Guidelines for using child seats and trailers on your bike

Bicycling is a lifelong sport, and many cyclists get their first introduction as passengers in child seats installed on the back of mom's or dad's bike, or in bicycle trailers.

Child seats

Those extra seats you see mounted above the rear wheel of an adult's bike allow folks with young children help make cycling a family activity.

Child seats are designed for young children who:

  • Are able to sit up well by themselves

  • Have necks that have developed enough strength to support the additional weight of a lightweight helmet (usually over 1 year old)

  • Weigh less than 40 pounds (usually 4 years old or younger)

    Children who are too young to be carried in a child seat may not receive the support and protection they need. As they grow and get heavier, the extra weight can make it more difficult for the adult rider to control the bike.

    The Bicycle Institute of America recommends you consider the following when you buy a child seat to mount on your bike:

  • Shop for a bicycle-mounted child seat intended for use over the rear wheel only.

  • Check with your bicycle dealer. Your bike may not be suitable for a rear-mounted child seat or may need special attention to safely and securely mount the seat.

  • Look for a seat that is designed to keep your child's feet away from the spokes of the wheel. Most seats provide molded foot wells, and some have additional spoke guards.

  • A seat with a high back supports your child's head (and helmet), an important feature as children often fall asleep during a ride.

  • A seat should have a sturdy lap and shoulder seat belt much like the one on your child's car seat.

  • Get your child a bicycle helmet and use it every time the two of you ride. Don't forget yours either!

    You need to know just a few more things before you set out with a child seat on your bike. Riding with your child will not feel the same as when you ride alone. With the extra weight of your child above the rear wheel, the bike is less stable, particularly when you are slowing down or have stopped.

    Prop the bike up against something sturdy, like the side of a building when putting your child in the seat and when you get on and off the bike, particularly if yours is a diamond (men's) frame. Once you have stopped, resist the temptation to let your child continue his or her nap in the seat. Never leave your child in the seat unattended.

    With your child in back, plan to go slower and take all turns gently. It will also take you longer to stop with the extra weight, so keep that in mind. Avoid busy streets and rainy weather. Try belting a sandbag that weighs the same as your child in the child seat and take a few practice runs around the neighborhood. On hot days, keep track of your time between breaks. Stop often, and remember, you both need water.

    Bicycle trailers

    For some bicycle-riding families, a bicycle trailer is worth the extra investment. While some models cost six to eight times more than a bicycle-mounted child seat, a trailer can minimize adverse effects that carrying an extra load may have on a bicycle.

    Because passengers are supported by the trailer and not the bicycle, a child's weight and sudden movements are less apt to affect handling of the bicycle. Some cyclists say that the trailer's method of attachment (either at the seatpost or at the rear axle) helps make the parent's bicycle feel almost the same as when riding alone. When pulling a trailer, however, it is important to remember to take corners wide enough and carefully so curbs do not cause the trailer to tip.

    Trailers are available in various designs that either seat your child facing forward or toward the rear. Some are designed to carry more than one child or loads up to 100 pounds. Many offer overhead covering and side panels for additional comfort and space for toys and a snack. Look for a trailer that has lap and shoulder belts to keep your child securely seated.

    Whether a child seat or a trailer is best for you, bicycle helmets are strongly recommended for both you and your child. So get your helmets on, fasten your child's seatbelt and enjoy exploring the world together.


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