Biking with Babies: Part 2

child seat

As with my first post Biking with Babies: Part 1, I’m just gonna put this general statement out there right off the bat: Biking with babies in North America is a contentious issue. It just is, I accept that. And, to each their own. It is even a bone of contention in my own extended family (although things are mellowing out now that the youngest “baby” is two)! We all have our reasons or justifications, experiences, and cultural backgrounds to draw upon to inform the decisions that are right for our own families. We all love our children and are trying to make the best choices possible for them. So, as always, my sage advice (and disclaimer, really) is to just do what feels right for you when biking with babies; as with all parenting decisions, they are yours to make.

Biking with Babies

This series will examine biking with a baby from a very young age (Part 1), when they can sit up (Part 2), through to toddlerdom (Part 3).  I am not going to examine the ins-and-outs of riding with small children – once again, I’d like to keep this practical – I will, however, link you to some great articles that already explore the issues at hand, ones that I used to help inform my own decisions and glean helpful tips from.

Cycling with Older Infants

If your family is not comfortable cycling with a small baby, you may find that you are more at ease when you notice certain milestones being reached. Such as:

  • neck strength (to be able to bear the weight of a helmet);
  • head size (such that a helmet actually fits); and,
  • sitting (core strength, resulting in more options for taking your wee package on the bike, itself).

Because every child is different, you may notice these traits appearing at various ages. Suffice to say, some or all may appear in the 4-6 month old range, but most babies will likely be ticking off this list with confidence before 9 months, in my experience. So, depending on your inclination and your climate (and, let’s face it, your inclination towards your climate!), you’ll hopefully be back biking as much as your heart desires, for recreation or for life, well before a year old. We were, at least.

Your Options

In North America, you get to add an option from their earliest “small baby” days!

Bike trailers and bakfiets are still excellent options, ones that are versatile and will carry you through a plethora of ages and stages. I’ve outlined some of the benefits and drawbacks of each, here, here, and here.

biking with babiesBike Trailers with Babies

There are heaps of choices for bike-mounted trailers for babies and kiddos, with Thule Chariot carriers being the predominant brand in Calgary.  There is an argument about their safety when pulled in traffic, largely due to visibility concerns, with trailers being behind your bike and low to the ground.  Check this out if you need some reassurance in that department.

The beauty of the trailer is that it is low to the ground and the kid is in a bubble, protected against the elements. This bubble also serves as a roll-cage for your precious cargo. You can flip a trailer (I’ve yet to do it and my husband has only done it when it was empty), so it’s a good idea to check your speed and tame your riding style a bit. But, like I said: roll bar, plus they’re in a 5-point harness inside. Trailers are an excellent choice and if you are at all like me, you will get a lot more use out of them than just as a bike trailer: we walk, jog, ski, and bike with our trailers. I’d say their major downside is price, so start hunting early on your local used goods network, like Kijiji or Craigslist. Or, suck it up, spend the money, and expect to be able to resell it for a very reasonable price when all is said and done. I have experience with (now Thule) Chariot and Burley and would highly recommend both.

A sitting babe in a bike trailer is similar to an infant, just with some different contraptions for support, if you like. Kiddo is now the age where they may or may not have outgrown the infant sling, a choice proffered up in Part 1.

Infant Slings

Most of us go against Chariot’s recommended uses and use their infant sling product while cycling (against their explicit directions).  By now, if you had chosen to use the infant sling pre-sitting, you will probably want to adjust the angles so that babe isn’t quite as reclined. My kids would start doing mini-crunches if forced to lie down, trying to sit-up and look around, working against the shoulder straps. Adjusting the tension on the various straps relaxes the sling into a slightly more seated position. My older brother recommended keeping the sling in for as long as possible because it helps with trailer-induced narcolepsy (aka napping) and I gladly pass on that bit of wisdom.

