How to Include Your Toddler In On Family Bike Outings
One of the most enjoyable family activities is cycling. I can’t say how many miles I put on my old Sears Free Spirit 10-speed when I was a teenager. I still have that bike, by the way, nearly 25 years later because I can’t bear to part with it! It’s an activity I’ve been eager to engage my kids in, but I’ve encountered a problem with my youngest child that I know many parents wonder about – how can you safely integrate a toddler/preschooler into a family bike ride.
Obviously, it’s going to be tricky for a toddler or preschooler to keep up with you on his or her own bike or tricycle. There are so many attachments for bikes, too, how do I know which one is right for my family? What are the advantages and disadvantages of those attachments? At what age should my child wear a bike helmet or be ready for tandem biking…? So many questions. Not sure I can cover them all in this article, but hopefully this article will give you enough of an introduction to at least get you started.
Toddler Bike Attachments
Once your little one is big enough and their neck muscles are strong enough to handle the jolting and rocking of the bike ride and weight of a bike helmet, you have several options to make cycling a family event.
Bike trailers are the two-wheel carriers that you pull along behind your bike. They can carry one or two children up to a combined weight of 100 lbs (45 kgs). The carriers are great for carrying kids and picnic goodies or activities to keep your child occupied during the ride. The advantage to bike trailers is that they are low to the ground, so there is a shorter distance to fall if the trailer gets overturned, compared to a bike child seat. Also, most trailers now have flexible hitches so that even if the adult bike tips, the trailer remains upright. Make sure your bike trailer has a roll cage. Many cheaper bike trailers don’t and it really is a key safety feature. Inflatable, 16- or 20-inch wheels are best as they offer a smoother, easier ride over rough road surfaces.
Trailer Bikes and Tandem Bikes
Trailer bikes are actually a single-wheel device that attaches to your bike and turns it into a tandem bike. Because the trailer bike is toddler sized, the youngster can pedal along at his or her height.
There’s also an attachment bar that allows you to hitch your child’s bike to your own bike, sometimes called “trail-gators”.
Full tandem bikes are also available in two general configurations – one with the child in front of you and one with the child behind you. Your center of gravity is different than it would be if it was just you on the bike. You also have to get used to cycling with the extra weight whether behind or in front. It’ll take some practice to feel completely comfortable with this.
Both the trailer bike and tandem options provide the ideal opportunity to teach your children proper bike handling skills and cycling rules (including signaling) to keep them safe on the roads when they get riding on their own. It is also a great way to connect and bond with your children.
Bike Carriers (Bike Child Seats)
Bike carriers are usually less expensive than bike trailers or trailer bikes and tandems, but also require that your child is strong enough to carry the extra weight of a bike helmet. “When buying a bike-mounted seat, look for a back that comes up around the child’s head, sides that wrap around the child, straps that connect around shoulders, waist, and between legs, and straps for the feet in the foot wells (so that feet don’t get caught in the wheel or brakes).” (Cascade Education Foundation)
If you choose a bike carrier, be aware that the extra weight and configuration of the child seat will require getting used to. Note also that there is an increased risk of injury because of the height if your child were to fall or the bike tumbled.
*Note: Children under the age of 12 months should not ride on bicycle, in a bike trailer, child seat, sidecar, or any other bike-related carrier device.
Bike Helmets and Toddlers
“Bicyclists under age 16 accounted for 40% of all bicyclists injured in traffic crashes in 2000 and 28% of all fatalities. Severe brain injury causes 2/3 of bicycle-related fatalities. Use of a bicycle helmet…can prevent up to 88% of serious brain injuries.” (Cascade Education Foundation)
It is recommended that a child wear a proper-fitting, CPSC (CSA, Snell, ANSI, ASTM, BSI, or SAA) approved helmet whether riding a tricycle, toddler bike or any other riding toy. To make sure your child’s helmet protects properly follow the 4-S rule: Size, Strap, Sticker, Straight. The helmet should be the right size to cover the upper part of the forehead and sit level on the head. The strap should be adjustable and have a quick release buckle; it should be cinched securely, but not tightly, under your child’s chin. Look for the stickers (see the earlier list of safety agencies) that tell you that the bike helmet has been tested and approved for use for cycling. The helmet should sit straight on your child’s head, and not tilt. (British Columbia Ministry of Health)
Helmets should be replaced immediately if they have had an impact whether or not there appears to be a crack. Helmets are made for a single impact only. Also keep in mind that the foam inside can start to break down after five years even if there has been no impact. Most helmets now include a “best by” date.
For more information on trailers and helmet safety, please click here.
8 Tips for Planning a Family Bike Outing
The following tips are adapted from FitFamilyTogether.com.
1) Get confident with your own cycling abilities. This is important if you are just starting to bike or haven’t done it in a while. You and your child’s safety depend on you knowing your abilities and limitations. You need to know how to confidently handle a bike in the areas you plan to take your children. You also need to prepare yourself for the weight that your child will add to your bike whether in a bike trailer, child seat, or tandem attachment.
2) Find safe places to bike. When you’re first introducing your family to this kind of outing, particularly if you have little ones, make sure you choose a venue that is safe and allows for mistakes and breaks to rest. Ideal places are those where there isn’t much traffic, where the trails have two lanes for easy passing, where the path is smooth (packed dirt or paved – not gravel), and that is not too challenging for your particular cycling abilities. Many communities have cycling trails and paths information that can help you plan your outing.
3) Buy the right bike. Mountain bikes or hybrids are best if you plan to go off-roading or live in an area where there are no paved bike paths. Touring bikes or road bikes are better for individual rides or if you’re going to be in areas with higher traffic volumes.
4) Buy the right bike attachments. See above for a description and comparison of bike attachments.
5) Remember your bike first aid kit. Your kit should include: a patch kit; extra tire tubes; allan wrench, and a tire pump; water; healthy, energy-inducing snacks; windbreakers and other appropriate clothing for the weather; cell-phone; trail map; money; first aid supplies such as Band-Aids, antibiotic ointment, epi-pen (if needed).
6) Be prepared! Check the weather. Examine your bike and attachments. Make sure your helmets are still safe (see above). Practice getting on and off the bike quickly. Know what to do when you encounter unleashed dogs like putting the bike between you and the dog.
7) Keep it simple. On your first outing, don’t plan to bike up a big hill or conquer a 10-mile stretch of trail. Plan a ride that allows for breaks and stops to pee, have some ice cream, toss a Frisbee.
8) Keep with it. “[T]o make this a regular family thing, you sometimes have to put your foot down and go biking as a family even if everyone’s not gung-ho at the moment…. There will be grumbles, even arguments…. [but t]he more regular and consistent you are about doing this, the easier it becomes to keep it up….” (FitFamilyTogether.com)
Family bike outings are great for just getting out around your community or as part of an overall family vacation. With planning for safety and entertainment, your family can enjoy bike outings anytime.
Darlene Oakley is a freelance writer for EmpowHER.com.
Kids Bikes. About-Bicycles.com. Web. June 4, 2012.
How to Take Your Whole Family on Bike Rides: 8 Tips. FitFamilyTogether. Web. June 4, 2012.
Infants and Toddlers Tips Bike Safety Recommendations. Bicycle Club Cascade Education Foundation. Web. June 4, 2012.
Toddler Safety: Helmets, Tricycles, and Bicycles. British Columbia Ministry of Health. Web. June 4, 2012.