Bicycling with babies and small children is wonderful. It is healthy for you, it is an environmentally responsible outdoor activity, it is stimulating for children, and your children love spending time with you. After you do it a few times, you children will see you preparing for a ride and will get excited.
There are lots of different ways to bike with babies. If you interviewed 10 different parents, you would likely find 20 different ways to bike with babies. The point of this article is not to present and discuss all the different ways to bike with babies. Instead, I am going to tell you how I thought it through and give you a couple starting ideas.
I am an avid cyclist. I raised two daughters and now have two granddaughters. I did oodles of biking with them almost from birth. I own a bike shop and have access to every bicycling gadget and toy imaginable. And, I am an engineer, which means I know all the science stuff.
Typically, children are interested in learning to ride a bike with training wheels when they are 3-4 years old. They learn to ride without training wheels at 5-7 years of age. However, they do not have the stamina, skills, or awareness to ride with you, safely, for any distance until at least 8-years old and often not until 10-years old. If you like to bike and want to do it with young children, you have to carry them with you, using your bike, until at least 8-years old.
The first thing to think about when biking with your baby is safety.
- Helmet. Safety starts with always wearing a helmet. “Always” means “always” — no exceptions to this rule. A helmet for baby and a helmet for you. Buying helmets from a local bike shop means the people at the shop can help you get helmets that fit, and they can teach you how to correctly adjust and wear them. Both things are critically important. A helmet that does not fit is not safe. A helmet worn incorrectly is not safe. When you buy a helmet on the internet, it is next to impossible to know it will fit.
Kids Helmet/ Adult Helmet
Children’s baby helmets are designed for kids 2 and older. What about babies less than 2-years old? I used a car seat. Strap the car seat into a bike trailer, and then put the baby into the car seat just as you would if the car seat is in the car. Worked great and I was confident that my precious cargo was safe.
- Gloves. Professional bikers always wear gloves. Gloves make biking more comfortable. Even more important, falling without gloves will really hurt your hands. Gloves protect hands in case of a fall.
- Glasses. Protecting your eyes from stones thrown up by cars, and from wind and sun is important. Sunglasses do that during the day. Clear glasses do that at night. Wrap-around sunglasses and clear “safety glasses” are inexpensive and easy to find on the internet. Search for “wraparound safety glasses” — much less expensive than glasses positioned specifically for bicycling.
- Shoes. Protect your feet. Don’t ride barefoot. And, tuck in your shoe laces so they cannot get caught in the chain.
- Sun Protection. There are three forms of sun protection. First, stay out of direct sun. Ride on shaded trails, ride in the evening, and take breaks in shady places. Second, cover up with long sleeves, long pants, a helmet with a good brim, gloves, and socks no matter what type of shoes you wear. Third, use sunscreen with a big SPF number and put on enough to do some good.
- Food and drink. A ride this is fun turns into a ride that is not fun when you or your baby gets hungry or thirsty. This is a problem that is easy to avoid. Just take snacks and drinks with you. Water bottles and juice boxes are great. For snacks, starter ideas are cheese, sausage, hard-boiled eggs, peanut butter or hummus and crackers, granola bars, apple slices, dried apricots, carrots, and green pepper slices.
- Extra Clothing. Conditions change. Temperature can go up or down quickly, and wind does the same. Unexpected rain can cause hypothermia. It is always smart to take an extra layer or two. Getting cold can be dangerous, but so can getting too warm.
- Cell Phone and Money. Being able to call for help and having both cash and a credit card with you can make problems go away. I keep a $100 bill and a $20 bill in my bike bag with my cell phone. I have never had to use the $100, but the $20 bill has come in handy a lot of times for ice cream.
- Identification and Insurance cards. Hope an accident or emergency never happens while you are out biking with your child, but be prepared in case it does.
- Medicines. Some people, adults and children, have medicines they need to have with them all the time. Rather than packing them every time, it’s easier to just keep “go bag” of meds at the ready.
- Maintenance. A well-maintained, high-quality bike is very reliable. Fortunately, maintaining a bike is pretty simple and inexpensive. Take your bike to your local bike shop a bit before bike-riding seasons starts and ask them to check it over and tune it up. Tell them to replace the tires if they are worn, inflate the tires. Check and lubricate the drive train, make sure the brakes work properly, the wheels are true, the gears shift, and what should be tight is tight.
- Fix-it-Stuff. The most important fix-it-stuff to have are the things necessary to deal with a flat tire: a spare tube or patch kit, a pair of tire levers, possibly a wrench to loosen the nut on a hub if your bike does not have quick-release hubs, an air pump or CO2 cartridges, and, most important, the knowledge to use these tools fix a flat tire. Fixing a flat tire is not hard, when you know how to do it and you have done it a time or two in practice. Not being able to fix a flat tire ruins a bike ride. Being able to competently and efficiently change a flat tire makes a flat a barely noticeable reason to stop and enjoy a break for a few minutes. A very hand thing to carry is a bicycle-specific multi-tool that has a set of wrenches that fit the nuts and bolts on your bike. In most cases, that is a set of metric hex wrenches ranging from 2 to 8 mm. The chain transmits power from the pedals to the rear wheel. It operates best when it is clean and lubricated. I carry a little bottle of chain lube and apply lubrication to the chain about once a week if I am doing short rides, or every 100 miles if doing longer rides.
A baby trailer pulled behind a bike is, without doubt, the safest way to bike with a baby. When a baby is physically on the bike you are riding, the balance of the bike is wrong and your ability to control the bike is diminished. If you crash, or stop suddenly, or hit something, the baby will likely be injured more than you. There are a bunch of very good baby trailers designed to be pulled safely behind a bike. When evaluating different baby trailers, look for these things:
- Attachment to the bike. Will it attach to your bike? Does it attach and disconnect quickly and easily? Does the attachment have a primary and backup, just in case the primary fails.
