If you love cycling, you’ve probably felt the frustration of trying to balance rides with being a parent. Child bikes seats allow parents to spend quality time with their kids doing the things that they love, but how long should you wait after your child is born to strap them in and go for a ride?
As a general rule, the safest age for a child to sit on a mounted child bike seat is one year or older. While there are seats the will accommodate infants who are younger, it is illegal in some states to ride with a child who is less than one.
While you might feel ready to introduce your little one to your love of cycling, it’s important to do your research and prepare so you and your family can have the best (and safest) experience possible. Read on to find out how old is too young and how to tell when you and your kiddo are ready to ride together.
What is the minimum recommended age to ride in a child bike seat?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), infants younger than 12 months should not be carried on a bike. European countries, however, tend to be a bit more relaxed on this, recommending that nine months be the minimum age for riding with a child in a bike seat.
The idea behind this is that infants do not develop sufficient bone mass and muscle tone to allow them to sit unsupported with their backs straight until they are between the ages of nine months and one year of age. The consistent bumping and shaking a baby would experience during a bike ride could cause repeated mild trauma to the brain.
The helmet is another factor that needs to be taken into consideration. All children must wear a helmet while riding a bike, though most aren’t small enough to fit an infant’s head. Even if you are able to find a helmet that fits, it would be too much weight for the neck muscles in kids under nine months to handle.
Risks to consider when riding with a child in a bike seat
This may go without saying but riding with a child in a mounted bike seat is much different than riding alone. There are many different opinions about whether or not riding with a child is safe, but it is up to you to decide what works best for your family.
That being said, here are some of the risks involved in riding with a child that you may want to consider:
- Child seats affect your center of gravity. Whether you have a squirmy child or not, riding with a child seat can throw off your balance and increase your risk for a fall. Tipping over, even at a low speed, can cause potentially serious injuries.
- Bumps and shaking could be a problem. As mentioned earlier, the consistent bumping and shaking babies experience during a bike ride could cause repeated mild trauma to the brain. Bike rides are generally a gentle activity, but not all trails and roads provide a smooth ride, so take caution in choosing where you ride.
- Feet in spokes. About 23% of injuries involving children in mounted bike seats occurred when an extremity got caught in the spoke of the wheel. If you have an extra squirmy child, make sure feet are strapped down so that they aren’t kicking or dangling near the wheel.
Safety tips for riding with a child as a passenger on your bike
While it’s natural to ride with more caution with a child on board, here are a few safety tips to implement that can help you avoid potentially serious injuries:
- Keep a firm hand on the bike when loading and unloading your child. According to the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute, about one-third of injuries involving kids five and under in bike seats occur while getting on and off the bike. Don’t trust the kickstand or a wall to hold up your bike when your child is in the seat, instead keep a firm grip on it to prevent a potential fall.
- Practice riding beforehand. If you’re new to cycling with a passenger, you’ll want to build your skills before strapping your child into the seat. Practice riding around with the empty seat attached so you can get an idea of how it will feel.
- Stick to low-traffic areas. If you are just starting out with your kid in a bike seat, it’s best to ride in low traffic or slow traffic areas until you’re more comfortable.
- Be conspicuous. Mounted bike seats aren’t as easy to see as bike trailers. As an extra precaution, you might want to consider getting a ‘baby on board’ sign or a flashing LED light so that people know to give you extra space.
What to look for in a child bike seat for infants
One of the most things to look for in a child bike seat for small children is a 5-point harness. This will make sure that your child stays securely in place without the risk of sliding out. You also want to check foot straps and good padding for a safe and comfortable ride.
Do child bike seats have infant inserts?
Mounted child bike seats are not designed to carry children under nine months old, so they don’t have infant inserts. There are many that come with adjustable features, however, to accommodate kids as they grow.
Do child bike seats have head support for infants?
As a general rule, child bike seats should have a high enough back to support that head, but this won’t keep it from rolling from side to side. If you would like extra support for your child, however, head and neck support pillows are great for this.
Infants are expected to be able to hold their heads up on their own before riding in a child bike seat; therefore, these seats do not have the correct type of head support built-in for infants.
Need to figure out if a rear or front seat is best for you? Be sure to read my guide here.
Alternative options for biking with an infant
While it’s recommended to wait until a child is 12 months old before riding with them, there are many people all over the world to do this much sooner. Parents in areas that use bikes as their main form of transportation bike with babies as young as newborns on a daily basis.
One Seattle-based cyclist suggests using a Dutch-style cargo bike for riding with infants. These have a low center of gravity and three-point seat belts, making them a stable and easy-to-handle option for family riding.
Trailers are another option for babies under 12 months. While trailers have more potential of jostling a baby around, there are infant inserts for trailers available that provide a protective cocoon for your little one. Plus, most trailers have an internal roll cage, so your child has some sort of protection on all sides in the event of an accident.
Regardless of the setup you choose, you’ll want to make sure that your child’s neck is supported and that you’ve taken precautions to protect them in the event of a tip-over or crash.
Here’s a short video explaining what I think the best options are for riding with a child.
As a parent, one of the best things is getting to introduce your kids to the things that you love. On the other hand, safety should always come first.
Instead of asking yourself, “how old is too young,” when it comes to taking your baby on a bike ride, you might want to consider this question instead: “am I comfortable enough to take my baby on a bike?” Though the AAP recommends waiting until they are 12 months old, some parents start once their child has good neck control—around nine months—and others wait until they are older. Ultimately, the choice is up to your judgment as a parent.
Though rear child bike seats are generally considered safe, it really comes down to your confidence and comfort level while riding a bike. It’s a good idea to practice riding with extra weight before buckling your child into the seat and always ask for help if you need it. And don’t forget, always wear a helmet!
My Recommended Child Bike Seats
Affordable and sturdy, I recommend getting the following child bike seats for anyone looking for a seat to ride together with your child. I’ve been using these two seats for more than 6 years for both of my kids and they’re still holding up great. If you want to see all the gear I recommend, check out my Gear page.
Recommended Front Child Seat: WeeRide
Recommended Rear Child Seat: Schwinn Deluxe