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Top tips for biking with babies (and toddlers too!)

Posted by on April 24th, 2008 at 12:16 pm

[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.]

A family ride to IKEA-5.jpg

(Photos © J. Maus)

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…

Bridge Pedal 2006

It’s never too early
for Bridge Pedal.

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).

My girls on the trail-a-bike

This one is probably too small
to safely ride a tag-along
bike…but she loves it!

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.

Me and Eleni

Don’t forget to have fun!

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.

Please support BikePortland.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

  • steve April 24, 2008 at 12:49 pm

    Not a single mention of trailers? I thought this was safety month?

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  • tonyt April 24, 2008 at 12:52 pm

    Can I ask why the name change??

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) April 24, 2008 at 12:54 pm

    \”Can I ask why the name change??

    Sure tonyt,

    I just felt like when some folks hear \”carfree\” they just can\’t quite relate to the idea and might think the articles aren\’t for them.

    I thought car-less was a fun play on words that can mean \”without a car\” or it can mean simply \”using the car less\” and biking more.

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  • Chris Leonardo April 24, 2008 at 1:00 pm

    we started biking with our 2 year old a few weeks ago using a rear mounted seat we got from a friend.

    We LOVE biking around our neighborhood (Multnomah Village in SW) and were actually just starting to research safe riding with kids.


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  • Patrick April 24, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    On days that I was trying to get somewhere fast I had to plan my route to avoid playgrounds. On leisure days 5-10 minutes at any park we passed was mandatory (and you’d be surprised how many parks, swings in trees, church & school playgrounds there are).

    It’s my daughter’s job to signal turns. I call out “right-” or “left-turn” and she throws her arm out & autos go out of their way to yield.

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  • Spanky April 24, 2008 at 1:15 pm

    I like the columns but see a lot of (understandable) focus on single kid/toddler only parents. Many of us have older kids and would appreciate a bit of focus on some of the issues that interest us like safety, opportunities to have our kids ride in a group or attend some instruction on safe riding (surly teen and preteen kids are often more receptive to teaching from someone other than a nagging parent), riding in groups (as in, a family), bike lane use and etiquette, how to maneuver an intersection, lighting, bike repair, etc.

    But good on you for the columns and regardless what you write about, keep it up!

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  • EB April 24, 2008 at 1:16 pm

    With respect: if you don\’t feel safe riding on the road with a kid, please *walk* your bike on the sidewalk. Adults riding on the sidewalk are no less dangerous or annoying to pedestrians because they\’ve got a baby on board.

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  • Jessica Roberts April 24, 2008 at 1:43 pm

    A friend of mine in Germany bikes everywhere with her daughter. Little Linnea gets SO excited when she sees her \”hat\” come out, because she knows she\’ll get to go for a ride soon. One time I was visiting and we realized we had forgotten something, so we had to go back up to the house…Linnea got very angry when we tried to take her hat away! It\’s sweet to see how enthusiastic kids can be about bikes if they\’ve had exposure to them.

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  • joeb April 24, 2008 at 1:54 pm

    I see a guy crossing the Hawthorne Bridge with a 5-6 year old on a trail-a-bike. This guy rode by in a pouring rain one day and his kid was laughing his head off. A day that kid will never forget!

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  • Marion rice April 24, 2008 at 2:22 pm

    Thanks Everyone for your comments.
    I thought the sidewalk thing might make some folks disagree. Since it is legal to ride on the sidewalk in Oregon except downtown, if I feel it necessary I am definitely going to do it. Case in point, the hill up Interstate from Greely to Overlook Blvd. There are usually no pedestrians on the sidewalk and the road/bikelane on the uphill side of the street is narrow. It is much safer to be on the sidewalk which I do only when I have my daughter on the bike.
    The Terwilliger hills, the path was originally intended as mixed use, bikes and pedestrians. There are bike lanes on the road now, but to me as a parent cycling my child, I would use the mixed use path and carefully and respectfully yield to pedestrians in all cases.

    I will definitely be addressing biking with kids when they are older. I just thought I would start at the beginning and move on up in age. Thanks for your support, encouragement and disagreement! Keep up the great discussion.

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  • JayS. April 24, 2008 at 2:42 pm

    Nice article. Some folks use a trailer with an infant seat strapped in. Judge the safety of that for yourself. The seats are designed to be thrown from a car and still protect the baby.

