Children. You want to take them with you wherever you go.
As much as you love them, and as much as you wouldn’t change them for anything else in the world, the advent of children coming into your life can seem to jam the metaphorical chain of your biking world; for years it sometimes seems.
All of a sudden, biking may seem to garner either getting up and going out at the crack of dawn to get a few precious hours on a Sunday morning; or scrambling for some time on a week night probably just before dark for a measly 40 minutes. And that’s if you get to go out at all…rarity.
Do you really need to wait till their 8 or 9 years old before you can get back out on your bike? One of the best things about being a parent is doing stuff with your kids. I heard someone say once that something like 80% of being a good parent is just showing up.
It can be a scary truth, but just about everything you do with them or around them in some way shapes their future and their outlook on life. This includes bike riding.
Take the kids with you when you head out on your bike. If only it were that simple, right?
Well good news, it is. It’s just a question of what method you want to use to do it.
What is a Bike Trailer, and how does it work?
It’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s a trailer you hitch to your bike, and your kid(s) sits in it, and then off you go in your bike together. You get to take your kid with you wherever you want, and you ride off into the sunset gloriously happy.
Benefits of using bike trailers for kids
- It’s a great way to keep fit
It can be like walking a tightrope having young kids and still finding the time to enjoy just getting out, be it for a run, or for cycling. The burden and the joy of parental responsibility can really get in the way of staying in shape.
But by using a bike trailer, you can build in a routine on the bike, keep active, and take the kids to places you would only ordinarily go on the bike yourself. Pulling that extra weight behind you might not make you go any faster, but it’s great endurance training if you want to get all the positive you can out of it.
- Quality time with the kids
It’s a great way to get some quality time both with yourself and the children. Quality time is really important, but that doesn’t mean it has to be you just finding 101 things to do in the living room on an average day going stir crazy looking at the world passing you by outside.
- It gets the kids out in the fresh air
Rolling down the windows in the car just isn’t quite the same. Every time you go out is an adventure. Children will be more involved with the journey. They can feel the air, smell the flowers, not isolated behind metal, glass and plastic.
Of course that doesn’t mean that just owning a bike trailer will land you instantly in some sort of karmic utopia. There are some things that need to be considered when thinking about Bike Trailers.
Possible disadvantages with bike trailers
- Increased travel time
Over shorter distances, and in areas with high levels of traffic congestion, this may not be an issue. However when riding with a trailer, it’s wise to consider that life will go at a different than in a car. Also with all that extra weight, you might not be able to keep up to what was once your average speed either. Of course, if you’re towing kids would you want to go all that fast in any case?
But this “extra” time can be seen as a positive as well. Modern life is just so hectic, that in our turbo paced lives we often miss the opportunity to see the wonder of the world around us, trading speed for quality. I mean, what’s an extra 15 minutes on your journey time, when accompanied by a child’s giggles, a cool breeze, the smell of wildflowers, and incessant questions about cows, butterflies, and fairies.
Extra weight and offsetting the center of gravity on your bike will affect how your bike steers and maneuvers. The way you corner may have to be adapted, and stopping times may increase, as well as the way you sit on your bike. It’s not that a trailer has an adverse effect on your cycling, but it will need to be taken into account.
- Increased length and width
Bike trailers will make your overall bike length longer, heavier, and harder to maneuver. The additional resistance of two extra wheels may also make your pedaling experience less enjoyable. But a suitably lightweight trailer may alleviate this issue. It also comes down to your own personal level of fitness, but I’m not going to comment on that.You will be wider as well.
This might not be an issue in the park or on the trail, but in traffic heavy areas or just on the road in general, you will have to account of that extra width, especially in cycle lanes where you might take up all the designated space available for riders.
In my experience however, trailers seem to garner less animosity and are not as involved in the whole ‘them and us’ battle between cyclists and motor vehicles, and motorists are more likely to give you more space. Again, that’s just my own personal thought on the matter. Maybe it’s because trailer riders are more likely not to try to squeeze through traffic, or people are just more aware that there’s children in close proximity, I don’t know.
- Decreased view
Children in trailers can have restricted views due to the reclined nature of their seated position. This isn’t such an issue when the weather is good, but if it’s raining or cold, then sometimes it can seem like the child in the trailer is sitting in their own little isolated life boat.
It’s not the limiting factor you might think. It might not be the best idea in the world to go out in a blizzard, but otherwise most trailers do come with good all round weather protection for both the cold, and the heat in the form of dust screens and rain covers.
