How to bike with kids: Considering your options

I hate spending money. HATE IT. So ordering semi-expensive safety equipment was kind of a big deal for me (and I plan to order more). But what was even more important to me than saving was investing in bike safety– especially when it comes to my toddler. It is fun and healthy to bike with kids, but there are some dangers. Luckily there are ways to reduce some of those hazards.

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Safety issues

Cyclists face a whole host of issues every time they hop on their bike. Is traffic heavy? Can motorists see you? Do you cross many busy intersections? Is someone texting and driving?

When you bike with kids, there’s even more to keep track of. You need to keep an eye on the weather, and make sure your children are warm (but not too warm) and ideally get some air flow (but not wet from rain). You have to keep your eyes on the road and be aware of motorists and other hazards, but you also want to make sure little Lizzy keeps her helmet on. Or maybe young Jacob realizes he can throw items from his trailer out the door.

It’s hard to keep an eye on your kids and on your surroundings. There’s a lot to keep track of, and you need to be sure you can focus on everything at once before taking off.

Woman in the distance rides a bike with a bike trailer attached behind it.
I love taking my bike trailer on a multi-use path at a local park. We can enjoy the ride, then let my toddler play on the playground.

Ways to bike with kids

There are a few ways you can bike with kids, depending on their age and your preference.

Some people use cargo bikes, giving children some space and providing a way to bring home groceries or other items. You can also use a bike seat that goes on the front or back of your bike, depending on the model. (I tried this Bell bike seat, but it doesn’t fit on my relatively small bike.) When the kids are older, some people try a tandem bicycle.

All of those options have their pros and cons. Fans of cargo bikes like the flexibility and space they bring, but they are generally pretty expensive. They’re quite popular in Dutch cities. Cargo bikes are one of the more expensive options, but can haul a lot and many come with electric assistance.

Your child may not be strapped in or shielded from the elements in a cargo bike, but it can be a good option. You can see a price range and recommended cargo bikes here.

Bike seats are much cheaper and make your bike less bulky. You can also choose whether your child rides on the front or back of the bike, and you stay very close to your kid.

I really wanted to love the Bell seat I purchased, but it just didn’t fit on my bike. I knew there was a chance it wouldn’t, since my bike is small compared to many adults’ bikes. But I got it so cheap that I figured I’d give it a shot. If my husband starts biking like we plan for him to, the seat will probably fit on his bike.

But bike seats, while flexible and small, put your children at least three or four feet off of the ground. If you fall, your kid is going down with you, and there’s a chance they’ll hurt their head or other body part. They can also throw off your balance, and it may be difficult to maintain control if the weight is an issue or if your kid is wiggly. There are still a lot of fans of the bike seat, though. My husband’s brother and sister-in-law successfully use an iBert bike seat.

Tandem bikes are meant for older children and encourage independence and learning. I love it. Just know that your kid will be exposed to more danger on the bike since they’ll be off the ground and not in a safer cocoon. You can both wear helmets and bright clothing to help reduce that risk.

Using a headlight, rear blinking light, bicycle horn, and reflective system or Revolights Eclipse lighting system can increase your safety, whether you’re using a tandem bike or any of the other options.

My personal favorite way to ride with kids– and the option recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics— is the bike trailer.

Woman rides a bike with a yellow-and-blue bike trailer attached
You can take a bike trailer on a multi-use path at a park, on a safe street or anywhere else you feel comfortable.
Why I prefer the bike trailer

Let’s start with the bad news:

  • Your child/children are still exposed to danger on the road.
  • Bike trailers are bulky on the road.
  • You have to find a place to store them.
  • You have to take wider turns than when you’re just riding a bike.
  • They take up a lot of space in the car if you’re going on vacation or seeking a safe place to ride.
  • You pull extra weight, which can be a pain on long rides or hills.
  • They can be a pain to clean.
  • Holes may develop in the mesh.
  • You have to keep up with maintenance (airing up or replacing tires, cleaning the trailers out, etc.)

All of those are very reasonable concerns, and ones to factor in when making a decision for your family.

On the plus side:

  • The AAP recommends using bike trailers.
  • You can choose models that hold one or two children.
  • They come in bright, highly-visible colors.
  • You can attach one or more safety flags for added visibility, and add reflectors, reflective tape, lights and other safety options.
  • You can use them to transport pets, groceries and other items besides just your children.
  • Many models are designed to stay upright even if your bicycle tips.
  • Some models convert to a stroller.
  • Kids are better protected from wind, rain, dust, and colder temperatures than they would likely be in a bike seat or cargo bike.
  • Your children are closer to the ground than they would be in a bike seat, giving them less room to fall.
  • The kids can bring toys, snacks and other items along, and you can add diapers, wipes, pacifiers, books and whatever else you decide to transport.
  • You can bike with kids without being held back if they start to wiggle (as long as they’re safely in their harness).
  • Children can sleep in the trailer. (Just make sure their helmet isn’t a choking hazard and that there’s nothing around to suffocate them or cause other hazards.)
  • The frame of the trailer is light, but offers some protection in the event of an accident.

