Even if you’re still in the super fun trailer or baby seat mode, there’s always a new loop to explore, a new destination to set your sights on, or a fun activity to stop and do along the way.
If you’re new to cycling with kids, watching other parents roll down the block with ease with little ones in tow, it can be hard to know where to start your own family cycling affair. Riding with kids or toddlers in tow comes with many common and valid questions like:
Should I use a trailer or a baby seat?
How fast should I ride?
Is it legal to ride with kids?
Should my child be riding on my bike or their own?
The simple truth: while you’re sure to see many different styles of biking with toddlers or young kids, some are safer and easier than others.
We’re here to help you navigate the most common options and considerations for riding with little ones. You can learn how to carry and bike with small children using the appropriate bike accessories and taking safety measures.
When can my kid ride with me?
Many parents want their children to ride with them in a bike seat or trailer when they are young, and this is a great option for kids who haven’t learned to pedal independently yet. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, it’s safe for kids to ride with adults when they are between the ages of 12 months and four years old.
Any younger, and it’s unsafe for kids to ride unsupported because their necks will not yet be strong enough to support a lightweight helmet. Most states require helmets for all minors, usually up to their late teens (and it’s simply a good idea). While there are some states where children under one do not legally have to wear helmets, there’s absolutely no reason why going helmetless should ever be an option.
At what age can my kid ride their own bike?
Typically, kids can learn to ride balance bikes from as early as two years old. We’ve created a full lineup of bikes just for them! With simplified components, and a built-just-for-kids design, take a cruise through our bikes for 2 to 4-year-olds.
The ultimate advice: start slow. Even the slightest slope can be intimidating to a little one testing the waters. A simple trick is to set a ball on the sidewalk you’re planning to help them ride. If it rolls quicker than you’d like to see your little one rolling on their new bike, seek flatter ground. And, if you’re planning on heading out on a walking trail or playground, make sure you’re able to keep one (or both) hands-free—even a 50-foot ride back to the car can be too much for a toddler that’s just getting used to a new set of wheels.
When should children ride on their own?
As kids get older, it’s a true right of passage to get excited to own their very own big kid bike. A first pedal bike can represent independence, growth, adventure, and so much more. Most kids learn to ride bikes between the age of two and eight, and the average age to learn to ride a bike is just over five. That said, your little one is on their very own journey, and their pace—no matter if it feels ahead of the curve or slightly behind—is just right for them.
How to bike with kids and toddlers
It’s essential to manage your expectations before biking with kids and toddlers. Even if you’re an avid and experienced cyclist, re-learning the wonders of two-wheeled adventure alongside your little one is an incredible experience that can sometimes bring unexpected challenges and unforeseen obstacles.
Aside from the seemingly endless extra stops, extra safety precautions, and a significantly slower pace, it’s important to have a plan for keeping kids entertained, even when you’re riding. Creating small games, pointing out fun sights, stopping to pick roadside flowers, or bringing sidewalk chalk can envelop bikes in fun and excitement, elevating the whole experience and leaving them excited and ready for more.
The bottom line: the key to life with kids is preparation, and this principal certainly extends to bikes. Whether it’s carrying extra snacks, toys, or diapers, preparation always serves you well. You’ll want to do your research and prepare for an excursion with all the right equipment and accessories. Here’s a rundown of the important items and tips for riding with kids and toddlers.
Equipment For Riding With Kids
Using a bike seat is one of the most common ways to bike with young toddlers and children. Bike seats can be either front-mounted to your bike or rear-mounted. There are pros and cons to both rear and front-mounted kids’ bike seats.
Rear-mounted bike seats help prevent your child from distracting you while you’re watching the road. A rear-mounted seat is also better for kids with longer legs or better suited to a small bike.
A front-mounted seat gives your child a better view and often makes them feel more included. However, a front-mounted seat might pose some extra challenges when it comes to pedaling and steering. If your child is fidgety or likely to interfere with safe riding, a rear seat might be your better choice.
When it comes to both rear and front-mounted seats, bike compatibility and seat comfort can become issues, especially as children get older and bigger. It’s wise to check your bike’s manual to ensure it is compatible.
The manual will also advise if your bike has any restrictions that would prevent using a bike seat, such as a lower maximum load capacity for the rider, passengers, and any cargo. Usually, a bike seat is suitable for carrying a child between the ages of one and four, or up to around 50 pounds.
Bike trailers are another popular way to ride with kids. One of the biggest benefits of a trailer is that it can carry more than just your child. You can haul all your stuff, diapers, snacks, toys; you name it.