- Folding. A baby trailer that folds is easier to put in a small car, and does not take as much room in a small garage.
- Restraining straps. A good baby trailer has the equivalent of seat belts to keep baby in and restrained in case you crash.
- Roll-bar. If you hit something and fall, the baby trailer will probably tip over too. A roll-bar prevents the baby from getting injured when that happens.
- Protection from sun, wind, and rain. Being out in fresh air is wonderful and healthy for you and for your baby. But, too much sun is harmful, too much wind is scary and can be cold, and rain causes heat loss. Good baby trailers have a canopy that provides a complete bubble around baby — with windshield.
- Containment. Once babies become children, they want their stuff to play with while you pedal — dolls, toys, crackers, water bottles. A baby trailer designed with a complete containment bubble keeps baby’s stuff from falling out of the trailer.
- Weight. The heavier the baby trailer, the more weight you have to pull, the more tired you will get, and the less frequently you will use it.
- Construction. Is the baby trailer well-designed and well-built. Most have an aluminum frame. Is the frame sturdy? Most have a coated nylon canopy with zippers, snaps, and hook-and-loop fasteners. Good baby trailers have wheels with bearings that reduce drag.
- Multi-purpose. Some baby trailers are designed for three purposes: a) as a trailer to pull behind a bike, of course, b) as a stroller, and c) as a baby jogger. If you are interested in all three functions, test the trailer in all three functions before you buy, and see how long it takes to convert from one use to another.
What about the bike? Ultra-light road bikes, like those ridden on
the Tour de France are not so good to pull baby trailers. Most other kinds of bikes will work. I have two favorite bikes that I use with a baby trailer:
- Folding bike. My favorite folding bike is a Brompton. It folds or unfolds in 10 seconds and two of them fit in the trunk of any car. Seriously — 10 seconds. These are amazing bikes. Fun and comfortable to ride. Folding makes them so easy to put in a car and take anywhere. Some people think a bike like this could not possibly be easy to ride more than around the block. I rode my Brompton from Memphis to New Orleans and back, from Ft. Lauderdale to Key West and back, and across Iowa. I have taken it with me all over the world. On short and medium distance rides, a Brompton is great for pulling a bike trailer.
- E-Bike. If you want to do longer and bigger rides that just around the neighborhood, consider an e-bike.
Think about this… the weight being pulled is a huge factor in how much energy it takes to ride a bike. The guys who ride the Tour de France know that every ounce counts. Your baby, depending on age, weighs between 10 and about 50 pounds. The trailer weighs about 20 pounds. The “stuff” you haul with baby weighs 10-40 pound. That is enough extra weight to make even an elite cyclist tired and slow. That gives you two choices. Either go slowly and not very far, or get help. An e-bike is amazing help.
An e-bike adds a little or a lot of power to each pedal stroke. An e-bike makes biking with baby fun.
I like two different e-bikes.
- Brompton® makes an e-bike that is a regular Brompton with a motor and battery added. Sweet. The only limitation is that it is not a big battery. Brompton’s e-bike has plenty of power, but limited range. Pulling a baby trailer, you are probably limited to about 20 miles on power. You can ride farther, it just will not be with power.
- Tern® makes several e-bikes, folding and non-folding. Tern’s e-bikes are a bit bigger and heavier than Brompton bikes, but they also have considerably more power to ride longer under power. Tern makes bikes that cover 60 miles pulling a trailer.
Riding a Bike with a Baby Trailer
Riding with a Trailer. There are four things to remember about riding with a baby trailer:
- It takes more time and distance to stop because you have more inertia, but the same braking power. This is true whether you have your baby with you on your bike, or separately in a baby trailer. So, ride with caution. Slow down gently and gradually well before you think you need to. You have precious cargo.
- A trailer requires a wider turning radius. Just like a semi-truck makes wide turns, so does a bike pulling a trailer.
- When pulling a baby trailer, you cannot ride as close to the curb. If you ride too close to the curb, one of the wheels on the trailer will ride up onto the curb, which can cause the trailer to tip over. Learn not to ride close to the edge.
- Rough roads hurt. No matter whether your baby is on your bike or being pulled behind in a trailer, a rough road hurts because a baby cannot do anything to absorb the shock of bumps with its legs. Pick smooth roads and avoid bumps and potholes.
With a little practice, riding a bike while pulling a baby trailer is more comfortable for you and for your baby.
Riding with a Baby. Probably the most important thing to say about riding a bike with a baby or small child is to be considerate. I found that my girls were happiest if I stopped every 15 minutes or so and let them out to move a bit. Being a passenger on a bike is not the same as being the rider on a bike. Riders move their legs and can shift on the seat. Riders can stand. Passengers cannot do any of that. So, every 15 minutes or so, stop and let them out to move.
Where to ride. The best place to ride with your baby is on bike trails — away from cars. Trails are quieter, safer, usually more shaded, they have more places to stop, and the scenery is better. More and more towns and cities are creating wonderful bike trails that are perfect for riding with children. Plus the people who ride on trails tend to ride more slowly that the people who ride on trails, so you don’t have to worry about sharing the road with aggressive riders on expensive road bikes.
What to take to have fun. One of the wonderful things about having a baby trailer is that you can take toys for your baby to play with while riding. Because good baby trailers form a bubble around your baby, you do not have to worry about losing toys, dolls, and stuffed animals while out on a ride. You can even take changes of changes of clothing so you and your baby can play in water if you ride past a stream or pond.