[Please note that we’ve changed the name of our family biking column from “Carfree Families” to “Car-Less Families”. This is the third article in the ongoing series written by Marion Rice. Read the others here.]
From my perspective, there is nothing better than tooling around town with my toddler on the bike. We have a great time. She sees so many things she can relate to: Choo Choo’s, kitties, doggies. We bump into people we know and often make new friends along the way.
Here are a few important things to make biking with babies and toddlers safe for you and for them…
Babies need to be physically ready to be in a bike seat
Babies need to be able to hold their head up with a helmet on, have the helmet fit properly on their head and sit up sturdy enough to not slump out of the baby seat. Generally this happens around 11-12 months of age. My daughter was very small and only hit 20 lbs at about one year of age. I would not have taken her on the bike before that time. In some states it is not legal to take a baby younger than 12 months on a bike even if they fit in an approved child seat.
Make sure that the mechanism for keeping the baby in the bike seat is tamper proof
Making sure your baby or toddler can’t get out of the harness keeping them in the child seat is important. As they get older and more into the toddler two’s you will have to be vigilant at making sure they understand that they must not get out of the harness.
Choose a bike seat that you feel comfortable with
There are no studies that I know of suggesting that a front mounted seat is better than a rear mounted seat or vice versa. Go to a bike shop that will allow you to take some bikes with child seats for a test ride (they use sand bags, not your child for test rides).
Encourage your baby to wear their helmet around the house
Allowing baby or toddler to wear their helmet around the house is a good thing. It helps them get use to having it put on and off (make sure not to pinch them when you do this). You can say things like, “That’s your very own bike helmet, we wear our helmets on our bikes!” Make sure you wear your helmet so they will want to wear theirs too.
Once you have a child seat on your bike, start out on short rides with your baby
Don’t do too much too soon. Your baby can get scared or squeal with joy at anytime. Start out on short rides on low traffic streets around your neighborhood so you and baby get used to being on the bike together.
Make sure baby is dressed right for the weather
Babies and toddlers are really smart, they won’t want to go on the bike if they get wet or cold. Make sure you have good raingear for them and keep them warm and dry while riding in tough weather. Definitely make sure they wear sunscreen when it is sunny.
Sing songs, have fun and keep your wits about you
Biking around with your baby is so much fun, but while you are singing all those great songs together, keep your wits about you. Watch for cars, use hand signals to slow cars down and take the lane carefully if you have to. Be extra cautious making turns to the left. If you feel safer in certain situations go ahead and use the sidewalk or walk your bike.
Don’t forget snacks!
Take along a sippy cup and snacks. When I pick my daughter up from childcare, I often have a hunk of French bread and a sippy cup of milk. She loves having snacks on the bike.
What to do if you get a flat tire
Don’t try to change a flat tire with a baby or toddler in the bike seat. Walk to a bike shop, call a cab, call your sweetie, take the bus or Streetcar. These are all better options than trying to change a tire and wrangling a baby or toddler at the same time.
I hope these tips have been helpful. If you’ve got an experience or advice of your own to share…feel free to leave a comment below.
— Whether you want to be a carfree or just a car-less family, visit the Car-Less Families Column page for more articles and photos.
Marion Rice has been producing educational media since 1993. She has been the Executive Producer of a number of web sites for PBS.org including The PBS Parents Guide To Talking With Kids About War and Violence, History Detectives and The New Heroes. Most recently she was the Co-Executive Producer of a web site for parents to help them support their children’s emergent literacy from birth to age 5.
Marion Rice started writing the Family Biking column for BikePortland in 2008. She is interested in developing stories that are relevant to families on all parts of the car free/ car light continuum. In addition to writing, Marion helps the BikePortland team with her experience in fund-raising and corporate development. If you have a story idea or would just like to get in touch, you can reach her at (503) 708-0707 or at marion[at]bikeportland.org.