Totcycle | Family Biking

Tots on bikes, kids as cargo, family cycling, and other high-occupancy velo goodness.

Not caring how much our bikes weigh since 2008.

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« Baby on a Bicycle? »

What follows is a bike confession, and a whole lot of rumination about bringing a baby by bike.

Oh, how I've agonized over this one. We're not a car-free family, so we have the option of driving, but I really prefer to bike at this point, and since so many of our outings are by bike, I've been chomping at the bit to let our infant Luc in on the "bike fun".

Just to be clear - most of the injury prevention crowd and cycling mainstream would say "no go" to babies on bikes. But people do it anyway, so here is my opinion how how a motivated and risk-aware parent might go about this. If done carefully it would seem to be not so different from a jogging stroller. For both bike and jogging stroller, however, it's probably wise to wait until at least 3-6 months. That said - how long did I last? 7 weeks. Your risk assessment may vary ... I do count myself as certifiably family-bike-crazy.

The primary concern with an infant is the bobble-head issue. Infants do not have appropriate musculature to support their relatively large heads, and thus cannot mitigate jostling and impact forces the way we can. There is also some concern about unrecognized repeated minor head injury from shaking and subtle impacts, as well as stresses on their necks. They of course, cannot communicate specific discomforts the ways toddlers can, so it’s hard to know if those are being missed.

So how can we minimize these risks, besides waiting until they're one year old and can sit steadily upright before taking them by bike? Amidships position in between the wheels (to reduce travel from impacts from front and back wheels), placement as low as possible to reduce rotational momentum with tipovers, a bike with a flexy steel frame and big tires run at low pressure, use of a well-secured rear-facing standard car seat, and a position where neither driver nor bike can land on baby all seem important.

Baby in Bakfiets, by wittcoThe best way I've seen to accomplish this is with a car seat mounted rear-facing in the wooden box of a Dutch bakfiets or similar bike. This placement is low and centered between the wheels of this long bike, which minimizes up and down movement from bumps, and makes tipovers less scary. The wooden box affords extra protection, and the bike itself is not known for its speed. Plus, the baby is facing the rider, so it's easy to monitor jostling and comfort, as well as interact.

Sure, a bakfiets is expensive, but if you don't live in a very hilly area it'll be an ideal young kid carrier from baby number one up through multiple toddlers and preschoolers. Failing that, eager parents in the US often use infant adapters in bike trailers, which do worry me in terms of a lot of jostling (placement right over the axle), debris coming off the rear tire, and tipover potential. The bike trailer companies do market various infant slings and infant seat adapters, but are careful to specify that these are for strolling, not biking. From feedback I've heard, the slings may do a better job than the infant seat adapters with head pads and body wraps, as slumping forward in the seat seems to occur with the latter.

Luc on his first ride, already asleepWith our youngest I did end up going the trailer route, but instead of an infant adapter, I mounted a car seat base in the trailer for click in click out convenience, which was handy because Luc falls asleep instantly when we bike. It's soporrrific! In fact, when I'm desperate to help him nap, I go for a quick ride. A padded body/head support (the Snuzzler, see also the Cradler) helps prevent jostling in the seat. I keep the trailer tire pressures very low for extra suspension (better trailers have built-in suspension), use fenders and the front vinyl window to keep debris out of his eyes, stay on quiet smooth streets and trails, and am paranoid about my speed and around bumps.

So what's next? I'm working on a custom seat where he sits rear-facing (car-seat style) low-down in our MADSEN bucket, strapped in using the Chariot baby supporter for head/neck padding and secure harness. He'll be protected on three sides by the bucket and padding, and will be rear-facing (safer) but also facing Drew on the back bench (fun, not always safe depending on her mood). UPDATE: Done, and we love it!

Other options that could work but are hard to come by would include a car seat in cargo trike, like this Christiania (click for cute photo). The upcoming Taga convertible trike/stroller also seems to have an infant option. The Stouts in Colorado have come up with the coziest way to ride in the winter.

An option to avoid which you'll see if you read enough about Dutch biking is the front or rear-rack car seat adaptor. Read this test report to see why that's not a good idea. Other options to avoid are detailed in our April 1st post on "Baby on Bike Breakthroughs" ...

But what about the helmet? After all, in the US, bike safety often seems to begin and end with "wear a helmet". In these infant-on-bike options, my humble opinion is that a helmet would likely do more harm than good, since it adds weight to the head, pushes the head forward, introduces strap/airway concerns, and is designed for linear impacts and falls that just shouldn't happen in these setups. That said, if you're trying to comply with local laws, you might look at this

So there you have it - my baby on bike confession, and a year's worth of ruminating on this topic. What do you think? Is biking with babies a selfish thing for crazed parents with self-reinforcing bike obsessions to do? Or is it our culture of fear and high-anxiety parenting that has had me in such a lather about such pursuits? I'm not sure myself, sometimes. Where would you draw the line? What has worked for you? Go ahead, out yourself in the comments ...

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Reader Comments (13)

My gut reaction is that it is due to our culture of fear. Fear to let kids play outside and run around the block. Fear to let kids climb trees. Feat to play in rivers. Yes, deaths or injuries happen. But those smaller statistics seem to have created a larger statistic of fearful parents. It tends to only be our generation that has this culture of fear (I'm 37).

This is not to say that kids should be put willy-nilly on bikes. Thought and care should be put into it as well as the route. I am not a fan of the seats on the back of bikes because it makes the bike totally top heavy and awkward so I find other solutions. Cargo bikes work well for me: big, largely visible, you can put a car seat in it, they are meant to go slow, heavy....