Baby Supporter or Snuggler

If however, you find the sling isn’t working out for your situation or you never used one and are now entering your first phase of Biking with Baby, you don’t need one if your child can sit up well and you likely don’t need anything else if you have a single trailer. Perhaps just a rolled up receiving blanket or similar for some lateral support. Or, some Ellie Ears!

Most trailer brands sell an accessory for the sitting baby stage and they make good sense, especially if you have a double trailer (more space means less cozy leaning potential…or a sibling to contend with). Just watch out for helmet compatibility if that’s important for you.

Thule Chariot’s product is called the Baby Supporter and Burley’s is the Baby Snuggler, FYI.

Trailers are a very popular first choice for cycling with infants, often the first step for biking families, including ourselves.  One friend commented that his friend gave birth Thursday and had baby in a Chariot for the school commute Tuesday!  No pressure!  I was not that ambitious (I had some pretty epic births, with the first one leaving me unable to walk properly for months, so I will give myself a lot of credit), ha.  Maybe you will be as lucky as that momma or you’ll just take the plunge when you feel ready!  Ready for us (mostly me) was around 4 months old with my first and 5 weeks old with my second (and, honestly, it would have been earlier as she was a very robust baby, born at almost 9 lb 4 oz and sturdy, but I got a wicked sinus infection so wasn’t up to doing much of anything). I am also very lucky in that I have very decent – no, excellent – bike infrastructure by North American standards around where I live and need to go and this hugely affects my decision.

Another reason families choose trailers is that your cargo is quite inconspicuous. One Twitter acquaintance exclaimed that she “rode with both [of her] kids around 9 months old in the [C]hariot. Was more worried about judgy onlookers than the kids’ safety!” Aside from going against the tide, many places in North America have helmet laws, at least for the 18 and under crowd, and since helmets don’t exist for wee babes, you’re unable to comply, even if you believe in helmets (like I do, at least in North America where infrastructure is sub-par on-the-whole). This is the age where you are likely to find a helmet that actually fits your kid’s noggin, if you want. Just make sure that the trailer or any accessories you use, have or create a recessed pocket for the helmet, so that babe’s trachea isn’t compromised by their head being pushed forward and chin forced down, restricting their airway.

Bakfiets Style Bikes with Babies

For the earliest stages, a rear-facing infant bucket-style car seat in a bakfiets is touted as the crème-de-la-crème of transporting little ones around.  I think I agree, but I have no personal experience with it as we didn’t get our CETMA Largo bakfiets until our youngest was about 18 months.  The only real advantage I could see the trailers having over the box bike, is possibly the suspension that they have.  But, the advantage of you actually being able to see and hear your small infant right in front of you tips the scales, in my humble opinion, and is just awesome.  So, if you have a bakfiets, great!  If you have the cash for one and are waivering, just go for it!  And, if you don’t have the cash but really think it’s the best choice for your family, then figure out budgeting and start saving (I highly recommend You Need A Budget, affectionately known as YNAB).

To help create some suspension in the box, place your car seat on a springed base (like the Steco Baby-Mee) or use a giant piece of foam.

But, how to secure the car seat in a bike?

Check out Dina Driscoll’s post over on her blog, bikeMAMAdelphia, and how they secured their bucket in their Urban Arrow bakfiets two different ways: ties with a blanket as a pad and a Stecco Baby-Mee. Or, place the seat on top of a thick piece of foam and secure it all with some cinching straps. Both of these methods would help to add a bit of suspension or dampening to the box. The Dutch recommend having the handle of the bucket set facing upwards to create a sort of roll-bar for your babe.

Another choice is to mount a child seat on the bench or rear-facing at the front of the box (i.e. facing you, the rider). Dina did that, too.

