During my first summer after university, I lived in the city and biked to my job. It was a 20-minute bike ride or a 20-minute bus ride, and the bike ride was definitely much nicer. Lately, I’ve been biking with my daughters more often. Gone are the days when I simply jumped on my bike and set off down the road. Getting ready to ride with children can be tricky and requires more patience, but it’s definitely worth it, so here are my tips for biking with children under 5.
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Three Ideas for Biking with Children under 5
Just before Lily was born, my aunt bought us a bike trailer. She knew my love of biking and did all the research into the trailer, then passed her knowledge onto me. It folds down into a somewhat small size (though it was still impossible to get into our Jeep TJ and barely fit into our Dodge Durango).
We have the double trailer, which both Sunshine and Lily ride in together. They are skinny girls and find it a bit squishy this summer. They’re used to riding in it, though, so with a few snacks or toys to keep them busy, they are usually happy. My neighbour tried borrowing it and found her kids wouldn’t sit together, so habit does help.
The bike trailer is super easy to attach to the bike. We got two hitches so we could easily attach the trailer to either Daddy’s bike or mine, depending on who’s going out for a ride. We can also take turns biking with children in tow, because the trailer plus two girls weighs about 100 pounds right now.
There are a lot of accessories available. We have the infant sling, which is recommended for babies ages 6 months and older. We also have a jogging stroller wheel for it. When we’re not using it as a bike trailer, we can convert it to a double stroller. I like the big basket behind the trailer for stashing those extra things you need to take along—jackets, snacks, diapers, etc.
Baby Bike Seat
Lots of people who are moving out around here leave stuff behind that they don’t want to take with them or to a thrift store. We’ve scored some pretty great gear, including a kids’ bike seat. I gave it a quick wash and installed it on the back of my bike. Now in the evening, I often go out for a ride with one of the girls behind me.
One night, I took Lily in the seat behind me and Sunshine rode her own bike. When the girls were younger, I could have one in the trailer and one in the bike seat. It created more space for each of them (and less fighting while biking with children). The bike seat gives a better view for the child, but offers less support than the trailer.
If you have one child over 1, the bike seat is a bit easier than the trailer as it’s less weight and smaller. However, it does affect the balance of the bike. I’ve put my 3-year-old in the bike seat, but probably wouldn’t put a 4-year-old up there. Follow the recommendations of your bike seat for the age and weight of the child who rides in it.
Last summer, I saw a kids’ bike hitched behind the parent’s bike. I spent quite a bit of time researching this online before finding a trail-a-bike for sale secondhand. Sunshine (age 5) loves it. She gets to ride behind Mommy or Daddy on a big bike. She can go a bit faster than her own bike, but she doesn’t have to worry about balancing or stopping.
I think this helped her learn to ride her own bike this summer. The Trail-a-bike is lighter and narrower than the trailer, so it’s a bit easier to ride with it than with a bike trailer. Older kids will also appreciate the better views and the feeling of independence on the trail-a-bike. Lily (age 3) still isn’t quite tall enough to reach the pedals on the trail-a-bike, even at the seat’s lowest point. Since then, I’ve seen lots of other kids out for a ride with Mom or Dad.
Unfortunately, the trail-a-bike and baby bike seat both attach to the bike in similar places, so they can’t be used together.
Just before my fifth baby was born, I finally got a cargo bike for myself. Over the next five years, I put a lot of miles on that bike, as I could pile two or three kids onto the back and then set out for the library, park, or pool. Cargo bikes are coming more common and popular, not just for carrying kids but also for carrying dogs, gear, and other things.
I found my cargo bike easier to use than the bike trailer, as the children were sitting right behind me rather than farther back in the trailer. It does require a good sense of balance, especially when you have two (or three!) kids on the back. When my youngest was a baby, I attached an infant bike seat to the back of the cargo bike so that he could ride in it, until he was old enough to sit and straddle the bike by himself.
The biggest detractor of the cargo bike was that it was so long and wide that I couldn’t get it onto a vehicle, so I was limited to riding with it from home. If you’re in an area where there’s lots of places to cycle, it’s a great way to get around with kids.
Safety First: Bike Helmets
Of course, all children riding bikes should have proper helmets. Even infants riding in a bike trailer should be wearing helmets. Kids might not like this, but make it a simple rule. No helmet, no bike. As you keep doing it, they will get used to it. You may have to shop around to find small helmets for the younger kids. These days, you can find some pretty cool helmets that help make it more fun to wear a helmet.
Biking with Babies
The biggest problem with all of this bike gear is that none of it is suitable for young babies. The Chariot is the best method for riding with infants, but is recommended only for infants over 1 year. I have used it, when riding slowly on trails behind my older girls, with a baby who was 8 months old (sitting up and crawling already).
Do you go biking with children under 5? What tips would you share?
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