How to Bike as a Family

How to Bike as a Family

July 28, 2017

How to Bike as a Family

How to Bike as a Family
Photo by Yuba Bikes
It’s great exercise and turns typical outings into adventures.How to Bike as a Family

Family biking = bonding time. Aside from getting to hang out together in the great outdoors, it’s great exercise and turns typical outings into adventures.

Kids don’t have to know how to pedal in order to get started. In fact, the earlier tots get comfortable on your bike (whether buckled into a seat or trailer), the better their own riding experience will be.

Baby on Board

Although many child bike seats are designed for infants as young as nine months, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents wait until age one to ride with a child. And in some states, like New York, it’s against the law to ride with a child under one-year-old in a bike seat or trailer. Be sure to know your local laws.

Curbs and small bumps in the road can jiggle kids around. Your child should have good head and neck control, and be strapped in with a secure harness.

  • Do: Check the specs of your bike seat or trailer to ensure the weight limit and age is appropriate for your child
  • Don’t: Put an infant car seat inside a trailer
  • Don’t: Wear a baby wrap/carrier and ride your bike
  • Do: Start helmet wearing immediately so there is no questioning that it is mandatory.

Gotta Have a Helmet

Whether your tot is in a bike seat or zipping off on his or her own wheels, a properly fitted helmet is a bike safety essential. There is not a federal law requiring children to wear helmets. But many states and cities have created their own legislation to protect little riders from head injuries. Bicycle helmets sold in the U.S. are required by federal law to meet a uniform safety standard, issued by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. When purchasing a helmet, look for the compliance label.

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Our helmet guide has tips on getting the perfect fit, plus our picks for the top performing helmets.

What’s the Best Way to Ride as a Family?

From bike seats to trailers, trailer cycles to balance bikes… the options are endless, and they change as your crew grows. To determine the right cycling set-up, consider:

  • Ages of children: baby, toddler, and/or big kid?
  • Budget: no-frills basic or high-end splurge?
  • Purpose: occasional rides, regular weekend treks, daily commuting?

It’s a Family Affair: Bike Seats, Trailers, and Family Bikes

There are several types of bike seats and trailers, perfect for little ones that aren’t ready to pedal on their own yet.

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Bike Seats

How about a co-pilot? These three types of bike seats attach to an adult bike, making it easy to travel around town together, while fielding requests for crackers.

  • Front-mounted: Parents love front-mounted seats for the unparalleled bonding time with their babies. They attach to the front of your bike, just below the handlebars. Not only is conversation easy (no yelling or turning around to talk), but kiddos are front and center on biking adventures. Front-mounted seats are designed for riders ranging from nine-months to two- or three-years old (or a weight limit of around 35 pounds).
  • Rear-frame mounted: This seat attaches directly to your bike’s frame (along the seatpost)—no need for a separate rack. Rear seats are typically larger than front-mounted seats and have more features like reclining seats and suspension systems for a smoother ride. The downside: you can’t see your child when you’re on the road. Rear-mounted seats are suitable from nine-months to around 45 pounds.
  • Rear-rack mounted: This type of seat mounts onto a rack connected to your bike frame, over the back tire. If you already have a bike rack attached for other purposes, this is a good option.

Learn more and see our top child seat picks here.

Trailers

Bike trailers are a great choice for families that love outdoor adventures. They attach to a bike’s frame or rear axle and can comfortably carry 1-2 kids (plus the diaper bag and gear). Many convert into joggers and strollers for multiple uses.

With larger weight limits, they can be used for kids aged 1-6. Children are buckled in and protected from the elements, can bring along toys and easily take a snooze. You do the hard work, while kiddos sit back, relax and enjoy the ride. Trailers are expensive, but a lasting investment. Check out our top trailer picks here.

Family Bikes

Who needs a car when you can have a bike that seats the whole gang? From tandems to electric cargo bikes with several seats, there’s a setup for every family. Parents rely on them for everything from school drop-offs to grocery shopping to weekend outings. See Babylist parent picks here.