- Safe route planning
If you would rather stay off the roads, then finding traffic free routes can be a hassle. That said, taking minor diversions through parks or along canal sidings can be a fun way to explore the parts of your city you never knew existed. Most places these days are seeing huge growths in trying to be more bike friendly, building dedicated cycle paths, or just recognizing that bikes have as much right to the road as cars.
Local bike clubs, internet forums, and bike stores will probably be more than happy to assist in finding that car free route to wherever you want to go.
- Blood, sweat, and tears
Cycling is exercise. Exercise isn’t always fun. If you’re taking your kids to the park, is there a chance you’ll be wasted by time you arrive? Will you have the energy to play with the kids when you get there? Will you dread having to cycle back up “that hill,” afterwards? Are you ok with sweat? Buying a trailer may also entail buying some new breathable cycling clothes as well. Of course, a decent trailer will have storage space for spare clothes, a must if you get wet when travelling, or are sweaty.
What age can you safely take a child out with you?
But be aware of the laws and regulations in your country of residence. Every country and state is different and has their own rules for transporting kids on bikes. Don’t break the law; find out what you need to have to be legal where you live.
The main issue with taking any infant out on a bike ride is their necks, and specifically, injury to the neck, rather than their age. It is the strength of your child’s neck that will decide if they are ready to go out on a bike or not, not how old they are.
However, there are few if any health professionals who would recommend taking a child out at any less than 12 months of age. Generally speaking, a good indicator, however, is to gauge their readiness as having been able to hold their own head up for about 2 minutes, unaided.
There are a few reasons for this
- Children’s bodies need to be able to handle the jostling movement of bike travel and also be able to withstand the occasional jolt, and an accident, should the worst come to the worst.
- Children’s necks should also be able to support the weight of a bike helmet.
30 second guide to: Kids bike helmets
Should I put a bike helmet on my child? Absolutely if that is the law, and probably a really good idea anyway.
- Children’s skulls are not as thick as adults. The younger the child, the less strong they are. If you do have an accident, then a helmet can reduce the risk of injury.
- A good helmet for children will only weigh a few 100g, but make sure it isn’t one of those sporty ones with the pointy bits at the end, as this will push the child’s head forward in the seat, forcing it out of a natural position and possibly becoming a choke hazard. Helmets for trailers and seats should be rounded at the rear, as….
- ….A good helmet will also help alleviate issues associated with rolling and head bounce when a child is asleep in a trailer or bike seat. “The helmet can help to cradle and protect their head as the lean over.”
- Ensure the helmet meets a recognized standard, and also fits well and is fastened correctly.
30 second guide to: Bike child seats, and why I don’t like them
Bike seats on a bike go either on the front of your bike, or the rear. Generally speaking a good fit for use with a child is between 1 and 5 years of age.
I don’t like them. I think that while they might be an acceptable form of transport for kids, I think the potential for serious injury is higher than with a bike trailer. If you use one already and disagree then that’s fine, it’s just my opinion. But these are my reasons:
- In the event of an accident, a child will have about 3-4 feet of travel downward before they hit the ground. Bear in mind as well, that it’s not just the fall that has to be taken into account. Child seats have a higher centre of gravity. If an accident happens at any forward speed, it’s not just the vertical height drop and hardness of the ground that will be an issue. Horizontal momentum will increase the impact speed as well..
- Child seats also tend to have an upright backrest. If your kid falls asleep on a long ride, which is quite likely due to the gentle rocking motion, much like a kid in a car, their head may slump forward, and be uncomfortable over an extended period of time. So if you do go for the seat option, make sure you get one that reclines.
- Children are generally more exposed to the vagaries of weather in a bike seat.
- Having said that, 50% of all admissions to hospitals involving child seats on bikes is due to feet getting caught in the wheel spokes…Therefore make sure your seat has secure foot straps. Foot rests are not enough. Beware of dangly things like scarfs and trailing strings or foot laces getting caught in the wheels as well.
- Bike seats, especially forward mounted ones may seem like a lot more fun for the little one, especially if they have access to the bell.
Choosing a Child bike trailer. What to look for
Right, so bike trailer, it’s the obvious solution!
But don’t just go out and buy the first one you see. It’s important when buying a bike trailer for the kids you make an informed choice, so you can get the best you can afford. First of all, do some research. Of course by reading this, you already have, and are, so go you for being diligent.
To help you make that informed choice, here’s some really good advice on what to look for, and what to do when you’re thinking about buying:
- Strength and Weight: This advice may be purely subjective, but the better quality trailers will, these days, be made from aluminum, rather than steel. Aluminum is strong and lightweight. If your child is still in the really early digits of his childhood they may seem light enough to pull behind you right now, but children will grow up, break your heart, and one day eventually ask to have the car keys. They will also put on weight and lengthen vertically. So while your kid may only way a few bags of sugar right now, soon they will weigh several bags more. So the lighter the frame, the better. This makes even more sense when you consider the next point.
