Do you love cycling and want to start biking with kids? Or do you want to get the family outdoors more. Biking with kids seems like a good idea but how do you cycle with kids?
Biking with kids comes with so many questions. Bike seats or bike trailer? How do children keep up with you and how do you keep them safe?
We’ve got good news, when you drill down to it, it’s quite simple and in this article, we’re going to break it down for you.
So whether you’re new to the cycling world or looking to get involved in biking for kids, we are here to give you some pointers on how to cycle with kids.
What to Expect
Let us start by saying, you might have this wonderful vision of riding with your children, that’s unlikely to become reality…at first anyway!
Be prepared for lots of stopping, riding more slowly, and make sure you have plenty of things up your sleeves to keep them entertained.
Before we totally put you off the idea of cycling with your family, let us say that it can be super enjoyable and rewarding!
There are plenty of options for getting children into cycling before they can pedal. Bike seats are a great starting point as it gets your child used to the movement and being outdoors. From there you can progress to other options.
We’ll be covering the main traveling options, which are:
- Bike seats
- Bike trailers
- Cargo bikes
- Children’s own bikes
- Tandem bike extensions
Bike seats are great for children from around 1 year old to 4 years old, or up to 50lbs.
You have options with child bike seats, they can be mounted on the front or the rear. The most common setup is at the rear of your bike.
The key things to check are the weight limits, some will go up to 50lbs so they’re good for toddlers and preschoolers.
Before you take your child out in a bike seat, do remember that the child must be able to sit up and be supported fully (including their head) before they can come out riding with you.
Bike seats are great and I personally have many happy memories of sitting in a bike seat (eating a doughnut) when I was younger. It does make it easy to chat with your child and enjoy the scenery together.
However, do keep in mind that your child is more exposed when traveling this way than if they were in a bike trailer so if you fall, they potentially fall to the ground too.
If you’re new to using a bike seat, you might find it takes a little while to get used to the balance. The weight of your child and their movements can affect this and this can be noticed especially when using a front child seat as it can impact your steering too.
Be sure to use a seat harness, this will ensure that your child won’t slide out when they fall asleep (falling asleep is common – don’t take it personally!!) or if you were to brake sharply.
Bike trailers can be a good option and are certainly popular. They can be great for children from 1 to 6 years old, or up to around 40lbs.
The reason bike trailers are so popular is that they’re very stable. This is due to them being low to the ground and easy to steer. The obvious downside to them being lower to the ground is the bike trailer is less visible to traffic. One thing you can do and it’s often recommended is use the safety flag – this is likely to come with the trailer.
If you have more than one child, bike trailers are ideal as you can carry them altogether!
With some models of bike trailers, you can convert them into strollers, joggers, or even ski trailers so they can be versatile.
Let’s not ignore the storage you get with bike trailers! This is a top-selling point. When you’re taking a child out, or traveling with a child, you have to bring quite a lot of stuff, right?
We’ve all been there. Children don’t tend to travel lightly. Bike trailers have a good storage capacity. Spare clothes, toys, snacks, diapers, whatever you want (but don’t forget about weight limits!).
One great thing about bike trailers is that they offer good protection for children. Rain, bugs, and other elements are kept away from the child from a mesh screen. It also has the added benefit of stopping the child from losing any toys out of the trailer.
Depending on which cargo bike you go for and the setup, cargo bikes can be suitable for younger and older children so a flexible option – one that will grow with the family!
Cargo bikes have become a popular way of biking with kids as you are able to carry heavier loads than you can on a traditional bike.
These bikes also have the benefit of being able to carry more than one child at a time. Depending on the bike, you can carry children in different ways. There is the option for your child to sit on a shelf/bench on the rear rack, some bikes have a front bucket/box or container, or, there is the trusty bike seat.
Key things to note about cargo bikes:
- Electric cargo bikes are available so if you’re concerned about carrying too much weight, don’t be shy to add an electric motor for an extra boost!
- Children over the age of 4 should be able to hold onto something as well as having somewhere to rest their feet.
- Younger children ideally should have a child seat to sit inside. While older children can sit on the rear bench or front box.
The two most popular types of cargo bikes are:
The rear cargo rack is positioned over the back wheel and that is where your child will sit. In that rack, there are child seats so they can be secured in there.
I should point out that not all longtail cargo bikes have chid seats within the rear cargo rack, meaning that your child may just have to sit in the rack itself.
Front-loading cargo bikes
These are sometimes called “Bakfiets”, which is Dutch for “box bike”.
The name gives it away, your child sits in a box or container at the front of the bike. The cargo rack is commonly situated between the front wheel and the handlebars.
Riding Their Own Bikes
Balance bikes are a great way to get your child started with cycling but on their own. Usually suitable for children from 2 to 5 years old and are considered to be biking in the most simple form.
Why? There aren’t any pedals, cranks, or chains. All your child gets are wheels and a frame.
