All About Front Child Bike Seats
December 31, 2008
Julian / Totcycle in Front Seats, How To, Reviews

What follows is the first installment of a series on ways to carry kids on your bike. In a country with such a high lawyer to personal-responsibility ratio, this series should probably start with a lengthy safety admonishment and legal disclaimer, but luckily, someone's already written that for me.

So before we go too far down my giddy biking trail, let's just get the responsible part out of the way. If you're thinking about taking your young children with you on your bike, please do give the following links a careful read:

No really, we'll wait ...

Bike-Tutor child seat with classy backdrop

... welcome back. Still wanna ride a bike with your kid? Splendid. Let's get into the options. We'll start with my favorite way to carry one young child on a bike, the front child seat. For some reason, the rear child seat still is easier to find in most bike stores. Which is well enough for older kids if you've got a sturdy bike and rear rack, but rear seats are not ideal for younger kids. They make the bike less stable, require spoke guards to prevent wheel injuries, aren't as social or fun, and feature a lovely view of your sweaty derrière.

For these reasons and more, front seats are my favorite way to go for kids from 1 year to 3 years of age. Riding a bike with your toddler between your arms, talking about stuff you see, and having her feel like it's her bike, is unbeatable. My 15-month-old let out an enormous WHEEE! the first time we rode up and down the block on her first front seat, and started signing "more" frantically and crying each time we passed the house, worrying the ride was over. Now she's a bit more nonchalant, but still likes bikes so much that she tosses out a "cool bike!" to everyone we pass. I don't think she'd be such a fan if she'd been stuck in a trailer all this time.

Is It Safe?

Are front seats safe? I'm not aware of a study that compares front child seats to rear seats. In my opinion, a front seat may have some safety advantages over a rear seat:

But in general, having your child up on your bike probably does add some risks, compared to bike trailers (or not biking with your kids). There is no quality dataset that I'm aware of here, but plenty of parental and professional opinions on the matter; you will have to come to your own decision here based on your risk tolerance, bike skills, local riding conditions, and comfort. Here are some drawbacks:

Needless to say, I ride a lot more cautiously with a child on my bike. In addition, please think about the following:

Safety Tips for a Child As Passenger on Your Bike

Still with me? Let's do a roundup of front child seats. I've owned or ridden most of the following, favorites first. You'll note that my faves are European and harder-to-find, which stems from the fact that we in the US are way behind Europe when it comes to riding with kids in anything other than a trailer.

Update

Since this article was originally published, Yepp child seats have essentially swept the market. Most families I know who are shopping for a front seat end up with a Yepp Mini. See below.

Bike-Tutor

The Bike-Tutor probably deserves a full review, since coming from "across the pond" it's a bit obscure here. It requires more dynamic balance than the more passive seats, which makes it inappropriate for younger kids, but more fun for kids over 18 months, and it has a higher age/weight limit.

The advantages include an active riding position - they really feel that they're riding the bike, and may absorb early balance and steering skills on your rides. My daughter even tries to take over the handlebars (this, of course, could be a negative). It's frame-mounted, which feels more secure, and affects handling less than the stem-mounted seats. The adjustable footrests are comfortable, protect the legs a bit, and allow for mild "hot-dogging" (trying to stand). It also has decent knee clearance, especially when she's not on the bike (narrow seat). It has a waist belt/thigh strap harness which is easy to click in and out of.

Disadvantages include cost and availability (we got ours from a Canadian eBay seller). It features a PITA installation - you will cuss for an hour or two figuring out the best configuration for your bike (instructions are kinda vague, and there are many fastening options). But thereafter it's smooth sailing, and I haven't had to adjust mine all year. It's not compatible with napping (but might be with a slaaprol - Dutch for sleep pad ... see horsey head above, and a future post). It's also not as quick as the others to take on and off.

Update: This is now made in UK, redesigned to mount on step-through/loop frames, and hopefully less of a pain to install. Now called the Co-Rider.

Updated update: Doesn't sound like the mounting system for non-horizontal top tubes is safe, per this family's hair-raising experience.