    I only give a drink if it is attached to the seat and can\’t hang in the wheel. I don\’t want to have to turn around because someone dropped a cup, or have a child toss a cup into traffic.

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  • Icarus Falling April 24, 2008 at 2:51 pm

    I agree that attention is needed towards parents with older cycling children. Which is pretty much every child in America.

    I see kids doing the damndest things on their bicycles around my neighborhood, as I am sure we all did when we were young. And NEVER wearing helmets, as is of course required by law, if not by morality. (I will add I am not at all about requiring helmets for adults, but feel it is our responsibility as humans to require them for children)

    It appears many parents neither care, nor realize, that the safety of their child, not to mention the legal liability, is entirely in their hands, and should be entirely on their minds from the minute a child leaves on his/her bike, to the minute they come home.

    I mention the legal liability because in my mind, the only thing that shakes some people into changing is when they realize an act, either by them or their children, can and will cost them money.

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  • Marion rice April 24, 2008 at 2:52 pm

    Thanks JayS. I have a cool \”sippy cup tether\” I devised. It definitely prevents cups being pitched over the bike and landing in the wheel or worse being thrown into traffic. I will post directions to make one soon.
    It\’s crazy, there are so many things to write about!!

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  • Greg S April 24, 2008 at 3:50 pm

    I\’ve been taking my kids (5&3) 4 miles to daycare, 3 days a week for the last 2+ years. We use a Chariot bike carrier.
    I find a blanket to be invaluable during the rainy season. It makes a nice cozy environment. This morning they were both asleep when we got to daycare.
    On warm days, I always give each of them a water bottle. I also keep the top down no matter how hot it is. Someone warned me about rocks getting kicked up by the bike tires and the risk of injury (pokin\’ the eye out).
    I avoid busy streets like the plague.
    They always wear their helmets and they can\’t talk to me while I\’m going up Alameda ridge!

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  • true April 24, 2008 at 5:26 pm

    Riding on sidewalks with kids is sometimes necessary, and apart from downtown, as has been mentioned, completely legal. Of course it is not acceptable to barrel down the sidewalk threatening pedestrians, and it\’s a shame that some people do. Also, consider that in much of the city riding on the sidewalk rarely involves pedestrians anyway – everyone is in their car, which is why I am up on the sidewalk with my daughter in the first place. Add to that the fact that she is riding her own bike much of the time, and although she is very capable for her age, she can hardly keep a straight line yet, so I think everyone would happier and safer with her, and me, on the sidewalk.

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  • DJ Hurricane April 24, 2008 at 6:05 pm

    You will know bicyclists have achieved the equal right to the roadway promised by our laws when you feel safe riding with your children there. In fact, I regard that as the sine qua non of bike rights.

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  • Beth from Salem April 24, 2008 at 7:40 pm

    Tandem bikes are the mini-vans of the future. We started both our kids stoking at the age of about 4 1/2, and found it much more stable and efficient than a trail-a-bike, especially since I\’m a smaller rider. Also gives a great way for the whole family to do an extended cycle tour long before the kids are strong enough or trustworthy enough to ride long distances on their own. At age 13 they each declared an end to stoking and pilot their own bikes everywhere.

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  • crossit April 24, 2008 at 7:49 pm

    I also pull my infant in a trailer (w/helmet), on the sidewalk, to daycare. Cars are going 45mph, and I just can\’t ride on the road with him, even though there is a bike lane. Peds, usually the handful we see, usually smile and wave at my son. Being polite and pleasant is all it takes. But he usually falls asleep.

    Before having my son, I saw people riding on the sidewalk with trailer and thought, \’too bad, if only they would ride in the street\’ more bikes seen etc. Now, no way; can\’t do it. Me, yes. With him, no.

    Loved the article! Keep them coming. The discussion and ideas exchanged here are just brilliant.

    Jonathon, thanks so much for all you\’ve done with this site… and bringing in some great folks to write, comment, and learn from. you rock.

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  • debe April 25, 2008 at 12:28 am

    Some might think I NUTS;
    When my chid was about 6 mos I would buckle the car set down in the bike trail and take her to the store and parks.
    When my child head got big enough to fit the smallest bike helment; to get my child used to a bike helemet, the helmet was on my chid when in high chair eatting, or walker playing.
    This child of mine is a 10 year bike rider, and her next big bike ride is Reach the Beach!!!
    This child has gone threw three bike tralers and one trail bike, to riding the bike that I used to ride when she was in the tralier.

