home

Carrying your infant by bike: How young is too young?

Posted by Marion Rice on August 24th, 2009 at 1:56 pm

Kidical Mass!-22.jpg
A baby seat in a bakfiets is not
a rare sight in Portland.
(Photos © J. Maus)

A reader contacted us with a dilemma -- she is about to have her first child, she doesn't own a car, and she travels primarily by bike. In preparing for her new life as a parent, she had some questions.

Is it safe to ride with a newborn? Is it legal? Are there important age benchmarks she should know about? She was particularly concerned about the impact of vibration on a child's brain development.

"It's not about crashes at all, it's about the potential for repeated mild trauma to the brain because of bumps associated with everyday road conditions."
-- Dr. Tord Alden, Children’s Memorial Hospital (Chicago)

Unfortunately for this mom and many others, there is a distinct lack of information, research, or even observable norms with regard to child bicycle safety in the United States. Child carrying devices for cars are heavily regulated, tested, and their use and effectiveness researched. But bicycles are a whole different beast, and standards developed for carrying children at freeway speeds, in heavy car traffic, in enclosed vehicles with serious shock absorption simply don't apply.

The law is not entirely clear either. Here in Oregon, children under 16 are legally required to wear a helmet. For more on that law, I asked Caroline Forell, a lawyer at the University of Oregon. She responded,

Bike camping at Champoeg St. Park-134
Hau Hagedorn attends to
3-month old Hendrik
in a bike trailer.

"ORS 814.485 doesn’t say anything about how they go by bike – in a seat, in a trailer or in a bakfiets, etc. – but it does specify that the child must wear state-approved protective headgear when they are carried on a bicycle."

She adds that if a parent is caught carrying a helmetless child by bike, he or she "can be fined twice; once for the failure to have protective headgear on their child, and another time for endangering their passenger, by not having them wear the protective headgear." (ORS 814.485 and 814.486, respectively.)

This brings up a dilemma: It is legally required to put a helmet on your infant (no matter how small) but no helmets on the market are sized for infants. Not only that, but it may not be safe to put a helmet on them to begin with.

Kids in the Haley cargo Trike
Kids of all ages love to ride
in front loading cargo bikes.

I posed this dilemma to Dr. Tord Alden of Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago. He explained that having infants wear a bicycle helmet when they are reclined in an infant seat pushes the head forward, flexing the neck and tweaking the spine out of alignment, which puts the baby at risk for cervical trauma and even airway blockage in extreme cases.

The Bike Helmet Safety Institute (BHSI) (the helmet advocacy arm of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association) provides a comprehensive resource of arguments for universal helmet use, including a page on bicycling with young children. Voluntarily acknowledging that the issue is an "alarmist" one, BHSI recommends that parents do not take children under one year of age on a bicycle, primarily because of concerns about crashes.

Dr. Alden thinks the real issue is elsewhere, however. "I know biking is safe," he told me in an email.

"It's not about crashes at all, it's about the potential for repeated mild trauma to the brain because of bumps associated with everyday road conditions. What is undocumented is what is happening to the brain during the bumps. Think of the movement of a bobble head doll in slow motion — that’s what may be happening to the brain in the skull inside the infant’s head after some big bumps."

"Neurodevelopment is critical during the younger years. An infant’s brain is a bunch of neurons, uninsulated wires, if you will. During the first year the infant is developing the myelin sheath, which insulates the neurons and sets the stage for all the development and learning that the brain does next. If you had to pick a time when it is most important to protect the brain from excess vibration or bumps and jostling about it would be during that first year after birth."

family ride to Jantzen Beach
Juli Maus demonstrates the
baby-in-a-backpack method.

But when exactly is it safe to ride with your infant? And what do parents do in countries where family biking is the norm?

For perspective on those questions, I asked two biking dads from Europe.

Micon Schorsji, a dad in Holland, said that the conventional wisdom over there is that it’s probably not a good idea to take infants by bike until at least nine months old.  “I remember that with both our daughters, we had done some trips by bike when they were younger than nine months. We used a Baby Bjorn carrier. But of course you are not very flexible with a baby attached to you and it felt a bit dangerous, so we used this carrier more for walking. Sometimes you do see parents moving their infants in a car seat installed in a bakfiets, but it’s a rare sight."

Mikael Colville-Andersen lives in Denmark with his two young children and is author of the blog Copenhagenize (where he frequently speaks out against helmet laws).