As your child is moving, their feet are their brakes. The great thing about balance bikes is that they teach them how to balance and how to steer. Transiting to pedaling is easier.
Obviously, there are increased dangers when compared to carrying a child in a bike seat or box as your child now has the freedom to wander! So you do need to keep an eye on them.
Learn more: How to Teach Your Kid to Ride a Bike
Once your child has mastered a balance bike, it’s time to move to them having their own bike. At this point, it’s likely that they are competent at riding a bike so there are other factors you need to consider.
Kids aren’t able to judge speeds accurately, distance, or the sound of oncoming traffic until around the age of 10 so you do need to supervise them closely.
It’s always a good idea to practice riding in safer areas first so you can both get the hang of riding as a team.
Biking with kids with their own bikes may seem like the most daunting option and I get that. However it can be the most rewarding option as they are able to get exercise at their own pace, it’s a great confidence boost for them. Not to mention the bonding experience!
Tandem Bike Extensions
Tandem bike extensions are sometimes known as “tagalongs”. Basically, a single-wheeled trailer is attached to your bike, usually on the seatpost so that it is able to pivot for turning.
The good thing about tandem bike extension when biking with kids is that your child is able to pedal and that gives them a great sense of independence – though they have you for balance and control!
You will be able to cycle further than if your child was relying on their stamina alone so longer rides aren’t out of the question.
One thing to be aware of is that some models of these extensions do give the child the ability to change gears or brake, which obviously can change things for you so something you have to be conscious of when choosing the right model for biking with kids!
For this reason, this type of bike is suitable for children aged four and up.
How to Choose the Best Way to Travel
As you can see there are plenty of options when it comes to biking for kids, so how do you choose which one is right for your family? The best advice we can give you is to consider your needs as a family.
Do you want to be able to carry other things as well as your child? If so then you might be best off considering things like cargo bikes or bike trailers. They have many options for carrying plenty of things as well as your child!
Would you like your child to participate or even go solo? If you’re keen that your child gets used to doing some of the work, then you could start them young with a balance bike and move up to their own bike. More care needs to be taken when going down this route as you need to supervise them more.
For those who aren’t quite ready for 100% solo, you could consider the tandem bike extension. This allows your child to get some exercise and involvement in what’s happening.
What type of distance would you like to cover? If you’re wanting to cover large distances, then carrying your child is going to be the best way. Children don’t have the stamina to go long distances or at your pace.
Bike seats could be the perfect solution for you in this case.
Regardless of whether your child is riding with you or on their own, a helmet is needed. In most places, it’s the law.
If you’re looking for a helmet for your older baby or toddler, their weight is going to be a key factor as their neck strength isn’t quite there.
You need to ensure that the helmet fits correctly. If the helmet is too loose or doesn’t fit properly, it isn’t going to do its job as it should.
Children don’t need special jerseys or anything for cycling but do make sure they’re comfortable. Of course, if you want your kid to have a matching cycling jersey, I’m never going to discourage that!
Personally, we’d recommend gloves and some protective pads if they are cycling on their own as it will help to protect them if they fall.
Something which can get overlooked is weather and the temperature. This is especially the case if your child is in a front bike seat. They are the ones going to be taking the brunt of the cold wind. They also won’t be pedaling to keep warm so wrap them up.
It is, children should be wearing helmets (so should you!) at all times in case of a fall.
Ideally, stick to cycle paths and away from traffic. Keep in mind that children under 10 struggle to read the speed and distance of traffic.
When you’re biking with kids in a front bike seat, pop a speaker on the handlebars, listen to music, and sing together. Not only entertaining for the kid but you too!
If you have your child close to you, you can just talk about their day, what they can see and where they’re going.
When biking with kids in a trailer, it’s more complicated but nothing a few toys can’t fix, snacks are good too.
One thing that can really help is picking the right destination. Find somewhere fun to go to, they will be much more eager to go - I promise!
The good news, is there are plenty of options. Bike seats, cargo bikes, tandem bike extensions, and bike extensions are easy ways to ride a bike with a toddler.
For more information on all of these options, scroll up!
In most cases, there is no legal age to ride a bike on the road. Though we wouldn’t recommend allowing a young child to ride on the road unsupervised.
It’s also worth double-checking the law in your state/country.
In most places, you can legally do this. However, in some countries, it isn’t allowed so it's always best to check!
As children generally ride more slowly than adults, it can be overlooked as riding on the road isn’t always the best option for children either.
You should wait until your child is at least 1 year old before placing them in a bike seat.
Your child needs to be able to support themselves and the weight of a helmet. Before 1 year old, this is unlikely to be the case.
A child can get a balance bike or a bike with training wheels from around 1,5-2 years old. Then you can start teaching them the joys of cycling!
If there are two adults, then the children should be in the middle. Then one adult at the front and the other at the back.
When there is only one adult, it is best to have the child ride at the front. This way you can see that they are safe and if there is any danger ahead, you can communicate this.
Depending on the laws in your country/state, riding side-by-side is a good option too.