As soon as your child is old enough to support his or her own neck and wear a child's bike helmet
, you can start enjoying bicycle rides together. Usually this is when the child is about one year old (sometimes younger, with a pediatrician's approval).
With a young child, there are two primary methods of bike child transportation, which include bike child seats and bike child trailers
(which are generally considered to be a safer overall solution).
Believe it or not, we have opinions on these two methods.
This page focuses on bike child seats. Click here for information on Bike Child Trailers
The risk factor of bike child seats basically come down to the fact that if the cyclist crashes, the child will crash as well. Crashing on a bicycle with child in a bike child seat can cause the child to hit the ground with quite a bit of force because the position of the seat is high off of the ground. The added weight on the bike itself alters the handling, which means a cyclists with weak abilities is more likely to crash. Most bike child seats offer plenty of impact resistance in the form of partial wrap-around side and head protection protection.
The primary safety advantages of bike child seats are that they do not increase the "target" size of the bike and passengers, and (unlike a trailer) a bike child seat will never clip a curb or other object on the ground during tight maneuvering.
If you want to maximize the time you can spend cycling with your child, you will start with a front-mounted seat and then buy a rear-mounted seat sometime after your child is two-and-a-half years old, and perhaps another seat after the child turns five. That's three seats over the course of five or so years, as opposed to one quality bike trailer. Do the math.
Bike child seats mount to either the front or rear of the bicycle with a variety of different mounting systems. In both cases the child faces forward so that he or she is looking the same direction as the adult rider.
Bike child seats offer a number of convenience factors.
First off, a bike child seat is a more compact unit relative to a bike child trailer. This makes storage easier as well as maneuvering a bicycle into small apartments or workplaces or other places where space is at a premium. The same goes for maneuverability while riding on the streets in crowded and twisty or otherwise difficult to maneuver areas.
Front or Rear Mounted Bike Child Seats
- Front Mounted : Child seats that mount to the front of the bike lets you ride with a child as young as nine months (if they are able to sit up by themselves) until they weigh 30 to 40 pounds (depending on the model), or about three to four years old. So the use life is slightly more limited than a rear seat -- particularly for singletons. The child is more exposed to wind and bugs up front, which is why some brands such as Yepp offer a windshield option for their front-mounted seats. The weight of the child is closer to the natural center of gravity for cycling, so handling is easier. Typically, the seat is mounted to the frame, not to the handlebars (which would affect steering and balance). One advantage that many parents appreciate is the interactivity with the child up front. It's much easier to communicate with the child ("Look! It's a kitty!"), and to gauge the quality of their experience during the ride. Is the kid as happy to be cycling as you are? Some front-mounted child seats can be finicky about which bikes they will mount, so read the specifications carefully before buying.
- Rear Mounted : With the ability to carry heavier children, rear-mounted seats can provide more years of use per child, but typically the child must be about two-and-a-half years old. Most rear seats hold a child up to 40 or even 48 pounds, and will require a rear rack rated for that much or more weight -- not to mention stronger stronger cycling skills. For older children, there are seats that can carry up to 77 pounds, such as those made by Bobike. (If you want to carry more human weight than that on a bike, lucky you, you are in the market for a longtail bike, such as an Xtracycle, which has many available accessories for carrying passengers of all sizes.) The more weight you put on the rear of your bike, the more difficult the handling becomes -- especially when the majority of the weight is above platform of the rear rack. We only carry rear seats that meet or exceed the ASTM International safety standard F1625. (There is no standard for front-mounted seats.) Standards-compliant rear seats have more back support than front seats.
- Harness System: Any bike child seat made for child younger than five should a padded, adjustable five-point harness to securely restrain your child. Seats made for children five to ten years usually only have a simple seatbelt.
- Grab Bar / Lap Bar: Not strictly necessary, a seat with a grab bar gives the child something to hold onto and may contribute to the child's sense of security.
- Foot Rests & Straps: Holding and shielding your child's feet is not just about comfort; it protects their feet from being caught in the wheel or brake of the bike.
- Double Kickstand: This is not a safety feature of any child seat; it's just something you should have. Your bike is much less likely to tip over with a double kickstand -- a kickstand with two legs that will hold your bike upright when you are loading and unloading your child to or from the seat. A standard one-legged kickstand always has your bike leaning, which is fine until your bike becomes top heavy with a child. A two-legged kickstand, such as the ESGE Double Kickstand gives you much more stability. You spend less of your effort holding the bike up. Although you should never leave the bike and child unattended in the child seat. A squirmy kid, a gust of wind, or other factors can cause the bike and child to tip over. (And you don't want that.)
- Seat Padding: Seat padding should soften the bumps for the child, but also be durable, washable, and tear resistant. Yepp Child Seats are made a comfortable perforated EVA polymer which cannot tear, and there is no stuffing to absorb and moisture or come out.
- Headrest: Children younger than five need a headrest on a rear seat. Even children who can hold their heads up while wearing a helmet can get tired.
- Arm Rests: Some models offer arm rests, which are not required for safety. Arm rests may make it more difficult to load the child into the seat.
- Adjustability: As your child grows, you will need to adjust the footrests and arm rests. Most models have a reasonable range of adjustability.
- Suspension: Having suspension on a bike child seat is a marketing add-on, but with minimal benefit for the child and added weight for the adult to carry (plus added cost). Some brands, such as Kettler and Topeak offer child seats with suspension, which compromise on quality in other areas.
Mounting to Your Bike
- Mounting System: Most child seats (front or rear) have a bracket that mounts semi-permanently to the bike frame or bike rack, and allow the seat to be removed and reattached relatively easily. Some seats come with a mounting bracket that does not require a rear rack. With any seat, you should read the specifications carefully to make sure that it will be compatible with your bike and bike rear rack.
- Switching Between Bikes: Your bike child seat will come with the mounting hardware for one bike. If you wish to switch the seat between bikes, you will need to buy an additional adapter that is compatible with the both the seat and the second bike. In rare cases it may not be possible possible because the two bikes are are not compatible with the same seat. (An example of this are the Yepp Maxi Bike Child Seat and the Yepp Maxi Easyfit / Xtracycle Peapod III Bike Child Seat; nearly identical in appearance but the former is for most standard bikes, and the latter is for longtail cargo bikes.)
Adams : Known for their Trailer-Cycles for children three years old and oder, Adams also makes the Adams Trail-A-Bike Baby Seat which allows children as young as one year old to enjoy a ride behind the adult.
iBert : Specializing in the front child bike seat, iBert is all about kids riding up in front, feeling the breeze and having fun.
Yepp : Winners of many design awards, Yepp bike seats have been certified in accordance with the most stringent European as well as US safety standards.