"There are roughly 35,000 cargo bikes in Copenhagen alone. 25% of all families in Copenhagen with two kids have one."
-- Mikael Colville-Anderson, Copenhagenize.com

In Denmark, Colville-Anderson said, children must by law be secured on a bike, but laws do not mention age. "You simply don't think it about it," he said, unlike in the United States where bicycling is seen as a dangerous sport. "There are roughly 35,000 cargo bikes in Copenhagen alone. 25% of all families in Copenhagen with two kids have one. So the preferred way of transporting babies is in a cargo bike or, when they can sit, in a bike seat." These bikes, he added, generally have wide, soft tires which absorb impacts and vibration better than the bikes U.S. riders are used to.

Colville-Anderson added that safety doesn't stop with a helmet, citing a new study that found that you inhale more carcinogenic particles inside a car than on a bike path adjacent to car traffic.

BTA New Year's Day Ride
Danica Maus took her first
trailer ride at about 4 months.

Meanwhile, in Portland, parents continue to navigate carfree transportation with the help of the limited information and cultural knowledge out there. Jeff Cropp, a carfree dad with a four month old, is still waiting a few months. "We have chosen to hold off until Colin is at least six months old, and probably more likely in the range of 9 to 12 months."

"We'd love to start riding as a family sooner," he added, "particularly since it would be the easiest and most convenient way to get places outside of our immediate neighborhood. However, there are too many unknowns about whether riding in a bicycle at this young of an age would be detrimental to his physical health."

Email This Post Email This Post

Possibly related posts


Gravatars make better comments... Get yours here.
Please notify the publisher about offensive comments.
Comments
  • Paul Manson August 24, 2009 at 2:08 pm

    When our daughter was born we waited for about 9 months. That was when the helmet fit her and her neck was strong enough to wear it comfortably and move around.

    We then tried the Burley and the Bobike options. The scary thing is that this was the first time we were riding with these devices and with a more fragile person. Its sort of a double whammy. But we got used to it and now its the preferred way to get around.

    Luckily we have great transit access, so that helped bridge the newborn/infant gap until we could all bike together.

    Recommended Thumb up 2

  • Mark C August 24, 2009 at 2:25 pm

    Boy, there is a lot to think about, isn't there? I agree with the gist of the article and the comment above. Somewhere around nine months seems like the right age to start with the bike. By then, hopefully the head is not flopping around anymore.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Kronda August 24, 2009 at 2:26 pm

    Great article and very timely, as I see more and more babies on/in bikes these days, especially at the latest Sunday Parkways.

    I get a little envious at times, as those kids are a lot easier to haul around than my usual human cargo--my girlfriend!

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Aaron August 24, 2009 at 2:26 pm

    Jonathan, thank you for posting this. Lots of people have wondered about this. I've seen some moms who have carried infants in a sling while biking (definitely in a step-through frame), but I think that would be dangerous for both people. It seems wise just to take Trimet for 9 months or so.
    I'm curious to hear what others think

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Jessica Roberts August 24, 2009 at 2:33 pm

    "Just take Trimet for 9 months."

    Easy for you to say! Trimet is fine for some trips but it does not go everywhere and is a big step backwards in mobility and freedom for those of us who bike everywhere.

    This is clearly a tricky issue that would be helped by some actual science. Of course each family has to decide for themselves when they feel it's OK, but in the absence of any clear medical data about the risks, how can you make an informed decision?

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Marion August 24, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    Jess, whatever decision you make will be the right one for you and your child. I know it's crazy to think there isn't scientific data out there but perhaps we will start to see some carrier options specifically geared towards babies.. wouldn't that be awesome!

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • cv August 24, 2009 at 2:44 pm

    For us, our car seat fit directly in the Burley Solo (not approved by Burley). That worked pretty well. I don't remember how young we did that anymore.

    Now with two little non-infant kids in a Burley double, we still don't use helmets because (a) they don't fit against the seat back and (b) it seems that the trailer's cage performs the function of keeping their heads from smashing into things.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Daisy May 28, 2012 at 9:32 am

      I have a Burley Solo and can't find a car seat narrow enough to fit in it. Could you please tell me which car seat you used. Thanks!

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Kathleen McDade August 24, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    I read a blog post recently (and I can't find it again, sorry!) that told about using a recumbent tricycle during pregnancy and early infancy, strapping baby on in a chest carrier. Of course, you'd still have the helmet and jouncing issues with that.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • beth h August 24, 2009 at 2:52 pm

    Great article. As a bicycle retailer I get asked this question all the time. To my knowledge, there is at least one state (Massachusetts) that requires the child to be one year old before you can transport him/her by bicycle (in a baby seat OR trailer).

    In Oregon and elsewhere, an obvious solution seems to be a subsidy for parents so that they can transport their children safely in infamcy without a car.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • TTse August 24, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    My honey and I (due in a few months) plan on using a car seat fitted into a Burley Trailer starting early on. The baby will be protected from three sides with the seat, and being essentially suspended in the middle of the trailer, this should be plenty safe.