Bike trailers are available in single or double sizes. A double is ideal if you have more than one kid, or want some extra space for cargo. However, a single trailer is easier to maneuver on narrow paths. Be sure to check the weight capacity of your trailer. Even when designed for two children, some models are not suitable for carrying the weight of two larger toddlers.
Cargo bikes are less common than trailers and baby bike seats but have certainly been growing in popularity over the last few years. There are two types of cargo bikes available. A longtail cargo bike usually has a built-in bucket or a long rack behind it where you can install a bike seat.
Front-loading cargo bikes, also known as bakfiets, Dutch for “box bike,” have space at the bike’s front. Driving with a front-loading container can be a learning experience, but it allows kids to get a great view. Kids sit in a box or other container on the front or back cargo rack of the bikes. Most cargo bikes with a bucket are big enough to carry multiple children, cargo, or both.
Cargo bikes may feel less familiar to you, but they are a great family bike option for families who love cycling. If you commute by bike, ride frequently, or have multiple kids, these can be an excellent investment.
A trailer cycle is a great way to keep slightly older kids engaged while riding. A trailer cycle works a bit like a tandem bike, except the adult will still do most of the hard pedaling work! Most trailer cycles attach easily to the rear seat post of adult bikes and provide a detachable tandem seat for your child. Any older child who can confidently sit up and balance on their own children’s bike will be able to ride a trailer cycle and pedal along with you.
These trailer cycles are a great option for slightly older children who have learned to ride a bike on their own but wouldn’t be able to keep up with the pace and stamina of an adult rider. These trailer cycles are also a great option if you want or need to ride on the road but have a child who is not old enough to cycle on the street alone.
Some products on the market look like hybrids of a trailer cycle and a classic child trailer. These hybrids allow children as young as two to sit back strapped into a trailer. If they’re tired, they can relax, or they can pedal along, keeping them entertained and engaged.
Tow ropes and tow bars
As your kid grows older, you may want to consider using tow ropes or tow bars. These tows work much in the same way as towing a car would. These are great options for kids who have their very own bicycles but aren’t ready to ride alone yet. Tow bars and ropes are also helpful for kids who need some help keeping up with an adult pace or going long distances.
Be sure to use specially designed tow ropes and bars, as DIY tow ropes that are too long or short can cause accidents.
Is it hard to cycle with a child seat?
Riding with a passenger, whether in a trailer, child seat or cargo bike is a new experience for most cyclists. You should be aware that a passenger will affect your natural balance and weight distribution. Practice riding with the weight of a child somewhere safe before hitting the road.
Tips for riding with kids
Maintain your bike
Whenever you or your child ride a bike, it’s advisable to do a maintenance check. Make sure your tires are filled with plenty of air. Check that the brakes are working correctly and that the bike chain is well lubricated. You should also check that any lights are working and don’t need new batteries.
Adults and children should always wear helmets. It is a legal requirement for children, adults, or all riders to wear helmets in many states. Regardless of your local laws, it’s advisable for children to be well protected, and for adults to set a good example.
Keep Them Involved
One drawback of riding with kids, especially when using a trailer, is that kids can get bored quickly. Keep them engaged with toys or conversation.
Your child’s safety is paramount, so follow these tips to ensure a safe ride for everyone involved.
- Everyone should wear helmets.
- Use the seat harness in bike seats, trailers, and cargo buckets. These will stop your child from sliding out if they doze off or you brake suddenly.
- Make sure the bike is stable, and use a kickstand when you put the child in the seat or trailer.
- Dress kids appropriately for the weather and in bright clothing; it’s always a good idea for cyclists of all ages to wear highly visible clothing when riding on the road.
- Don’t ride with kids at nighttime, and always use lights on the bike and trailer in overcast weather.
Riding with the whole family
If you want to ride as a family on your personal bikes, you will need to consider your routes carefully. In most cases, children under ten shouldn’t ride on the road, and adults shouldn’t ride on the sidewalk. Therefore, the best place for young families to ride together are parks, bike paths, or trails.
If you do ride on the road with kids, you should avoid busy streets and major thoroughfares. Remember you and your kids should always use the bike lane or ride on the far right lane. Cycling together as a family unit is a great way to introduce children aged ten and up to riding on the road. You can better show them how to ride safely on the road when riding together.
Before you start riding on the road with your kids, be sure they know the rules of the road and have the right size bike. You can check kids’ bike sizing using our kid’s bike sizing guide.
However, you choose to ride with your family, make sure you have fun and stay safe. For extra comfort on your day out, you can add bike accessories such as pannier bags, safety bars, and baskets to carry all your gear. Some trailers and cargo bikes are also compatible with rain covers or screens that will keep your child more comfortable.
When kids are ready to learn how to ride on their own, check out our guide on how to teach a kid to ride a bike