The most exciting moment as a parent has to be sharing your passions with your children. Getting a child onto your bike for even just a short slow ride is a standout moment in the relentlessness of wiping bottoms and removing crayon from your freshly painted walls.
You will reach this monumental milestone somewhere around 9 months to a year old, on a day that it is actually warm and sunny. There is a lot of pressure on the first time going well, one bad experience may take months to forget. So cold and wet should be avoided until cycling is established.
You have three main child seat options for getting a child on a bike, and they all have advantages and disadvantages: The trailer, the seat behind you and the seat between your legs, we’ll look at these in detail in this post, but first here are the basics.
The general rules
Start small – Start small and local, a warm sunny ride around the park would be a good start. Stick to slow riding and on traffic free paths. From these short fun rides you can start to build slowly to something more worthwhile for you.
Observe what they enjoy – My daughter loves bumps, and riding around BMX track and pump tracks together. I obviously don’t actually jump with her on the bike but she loves the feeling of the whoops and the berms as we zoom around together. It should be noted that I am very able and confident to ride this sort of terrain, and would not recommend it if you’re not. Crashing with your toddler on the bike is not an option, know your own abilities. They may enjoy choosing where you go, riding narrow single track through the woods, going fast downhills or just going slowly and stopping often looking for nature.
Keep them warm – your kid is not actually exercising so they will be colder than you. Make sure they are suitably wrapped up for the weather – gloves, hat under helmet (your winter cycling cap probably fits them), and loads of layers with a coat over the top to keep the wind off. They will tell you to slow down if they’re too cold.
Be prepared for weather – should you get caught in the rain, it’s best practice to chuck your coat over them as an extra layer of protection and you should just suck it up and get wet – remember if they have one bad experience it may take months of good experiences to fix it. This also applies if they get too cold. It’s your mistake, you should face the consequences not them.
Making it fun – for everyone
For me an hour rolling slowly on the bike is more fun for me than reading the Gruffalo for the 8th time that day, it’s my go to activity for quality parenting time. Here are some ideas for making it fun for everyone, spicing up the mundane for you and keeping it fresh for them as they grow and develop.
Strava Art – this is more fun for you. Your kid won’t have a clue what you’re doing but it’s something different to try:
Try and spell something by the things you see. B I K E you have to see a Bird, Island, Kayak, Eagle etc. Easier said than done. Choose your kids name or something, they’ll slowly learn to spell and you’ll get some miles in your legs, win win.
Get a Strava KOM with your kid on your bike. There are 3 ways to get a KOM, one is to be really fast, the other is to be quite fast where nobody else has been – somewhere obscure. The other way is to make an elaborate route which is unlikely to have been done before and turn that into a Strava segment. Your Strava Art route will probably be one of these, it was for us, and that’s one KOM that will stand for a very long time.
Have a destination where they can get off the bike – A cafe, a farm or field of animals, or just a woodland where last time you built a den from sticks. A ride, an explore and a snack, then a ride back.
Catch things – In spring time we try to catch the falling blossom, in autumn a falling leaf. This can be done whilst stopped still, or for more fun as you’re cycling past.
Challenge yourself – Either a charity ride, an organised event or just a personal challenge. Trying to do something you feel is ambitious will motivate you to get out together, and you may just learn or discover something new – We took on the Sudocreme Cycle More Challenge which is running for the whole of 2021, raising money for Ickle Pickles charity. When we decided to challenge ourselves it was 22 degrees Celsius and seemed like it would be easy. Then it snowed, then we decided to potty train – so yeah not the easiest time to try and rack up 90km of cycling as a family. In spite of this we still got out cycling and had some of the most memorable moments as a family. Trying to fit in more cycling miles meant looking for new routes to keep it interesting, as a result we’ve discovered our new favourite local cycling route. We also stumbled upon some incredibly close wildlife sightings of frogs and buzzards, all of which probably wouldn’t have happened if we’d not decided to challenge ourselves. I’ve always said that that’s the thing about adventures, you never know what will happen, but you know something will happen. If you put yourselves out there you will happen upon some memorable moments. So try and find new traffic free routes, parks, woodland, cafes, farm animals, tractors, diggers, wildlife, ponds, tadpoles… you get the idea.
What’s the best cycling seat option?
The three main options for getting a child on your bike are the trailer, the front mounted seat and the rear mounted seat.
- Stable and safe even when your bike is lying on the floor – so safe and easy to put a child in on your own. Also will not tip over should you fall off your bike on ice for example – my wife demonstrated this once. So if you’re not confident, this is the safest option in terms of you falling off your bike and them still being upright. Just don’t forget you’ve got a trailer on the bike and crash the trailer into a wall or gate.
- Warm – Cocooning your child in a waterproof and windproof shell means you can use a trailer throughout winter. Ideal for those who use bikes as transport.
- Easy to fit to bikes with quick release, just put the bracket over the quick release and tighten up. Probably the best fitting option for your carbon bike.
