Originally published April 7, 2015
Robert Johnson, a Walk Bike University Instructor and life-long bike rider answered some frequently asked questions about bicycling as a family. Robert can frequently be seen pedaling around the East side with one or both of his kids.
What is the youngest age I can carry a child on my bike?
In Tennessee, it is a legal requirement for children under 16 to wear a helmet when they are on a bicycle. It therefore follows that a child must be capable of holding their head, with a helmet on, comfortably, before they go on a bike. The American Academy of Pediatrics says children’s neck strength is generally great enough to cope with sudden stops, while wearing a helmet, after one year of age. My children were on my bike, with helmets on, at 11 months of age, so the AAP advice seems about right.
How do I carry my kids on my bike?
There are a variety of ways to carry children on bikes. In order of popularity, the top three are:
1) A child seat attached to your bicycle behind your seat, either directly to the frame or to a metal rack that also serves as a bag carrier. These have seat belts and often neck and head restraints. They are easily available from bike shops, Ebay and Craiglist. You probably know someone with one that their child has outgrown, as they generally suit children up to about 5 years old.
Remember you have more weight in the back! Be sure that your tires are fully inflated and look out for grates around turns because your tires can more easily slip.
2) A child seat attached to the cross bar of the bike, a special bar that attaches in that location, or to the steering post (headset) just below the handlebars is another option. This design means the child is directly in front of you, which many people enjoy, and leaves the rear rack free to carry the bags full of stuff that goes with the child! Yepp is a fairly common brand available in Nashville. They suit children up to about 4 years old.
Children are so comfortable they can often fall asleep. A large pad, or something as illustrated, are a great addition for a head rest.
3) A trailer attaches by a special bracket to the rear of your bicycle. It gives you lots of room and carrying capacity, including the ability to pull two children easily. They are available from bike shops, Ebay and Craiglist, again, many people have them gathering dust somewhere. They suit one or two children, up to about 7 years old.
Tip: Give your toddlers a pillow so their head doesn't bounce around too much.
Take a look at this buying guide to help you find the best option for you!
What is the safest method of carrying children on my bicycle?
There is very little data to answer that question statistically. Each of the common methods of carrying children has its pros and cons. Parents will tell you that they feel safest with how they carry their children based on personal preference.
The rear child seat places the weight behind you, and over the rear wheel. Some people are concerned that this makes the bike difficult to handle when standing still, although it does not really affect performance once you are moving. Most people find this is not a problem after a bit of practice.
Having the child seat in front of you also feels top heavy, but you can see your child and the weight is in between the wheels. This kind of seat does not negatively affect the steering, despite appearances.
A bike trailer makes your bike into a longer, wider, heavier vehicle, but the bike handling is not negatively affected, even when standing still. There are no conclusive statistics saying that bike trailers increase the chances of being struck by another vehicle when you are on the road, although many people carry a little flag attached to the rear of the trailer to increase its visibility in traffic.
If the child is on a seat attached to the bike, the greatest risk is not from traffic, it is actually from you falling over while the child is in the seat. I've cycled into lamp posts, turned too sharply - and simply got off the bike incorrectly- more times than I want to admit, and yes, my darlings cried when the bike fell over. But we got up, dusted ourselves off, and carried on!
I've read that some parents have actually turned so sharply, at speed, that the bike trailer they were pulling tipped over! Again, they just had big cuddles, rearranged everybody’s dignity and carried on. No big deal.
I’m not very strong - How could I go cycling with my kids?
Get a bicycle trailer so that there is no weight on your bicycle when you are standing still. As for going along, it is possible (and normal) to cycle as slowly as walking. So if you can push your children in a stroller, you could take them cycling. In fact, gears - particularly low gears designed for mountain bikes - can make cycling uphill easier than pushing a stroller uphill!
I’m not a very good cyclist - wouldn't it be dangerous for my child for me take them cycling?
I would certainly recommend that you make sure that you are capable of starting, stopping, turning (all in a controlled way!) and changing gears (if your bike has any) before you take your children cycling. Walk Bike Nashville’s Walk Bike University is now running free adult cycling classes, where League Certified Instructors will be able to brush up your skills.
Once you've mastered those things, start with a trip on one of Nashville’s superb Greenways. They are mostly flat, run through parks, there is no traffic, no speeding, and you can’t get too lost! You are the best judge of acceptable risk for you and your child but it is possible for every fitness, age and skill level to cycle in complete safety somewhere - and you and the child will enjoy it, I promise.
How am I ever going to get my child to wear a helmet? They scream whenever I try to put a hat on them!
Only put the helmet on just before going out on the first bike ride, and then insist on it every time (as it's the law). I guarantee they will love riding so much, they will beg to get the helmet on! Also model the correct behavior yourself - wear your helmet every time you ride, all the time you ride.
Wait a minute, are you telling me that getting my toddlers out the door for a park visit will be EVEN MORE complicated?
Not once they've had the experience of being on the bike! They generally love it so much they will demand that you get going! You won't see kids on a bike featured on Reasons My Son is Crying.