    I rode in my mom's bike seat when I was a kid and there WERE NOT even helmets available for kids then. Amazing any of us survived those years. The horror!! No helmets, ill-fitting hand-m-down bikes, riding in the streets, and only 3 channels.

    While it is good to be safety conscious, I think that if we becomes so fear driven that we won't bike with our kids because a helmet doesn't logically fit into the situation, then we've taken an unfortunate step toward seeing our world almost exclusively through a "threat level orange" lens. Very sad.

    Recommended Thumb up 5

  • brd August 24, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    We waited until 6 months for the jog stroller for actual running and @9 months for the BoBike. The head was seemed more secure at that point.

    Thanks for the article...We have a new one on the way was just thinking about this...

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Tommy Brooks August 24, 2009 at 3:02 pm

    It's a struggle for us, too, to decide how and when our 11-month old will ride. The information is always changing - a recent example being that recommendations for car seats are moving toward having the kid be in a rear-facing seat even longer than the current recommendation of 1 year. As with all things bike, the law is not designed for the reality here in Portland/Oregon. It's worthy of a lot of discussion - and a lot of study so that the discussion can be informed.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Mike M August 24, 2009 at 3:06 pm

    For me, this is a timely article. I took my year old son for his first trailer ride yesterday. I found that all trailer manufacturers tend to say that their trailers are for children 1 year or older. There are seats that mount on the bike themselves that go as low as nine months old, but I was unable to find any equipment that advertised an ability to carry even younger children. I'd like to use the trailer more, now that I feel he is old enough. Unfortunately, I feel less secure around cars with him out there, so I will be re investigating some of my routes.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Julian August 24, 2009 at 3:18 pm

    Nice, Marion! Thanks for bringing this topic up for conversation. The comments oughta be fun.

    I've been ruminating a lot on this issue in the past year, resulting in this article/confession:
    http://totcycle.com/blog/baby-on-a-bicycle.html

    and this custom "bucket seat":
    http://totcycle.com/blog/diy-infant-seat-on-a-madsen.html

    I agree about bobble-head concerns from a "how infants develop" perspective, but I don't see any actual data yet comparing baby-seat-in-bakfiets, baby-seat-in-trailer, baby-sling-in-trailer, custom MADSEN bucket seat, or the Stouts' baby on bosom in Mobywrap on trike (which gets points for innovation and coziness) to baby-in-car with stiff suspension being driven at high speeds over the same roads, or baby-in-jogging-stroller, etc etc ...

    Injury prevention folks are cautious by nature. They raise real, but currently theoretical concerns about this issue. In my qualitative experiences, baby-seat-in-trailer made me the most nervous; even with the tires at low pressure there was some jostling, which is not surprising given that the baby is over the axle rather than in-between.

    I've got some colleagues in the pediatric injury field - I'll ask about getting a test dummy. It'd be fun to collect some accelerometer data, and lord knows I have enough family bikes around to test this out!

    As for infant helmets, well, there's this:
    http://www.thudguard.com/
    Ha. Not exactly tested or approved for road use, however.

    Another option to avoid is the baby seat on front/rear rack adapter, as seen in the Netherlands. But ... "it's safe because it's Dutch!". Not so much. See this Henry Workcycles blog post for test results ... our Dutch importers have been wise to leave that one alone.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Marion August 24, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    Mike, you may be interested in this study about trailers vs. bike seats by Elizabeth Powell and Robert Tanz. It was a small sample but interesting study:

    http://archpedi.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/154/4/351?maxtoshow=&HITS=10&hits=10&RESULTFORMAT=&fulltext=trailers&searchid=1104693386147_392&stored_search=&FIRSTINDEX=0&journalcode=archpedi

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Marion August 24, 2009 at 3:31 pm

    Oh yes the thudguard.. doesn't do anything for the brain as a result of vibration or bumping. That myelin sheath not being there is hard to deal with without some major shock absorption. I think the reader about with the free suspension idea for the trailer is a real scout in this whole venture. I am SO hoping that there will be some significant engineered products coming out to limit vibration and increase shock absorption for infants ( again babies under 9 months of age) going by bike, until then parents will have to be creative and hopefully see what works and limit what doesn't. I did read your blog.. Of course, I love what you write about.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • middle of the road guy August 24, 2009 at 3:46 pm

    No scientific data?

    How about plain old common sense?

