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Cycling with children

By Anna Studman

Planning on cycling with your children? Find out which child bike attachments are best, and read our important need-to-know safety tips.

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As long as you have the right equipment, cycling with your baby can be a quick and convenient way of getting out and about, not to mention a great way to get some exercise.

There are three main options for travelling on a bicycle with your child - rear-mounted child bike seats, front-mounted child bike seats and bike trailers.

Types of child bike seats

Rear-mounted child bike seats

These are the most widely used bike seats. They fit over the back wheel and will usually have a high back and raised sides, leg guards and a harness to keep your passenger secure.

Pros Younger children are well supported if they nod off to sleep while you're cycling; you can use the seat to carry shopping when you don’t have your child with you

Cons Carrying extra weight on the back of the bike can make stability a problem; you can’t see what your child is up to while you're cycling

Front-mounted bike seats

With this type of seat, your child sits in front of you and you place your arms around the seat to hold the handlebars. Front-mounted seats are more compact that rear-mounted seats, because your arms have to go around the seat and your vision of the road needs to be clear.Seats that attach to the handlebars in any way may affect the bike's manoeuvrability and are not recommended.

Pros You have closer contact with your child and your child is always visible.

Cons Although popular in mainland Europe, these seats are less generally available in the UK than rear-mounted seats, and may be hard to find.

Bike trailers

With these, you tow your child behind you in an enclosed ‘carriage’. They have two bicycle-type wheels and a long hitching arm that fastens to your bike. Your child is seated and strapped in inside the zipped, weatherproof and ventilated compartment, which has fabric or plastic windows so he or she can see out. Any trailer used on the road should have a tall pennant and rear lighting so that it is clearly visible to motorists

Pros Spacious inside, comfy seating, storage places for toys, two seaters are widely available, feels more stable than a bike seat, some makes can be converted into a pushchair using a special handle attachment.

Cons You won’t have the same physical closeness to your child as you would with a bike seat, can tip over (especially when turning abruptly or going over bumps), can be expensive.

Safety tips for cycling with a child

Cycling is a fun and generally safe activity, and many feel the benefits to health outweigh the risks. If you’re out cycling with your children, whether they wear a helmet or not is your responsibility and personal choice.

Be realistic about what a helmet can do – it won’t protect you or your children from all eventualities and it is not designed for collisions with other vehicles travelling at comparatively high speeds. But a bike helmet can offer additional safety in certain types of accident.

If you’re involved in a minor accident or fall, if you slip and hit the kerb for instance, then a helmet will most likely reduce the chances of head trauma. But it probably won’t do much for you if you’re hit by a bus.   

While not mandatory, we think bike helmets are worth wearing when in the saddle – if you buy a good one.

A helmet will be useful for your child, especially young babies, if they’re on a bicycle-mounted seat, but you may not feel it’s necessary if your children are in a trailer.

Follow these top tips for safe cycling with a child:

  • Child seats for cycles should carry BSI number BS EN 14344:2004. This shows they comply with required safety standards.
  • Your baby should be able to support his or her own head and sit up unaided. If your baby can't support his or her own head then it’s not recommended that you take them on a bike.  
  • Not all bike designs are suitable for baby bike seats. Check with your bike retailer before you buy one to make sure it fits your bike correctly.
  • Wearing a cycle helmet can help to reduce the risk of head injury and brain injury in certain circumstance. It’s not mandatory, but we think bike helmets are worth wearing. RoSPA also recommends children wear cycling helmets, especially babies, due to their fragile skulls.
  • Make sure your child or baby bike seat has footrests to prevent your child's feet becoming caught in the spokes of the wheel.
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