- Gravity: It was a good film, but does the trailer and the hitch point have a low center of gravity, and does the bike and the trailer feel balanced when attached?
- Getting hitched: No, not getting married just because you have kids. Lighten up, it’s 2015. But where the trailer attaches to the bike, make sure your bike is compatible with the hitch. Most hitch systems are a universal fit but make sure that it has been well designed, and is sturdy and reliable. Make sure as well, that when attached, it is not putting unnecessary, or too much stress on the joins. Where possible, opt for a low level hitch rather than one fits to the seat post.
- Strolling capabilities: Is your trailer multipurpose? Can it be changed into a stroller?
- Repeating past mistakes: Your average bike trailer is built with two little people in mind. There’s no shortage of single seat models out there, but if you are thinking about having more than one genetic copy of your DNA running about, it makes sense to buy a two seat model and save some money in the long run. If you think about how many bags of sugar two children add up too, then it makes even more sense to go aluminum.
- Cargo space: No it’s not an Airbus 330, but keeping weight in mind again, it makes sense to check if there’s additional cargo space behind where your kids will sit. This has the added bonus of being able to stow groceries, or buckets and spades, and also just the sheer mountain of stuff that has to be carried when children are young – diapers/spare clothes/first aid kits/cuddly toys/sanity etc. You don’t want to buy a trailer and then discover you’re asking little Layla to “hold on tight” to 3 bags of groceries…
- Communication: It’s the foundation of all good relationships, but it’s also quite important when using a bike trailer. Can you hear your child? You may not always want to, but it is kind of important.
- Houdini effect: Ensure the trailer comes with at least a 3 point harness that is secure and prevents magical like escape attempts. This will protect hands and feet from mangling themselves in wheel spokes, and also help keep them safe in the event of a rollover.
- Seating: Hammock style seating will help lessen the blow from errant tree branches and small rocks that get in the way when riding.
- Suspension: If you can, go for a trailer that has some sort of suspension system built in. Tires on their own won’t stop the shock of kerbs or holes in the trail from the sudden jarring of impact. This is more important if you really are interested in looking after their spines and necks. The center of gravity in a trailer is directly over the wheel base, and children won’t have their legs and arms extended over the handlebars and pedals to cushion the blows.
- Mud and Dust and Rain: The weather and the environment you choose to go cycling in can ruin a good cycle. So it’s important you get a trailer that can protect your precious cargo. Make sure that the “windows” on the trailer are tinted, have UV protection, and the trailer has decent ventilation. Bike trailers don’t come with air-con, and as the person on the bike, your temperature will be different to what’s being experienced inside the small plastic cocoon that is the trailer. Additionally, it’s a good ideas to make sure it has good net screens, for dust and bugs. That’s not a deal breaker, but a handy extra option available on some trailers.
- Sealability: Make sure it can be sealed up like a Fallout shelter for cold and wet weather.
- Helmet pockets: No, not a place to store the helmets when not in use, but a nice feature on more modern trailers is the inclusion of a small space where your children’s heads should be, helping them keep their head up, and also that little bit more secure. It’s the small things that make all the difference.
- Padding: Check to see if the seat could do with some extra parental added padding around the head area.
- Storage: Not everyone has a garage or the space to hold a bike trailer when it’s not in use. Do you live in a top floor apartment? Will it fit in the elevator? Having a bike trailer that collapses flat and has detachable wheels is essential. If nothing else, it will allow you to transport it via car to further afield locations and then go riding, so you are not limited to your residential locality.
Safety above all else
This part get its own section.
How tough is the floor of the trailer? If you go over a boulder, will that impact be taken by the floor, or the child’s spine? And conversely, is the bike trailer is built in such a way that in the event of a tip or a roll over, which can be quite a frequent event with a bike trailer, your child is protected.
Does it have a roll bar? If the trailer flips over a branch or stone, is there sufficient rigidity in the trailer structure to prevent the trailer crushing the child and keep them snug in their seat?
Of course there are other possibilities…
Still not convinced? Are you after the hitherto hidden 3rd option? Ok, here it is.
Build your own bike trailer
I wish my Dad had built me one of these when I was a kid, although personally I think I would have preferred a Sopwith Camel version. It’s really just making the point, that you can build your own if you know one end of a hammer from the other. Of course, I can’t vouch for the safety or durability of making your own trailer, and I really don’t know if I could recommend taking it out on the open road, but in a quiet part of the world away from traffic and going at a relatively slow speed, yeah sure, why not.
Why not try a Cargo bike instead?
In Copenhagen, Denmark, there are 35,000 cargo bikes alone. Trust the Danes. A ¼ of all families in Copenhagen with 2 children or more, own one. Some of them look like something out of the 1930’s and others look like they just arrived from BladeRunner.
In essence, Cargo bikes are generally longer than your average everyday bike and are either 2 or 3 wheeled. As you might expect, you don’t have to just use them to carry children, and hence the name. Again, generally speaking, the child sits in the cargo box between the handlebars and the front wheel.
So why should you consider a Cargo bike?
Let’s face it, if you live outside Copenhagen, or the Netherlands, Cargo bikes aren’t exactly an everyday thing you’d expect to meet on the road. From that point of view, it could be argued that they are safer as you won’t help but be noticed by other people. When it comes to the child carrying variant, most of them will transport 2 kids and a bunch of other stuff quite easily.
They are stable, but they will be heavy, and its 1 complete unit. You can’t just detach the cargo part of the bike and ride off into the sunset as you would on an ordinary bike. They are also relatively expensive when compared with other kid carrying options. But they are a talking point, will make you seem all hip and cool and stuff, and could realistically be considered as a replacement for a 2nd car…
This right here is what you’re basically looking at as an example:
The real point I’m making here is that there are always possibilities other than your standard bike seat or trailer option. And of course, the Danes do tend to be a bit ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to bike innovation. Look at what this guy invented: Carl Georg Rasmussen, inventor of the Leitra Velomobile.
Well that’s it, you can go now if you want
Bike riding is one of the most formative experiences for children growing up. For many kids, learning to ride a bike is one of the first real moments of independence. It builds confidence, gets them outside, and offers memories for a lifetime, for both child and parent. Of course when they’re young, that experience can be limited by their age and physical abilities which is why buying, or building a trailer, is a great way to overcome those age related obstacles.
Bike trailers allow them to feel the breeze on their face, and get some quality time with parents. It allows parents to take their kids other places that might not have been accessible before.
Where to find a bike trailer?
You can pick up a bike trailer at almost any decent bike shop going, and this may be a good first port of call, but you can also pick them up quite easily second hand, often almost as good as new. This is because if the trailer was only used for child transport the chances are that it was well look after. But when buying second hand, really give the trailer a good going over to check for damage such as cracks in the frame and worn parts. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
5 Bike Trailers worth considering
The following list is not exhaustive of potential trailers. Neither is it a top 5 list of trailers. Neither is it any particular order. The trailers below are instead there to give you an idea of the kind of thing that’s available. I am not saying that Thule is better than Burley is better than Adventure. So please, bear that in mind. But that said, all the trailers featured are solid, decent trailers that won’t let you or your child down. If nothing else, they will serve you as a reference point or a jumping off point if you want to buy one. There are also other stores and websites you can purchase them from, and, of course, prices and model may vary slightly.
Whatever you do though, just make sure you buy the trailer that you think is right for you, and that your choice is an informed one.
Burley D’Lite Child Trailer
The D’Lite comes with everything you’d expect on a good trailer; UV windows, safe hitching, helmet pockets, cargo area, and space for 2 kids, as well as plenty of safety features like reflective taping and a flag. This is a solid good choice.
Available from: Jensonusa.com
Burley Solo Child Trailer
Another one from Burley, but in a single seat design. Why buy bigger than you need? Comes with everything you’d expect.
Available from: Cambriabikes.com
Thule Coaster 2 Bike Trailer
Thule are another name really worth considering when it comes to selecting a new trailer. Sure this one may not have the rounded edges of the Burley variants, but it’s a sturdy reliable, and can be used as a stroller as well if you want to bring your kids somewhere your bike can’t go. I.e., inside the Mall…
Available from: REI.com
Avenir Entrepid 2 Seater Child Trailer
It’s the cheapest one here, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less good than the more expensive ones. It may be light on features, but it’s still effective and still does exactly what you’d expect a bike trailer to do. It’s built from tough stuff and has UV protection etc built in as standard.
Available from: Chainreactioncycles.com
Adventure AT6 Alloy Child Trailer
The AT6 is a high performance lightweight trailer that will hold 2 sprogs comfortably, and is one of the quickest folding trailers out there. Like the Thule Coaster above, it also turns into a stroller if you don’t want to always take your kids out on the bike and fancy a walk instead.
Available from: Leisurelakesbikes.com