    If you don't think it is a good idea, then it probably isn't.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • fredlf August 24, 2009 at 3:47 pm

    Admittedly a totally unscientific point, but before rubber tires were invented, weren't all infants subjected to bumps and vibration when transported?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Corey August 24, 2009 at 3:59 pm

    I took my 10 month old son for his first ride last week in a front mounted seat. It didn't last long before he was asleep and I decided to head back home. Honestly, I think it was a bit soon for him and haven't planned our next ride yet.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • maxadders August 24, 2009 at 4:18 pm

    Does anyone else shudder every time they see a cargo bike loaded with toddlers lumbering down a busy non-bike-friendly street?

    I know accidents can happen anywhere, but I've seriously got to question the logic of parents who insist on subjecting their kids to streets that don't have developed bike accommodations.

    Certain spots on Alberta feel like serious "door zones"-- not to mention the leapfrogging auto traffic that can be aggressive / impatient. There are better, calmer routes just a few blocks away, but parents still ride the bottlenecks, kids in tow.

    A few months back I saw someone hauling two youngsters over the 39th street I-84 overpass-- oblivious to the fact that cars in the area are jockeying around in the lanes to reach the freeway. I'd wager that the "freeway mindset" had already kicked in for some drivers before they encountered that dad and his kids.

    It makes me very nervous to come across stuff like that, especially when I'm driving my car. A loaded bakfiets (full of children, no less) is not going to be able to avoid a potential accident as easily as the average cyclist. It's my opinion that there are some areas in Portland where your family-car-replacement doesn't mix well with actual cars.

    Recommended Thumb up 2

  • jim August 24, 2009 at 7:15 pm

    I shudder too.

    For those of you that are unfamilliar with babies in cars- You should allways have them face the rear. Babies heads are really large and heavy compared to the rest of their body and they just don't have the abillity to hold their head in position if stopped suddenly, worst cases are decapitation. Remember if your bike is stopped suddenly, you are still going to go forward at whatever speed you were going. positioned facing the rear will let the head go against the seat back and would be much safer than a head flying forward.

    Thats just my take on it, I can't pretend to be an expert. If you really want to know I would go to Emanuel hospital and speak with one of the trauma nurses. They can tell you for sure what is best and can answer a host of other questions

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • GlowBoy August 24, 2009 at 7:31 pm

    We waited until our son was 1 year old before we put him in the trailer. I could see doing it at 9 months maybe, but I couldn't imagine doing it earlier.

    For that matter, we tried to limit driving -- which, while possibly not as dangerous for an infant as cycling, is still dangerous. Your typical American family would be well-advised to consider at least driving less with the tiny ones.

    All this is easy for me to say because we weren't car-free. Hard to pass judgment on others, especially if a car isn't an option.

    Recommended Thumb up 2

  • boneshaker August 24, 2009 at 8:49 pm

    Very nice, thank you Johnathan.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Kt August 24, 2009 at 9:04 pm

    My brother waited until his first child was 9-months to a year old before strapping her into the trailer for bike rides. Same with his second child.

    I don't have any kids, and my dog's too rambunctious for biking. That's my caveat there, I'm just an Auntie.

    This is a good article, and I'm enjoying the comments! Lots to learn.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • WOBG August 24, 2009 at 9:14 pm

    I'm with 18; not sure about the whole vibration thing. Unpaved roads and no better than wooden wheels or four legs for centuries---and yet, somehow, the species went on.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Shane August 24, 2009 at 9:51 pm

    We've started to ride with our daughter in the front of our Long Haul (made here in Eugene by Human Powered Machines). I built a box in the Bakfiets style for it and have set up the car seat base to lock down to the bottom of the box. We can then add and remove the car seat easily. She rides facing us and it is easy to interact and communicate with her.

    She took her first ride around 3 months and now at 4 months she is going on shopping errands and short trips with us. Yesterday was the longest 'pleasure cruise' of about 6 miles on a multi-use path.

    She has been the best judge of what seemed right. Our first trip (just in front of the house) each bump startled her and she seemed uncomfortable. The next time we tried it she seemed okay except for some bigger bumps. Eventually she started falling asleep and looking very comfortable. Now she seems very comfortable, sleeps through most anything, and smiles a lot.

    As a single car family with the one car being used for work we walked or had the transit option but cycling gives us real freedom and we feel that she is safe, comfortable, and happy in her first human powered rig.

    I agree that parents are the best at judging what works for their child and certainly don't agree with the idea of maxadders (#20) as he questions "the logic of parents who insist on subjecting their kids to streets that don't have developed bike accommodations." I question a city that doesn't build these amenities. We have the right to ride there as much as you do to drive there. We're not crazy for trying to get where we need to go, just as we're not crazy trying to bring our children along with us.

    PS- Kidical Mass !!!!

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Schrauf August 24, 2009 at 10:07 pm

    Seems to me a car on a gravel or bumpy road along with a not very well padded car seat transmits significantly more vibration to an infant's head than a bike in combination with ample padding from a blanket or otherwise.