Good thinking, Totcycle. I shall be ruminating this for days.

June 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTravis A. Wittwer

I think parents here in the states are way to concerned about safety. All of the factors you mentioned, like head shaking can occur to a baby in a car seat when driving down a rough road. In almost every other countries parents don't think twice about putting their infants on a bike, some parents even wear their babies in carriers with cycling and even on motor bikes. I'm not saying those are "safe" by any means, but I think being in a car seat, in a bike trailer is pretty safe for a newborn. Also with the dirt/debris issue, doesn't the rain cover on a bike trailer prevent that? I agree about helmets. I also think a car seat negates the need for a helmet.

Also my mom never used a car seat for me as an infant because I would "throw a fit", she instead put me in the space by the back window in a moses basket in her '63 mustang. ANYTHING has to be a better way of transporting a baby then that.

June 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBrooke

Hello, I adore your blog. I'm in my early twenties and baby-free, but I appreciate your website. I intend to raising a car-free/lite family too.

I know family cycling is possible in Davis (CA) because it's bike-friendly and many families cycle. Now that I'm in San Diego however, it seems unpractical and socially unacceptable to be a car-free family.

Hope Family Cycling becomes mainstream soon. Keep up the great work! :)

June 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChrista

I can appreciate your predicament in deciding what age you should start biking with your child -- I just went through the same thing myself. I first had to separate out the rational from the irrational safety concerns. (To me It doesn't really matter what they do in one country or another if one is reckless or another is suffocated from fear -- it's a matter of weighing real risks). Then I had to make sure I was doing it for the right reasons and not my own selfishness (because I really wanted to bike with my daughter from the beginning). I ended up starting at about 6 months in a trailer on selected off-street routes and worked up from there. Everyone's situation is different, of course. Thanks for the valuable post.

June 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterscotts

Love your Blog !

I have the same passion for riding with my son and family.. I just did my first 10 mile ride on my Zigo Leader with my son! Cheers thanks for the great posts !
my photos are here

June 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMarc

Though we only started looking at cycling with the kids after the 'baby' stage we too were amazed at all the options! We ended up with a Christiania (they have a dealer in Australia where we are). The first couple of posts on my blog ( show our thoughts on the various kids carrying options and why we went with the trike. Great blog by the way!

June 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAaron

Cool article!
Thank you so much.
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July 24, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterbestromann

Thanks for all the useful info. I'm now rethinking my 10month baby- bike setup. At present I have a gazelle basic three speed with a Yepp bike seat on the back. I have my daughter in a helmet as well but just don't feel comfortable, especially after reading your blog with the helmet safety issues. I like the foam helmet you recommend checking out but without the added safety of the maxi cosi I'm worried to swap helmets up. Any added advice on the foam helmet, feedback from other mothers who have swapped? Groetjes

October 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAntwerp536

Hi - That link to the soft foam helmet for early walkers was a bit of a joke ... it's not designed for cycling, and if your 10mo child can fit a helmet that's approved for cycling, I would stick with that.

October 29, 2009 | Registered CommenterJulian / Totcycle

Thank you SO much for this post! I'd heard of people putting car seats on the bike trailer, but doing it 15 years ago. I'm glad to know some people still do it. I was considering the infant sling for a trailer, but I've always thought that the car seat should probably be fine. Thanks for your tips and advice. Unfortunately, my new baby is kind of small and would need to sit better in his car seat before I'd feel comfortable putting him on the bike, but soon! I ran with my firstborn when he was 5 or 6 weeks old, putting the infant car seat on the jogging stroller.

July 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJulia

Your best bet is to go to your local sporting goods store and check out the trailers on hand. Bring the kids with you. The best way to decide what will work for you is to inspect it closely, place the kids inside and to practice mounting the trailer to a bike in the store.

June 28, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterplumbing

By "mounting" a carseat base into the trailer, do you mean strapping it in, or is there something else you need to do? I have been trying to figure out a way for my entire family to ride bikes together, consisting of my husband and me, two toddlers, and a 4 month old. I'm thinking if this trailer thing would work for me, we could have one seat on each bike, and put the baby in the trailer with a base! :) I just want to make sure it's safe. Thank you so much for posting this. I googled "how to ride a bike with a baby" and your blog popped up, and thank goodness it did! :)

April 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEmily

So first thank you for all the work you put into your blog- it has quickly become gospel for us in terms of family biking knowledge. I've read your post and followed all the links and followed their links and made phone calls and googled all the powers that be where child safety is concerned as well as our local state laws governing helmets and motorcycles. (Interesting to note it is completely legal and there are D.O.T. approved infant helmets for MOTORCYCLES- or as my ICU nurse hubby irreverantly calls them "donor-cycles" something I found terrifying and shocking given they can go highway speeds and given all the hullabaloo over babies on bikes...) My question though is this- Are there ANY actual studies on infant safety factors and where are they? I am finding at best anecdotal information even from BHSI, AAP and Harvard University. We have determined all the risks and the ways to best minimize them in motor vehicles. Wouldn't it be just as easy to do some REAL research and trouble shooting instead of throwing the baby out with the bath water? For example it seems the most common injuries institutions note are tipping over with a standing bike- Why aren't the safety folks selling dual kick stands as the solution instead of just the "Don't put your kid on a bike you lunatic" message? Do you know of any real studies done on the effects of vibration SPECIFIC to infant bike passengers? Obviously real babies couldn't be involved but we have great crash dummies and accelerometers easily available these days for such purposes.

April 10, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterskippy

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