In this “Hauling Your Kid by Bike” series I’ll walk you through different ways to carry your kids with you on your bike, the pros and cons of each, and how I ultimately decided on the product I did to help you figure out what fits your needs the most.
The most popular ways to haul kids by bike in the United States are bike child seats and kids bike trailers. Today we will look at the options in each of these styles and the pros/cons so that you can make an educated decision for your family. The article will end with a preview of the next part of this series, cargo bikes!
What You Need to Know About Rear Mounted Child Seats
Let me begin this section with a disclaimer. Rear mounted child seats are my least favorite option to sell when behind the counter of a bike shop. More times than not the person buying the child seat is just getting back into riding, unskilled, out of practice, and now strapping a 30+ lb squirmy kid to the rear end of their bike. If you are inexperienced or have to get on and off your bike a lot please look at the kid trailer option below.
Now that I got that disclaimer out of the way…
Pros of Rear Mounted Child Seats
- Price. This is the biggest reason parents lean towards these seats. You can find them starting at $75-80 new
- Set it and forget it. You can install the rear seat and leave it. No fussing
- 5 point harnesses (if you find one that doesn’t have a 5 point harness I do not recommend it)
- It’s simply riding a bike, your normal bike and you aren’t pulling an additional piece of equipment behind you
Cons (remember I am biased against them)
- You must keep your bike upright and steady once your child is strapped in
- There is no roll bar or sun protection
- It’s difficult for your child to fall asleep without that awkward head lean
- It is easy for your child to drop anything to the street flying under you that isn’t strapped down
Tips for Buying
There are many great brands out there for rear mounted child seats ranging from $80-230. The Yepp Maxi is by far the most sought after due to multiple colors and available safety/comfort. It is also not cheap at $230. I have seen these resell after 2 years of use for $150 so they do keep their value! Other reputable brands are Co-Pilot (Blackburn) and Giant.
Buying used is another great option for these seats as it is pretty obvious if the seat has been dropped or abused. Triple check the rack that the seat mounts on will fit your bike and has all the hardware. This is a great piece of Craigslist equipment to potentially meet someone at your local bike shop so the shop can confirm everything will work before you buy it.
Tips for Using
Practice riding with out them with the seat installed. My typically recommendation for new moms is to strap a pillow in the seat and practice getting on and off the bike and strapping the pillow in and out without tipping over the bike.
Finally, your child must be old enough to sit and hold their head up with a helmet. I’ve seen recommendations of 9 months to a year, but I will say that my pediatrician wife says a year as the child needs to be able to control their upper body from whiplash if you need to stop suddenly. Your child MUST wear a helmet at all times in one of these. I also recommend eye protection and sunscreen / SPF shirt.
What You Need to Know About Kid Bike Trailers
I wish I could convey how much I love bike trailers. I’m a bit biased towards these and would happily open a bike shop to specialize in bike trailers.
Pros of Kid Bike Trailers
- A roll bar and typically a knuckle at the trailer hitch that keeps the trailer from tipping over if you knock your bike over
- Mesh covering. Sometimes a weather cover and tinted windows
- 5 point harness
- 1 or 2 kid carrying options (not all trailer carry two children so please double check)
- Kids are enclosed. Through in snacks, their favorite bear, a pillow, an iPad, whatever you want
- Some models can be turned into strollers, joggers and tow-behind snowshoe sleds
- You aren’t limited to kids. Carry other stuff in them like groceries, camping gear or a Home Depot run
Cons of Kid Bike Trailers
- They are more expensive than seats. Typically starting at $250-300
- They add additional length to your bike. You have to think about the trailer behind you when riding and turning
- They take up more room in your car if you need to transport them somewhere
- It’s another thing to keep up, inflate tires and check over
- If you use this often I would recommend a rear fender for your bike as you the back tire may fling up dirt or water onto your child
Tips for Buying
Throwing another personal opinion into this as you’re here to read my opinion, right? I prefer Burley trailers over any other brand. They make a great product (not the cheapest), have a strong warranty and wonderful customer service. Additionally I have friends that have had a Burley trailer for 15+ years that is now their grocery getter until they have grandkids to tow around. Other major brands of trailers are Thule (was Chariot), Croozer, and Giant. Decide if you want to fit 1 or 2 kids in the trailer, and if accessories like a stroller attachment sound nice to you.
Tips for Using
Trailers will normally require mounting a small hitch to the back of your bike. It isn’t as major as it sounds but if you aren’t mechanical have a bike shop help you, or click on the advice link and I’ll be happy to help you over FaceTime/Skype if needed! This hitch will attach to your bike and the trailer then attaches to the hitch. Again, read directions please! Practice for a couple rides with the trailer without kids inside if possible. This could be around the block or if you plan on going on a true adventure with sharp turns/speed do test ride without kids. You have to take turns wider and you’ll notice the extra weight behind you on up hills. Tires use tubes like your bike. Pick up a tube in the right size and keep it in the back of the trailer. Check your tires on the trailer when you check your bike. Pay attention to inflation rating as it is probably different than your bike.
Kids must wear helmets and be able to sit up on their own with the helmet. My wife (the pediatrician) and Burley both feel strongly that you should wait until a year for your child. The ride in a trailer can be bumpy and they need to be able to control their upper body if you stop or swerve suddenly. Finally, I had the genius idea of trying to put my daughters car seat into the trailer. She is 5 months old and still must face backwards in her seat so I thought this would fix everything. Well a few things happened: I didn’t get out of the garage because it didn’t seem secure enough. Burley personally emailed me recommending against it. My in-house counsel/doctor didn’t approve (nor did I). The trailer didn’t support the seat enough to keep it secure. Since the car seat was going to be facing backwards I couldn’t stand the idea of not being able to see my daughter unless I stopped and got off of my bike. Moral of the story, you may see photos on the internet of folks doing this, but please don’t.
Next Up in Our Hauling Your Kid By Bike Series
The next article in this series is about cargo bikes and specifically we will review long-tail cargo bikes like the Xtracycle and front box bikes like the Bullitt. A small hint, I’m ending up with a version of one of these bikes!
Featured Photo Credit: Richard Masoner