    Are new parents warned to drive cars solely on brand new pavement?

    It's probably good to remember that warnings from manufacturers as well as doctors are based on avoiding silly lawsuits first, and everything else second.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • hau August 24, 2009 at 10:08 pm

    There is data on the number one cause of death among kids under the age of 14. And guess what? It's not biking but motor vehicle accidents? http://tinyurl.com/lawmff It seems like it's much more safe to transport kids by any other mode than in a car.

    This is a great post and also timely for me as well. As with many I've too have been ruminating about excess vibration. Is biking with an infant any more dangerous than say the high setting on a vibrating chair and then having an older sibling jump on said chair with the baby? Is it any worse than a child accidentally rolling off the bed? Is it any worse than wearing a baby and then having to make a mad dash to catch an older sibling before they run out onto the road? What about vigorous bouncing he endured for hours during the first 3 months of his life used to calm and soothe him? I compare these with everyday "head vibrating" scenarios and wonder what it is about biking with an infant that makes it any worse that these that he experiences?

    I know to some it seems selfish and dangerous to bike with the wee ones, but maybe seeing more kids on the road would make driving and biking more civilized and get everyone to slow it down.

    Recommended Thumb up 2

  • Ethan August 25, 2009 at 12:25 am

    Depends on whether we're talking Portland or Vancouver.

    Seriously though, we had an infant seat base lashed to hard-points installed in the bottom of the box and felt he was very safe. I'd say the biggest challenge back then was temp/shade management, which we solved with blankets and the sun shade from a pool float.

    Perhaps more controversially, we carried him in a upright car seat (rear facing) without a helmet. We found that the helmet basically did not function well, forcing his head down at all times. The very large car seat did extend considerably higher then his head, so we considered it an effective roll cage in the even the bike had some kind of catastrophic roll-over.

    At the end of the day, a 3 year old on a tag-along bike is (IMHO) in much more danger back there unsecured than my kid was without a helmet in proper car seats, ahead of me and surrounded by a plywood box, and I see little kids on those all the time. Only in America would this even be a serious conversation.

    pics:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/ethanjewett/2615631507/in/set-72157603028922193/

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/ethanjewett/2655146154/in/set-72157603028922193/

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • t.a. barnhart August 25, 2009 at 6:17 am

    what's disturbing about the picture is the mom on the left, the one with the infant, having no helmet. it's one thing when you are single and/or parentless. when you become a parent, you lose the right to take that kind of risk. parents who ride without a helmet are showing a huge lack of regard for their families. (i guess it's good she at least has a hat on, to make cleaning up the brains a bit easier.)

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Duncan August 25, 2009 at 10:25 am

    TTse-
    and we had no remote controls for those three channels!

    Seriously folks- take it easy. While i am a conservative and mindful parent, I dont see anything wrong with biking with your kids in a Bakfiet with a car seat. Thats at least as safe as a car as long as caution is exersized.

    and max- how would you suggest that the parent cross the might banfield tarmac river? all the crossings suck by bike, and I doubt that asking them to traverse a mile or more eachway to go down to 28th is practical, and there the sharp corner northbound where people are always cutting over into the bike lane.

    Life is risk- the best way to live is not to avoid risk but manage it.

    Recommended Thumb up 2

  • Jay S. August 25, 2009 at 11:06 am

    #20

    Nice of you to worry about families on bikes. Most of us prefer mellow routes with houses and gardens to fast paced auto corridors. I'm sure most of us avoid streets like 39th over I-84 but sometimes you have little choice especially in this town that has so many bridges with inadequate bike facilities. Perhaps that family was riding from preschool on Sandy and 39th to Grant Pool for swim lessons. Perhaps that family lives in Laurelhurst and shops at QFC. Riding up to the pedestrian bridge to the bus mall is a PITA (pain in the ass) and probably nearly as treacherous with all the extra street crossings busses and poor traffic flow in that area. Do parents feel nervious in these places? Of course but we know how to act responsibly, turn on our extra awareness and hope all the car drivers do the same. As long as that family rides in the street or on the sidewalk in a legal and visible (including out of door zone) way they are acting in my opinion in a safe and responsible way. Any parent who is choosing to ride in those more treacherous places is experienced and knows the abilities of the family and the poor habits of drivers.

    We will not let others poor actions stop us from going where we need to when we need to. We will ride responsibly so that we are out of traffic or highly visible in traffic. You take care of your family how you see fit and be responsible on your bike and in your car. Then we should all be happy.

