Biking with a Baby: Everything You Need to Know
May 2016 Note: This post continues to be one of my most popular—which means there are lots of people out there interested in the subject. I’ve updated it to answer even more questions and provide additional options for biking with babies. Please remember—I am not a doctor or a child development expert. I’m a mom and cyclist. Talk to your pediatrician about when biking with your baby is appropriate.
One question I get asked all the time is “when can you start biking with a baby?” This query comes from parents who are avid cyclists and are itching to get back on the bike, as well as moms who are new to biking but are anxious to get out of the house and do something active with their young babe.
The quick and easy answer to this question is “one year old.” This is the recommended age provided by the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP). Around 12 months old, babies develop the neck strength required to support the weight of a helmet and to keep their head from bobbling when riding over bumps.
With our own son, we waited until a few weeks before his first birthday to start riding. Even though we were desperate to start riding sooner, we decided to err on the side of caution and follow the AAP recommendation. We used both a trailer and a front-mounted child seat right away. Both his and our favorite at this age ended up being the front-mounted seat. It allowed him to be up close to dad where he felt safe, provided him a great view of whatever was going on, and let us keep an eye on him without having to turn around.
There is another, more controversial, school of thought that riding with babies (in a safe way) is not only okay but something that we should absolutely do. As more and more families realize the devastating impact of a car culture, they are giving up their automobiles for bicycles. If you don’t have a car, and you have a baby, you’re going to have to ride. Parents in Europe–and all over the world for that matter–do it; so should we.
Options for biking with a baby (under 12 months)
For folks who aren’t willing to wait until a year old, there are several options for hauling a baby. With any setup you want to ensure that their neck is supported, that they aren’t being jostled, and that they are reasonably protected in the event of a tipover. Here are a couple of my favorite options.
One of the sanest articles I’ve read on biking with a baby is over on the Totcycle blog. This Seattle-based doctor, recommends using a cargo bike with a bucket—examples are the Dutch bakfiets or Madsen. In this scenario, you would simply secure your baby’s carseat into the bucket. Amongst the family-cycling, cargo-biking crew this is probably the most common setup.
Read more about cargo bikes and some of our favorites:
For recreational cyclists, the most popular option for biking with a baby is the good old bicycle trailer. This is my least favorite choice because of the potential jostling of baby, but on the other hand, it is the most affordable. If you do choose to bike with a baby in the trailer, ensure that you get a really good one. I recommend the Thule Chariot Cougar as it has suspension and the “roll cage” will do a good deal to prevent injury in the event of a tipover or accident. Many trailer manufacturers have infant seats or slings but they market them for strolling only. Nonetheless, I know several parents who have used the Chariot infant sling for biking with great success. Another, perhaps even safer, option is to simply strap a carseat into the trailer.
Options for biking with a baby (over 12 months)
For those of you have made it to that critical year-old point, your options have just increased. All of the above options are still viable, although you can now ditch the carseat. In addition to the Taga, the bucket bike, and the trailer, you can also consider:
Front-mounted baby bike seat.
As I mentioned already, our favorite way to ride with our son at 1 year-old was a front-mounted seat (specifically the iBert). These seats attach to the front of an adults bike and allow little people to have an interactive ride. At this age, the best baby bike seats have a harness to keep little ones secure. We love the front-mounted seats because they allow you to keep your baby close and to talk to them as you explore the world together.
Rear-mounted baby bike seat.
A rear mounted bike seat attaches either to the adult seatpost or a rear rack on the bike. The advantage of this setup is that it can grow with your child (expect it to last thru several years of riding). Because babies love to nap on the bike, we like rear bike seats that offer a place for sleepy, floppy heads to rest.
Baby Bike Helmets
If you choose to bike with an infant, you shouldn’t put a helmet on them. Why not? For one, their necks just aren’t strong enough. The helmet will do more harm than good by adding weight to the head and pushing the head forward. Secondly, if they are in one of my suggested car seat set-ups, there will never be a linear fall—which is all a helmet is designed to protect against.
Once your baby is a year old, or when you switch to a no-carseat riding arrangement, then you should put a helmet on them. Read this article on which helmets are best for this age group.
Before biking with your baby, make sure you know the laws in your area. Some states strictly prohibit biking with a child under 12 months, and some require all children to wear a helmet (something babies can’t do). Of course, these laws are often ignored and not often enforced, but it’s still a good idea to know where you stand legally before biking with your child.
If you want to err on the side of caution, wait until your child is a year-old to start riding with them. At that point in time they have the neck strength to withstand the jostling that bike riding creates. On the other hand, if you are a bicycle addict or you don’t have a car–and you are willing to take an educated risk–there are ways to ride safely with a baby.
For more info on biking with little tikes, check out my Guide to Cycling with Young Children.
What do you think? Would you (or have you) biked with a baby? What setup do you like best?