Moving On Up: Tricycles, Balance Bikes and Pedal Bikes

Before you know it, your toddler will be ready for his or her own set of wheels, sometimes as early as 18 months. From trikes to balance bikes, there are many ways to get started.

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Tricycle or Balance Bike?

A classic trike is a childhood staple that helps toddlers develop coordination and gross motor skills. Many are designed to grow with your toddler, often starting out as a “push bike” with a handle for parents to help with steering. It may take you three hours to get around the block, but kids love the independence. These are some of our favorites.

Experts say skip the trike and start with a balance bike

On the other hand, the parent pros at Two Wheeling Tots (who’ve tested over 100 bikes) say to skip the tricycle altogether and start with a balance bike. Small two-wheelers without pedals, balance bikes teach kids how to balance, scoot, and glide on their own. Getting the hang of biking via balance bike helps kids move to a regular bike sans training wheels. Babylist parents are all about these balance bikes.

Buying a Big Kid Bike

Remember when your baby was snoozing in a rear-mounted seat? Then you blinked and now he’s ready for a real bike with pedals.

Some families try a trailer cycle before their kids ride solo. These look like partial bikes with a seat, handlebars, pedals and one wheel. They attach to the seat post or rear cargo rack of most standard adult bikes. Kids can help you pedal (it’s about time you had some help, right?). But they can also give their legs a break when needed. Trailer cycles are best for kids aged four and up (although there are some with harnesses that are safe for two-year-olds). Just make sure your child can sit securely on a real bike seat and that their feet can reach the pedals.

When it’s time for a pedal bike, proper fit is key. Factors like the design of the frame, weight of the bike, seat height, and handlebar placement play a role. Start by measuring your child’s height and inseam, and take into account age and clothing size to determine the right bike. Bikes for little ones come in various sizes (bikes with 12” tires work for kids as young as two!). Three- to five-year olds will generally ride a bike with 14” or 16” tires. More on our favorite pedal bikes here.

Getting Comfy

Biking with a toddler is probably new for you (and can be pretty terrifying at first!). Parents across the board say to start early and make it a regular part of your routine. Try these tips for easy riding:

Learn the best bike routes in your area and map out where you’re going ahead of time to avoid surprises

  • Learn the best bike routes in your area and map out where you’re going ahead of time to avoid surprises. Stick to quiet streets and bike paths, while steering clear of busy areas.
  • Do a test run (or ten) with the seat or trailer attached and a bag of potatoes to get used to carrying added weight. (Ignore crazy looks from neighbors wondering about the potatoes.)
  • Get a double kickstand to provide more stability when putting tots in the seat and taking them out.
  • If you’re nervous about installation, go to a local cycling store and enlist the experts to get you up and running. The peace of mind is worth it.
  • Be prepared to go slow!
  • Make sure the gear you buy is the right fit for your family. From bikes to seats, you don’t want expensive bikes and seats to sit in your garage because you dread using them.
  • Get your kids excited to ride by talking about it ahead of time.
  • Also, be prepared for meltdowns… and don’t give up.
  • Bring snacks and water when you’re using a trailer. It’s the key to happy riders.

When your child is ready for their own bike, keep these tips in mind:

  • Test out friends and neighbors’ bikes if you can to guide your purchase.
  • Stick to the driveway before going on longer rides if that feels more doable for your child.
  • If at first you don’t succeed… try, try again. Be patient, keep the vibe light and fun, and take your time.

Remember, the goal is to encourage your kiddo to enjoy biking, now and in the future. Happy trails!


How to Bike as a Family


Jessica Solloway is a writer and digital content strategist. From start-ups to global brands, she helps companies tell their stories online. She regularly contributes to websites including weeSpring, The Muse, Mommy Nearest, and Motherly, among others. She lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband and two little girls.

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