Rachel Stillwell, is originally from New Zealand and is a keen cyclist. She rode right through her pregnancy and now loves to ride with her baby. Here she shares her experience of cycling after birth, offering helpful advice for others looking to do the same
'Aren't you scared?' the cyclist next to me at the lights said, pointing to the baby in the trailer behind my bike. 'I used to be', I explained, thinking back to the first few rides. Soon I saw that cars are very wary of bike trailers and give me and the trailer a wide berth.
Quickly the bike trailer became my mode of transport for getting me and baby around town. The cyclist wished me courage as he cycled away, after telling me he wished he'd cycled with this kids in a trailer, but that he never overcame his fear.
Life in the slow lane
Cycling with a baby is a personal thing. The Dutch do it from the day their baby is born and in other countries it’s taboo. For me it was a choice between us being together as a family on our bikes, or one of us being on a bike, and the other on the footpath pushing the buggy.
To anyone who cycles, pushing a buggy is a whole new, slow world. In the two months that I was buggy bound (before we bought the bike trailer), I discovered parts of my neighbourhood that I never knew existed, having flown past them on my bike.
I’d always assumed that cycling with my baby was something that might happen when the baby was older. This point of view changed when our German friends rolled up to a picnic with their 6 month old baby son in a bike trailer, comfortably secured in a specially designed baby hammock. The instant we got home the research started.
Four months later I find it hard to imagine life without the trailer. I use it everyday to go everywhere , except in winter when snow and ice make cycling dangerous and cold. It’s been on two cycle tours and even to London. It’s a gamechanger and has revolutionised my life as a cycling mother.
Trailer, bike seat or baby carrier?
Several options exist for transporting cycling with my baby; trailer, bike seat or baby carrier (baby front carrier or sling, which secures the baby against the parent’s chest). I asked the pediatrician for advice on the baby carrier option, to which he advised me that cycling with a baby in a baby carrier is equivalent to skiing with a baby on your back. It’s only dangerous if you fall.
Bike seats, though very popular and pratical for the city, are identified by the Swiss Association Transports et Environment as less preferable to bike trailers, due to lack of stability stability.
Every holiday we’ve been on since we met four years ago has been a cycle tour. That meant that for us baby bike transportation needed to be suitable for long distances in variable weather. The trailer was the only choice. Superior stability aside (they are practically impossible to roll), trailers offer supreme comfort for babies from one month old (suspended in the Thule Infant Sling aka baby hammock), along with plenty of luggage space.
The downside with trailers is the weight, with the lightest weighing over 10 kilograms. Living in the mountains as we do, no matter where you cycle, you will be going up. Towing a trailer gives you a new point of view, any climb you previously thought of as hard, will take on new dimensions of difficulty. You will develop awesome leg strength and when you do take a ride without the trailer, you will be amazed at how fast and light your bike feels.
No more weaving through traffic
A trailer is wider than a bike and there’s a baby inside, so weaving through traffic is no longer an option. You quickly become accustomed to your increased width (80cm for a two child trailer), with the major obstacle being barriers on ‘cycle paths’ put in place to stop motorcycles.
After being trapped by a few of these, I abandoned the ‘quiet cycle routes’ on the cycling map and now stick to the main road cycle routes or quite roads without cycle paths. Design guidelines for cycle paths require a minimum 2 meter width, so there is plenty of trailer space, even when passing other cyclists.
Timing is important when cycling with my baby. The key is the get back home before baby needs to be fed, and ideally 20 minutes before so you can get in a shower before baby bootcamp restarts. That said it’s possible to feed on the road, and on longer rides or cycle tours, that’s how we roll. Try timing rides with nap times – the trailer gently rocks baby to sleep and you can ride in peace and tranquility and once you’ve adjusted to the weight, you can almost forget that the trailer is there.
If you aren’t a seasoned cyclist, towing a baby in a bike trailer is not for you, as it requires confidence, strength and road cycling know how. If you live in a flat place, you may not find the weight of the trailer a problem. If like me climbing hills is a part of daily life, a lower gearing on your bike will make those climbs easier to bear (Père Nöel bought me a 40:24 front chain ring with a 12:25 cassette for Christmas).
If you live in a country where cycling with a bike trailer is not common, people will tell you that it’s dangerous. If you are thinking about cycling with your baby, ask yourself if you are happier feeling safe pushing a pram, or if you feel confident cycling with your baby.
Research the subject and ask your pediatrician (mine said it was no problem). When I was debating this question with myself I thought back to something I’d heard in a meditation class – do things you’ll be proud of. I’d be proud cycling with my baby, I thought. From that point onwards, me and baby were a team on four wheels.
The sun is shining and you’re dying to get out on your bike and escape. Once, pre-baby, you would have done just that. Now with your bike trailer, there is nothing to stop you.
Each morning after baby’s lunch, I pack him into the trailer and we hit the road during his midday nap. I initially started riding at this time as we were having midday nap problems and I thought that putting the baby in the trailer and riding at nap time would solve the problem. It did more than that.
Two hours riding through the rolling mountains with baby asleep behind me became the highlight of my day. Dripping sweat as I grind my way up cols, we roll through the automnal countryside, and discover little picnic tables where I stop to eat my sandwich and chill. Cycling is no longer somethiing I can do in the weekends when someone is looking after baby, but something we can do everyday, together.
Wherever I go with the trailer, people wave and smile and if we’re at a standstill, they’ll come over for a chat. ‘Are there two in there?’ they ask. I smile replying ‘no, only one, for the moment, though there is space for another’. It’s a positive experience being on the road with your baby. As passersby wish me courage for the climbs ahead I think of my friend at the traffic light, who I am sure would have enjoyed cycling with his kids in a trailer if he’d given it a try.