How old should a child be before they can be transported by bike? That’s a question we get asked often, by parents with babes in arms. And before we can answer that question, there are variables to consider – sorry, it’s not that simple.*
There are currently no studies available regarding the safety of young babies on bikes or in trailers, and in some places like New York, Children under 1 are prohibited from being transported on a bicycle. Specially designed helmets for babies fit a child from 1 year to approximately 2.5 or 3 years old.
* This article is intended as general advice and before carrying a toddler or young child on a bike you should consult a healthcare professional to determine if your child is ready.
Babies and children must wear helmets in Australia
In Australia, wearing helmets on bikes is mandatory – this includes children being carried on bike seats, in cargo bike boxes, trailers or chariots – even if you ride on the footpath or in a park. Helmets need to be correctly fitted and comply with ASNZS 2008:2063 Standard for Bicycle Helmets. If you are outside Australia, check your local requirements for children’s helmets, bike seats and harnesses.
Can your child sit up and play unsupported?
Common sense would suggest that a child must be able to support their own head unassisted (plus the weight of a helmet) before they are transported on a bike/trike in a properly designed child seat. This would normally mean the stage that they are able to sit up and play unsupported.
While some parents want a ‘what age is that’ answer, given the huge range in ages children hit their developmental milestones, there is no single correct answer for all children (regardless of your child’s stage of development, helmets only start at the age of 1 years old).
In our experience, the ability to sit up unsupported, after a child is 12 months old, should be the bare minimum that should be used as a measure. In a typical child seat mounted to a bike, smaller passengers are constantly jostled and bounced around and trailers/chariots are no better – they are close to the road and parents often forget how rough the ride can be. Even a slow ride can present serious jolts to a young baby’s neck. Adult riders also need to be competent to avoid the most common crashes (which occur standing still). Think about how often an adult rider bounces on the seat navigating potholes, curbs, tram lines and all the other objects we encounter on a typical ride.
Mounting child seats on bikes
The mounting of a child seat to a bike should not be undertaken lightly. You need to ensure the mounting system is strong, secure, and will not compromise the integrity of the bike frame. Remember, some bikes simply are not designed to carry loads. This would include the majority of modern carbon road bikes. When something is built with lightness being a priority then often the bare minimum of strength is incorporated and typically carbon tubes do not tolerate being “crushed” which a lot of carrier/child seat mounts rely on. When carrying young children our best advice is to choose an appropriate bike from the outset (obviously here at Cargocycles we have a bias towards cargo bikes 😉
If your bike is suitable, the next decision is whether to have a front mounted, or rear mounted child seat. Both have benefits and drawbacks.
Rear mounted child seats
By far the safest and most popular is the rear-mounted child seat. These often rely on a rear carrier/rack being mounted to the bike and require specific mounting points on the bike which need to a into the frame. Some carriers can be mounted to the seat stays and seat post but this does add considerable stress to these areas which are often not intended to have force from those directions.
A better option is the seat tube mounted carrier design. These clamp around the bike frame beneath the seat post/chain stays. This area is typically a stronger area of the frame and has the additional strength of the internal seat post supporting it. The design of these also offers some compliance which helps soften the bigger hits as you’re riding.
Some models also offer a quick release option, so if you are dropping off kids at Creche, you can leave the seat in the pram room (if they have one) to make the rest of the journey easier.
All racks should be weight rated, and this should NEVER be exceeded. We recommend a safety margin after calculating the weight of the seat and its passenger.
Rear mounted child seats are suitable for children aged 1 – 5 or up to 22kgs, they come with an adjustable 5-point harness and adjustable footrests and foot straps. Some child seats offer additional support with padded ‘wings’ that reduce the head dropping to the side and some tilt backwards. This reclined position adds support to the back of the head and helps prevent it ‘flopping forwards’ especially if your toddler is tired, or falls asleep on the way home from childcare.
Yuba cargo bikes have specific attachment points for the Yepp brand child seats and similar child seats built into the frame and can be configured to carry up to two child seats, or a combination of a child seat and cushioned seats for older children. Yuba bikes can also be accessorised with unique hold-on rails called ‘monkey bars’ that contain a couple of toddlers or younger kids on the back, as well as ring handles or rear hold-on handlebars for a child or adult passenger.
The rear-mounted child seats can be larger as they won’t interfere with the rider as much, and incorporate more safety features (i.e. tilting and even suspension systems to lessen the impacts).
They are adjustable to accommodate a range of passenger sizes and being located behind the rider passengers are often shielded from the worst of the elements. The main fitting concern would be riders heel strike on smaller frames / larger seats.
Obviously, with your passenger being behind you, there is less chance for interaction (outside of the occasional kidney punch when they think you should be going faster).
Front mounted child seats
There are a couple of options for front mounting a child seat, and probably the simplest is a seat that attaches to the top of the handlebars – however, the added weight on the steering and much higher centre of gravity can affect the handling of the bike. They are also difficult to load and unload as the steering is inclined to flop to the side unless supported.
Better options are front seats that attach to the top tube and steerer of the bike (which requires a level top tube), or to a bar that mounts between the seat post and head stem (good for drop bar/step through style frames).
In our experience front mounted seats are best suited to smaller passengers. As they are situated under your chin as you ride, height becomes an issue. Some riders also need to resort to pedalling with their knees splayed out which can be uncomfortable on longer journeys. The big benefit of a front mounted seat is you and your child are able to interact easily, and they often participate in the riding experience (holding the handlebars, ringing the bell etc). They are a great introduction or stepping stone for shorter journeys and will help your little ones get used to being a passenger on a bike.
Front loading box cargo bikes
It seems the Europeans have been carrying their children around on bikes forever, and their experience has led to the popularity explosion of box or ‘bakfiets’ style bikes (35,000 of them in Denmark at the last count). Box bikes can come with either two or three wheels, and both styles have the same huge benefit… loads of space!
The boxes can be configured to carry the smallest through to the largest of passengers (or pets) and our various models come with seating designed to carry from one up to six (yes 6!) passengers. They are fitted with substantial seats with built-in safety harnesses.
The construction of the box adds another layer of protection for passengers with some of our brands going as far as crash testing their models to validate their claims of ‘the world’s safest cargo bikes’.
By carrying passengers in front of the rider you can easily interact (and keep your eye on them) during your journeys, plus they can spread out, and even safely fall asleep when they need to. Kids also tend to love the unique sensation of being in the front of the bike.
Box bikes also have amazing accessories for weather protection, from simple rain covers through to full on rain tents with zipped windows and roll up sides and even sun hoods for when it gets warm and you want to let the breeze through.
The downside of a box bike? The size of the bikes. They are designed for one thing and that’s carrying loads and loads of stuff and there is no option other than to take the entire bike everywhere (i.e. you can’t remove it like a trailer/child seat)
They are heavier than a standard bike or even some bike/trailer combos, so are better suited to shorter journeys (there are some racier versions that are an exception… but they are not the norm).
Due to the helmet laws in place in Australia we do not recommend carrying infants in box bikes (there are capsule carriers available from some manufacturers but these are mostly used in countries where helmets are not mandatory)
Trailers are a great option for existing bikes that are unable to have a child seat fitted, or if you have more passengers than room on the bike. They typically attach to the rear axle of the bike and once set up can be easily and quickly attached and removed. Much like the box bike, they offer loads of space, and passengers are well supported and are able to recline and rest/sleep. Being undercover they are also out of the elements and it’s worth checking the UV rating for those summer days (you do need to be aware of rear tyre spray when it rains though).
Some models also have options to use them as prams when not attached to bikes, which is a great option if you’re planning on doing some exploring off the bike when you reach your destination.
Their effect on the handling of the bike is minimal but care does need to be taken when descending hills, and/or when braking. During cornering as they tend to deviate from the path of the bike so watch your lines (don’t cut corners !).
There is the increased drag caused by an additional set of wheels, and obviously, the additional weight involved. You may spend a bit more time enjoying the sights along the way as a result. The ride can be a little bit rougher for passengers (depending on the design) as most have them sat upright directly over the axle. Big soft tyres or better yet suspension will be of benefit to counter this.
The other concern is visibility to other road users hence we do recommend the use of flags and plenty of lights etc when being used.
One other thing to remember with trailers, most states in Australia prohibit them being towed on a footpath even when accompanying a child under 12 on their own bike, and passengers must be under 10 years of age.
If you would like to discuss options for carrying your children on a bike come in and see us at Cargobikes. We have a huge range of seats and carriers in store to fit to your existing bike, as well as a showroom of bikes designed to carry kids that you can test ride.