The front-mounted seat

I don’t really have any experience with front-mounted seats as I could never find a set-up that worked for me, or my husband. I suffered from the “too much stuff in front of me” problem and he had the “knee-knocker” issue. So, sadly we never got to experience this seemingly awesome and interactive way to ride around with your kid!front seat

Front-mounted seats are generally recommended by the manufacturer’s for 9 months and up (to a certain weight). The picture, above, is of me and my youngest when she was 7 months. Fit her great and she was as happy as a pig in shit; I was the problem. I think with the right body type, bike type (i.e. upright), and handlebar configuration (i.e. swept back) these seats are a most excellent option. Totcycle calls them the “10mph hug”!

The rear-mounted seat

We went straight to the rear-mounted Yepp Maxi with our sturdy babe. She was strong and had awesome neck control from an early age. Plus, we had the cushy smooth Yuba Mundo longtail.

child seat

Here are our two monsters, nearing 4 years old and about 10 months old on our orange Xtracycle Edgerunner longtail. Super happy. At this age, I would often tow our Chariot, too, for naptime or nasty weather. A bit overkill, but she just flopped like a rag doll when she fell asleep and it was unnerving for me, so I would transfer her into the Chariot. One design flaw with the Yepp Maxi at this age is there is no chest clip, like in a car seat, so I have had a sleeping kid really slump and drop a strap. Perhaps there’s another brand out there that has this feature; but, to be totally honest, with the newer Thule Yepp seats – as illustrated in the pink one – the straps are way easier to adjust, so you cold cinch them up much tighter which would probably negate having a chest clip. Or, you could just rig something up, because these seats are otherwise totally rad (and super fun colours).

These seats can be mounted on many types of bikes, but some bikes will handle them better than others. For example, a mountain bike has a more reactive geometry and when you add a big weight high up at the back, this unweights the front wheel even more, emphasizing that characteristic twitchiness. You either get used to it or you don’t. Hopefully your local bike shop (LBS) is helpful at finding a seat that fits your bike well, with whatever rack or mounts you need. You’ll need to strategize if you still want to carry rear panniers, like using the Yepp XL adaptor, otherwise you generally lose a lot of (if not all) cargo capacity on your bike.

Longtails are just awesome for rear seats, with one or two kids. Either way, you have room for gear, towing a bike for an older kid, etc. We loved our Yuba Mundo with one kid; my husband described it as a “cushy tank” of a bike. I found it unwieldy on my 5’4″ frame with two kids and opted for a lower centre of gravity with the Edgerunner. The Bike Friday Haul-a-Day is another lower option, too, that can haul up to two Yepp seats. I’m sure there are others out there but as we are moving past that stage, I am not as informed on the current options.

What the Blogosphere Has to Say

  1. Totcycle’s “Family Biking Ages & Stages” (2009)
  2. Bicycle Dutch enlightens us on the Dutch perspective with “Cycling with a Baby” (2013) and Cycling with Babies and Toddlers” (2015).
  3. Portland’s Family Biking Guide” brochure presents simple, practical options for a wide range of biking ages (but it kind of waffles on the baby stage).
  4. According to this Globe and Mail article (2011) “Statistics Canada does not collect data on how many parents bike with their kids. But it does monitor cycling fatalities involving young children. According to StatsCan, no children aged zero to four died from being on a bike with their parents from 2001 to 2007.

Biking with Older Babies

Two of my biggest tips for no matter which method you choose: use the widest tires that your bike can fit and lower the pressure. We love Schwalbe Big Apples and Big Bens: balloon tires are awesome.

Good luck figuring out something that works for you and your family! You will find a solution if you want to, hopefully at this age and stage, but, if not, the next! And, know that biking with kids is this ever-evolving process. We have debated and tested out a bunch of different options and were happy with our choices in the end. And, one of the perks about biking in Calgary with all of our decent (and growing) infrastructure, is that I don’t have to be a distracted driver (because, what parent isn’t distracted when driving small, screaming children).

Please share your biking with babies details, below: What age did you start? With what tool (trailer, bakfiets, babywearing)? How’d it go?!

What have you gleaned from this? Questions? Comments? Please reply here: