Dear Uneasy Rider,
We empathize with you, and with your wife. The idea of taking your baby along on a breezy bike ride is so very appealing and imagining the dangers is so very anxiety-producing. Bicycle riding with kids does involve risks. There are more and less risky ways to do it, though, and a lot of resources to help you figure out how. We’ll try to lay out the info and lead you to some more if you need it.
You don’t mention where you live, but the type of riding you’re doing is a big factor in determining whether and how you can take your child along safely. A dedicated bike path is on the safer end of the spectrum. Urban riding and off-roading on rough terrain are more dangerous.
At one, your daughter is officially old enough to go on a bike if she’s properly protected. Some states actually mandate a minimum age for bike riding (usually one). All bike seats require that riders can sit unassisted and have good head control.
Bicycle helmets are a must for anyone who wants to ride a bike safely, anywhere, at any time. It’s estimated that helmets can prevent upwards of 85% of head injuries. Head injuries were involved in almost 75% of the bicycle fatalities in New York City, according to the most recent report on the topic. No matter where your child sits on your bike, she should be wearing a helmet.
Both the AAP and many bicycle safety groups suggest that bike trailers are the safest way to bike with young children, for several reasons. The structured frame helps protect the child in an accident. The low center of gravity means there’s less distance for the child to fall. And since the trailer has its own independent support, it will often stay upright if the bike falls over (a common minor mishap which can cause injuries to a small child in a bike seat). Trailers can also double as schleppers. You can fill them with crap when they’re not filled with kids, and some can also double as strollers.
But trailers do have downsides. They can be hard for serious urban bikers because they take up more space: City-dwellers may not appreciate the back-end bulk, plus it can be hard enough trouble finding a place to store a bike without adding another vehicle to the pile. Trailers also don’t allow for any contact between you and your child during the ride, and the low rider status affects your child’s visibility. Depending on where you ride, dirt and dust may be a factor. A flag is crucial, as it will make a bike trailer visible to drivers.
Bike seats are the most common way of transporting a child on a bike. Rear seats are most popular and meet the most safety guidelines. There are two specific concerns with rear seats. One is that they affect the balance of the bicycle. The heavier the child is, the more difficult it becomes to balance and steer. The other is that you can’t easily hear or see your child while riding and may end up turning around to check on them, which is obviously unsafe if you’re in motion. Mirrors are available to help out with this scenario.
Front bike seats, which are attached at the front of the bike below the handlebars, have been popular overseas for quite awhile. But they are still relatively new in the U.S. and are considered a bit less of a known quantity safety-wise. They have some definite benefits, though, solving both the center of gravity problem and the communication gap as your child is sitting between your arms during the ride. They also have a lot of enthusiastic fans. But others say they’re worse than rear seats, as the child’s in a more vulnerable place should there be a crash. It will be interesting to see how these seats fare in safety tests once they’ve been around long enough to be subject to them.
Europe is definitely ahead of the U.S. in terms of biking culture and the actual bikes themselves. You should see some of the ways kids are toted around Amsterdam. Maybe as we all try to cut down on car travel (be it for environmental or economic reasons) more options may make life in the bike lane with a small passenger a little easier.
Here are some further resources that might help:
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