Transporting your children by bike can be hugely practical, not to mention heaps of fun for all involved. It can tick many boxes for a busy parent: getting your little cherubs out in the fresh air, seeing their faces light up and hearing their squeals of delight as they discover the joys of travelling by bike and (with the rose-tinted glasses removed) getting them from home to nursery and back without any bawling, dawdling or buggy battles.
And for those mums who, pre-baby, cycled wherever they went, don’t despair; it won’t be long until you can get back in the saddle. As soon as your nipper can sit up straight, you can get them on the bike. I first got my daughter, Florence, on board the bike with me when she was 14 months old and it’s been invaluable to me as a parent and lots of fun for her. Here is the lowdown on the best bits of kit to securely pedal the wee ones from A to B.
Children usually learn to ride a bike around the age of five. Some may be ready to learn as early as three. The key is for them to master the balance, so, while you might be tempted to strap on the stabilizers as your parents probably did with you, the modern approach is to avoid them altogether. You can start with a ‘balance bike’ from around 18 months, when a child is stable on their feet. A balance bike has no pedals, so the child learns to glide by pushing themselves along. Or, for older children, try lowering the saddle, so the child can put their feet on the ground, and taking the pedals off, effectively creating your own balance bike; you can then add the pedals back on when you think your child is ready.
‘With my first child, I did stabilizers on his bike and a tag along on my bike. He became dependent on the support and it was six months until he could go it alone. With my second, I didn’t bother with stabilizers; I let her sit on the bike at home to get used to it and then took her to the park, literally pushed her off, told her to pedal and ran along holding the scruff of her neck . . . She mastered it in three days.’ Jane Smith, London, UK
[part title="Front-mounted child seats"]
Age range: 9 months to 3 years (maximum weight: 15kg).
Position: The child sits on a front seat with legs under the handlebars, while Mum reaches her arms around. Children can get too big before they get too heavy in this position. If they can’t fit their legs under the handlebars, it’s a struggle to see over their head as you ride or you can’t get a good grip on the handlebars, they’re too big.
How do they attach? These seats are easy to attach, usually with a mounting bracket that is clamped on to the handlebar or handlebar stem. The seat than clicks into the bracket and can be easily removed (the bracket stays on the bike). Utility bikes/city hybrids are a good bicycle for these child seats, as the riding position and height of the handlebars allow more space for the child.
• The child is in a secure position and in full view between your arms – good for both parent and child, as you don’t have to twist round to talk to them or check on them and they feel more secure.
• Great view for the child – being up front, they can see what’s going on – and a great introduction to the joys of cycling.
• Easy to attach to most bikes.
• Some parents report they have to cycle bow-legged to avoid contact with the seat. This is not always the case, though, so test-ride the seat with your bike before you buy.
• If you push yourself forward on your bike to get going, your tummy may collide with the seat, so you have to adjust to a gentler push-off.
The test ride: I introduced my daughter to the world of cycling with a front-mounted seat and we both loved it. As she was still quite little, having her between my arms felt like a reassuringly secure position and she always seemed very content to be up front. Steering felt fine, but you had to be careful when parking up and dismounting, to make sure that the bike was stable and the handlebars didn’t swing round with the weight. It was a sad day when her little legs got too big to fit underneath the handlebars. The only criticism I have of this seat is that it didn’t last long enough (Florence fitted in it for 15 months).
[part title="Rear-mounted child seats"]
Age range: 9 months to 6 years (maximum weight: 22kg).
How do they attach? These seats either attach to the rear rack or have a mounting bracket that clamps on to your seat tube. The seat then has poles that slot into the bracket and hold it firmly in place. I would suggest a strong and stable utility bike or city hybrid with a rear rack, especially if the child is 10 kilograms or more. These seats tend to be quite bulky as they have to support the child and ensure they can’t fall out. You can get rear seats for children of five years or over that are of a simpler, lighter construction.
• Higher maximum weight and more space than a front seat, so your child can use it for longer.
• Easy to get hold of and reasonably priced.
• Adjustable feet holders to cater for your growing child.
• Sometimes you can’t use with panniers on the back of your bike, as these seats may cover the rack completely.
• It’s difficult to chat or check your child is OK, as you have to twist around to do so.