For me, the pros simply outweigh the cons. I feel that my kiddo is safer in something relatively close to the ground. We also increase the visibility by using a safety flag (like this one), reflective tape and a blinking bicycle light. I like that light because it charges by USB and can be set to a white or red light. It can also be set to brighter or dimmer, flashing, strobe or two-color, so there are a lot of options.

If my bike falls, our trailer will probably stay upright, better protecting my kid. She has room inside to keep a blanket, books, water and stuffed animals. (I don’t let her snack inside while I’m riding yet since I want to be sure I’m aware if she chokes.) I can pack a picnic lunch and my Ergo 360 in the storage space in the back.

While I avoid riding in the rain if possible, it does offer her some protection if we’re caught in a rain shower. She can also snuggle under a blanket if necessary, though I’d consider suffocation hazards depending on your child’s age and risk level.

Boosting trailer safety

Cycling can get expensive very quickly, but it doesn’t have to. I found our bike trailer used in a local shop completely by accident, but if something happens to it I would buy a new one. They’re just worth it. You save on gas and help the environment while getting exercise and your kid outside. They also have a high re-sale value. I’m most tempted by the Aosom Elite II, Schwinn Joyrider, Burley and InStep Robin two-seater.

The Thule Chariot is probably my top favorite, but it is much more expensive than other models. Cheaper models may not have all of the features the Thule does, but they can work just as well for your needs. The Thule is designed for multiple sports: biking, jogging, strolling and has an optional skiing attachment. You can also purchase an infant sling to put inside, so while it’s more expensive, it might be worth it if it becomes your go-to stroller AND bike trailer.

Trailers are kind of pricey, but with all of their benefits, they’re totally worth it to me. I just found the InStep Robin double trailer at a store at half-off, and it barely looked used. My husband’s relatives wanted it, so I went ahead and purchased it for them. If I didn’t already have one, I’d have been tempted to grab it for myself!

I recommend buying a new one if possible so that you know there’s no worn places or immediate maintenance or repair needs. But if you buy a used one, you can get a great deal. Just be sure to look it over carefully to make sure that everything is secure.  You can also check that there are no worn-out or dry-rotted parts, mold or mildew.

As I wrote above, you can add reflective options, flags and lights to your trailer to make it more visible.

Cycling safety tips

In most areas, if you bike with kids, it’s the law to put a helmet on your child. It’s also just smart.

We decided to invest in MIPS helmets for both me and my daughter. The MIPS system can provide extra protection in an accident. I purchased the Giro Scamp with MIPS for my toddler. named it the highest-rated children’s helmet they looked at for children ages 9 months to three years. They also compared other models for those ages groups and older children.

Toddler wears a blue bike helmet in a bike trailer.
My toddler wears her new Giro Scamp MIPS helmet on bike rides. It seems comfortable, and she hates taking her “hat” off.

I got the Giro Chronicle with MIPS for myself. It may not be the law for an adult to wear a helmet where you live, but why take the risk?

As mentioned above, you can add lights, reflective tape and safety flags to your trailer, but also to your helmet and your child’s helmet, plus your bicycle. You can both also wear bright colors. You may want to consider wearing a reflective safety vest.

It’s possible to reduce distractions by putting your phone on vibrate or on a low tone. You could turn it off altogether. I keep mine on so I can immediately make a call if there’s an emergency. Avoid listening to music so you can hear your child and your environment.

Wear comfortable clothing and shoes that work well for riding. You don’t want to lose a flip-flop as you cross an intersection!

Depending on the age of your child, you can talk to them about speaking calmly and not yelling unless there’s an emergency. You can try to head off potential distractions by taking them to the bathroom or changing their diaper ahead of time. Give them some entertainment and make sure they’re comfortable.

You may want to plan your route so you know what to look for and how long you expect to be gone. You may want to give your route and planned return time to an emergency contact.

Follow basic cycling safety measures, learn hand signals and pay attention to boost your chances of a safe ride even more.

Bike with kids: Final thoughts

Bike trailers, baby/toddler bike seats, tandem bikes and cargo bikes all give us one great opportunity: to bike with kids. While I have my preference, they all let you set a good example for your child about exercise, safety, responsibility, environmental friendliness, how to have fun on a budget, getting outside and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

It’s spring. The temperatures are warming up and the landscape is becoming more beautiful. Do yourself a favor and bike with kids!

Do you bike with kids? How do you maintain safety?


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