- Mudguards are essential – without mudguards, on a warm day on a dusty/gravel track all the debris will be propelled directly at your child’s face. So you have the choice between dust in the face or cooking them in a greenhouse. On a wet day without mudguards their view forwards will just be water and road grime.
- They can’t go everywhere – through many chicane gates near me and the bollards designed to stop motor cycles getting onto some cycle paths will not fit a trailer through at all or without disconnecting it. So check out where you intend to use it.
- Large and heavy to store – yes they fold up but if it takes too long to use you won’t bother. They’re pretty heavy and cumbersome to store. So you will need space for it.
- Taking bikes, people and the trailer in a car to do some countryside riding on that nice traffic free cycle route requires both a really big car and a bike rack.
- The experience for the child is not great. They’re disconnected from you, you can’t hear them, they can’t see much above the grass verge. They probably won’t be able to see the cows over the hedge that you can so will just fall asleep.
- The ride feel is not great for you, a kind of repetitive tug as the spring loads and unloads.
- We can’t really hear the child, and any little annoyances for them like dropping a glove or teddy become a right faff for you to sort out as you stop and undo everything whilst your bike falls over or gets scratched along a wall.
- Quality branded options are so very very expensive, some can be over £1000. So second hand is a good option if you need one.
Child seat between your arms – like WeeRide or Thule
- These give the best experience for the child. Best view, best weight balance on the bike so you’re able to ride more challenging stuff, and they actually get a feel for the balance required for riding a bike – leaning in an turning the handlebars.
- Just fits on your bike, so not much extra space required. Easy to remove just the seat part for getting the bike in/on a car.
- Great experience for the child – high up, see everything. You can see and hear them even with wind noise so you’re both involved in a conversation (or singing to keep them happy if you’ve pushed your luck with a longer ride) as you ride along.
- Going through gates and narrow gaps our daughter steers it as we walk the bike through, so she is learning about steering a bike.
- They can actually reach and turn the handlebars, so anything like a Garmin is likely to have every button pressed and the language set to Chinese before you even notice. They will also turn the bars when you least expect it – not really a problem as they’re not as strong as you, but be wary if you want to ride one handed whilst fiddling with something else.
- Not meant for use with road bike bars, but I have had no issue with it with my hands on the bar tops on a gravel bike. My daughter likes to hold the handle bars, so leans forwards. If your child insists on sitting bolt upright then you may have issues as they get taller, then you will need a flat handlebar bike with a more upright position.
- Easy to remove just the seat, but the main heavy steel bar of the Weeride would be a pain, so fine if you have a “family cycling” or winter bike as well as your carbon road bike. But not for people with only one bike.
- Short life – from about 9 month 1 year old up to 15kg, so somewhere around 3 years or so.
- You can’t ride out of the saddle, because you will bash your knees on the seat. So stay seated and stick your knees out a bit to go around the seat. I put flat pedals on my family cycling bike too, which makes the foot position more adaptable compared to clipless pedals, a bit wider and a bit more knees out to accommodate the child seat.
Rear Mounting Child Seat
- Longer usage than the front seat. It will take more weight so you can use it for a few extra years. If you want to buy one seat to see you through from 1 year until they are riding this is the one. We will be switching to this one when our daughter is over 15kg.
- They are high up so have a good sideways view over the grass verges.
- Quick to pull your bike out, drop a child on and go riding.
- Small lightweight bracket left on your bike so no much extra weight with seat removed. Ideal for people with only one bike. Though personally I wouldn’t clamp this onto my favourite bike, it feels like a lot of leverage over a small clamping area.
- You can’t hear them because they are behind you – still better than a trailer but hard when you’re moving.
- You can’t see them easily.
- Their view is mostly of your arse or in many cases your rucksack (with spare clothes, nappies, potty, snacks and other practical parenting essentials) quite close to their face.
- The bike feels heavily weighted to the rear (or more accurately very light on the front wheel), so more adventurous riding is limited and they tend to spring about wildly over challenging terrain, further changing the bike’s feel.
There is no perfect solution, they each have their own advantages. Your situation may rule some of them out. If you have twins or are not confident a trailer might seem like the best option, or if you have no storage or no cycling routes it will fit down a trailer might be ruled out.
In an ideal world you would start with a front mounted seat, using a trailer just for the safety and warmth it adds to a cold and icy winter. Then progressing to a rear mounted seat when they’ve outgrown the front mounted one.
If you want a one product to see you through, buy a rear mounted seat. Perhaps with an extra clamp for your partner’s bike if you plan to use on different bikes.
If you want the best experience for your child’s introduction to cycling buy a front mounted seat. They will love it and you can ride some more interesting and challenging terrain together as you talk and sing together, shouting ahhhh hhh hhh hhh hhh! together as you go over the cobbles. It’s going to be a very sad day when we’ve outgrown ours.