• Cycling with an empty child seat can be annoying as it may bounce and rattle.
On the plus side, as long as you tighten the straps securely, you can carry a whole load of shopping in them when your child is elsewhere.
The test ride: Florence and I have used a rear seat since she was two and a half, and we still use it now at four and a half years old. It’s very convenient for regular trips as it gets us to our destination much quicker than walking or taking the buggy (two to four being the age when most kids outgrow the buggy but get tired easily when walking). The problem I have with it is when dismounting – you have to shift the bike and get it leaning against something stable to get your child off safely and this is quite a strain with a growing girl and a heavy bike. My daughter has never liked it as much as the front-mounted seat. This may be to do with that fact she is staring at my back – not an ideal position for a very chatty, attention-seeking four-year-old, but I am confident it will last her until she is ready for her own bike.
Age range: These are normally categorized by weight rather than age, but I would say they’re suitable for kids between roughly one and four years old. You can get single or double trailers, with some of the better quality models taking around 30 kilograms. As they have a hood, it’s a good idea to test-ride for older children to check there’s enough head room when it’s pulled down.
How do they attach? Trailers come with a hitch that bolts on to the hub of the rear wheel; the arm of the trailer then clicks into the hitch, and a safety strap connects to the frame and the trailer arm. They usually come with a brightly coloured flag that extends up from the trailer to improve visibility.
• The double-seated trailers can transport two children and often have space for shopping.
• They are covered, so your child is protected from rain, wind and sun.
• You don’t feel the weight as you would with a child on a rear seat on the bike, which also makes it easier to balance and less hard work.
• You can attach it to your own bike rather than forking out for a cargo bike.
• Getting your kids in and out is easier and involves less lifting.
• Children have more space than on a bike seat, so can bring a teddy, blanket or snack and get comfy.
• Your children are low down and behind you, so it doesn’t feel quite as safe and reassuring as having them up front in full view.
• Detaching and folding down the trailer can be a chore.
• You need to take extra care going downhill as the weight behind you can propel you forward.
• Some of the cheaper models don’t have much suspension, so it can be a bumpier ride for your little ones.
• Kids can get up to mischief or squabble, as they are in their own little den and Mum is busy cycling.
The test ride: I used a trailer for a month when visiting the US. My daughter was two and, despite me feeling nervous about her being both behind me and somewhat separated from me, it actually worked very well. She loved it, as it was her little domain, and it was surprisingly smooth and easy to cycle with. I did have the luxury of cycling on very wide, straight and quiet residential roads, and a garage to store it in – a luxury I don’t have living in a city flat. However, if I ever had two little ones, I would consider a trailer, especially for colder, rainier times of year.
[part title="Cargo bikes "]
Cargo bikes are commonplace in Holland and Denmark and are gradually growing in popularity in other parts of the world. They are basically a large utility bike with a big cargo box attached at the front (and a smaller front wheel and elongated frame to accommodate it).
How do they attach? They are already attached, that’s the beauty of it: there’s no faffing; they are built and ready to go. The box has seats and safety straps, so they’re safe and sound when cycling on road.
Age range: 6 months to approximately 8 years.
• You can carry two kids and lots of other shopping etc.
• Kids are up front in a fun, sociable and secure position.
• Easy for everyday use as there’s nothing to attach, you simply get on and go.
• There is a stand that you kick down when you stop, so you don’t need to lean it against something.
• It’s a big unit and could be tricky to store at home or find a place to park when you’re out and about.
• It’s a cumbersome, heavy number, so cycling is slow and steady; you can’t nip through traffic or pick up too much speed.
• They are expensive.
The test ride: I was very excited to finally have another go on a cargo bike, having admired them and all their practical potential for a few years now. My daughter and her friend hopped in and off we went, both of them giggling away as I got to grips with steering. They are definitely a fun way to get around! You get smiles as you go and your kids are in full view, and you have a comfy riding position. They’re not cheap, so it’s a big commitment but, if you use it every day for the school run and shopping, you’ll find that, over a couple of years, the initial outlay will be less than the cost of petrol or public transport tickets, and the financial, health and environmental rewards will make it worth your while.
Chapter taken from 'The Girls' Bicycle Handbook' by Caz Nicklin: https://www.cyclechic.co.uk/
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