, Croozer… Or a bakfiets with a carseat welded to the floor.

  10. When my sister and I were very young, my mom had a bike she pulled out of the river and carried both of us on. One in the front and one in the back. She said we would occasionally be devious, and the one in the front would change the gears (because levers are fun for little kids!) and the one in the back would wiggle and throw off the balance. My sister wasn’t quite 1 year old and I wasn’t quite 3 by the time we moved to an area where she couldn’t do it any more.

  11. I really like the idea of a front seat. We currently use a trailer, but mister monster gets antsy. I think he would much prefer a front seat. However, I have short arms. Is it uncomfortable reaching around your little ones? Or can they move in a way that causes you to be off balance?

  12. I am not a bike person to be honest but I plan to be with my daughter who is 14 months. We have some warm weather coming our way. What kind of bike is best? I would love some help in getting this started!

    • I’d say a good bike would be one you feel secure on. If you want a front seat you’ll need to sit upright enough for there to be space for the baby. And if you’re having the kid on a bike seat it’s probably a good idea to have the saddle a bit lower so you can comfotably reach the ground with your feet, esp. if you’re not used to biking a lot.

      If you’re using a trailer then they are usually attached under the saddle and can be attached to pretty much any bike.

      I’d second the advice on bike stores though. They can advise you and should also have some option for you to try out, to see how you feel comfortable.

  13. In regard to the discussion about how young is too young… The age at which we could start biking with our son was something we really struggled with. In my city children must wear helmets even in trailers, so I waited until I felt his head could support a helmet, which turned out to be around 9 months of age. However, I think if it hadn’t been for societal pressure and helmet laws we would have started younger.

    In North America (I live in Canada) people get really freaked out about taking kids on bikes. (They also get freaked out about pregnant ladies biking, as I discovered during my pregnancy!)

    I know that in many European cities people bike with their newborns in bakfiets type cargo bikes, or in trailers. And even if you look at the Chariot website – the North American version warns not to use it as a bike trailer before 1 year of age, but the European site has no such warning!

    The Globe and Mail (one of Canada’s national papers) ran an article about cycling with infants last year. I feel that the parents profiled in the article were all very cautious of their children’s safety, and I think it’s great that they were able to find a way to get out cycling with their little ones so early!

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/parenting/young-children/children-trends/how-young-is-too-young-to-bike-with-your-kid/article2113366/

    • There is definitely a culture thing in the US about it. We started ridng with our son when he was about 6-7 months old. We put his bucket car seat into the trailer and strapped it down tight. THen we buckled him into the car seat without a helmet. We only did leisure rides on designated bike paths until we felt comfortable going without the bucket. Now he rides in the trailer buckled in and wears a helmet. We still stick to quieter neighborhood roads & bike pathes though.

    • Yeah, I’ve noticed people getting weirded out about me riding my bike. I imagine it will only get worse as I get closer to my third trimester. But my midwife is cool with it so everyone else can suck it. 🙂

      • I’m now 7 months and am still biking. I raised my handle bars a couple of weeks ago to make room for the spawn. I’ve found that since I’ve been biking the whole time, balance hasn’t been a big issue. The one thing I’ve had issues with is round ligament pain. I’ve started wearing a support belt when I bike, and that’s helped a lot. My OB says, “Just don’t tell me about it!”

      • From what I hear it’s actually easier to bike than to walk at the end of the pregnancy.

  14. We LOVE to bike!!! We have a rear mounted seat and often talk about what we’re seeing! We also have a trailer that he enjoys. My son fit into a helmet at 7 mo (he’s a big guy) but he couldn’t really control his head. At eleven mo he was enjoying the trailer. I was gifted a rear seat and now at 16 mo he says bike and helmet!! You can’t beat the convenience of the bike seat. It does make it difficult to carry anything else though…

  15. I also have a short “women’s” bike, to fit my shorter stature. So front mounted seats were not going to work. We went with the Co-Pilot Limo http://www.amazon.com/CoPilot-Limo-Bicycle-Child-Seat/dp/B000G1YO2I The kiddo is two and loves it. Because my frame is short, my butt actually rests on the padded handlebar of the seat, which give me some extra cushion. It also keeps him closer to me, so the balance issue isn’t so bad. Only big problem was that he could kick out of the food straps and get in the way of my pedaling. I just put a pair of my socks over the foot rests and that has solved the problem. I would definitely recommend it for those looking at rear mounted options. I would also highly recommend going to your bike shop to get it fitted. Mine let me try it out first before I bought it

  16. Thanks for posting my question!!

    It’s very difficult to find trailers where I live, so options being limited I’m trying to choose between two vastly different models – the Burley Bee (wayyy cheaper) and the Chariot Cougar 1. The main difference that matters to me is that the Cougar has suspension.

    Does anyone have any feedback in regard to how much difference having a suspension on trailers makes?

    • I’m interested in this too.
      Also, what about baby seats and clipless pedals? I have recently transitioned to clipless pedals (which I love) and for that reason think I might be a bit safer biking with my babe in a trailer than a seat in case I fall from the pedals. Plus I’ve heard some of the front-mounted seats can get in the way of clipless pedals. Anyone?

    • Get the Cougar! The suspension is totally worth it. I know if I had to rattle around in a trailer with no suspension I would hate it, so presumably kids do too. We are going to use a trailer for bicycle touring, and decided on the Cougar over the Burley Bee. Primarily because a German family we met riding their bicycles from Alaska to Patagonia was using the Chariot with their toddler and it was really fantastic for them. We found our Cougar used on Craigslist ($250 I think) and it was worth every penny. It feels much better quality to me than the Burley, I’m always psyched about how smoothly it goes together and hooks up, it feels very secure, and our daughter is content.

  17. I don’t have kids, but my little dog fits perfectly in my bike trailer. Her short stubby legs could never keep up, but I don’t need to leave her at home when I’m out and about.

  18. Just wanted to say thanks for the input and express how much I like the Co-Rider. I picked 1 up off Amazon for about $125 total. It is AWESOME (in my child’s words).

    My son is 3 now, about 35 pounds, the Co-Rider puts him right there in the cockpit w/me so we can talk and really ride the bike. He’s learning how to lean into the corners w/me and he can stand up a bit when we have to hop a curb or hit a big bump. If you like to really ride your bike, and want to share that w/your kid, I don’t think it can be beat.

    Fun!!

  19. Reviving an old post with this comment but with biking weather hopefully coming around the corner, I’m excited!

    We bought a Burley Honey Bee before our son was born and started using it with him when he was 3 months old. The trailer has some decent suspension and after a few test we realized that it was no more bumpy than him riding in the backseat of my Jeep Wrangler. The infant seat straps right in like the car and he absolutely loved it. It is generally frowned on in the US to mix babies and bicycles. There are some support and how to sites if you dig deep enough. A big issue is the lack of helmet but that’s why we used the carseat and the trailer has a metal frame/roll cage like my jeep.

    We also have the Burley Tail Wagon which is a trailer designed for hauling cargo and dogs. So the whole family can ride together as well as get around when we go camping in the summer on wheels!

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