    Recommended Thumb up 3

  • Paul M August 25, 2009 at 11:13 am

    I don't think you would get away with it today, but I was brought back from the hospital, as a newborn, in a basket strapped to my Dad's handlebars.

    Recommended Thumb up 8

  • Schrauf August 25, 2009 at 11:53 am

    "what's disturbing about the picture is the mom on the left, the one with the infant, having no helmet. it's one thing when you are single and/or parentless. when you become a parent, you lose the right to take that kind of risk. parents who ride without a helmet are showing a huge lack of regard for their families."

    t.a. - I suppose it depends on which risk you choose to obsess over. I propose that the decision to drive 5 mph over the speed limit, rather than the speed limit, increases risk for all vehicle occupants significantly more than the increased risk of not wearing a helmet on a bike.

    And I've seen parents with young children speed once or twice.

    hau #28 - your comparison obviously ignores that more people travel by car than bike. You gotta compare injuries or deaths by vehicle mile, or even better, vehicle hour.

    Recommended Thumb up 2

  • EB August 25, 2009 at 12:13 pm

    Oh, the controversy. When our daughter was born a year ago, we talked and researched and read and discussed. We even had a frank discussion with the pediatrician about putting our daughter in the trailer with the car seat.

    Bikes are a huge part of our lives and part of becoming a family is doing something enjoyable and healthy together, even if the youngest member is too little to remember it.

    We ended up putting her in her car seat, strapped in to a Burley Solo at 3 months of age. We stuck to bike paths until about 5 months, when we cautiously ventured on to low-traffic, bike-friendly streets. Now, of course, she no longer needs the car seat in the Burley, but I remember those rides fondly- 12 easy, smooth miles with a sleeping infant and a happy mom and dad.

    We can sit around and do nothing with our baby for nine months (I also put her in the jogging stroller at 2 months old- modified, of course) or we can get out there and enjoy our lives as a family, with precautions, of course.

    Recommended Thumb up 4

  • BigMarty August 25, 2009 at 1:20 pm

    My son is almost 10 months and I haven't put him in the trailer yet. I ride it to the store and fill it with groceries instead. I'm itching to be able to take him on rides, but I think I'll try to hold out one more month. His mom and I can go on rides together then- without having to find a babysitter.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • 007 August 25, 2009 at 11:14 pm

    a couple of days ago i saw a guy riding his bike and his baby (younger than a toddler) was in the back tipping backwards almost perpendicular to the road. we talked about it for a bit and then went after him but couldn't find him. was hoping the kid did not fall out and get a head injury. the dude was clueless! turn around once in a while, man.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • [...] 26, 2009 by newyorkoutdoors by Marion Rice, BikePortland.org, link to original post, (Although this article refers to Oregon laws, it has information that’s very relevant for NY [...]

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Chris Keam August 26, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    Put my kid in a the bike trailer at about one year, in a car seat suspended by bungees inside the trailer. She wore the smallest helmet we could find, with a toque underneath to help it fit IIRC.

    Fast forward six years and she's just fine mentally and probably smarter than Dad. Not sure that the bumping and jarring of a bike ride is much worse than a car and my guess is the levels of pollutants are lower on a side street in a trailer than on a main road in a car. Overall, my opinion is a bike trailer is about the safest thing for a kid or adult cyclist in the city... drivers actually behave as if they might not be out to kill you when you're towing a kiddie trailer!

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Chris Hagerman August 27, 2009 at 9:41 am

    I mounted a carseat in a cargo bike and started riding occasionally with my daughter when she was about 5 months old. Consistent with much of the concern about vibration and bumps mentioned here, I under-inflated the wheel and went very, very slow. She would fall asleep most of the time.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Chris Hagerman August 27, 2009 at 9:58 am

    I should add that the most concern I have about bumps and vibrations to my infant come not while she's riding in the bakfiets but instead in strollers. All of ours seem to constantly rattle her and that's before taking on uneven sidewalks and curbs.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • todd August 27, 2009 at 10:06 am

    we took our son out in a carseat strapped into a trailer with low tires maybe half a dozen times from maybe 6 weeks to 8 months. we were so slow and cautious about providing a smooth ride that it really wasn't much faster than walking with him in a sling, nor particularly rewarding. this was in san francisco. i could see this being more attractive (or less) in other locales.

    we moved him to a front-mount seat as soon as he could hold his helmeted head up. this was a nice experience, as you can hold a quiet babbling conversation, point stuff out, caress. but he'd usually fall asleep quickly, compelling you to manage his floppy head while remaining in confident control of the bike.

    moved him to a rear-mount seat (on xtracycle) at about 18 months, also using the trailer for longer rides or those with bad weather.

    he just turned 7. we have always been car-free. he's spent literally at least 1000x as much time on a bike as in any sort of motor vehicle. healthy, happy kid!

