As a keen cyclist, I couldn’t wait until my daughter was big enough for her first baby bike seat. I longed for the days when I could ditch public transport with the pushchair and get back to the speed and convenience of getting around the local area by bike. It turned out to be a little more complicated than I anticipated, but now I know what I’m doing the baby girl is almost a big of fan of cycling as I am.
When you can start using a baby bike seat
Most baby bike seats have a recommended minimum age of nine months but more important than her age is your baby’s ability to sit up unaided. To cycle with a younger baby you’ll need a cargo bike with a child car seat mount. It’s a set up that’s fairly common in Scandinavia but is still relatively rare in the UK. Don’t be tempted to cycle with your baby in a sling, as in the event of an accident you risk falling onto her.
You can safely use a baby bike seat until your little one weighs around 15-20kg (upper weight limits vary between brands and models). After that point your best bets are a tag-a-long bike or, if your little one isn’t yet a confident cyclist, a cargo bike.
Choosing a baby bike seat
Once you’ve opted for a baby bike seat rather than a cargo bike, you need to decide between a front or rear-mounted model.
A front-mounted baby bike seat means you can see your little one at all times, making communication easier. Handling takes a bit of getting used (similar to riding with a heavily laden bike basket) but ultimately you might feel more in control than with a rear-mounted seat.
The downsides are that your bike’s steering will be slightly restricted and you might find yourself having to pedal in an awkward wide-kneed stance. Your baby will also be exposed to the wind more than she would be in a rear-mounted seat, though you can buy front seats with windshields that offer some protection. In addition, weight limits for front seats tend to be lower than rear seats so it’s a shorter term solution.
Rear-mounted baby bike seats, while a bit destabilising because of the way they are suspended over the back wheel, affect handling less and therefore tend to be safer. Larger than their front-mounted counterparts, rear seats offer more support for little heads and necks, making them more comfortable to fall asleep in. You can even get models that recline if you know you’ll be doing a lot of long cycling trips with your baby. They’re safer in the event of an accident too, offering wraparound support in case of a fall.
The other benefit of a rear seat is that you can attach additional brackets to any number of adult bikes, then switch the baby bike seat between them depending on who will be cycling with your child that day. A rear seat also means there’s space on the front of your bike for a basket.
How to cycle with a baby bike seat
Actually cycling with a baby in a bike seat isn’t very different from cycling with a heavy basket or pannier rack. With that in mind, it’s a good idea to go for a test ride with a heavy weight in your baby bike seat before taking your little one out for a spin for the first time.
I tend to cycle more slowly than I would without the baby girl, taking back routes rather than main roads (to avoid both traffic and air pollution) and being particularly careful over bumpy ground. The baby girl’s rear-mounted bike seat offers pretty good natural suspension so small bumps are quite fun, but even a large speed hump can cause an unpleasant jolt if taken too fast.
Getting on and off a bike with a baby bike seat
The tricky thing is getting you and your baby on and off the bike, locking it up and storing it. Everyone will find their own workarounds but the most practical way I found when the baby girl was little was to wear her in a sling on my front while I manoeuvred my bike out of the shed and out to the pavement in front of our house. With the bike leaning against a wall I would then strap her into her seat, put on both our helmets (she was happier to wear hers if she saw me putting mine on first) and walk the bike onto the road.
I recommend a bike with a step-through frame, as they’re easier to get your leg over. If yours has a crossbar, just be careful to step over rather than swinging your leg round, as you’ll just end up kicking the baby bike seat (I write from experience).
Locking up a bike with a baby bike seat
Locking up a bike with your baby on board can be challenging, as the added weight makes the bike very unstable, so it’s always best to take her out first. Before the girl was walking I would wear a sling while cycling so as to be able to transfer her back into it when we reached our destination. Since she’s been steady on her feet I simply stand her on the ground next to me while I lock up the bike or put it back in our shed. And I have to say, cycling with the baby girl got much easier once she was walking.
The final element to consider is that while you might be enjoying yourself, your baby might not be, whether due to cold, discomfort or some other unfathomable infant unhappiness. If that’s the case, abandon the exercise and try again another day.
Essential kit for cycling with a baby bike seat
Helmets for both you and your baby are a must, as are lights if you’ll be cycling after dark. To draw attention to the fact that you’ve got a passenger, a reflective ‘baby on board’ sticker on the back of the bike seat is a good idea too.
It can get very chilly as a passenger on a bike, so you’ll need to wrap your baby up warm. At least one layer more than what you’re wearing, ideally something windproof. Warm mittens are essential come winter – if your baby won’t keep hers on (something I had to deal with my first winter cycling with the baby girl), you might prefer to wait until warmer weather to give cycling a go. A light but warm balaclava under your baby’s helmet offers protection for ears and cheeks.