How to start cycling with young children
hose lockdown days of blissfully quiet roads may be behind us but, with local authorities across the UK investing in cycle infrastructure, now is still an excellent time to give cycling a go. That is especially true for young city-dwelling families who would formerly have relied on public transport to get around but are now reluctant to risk a bus, tram or train journey.
Fortunately, cycling with small children is not merely convenient and healthy but also great fun too. Here is how to do it.
Starting to cycle with children
Cycling with a child in a bike seat isn’t actually much different from cycling with a heavy basket or pannier rack. That said you will need to go a bit slower than usual, particularly over speed bumps if you don’t want to give your child a nasty jolt (though small bumps can be exciting!).
The trickiest part is getting your child on and off the bike without all ending up in a heap on the pavement. It takes a bit of practice and is certainly easier when your child is old enough to be able to cooperate and stand unaided. Parents of crawling babies might consider wearing a baby carrier and transferring their child into it before securing their bike – everything is much easier when you’ve got both hands free.
The question of seating
Children’s bike seats can be used for babies as young as nine months (as long as they can sit up unaided) and most have an upper weight limit of about 20kg. There are a few options for cycling with an older child: a frame-mounted saddle, a cargo bike or a trailer.
Bike seats come in front and rear-mounted models and each has its pros and cons. A front-mounted seat means you can keep an eye on your little one at all times, making communication a bit easier. Handling takes a bit of getting used to (it’s similar to riding with a heavily laden bike basket) but ultimately you might feel more in control than with a rear-mounted seat. The downsides are that your bike’s steering may be slightly restricted and you might find yourself having to pedal in an awkward wide-kneed stance. Your child will also be exposed to the wind more than they would be in a rear-mounted seat, though you can buy front seats with windshields that offer some protection. In addition, weight limits for front seats tend to be lower than rear seats so you’ll get less use of it.
Rear-mounted bike seats, while a bit destabilising because of the way they hang out over the back wheel, affect handling less and therefore tend to be safer. Some attach to the seat post, some to a standard pannier rack. Larger than their front-mounted counterparts, rear seats offer more support for little heads and necks, making them more comfortable to fall asleep in. You can even get models that recline if you know you’ll be doing a lot of long cycling trips with your child. The other benefit is that you can attach additional brackets to any number of adult bikes, then switch the bike seat between them. A rear seat also means there’s space on the front of your bike for a basket.
Don’t ever be tempted to cycle with your child in a sling or backpack carrier, as in the event of an accident you risk crushing them under your own weight.
Cargo bikes and trailers are much more expensive than bike seats and take up significantly more storage space but offer the benefit of being able to carry two children at once (or a large haul of shopping). They’re also your only option for cycling with a baby under the age of nine months. If your child is a confident cyclist, a tag-along bike that attaches to the adult frame, turning it into a sort of tandem, is a nice way to get around.
It can get very chilly as a passenger on a bike, so you’ll need to wrap your child up warm. At least one layer more than what you’re wearing, ideally something windproof. Warm mittens are crucial come wintertime – if your child won’t keep them on, you might prefer to wait until warmer weather to give cycling a go. A thin but warm balaclava under your child’s helmet offers protection for ears and cheeks.
There are a wide range of helmets available – the best ones for children come with adjustable headbands that will ensure you can get a good fit as your child grows.