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Thursday bicycle news | MEN blog . net August 28, 2009 at 5:22 am

    [...] young is too young to carry your child by bike? (and by the way, congrats to Momentum Magazine editor Tania Lo on the [...]

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • rusl September 8, 2009 at 1:43 am

    Thanks for writing this. This is the first real article actually dealing sanely with this topic I have ever read. Ever!

    It's absolutely crazy that such a major topic is so totally ignored: Such car myopia.

    What is *most* crazy is the conventional wisdom that putting a little kid in a fast car is going to be safer! Really!

    We started out at about 3 weeks riding with a baby seat in a 4 wheel pedal car. We would have started earlier but after giving birth my wife wasn't into sitting on anything resembling a bike seat for a while. We did this occassionally for the next few months, also using a trike. He sat very close to us on the seat so we could reach over and even adjust or cushion his head if we wanted. However, this home made bike was clunky and inconvenient to use regularly. In those first few months you want to hold him as close to your body as possible so we would more often walk or bus.

    5 months in we decided to spring for a Bakfiets - kindof pricey but worth it to be able to cycle comfortably. That worked great. Having him facing backwards was excellent so you could really be aware how he was doing and give eye contact.

    http://picasaweb.google.com/jane.rusl/RuslSCellPhone2008#5375885586607806146

    The photo at the top of this article is actually my wife and son in the middle, borrowing a Bakfiets from the woman on the right, at the Kidical Mass during Portland's Towards Carfree Cities conference last year. So my baby son was about 6 month there and by then he was fairly use to the bakfiets.

    At one year we switched to having him sit up in the seat wearing a helmet. The only problem is if he gets sleepy it would be nice to have a headrest or something so a few times we have used the carseat instead. We've always assumed that using the carset was increasing the safety (since it's a sort of compact roll cage) better than a helmet and not to be combined. Babies in cars don't wear helmets, eh?

    Cycling worked quite well for us. We put some cushioning under the carseat in the Bakfiets to further cushion the road. I think for the time before the baby can hold his head up you really need to watch the bumps and potholes - but this is the same thing as walking on the bus or driving in a car, not any more dangerous. As long as you've learned to ride a bicycle before this happened.

    You want to make sure they are warm because of course they are inactive and not pedalling. Also a sunshade of some sort is needed when they are too young to turn their heads away from the light. And you tie the seat down and buckle them up as you would in a car, it's only harder because you have to figure it out yourself rather than follow the instructions.

    In case you need a list of the reasons (that should be obvious but you can't expect common sense in car culture) why a car is unlikely to be as safe as a bike:

    1) A car goes faster - and with speed risk goes up exponentially
    2) Car injuries and deaths are so common as to be everyday and not even properly counted, this is a leading cause of death and injury for babies and adults alike. We do know this, and it is more likely than many other imagined threats to our safety (strangers, bicycles...)
    3)While auto suspension systems may absorb some of the jostling bikes don't - they are not 100% and with that high speed you are a lot more likely to get a serious surprise bump stronger than a bike would.
    4)driving only encourages more driving and compounds the issues of endangering public safety, encouraging parents with young kids to do this is reckless.
    5)you can bike with your child closer to you so you can be closer and more aware of if there are any comfort or safety issues immediately rather than the common way of driving with the kid virtually out of sight. You can pull over and walk anywhere you need to and don't wait for parking to deal with an emergency.
    6)Indoor air pollution.

    ...One could go on...

    Really it's not a super difficult issue, but people have mostly never considered it. It always makes me bristle to hear people suggest putting my kid in a far more dangerous car (known to be) is better than navigating a few unknowns (more more accurately less-well-knowns) that they have unreasonable fears about.

    The law basically has a blind spot here and should be fixed.

    It could be nice if there were products made for this too. Like a more bike portable car-seat, maybe with more shock absorption built in. Something with tie down spots designed for a bike.

    I don't think something like a bobike is good for the neck under a year, though every kid is different. A more head supporting bobike could be trivial to design if this was something more people were buying.

    The helmet issue is a red herring. A soft cushy baby "car" seat is what infants need for the first year. A babies neck isn't strong enough to hold up a helmet until then. The law may say this is illegal but the law is dumb and in this case not made with safety of biking babies in mind. Ironically. I would be glad to have the opportunity to challenge such an unsafe law in court. (I do think generally wearing a helmet for kids and adults is a very good idea, just not under 12 months because a car seat is better)

    Take care and take the lane!

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • [...] Carrying your infant by bike: How young is too young? [...]