Updated update to the update: Co-Rider is now available in a Mark III design, which they report is lighter, slimmer, and "the entire clamping mechanism has been completely re-designed to overcome any slipping issue." I still like the more dynamic balance, horseback riding position of this seat, I'm glad to hear they've redesigned it.

BoBike Mini

Bobike Mini in one of many fabu printsThe Dutch BoBike Mini seat is a splendid seat for kids from 1yr (manufacturer says 9mo) to 3yrs old, up to 33 lbs. They're expensive at full retail (but so worth it), but can be found used and on eBay. Your local kid-cargo-friendly bike shop may have them too (Dutch Bike Seattle, Aaron's Bike Repair, and Clever Cycles carry them, and deserve your business). If you have an upright bike with older-fashioned quill stem, you're all set. Otherwise you'll need an adapter for threadless headsets, and you will have knee clearance issues on drop bar bikes. See this handy overview of Bobike fit issues.

Rain cocoon for BoBike Mini + windshieldWhat I love is the speed and ease of taking it on and off the bike, once the mount is installed. It's also a comfortable, well-built seat, with a nice riding position for your little one. The straps are easy and secure. It doesn't affect handling as much as I thought it would, and knee clearance is good for me - I usually keep the seat on the bike even without Drew, as it makes for some extra cargo space. Overall, this is the most refined seat in this roundup.

An accessory I would recommend is the windscreen, which can really increase your child's comfort on colder/wet days. If you do a lot of wet riding, or would like to, I spotted this ridiculously cute Basil pink vented rain cover for the seat/windshield combo at Clever Cycles ... if it weren't for le Veltop, I'd have picked one up.

Yepp Mini

The Yepp Mini is a new arrival on the scene from the venerable GMG, formerly making the kind of tubular steel kid seats you might have grown up on. And while I haven't gotten to ride one yet, I've drooled over plenty, and they look great. Crocs-esque soft-but-not-soggy foam seat, chic colors, available windscreen and sleep-pad, quick on and off. Likely to have similar bike frame fit/knee clearance considerations as the Bobike Mini.

WeeRide

What's wrong with this picture?The little ones tend to nap on the bike, and for that a WeeRide has you covered, as it has a large napping pad in front of your child. Its uses a frame mounted bar with removable seat. It was our first child seat, and it worked well enough at the time, but Drew outgrew the straps well before the age limit, and I was never that happy with how they worked (kept sliding off her shoulder). Also, knee clearance wasn't great, but probably could have been improved by mounting the bar higher. For a younger infant, with parents on a budget (we found ours at Target), this is a decent way to start, if you don't mind futzing with straps.

iBert

The Ibert "safe-T-seat" is a cute little seat, more easily mounted to standard US bike stems than the Bobike, and easily removed. But when the seat is off, a metal prong threatens the family jewels. I'd keep the seat on, or avoid forward dismounts, unless your family is large enough already. Our friends liked this with their 1 year old, and it's got a Kermit-vibe going for it. I haven't tried it, but the knee clearance looks excellent; I've even seen these on road bikes.

Others

A Brompton-specific front seat solution is the ITchair, and I've seen various kid-bike-saddle-on-top-tube DIY variations online, but since those are unrestrained ways to go, they don't make so much sense for younger toddlers who are prone to falling asleep or letting go. Have I missed any that you, my gentle reader, have tried? What's been your experience with front seats? Anyone out there crashed with one of these seats? We haven't fallen, and are not planning on it, but bad things do happen. Other than bike-fear trolling on forums by folks that haven't ever ridden with such seats, I haven't read any concrete accident reports with this mode of child transport, and it would be useful to know some actual causes and results.

But let's not end this roundup on such a Debbie downer note. Let me leave you with this passenger panda portrait (self-portrait while riding - yes, I know, "speaking of accident reports ...", but this was taken on a closed course by professional drivers). It's Drew on a Bike-Tutor seat on a Dutch bike, under a cozy Veltop ... do kids usually look this happy in a carseat or bike trailer? This is why we love the front seats.

Panda under Veltop

Article originally appeared on Totcycle (http://totcycle.com/).
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