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  • Ken April 25, 2008 at 6:45 am

    Regarding riding with kids on sidewalks:
    I live in Vancouver and my wife has my 4 year old daughter on the back of her bike and I have my 2 year old son in the Chariot trailer (it\’s the one seat model). We ride in the neighborhood streets and in bike lanes for the most part but there are some roads where either the bike lanes suck (did I mention I\’m in the couve?) or the traffic is just too fast for my wife and she rides on the sidewalk. BE CAREFUL! We don\’t see many pedestrians but there are a lot of mailboxes/poles/guy wires in our sidewalks and I noticed my daughter doing airplane wings once and she was almost hitting EVERY MAILBOX ON THE ROAD!!! Make sure they know to keeps their hands in and also know that just cuz your bars make it through doesn\’t mean the rest of your ride will:-)

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  • crossit April 25, 2008 at 7:01 am

    No… the baby seat isn\’t nuts. It\’s logical, and I think most people just don\’t say out loud that they do it.
    Also the Louis G helmets are the best for trailer babies, because the back of the helmet is flat, making sitting more comfortable in the car seat.

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  • Richard S April 25, 2008 at 7:49 am

    Much of the children / bikes discussion here centers on either the children riding in a trailer or on a bike seat, or riding their own bikes.

    For older children, an alternative is a multiseat bike. There are many advantages.

    1. Everyone goes at the same speed – even if the riders are not of equal strength.
    2. The captain (hopefully an experienced rider) deals with traffic. Don\’t need to worry about a child making a bad decision. It\’s also a good opportunity to demonstrate good bike riding skills and behavior to a child.
    3. Children get to participate in the same physical activity as their parents. There are very few activities that families can do together like this. You can\’t under estimate how important this is to a child.

    There is a major disadvantage though – tandems (and larger multiseat bikes) are expensive.

    Multiseat bikes – mostly tandems – are fairly common in Portland. There are also a number of families that ride triples, quads, etc.

    Take a look at the following link – it has lots of good information on multiseat bikes.

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  • Josh April 25, 2008 at 9:24 am

    I don\’t have children yet so this is slightly off topic but what are the rules about riding on the sidewalk exactly. I thought it was legal everywhere as long as you were \”riding at a walking pace and yielded to all pedestrians\” is this not true downtown? and as a follow up, are there speed limits on sidewalks not in downtown? Just curious, thanks

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  • Josh April 25, 2008 at 9:32 am

    ohh and I don\’t mean just what is the right thing to do, I realize barreling down the sidewalk is wrong and personally don\’t ever ride on them. I am just currious about the law.

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  • Rick April 25, 2008 at 10:25 am

    The carseat in the trailer worked great for us!

    I agree with Richard regarding multiseats, my 5 year old loves stoking the tandem as well as triplet and I feel completely comfortable anywhere knowing everyone is single file.

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  • Anonymous April 25, 2008 at 10:33 am

    Re: riding on the sidewalk:

    Be sure to check City ordinances before blithely assuming it\’s legal to ride on any sidewalk in any given city.

    For instance, it\’s illegal to ride on the sidewalk on Main Street in Tigard. Anywhere else in Tigard it\’s okay, just not down on Main Street.

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  • JayS. April 25, 2008 at 11:05 am

    Richard thanks for that great link.

    I also think multi-seat bikes are great. We love our tandem and plan to use a burley piccolo with it when our youngest outgrows the child seat. I expect the tandem with the piccolo will handle a bit better than a triple. It is als less expensive.

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  • mbsf April 25, 2008 at 11:47 am

    Semi off-topic:
    This is what biking parents somewhere else have to put up with:

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  • chris April 25, 2008 at 2:09 pm

    I have my first child due in 7 months and look forward to the day when we\’ll be riding together.

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  • Marion rice April 25, 2008 at 6:56 pm

    Great conversation, many of the comments here are about bike set ups for moving kids around. I hope you all have seen my last post about that.. I assume so.. but please add your bike gear related comments there to, so others can see them who may not read this post.

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  • Misty June 4, 2008 at 3:46 pm

    Does anybody know of a place I could get a trailer or bike seat for free for my daughter? They have a program in San Fran. but didn\’t see anything yet within the NW…

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  • Katherine March 9, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    Does anyone have any good suggestions for how I could bike with my sons my oldest is two and a half and my youngest is eight months but I really want to take them biking. Also we live in a very hilly area

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