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Baby on Board the Bike | seventhacreheaven October 22, 2011 at 3:59 pm

    [...] doing our research on this, we also came across an interesting article on the bikeportland website.  The article is about carrying an infant by bicycle.  There has been [...]

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • emily January 5, 2013 at 10:23 pm

    I think it's very odd that the Dutch person above says it's uncommon to see a baby riding in a bakfiets. I've been living in Amsterdam for the past two years (my son is now 1) and everyone I know with a baby bikes their baby around-- often beginning just after birth. It's how to get from point A to point B in the city. When under 6-9 months, children are typically transported in a maxi cosi placed in a bakfiets. When older, the common mode of transportation is a front-placed seat in between the arms of the parents. If baby biking were really correlated with brain damage, you'd expect to see a lot of signs of this there. The workcycles blog (link above) explains why it's safe to ride in a bakfiets... Although Dutch folks tend to not put helmets on their children, which I think it just crazy!

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • David DeMello September 11, 2013 at 6:21 am

    Late to the party here, but was brought to this page by a Google search. I have a question that I can't find an answer to anywhere. Since our 2 year old can no longer ride in a Yepp Mini or iBert in a way that is comfortable for me as the stoker, it's time for her to graduate to the Yepp Maxi. After seeing her so enjoy the view from the front, it saddens me to push her to the back of the bike where she will mostly be looking at my back. As my bike can handle it, I was thinking of mounting a solid panier-ready touring rack to the front. it would have a platform every bit as stable and load-bearing as a rear rack. I could attach the Yepp to that and I'm tall enough to see over the top.

    Is this crazy for any reason? I have searched and searched but have not found anyone who does this. All front-riding solutions have the child behind the handle-bars.

    Thoughts?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Paul in the 'couve September 11, 2013 at 12:36 pm

      Sorry I am no technical help on actually accomplishing such a set up. As to why you don't see it? I think it is public perception or at least imagined public perception. I believe front rack carrying of older kids, with or without an actual child seat, is common in countries with a lot of cycling. I've considered it, and my primary concern is the fear of condemnation from other parents or interference from the school or police with the perception that "it isn't safe."

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Shane September 11, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    I think the other issue is the center of gravity and the weight. When the child is behind the handlebars they are closer to you and more centered. If you were to place them out front the weight would be farther out and maybe even farther than the front axel. You will be very "front heavy" and prone to tip-overs and headers. Also, the weight of the now larger child will really effect your steering. Finally, depending on wheel size that's a good amount of weight up high...the lower you can get it the better. That's why a 20" wheel bike with a fixed rack would be ideal (if you could get the handlebars above the childs head).
    That being said; it's always worth trying something out..with a big doll first maybe :-).
    Todd from Clever Cycles probably has some good input on this topic.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Paul in the 'couve September 11, 2013 at 1:07 pm

      What you say about handling is reasonable especially given the geometry of typical bikes available in the U.S.. In general old mountain bikes won't have great handling with this setup and neither will sport oriented road bikes. However, some bikes even with 26in or 700c wheels will handle fine with a child's weight up front if equipped with a good rack.

      But I agree with your point. If setting up this way, it would be important to consider what bike to do it with. Something with a long wheel base and moderate to low trail would probably work better.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • David DeMello September 11, 2013 at 1:12 pm

    As for weight out front, I agree that lower would be better, but as I weigh close to 300lbs, I feel I provide some good counter leverage. My aim would be to place the seat mount as close on the rack to the top tube as I can get it.

    I swear I saw this when I visited Amsterdam. Lots of people with kids sitting in front of the bars. Maybe I'm misremembering… my first sights of all that Dutch frame geometry was pretty distracting.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • David DeMello September 11, 2013 at 4:26 pm

    Paul, the bike I have in mind is a Sam Hillborne.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

    • Paul in the 'couve September 11, 2013 at 6:55 pm

      :) sounds like a great candidate. And I don't think you are imagining seeing people riding kids on the front rack in Europe. Same in Asia and anywhere else many people use bikes for family transport.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • alfred September 23, 2013 at 2:09 pm

    I have vague memory as a child of riding on the front stem of my cousin's three-wheeler at high speeds through dirt trails in the woods, with my feet occasionally getting bucked up due to my shoes striking the knobby front wheel. Looking back, I'm probably lucky I didn't fall off and get sucked under the wheel.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • David DeMello September 24, 2013 at 1:07 pm

    So Alfred, that's a no?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

- Daily bike news since 2005 -
BikePortland.org is a production of
PedalTown Media Inc.
321 SW 4th Ave, Ste. 401
Portland, OR 97204

Powered by WordPress. Theme by Clemens Orth.
Subscribe to RSS feed


Original images and content owned by Pedaltown Media, Inc. - Not to be used without permission.