Joe Bike

Family Biking: Reassuring relatives about biking with baby

Posted by on July 23rd, 2019 at 8:52 am

(Photos: Madi Carlson)

How do you handle well-meaning concerns about biking with little ones?

Our Family Biking column is sponsored by Clever Cycles.

➤ Read past entries here.

This can be a tough topic, so I’d love to hear from you about successful conversations you’ve had with friends and relatives. I’m specifically interested in what you’ve said for biking with a new baby, but I think it’d be just as useful to hear talking points for any age. Have you calmed concerns about biking with kids, or even about your own adult biking? Even if you haven’t had to tackle this maybe you have an idea you’d like to share in the comments.

As I shared in my post about 10 years of carrying my kids by bike, I didn’t start biking with my first son until he was one year old. So by the time I put my second son on a bike at 10 weeks old I’d been at it for a couple years. Also, most of my relatives are in the Netherlands so they’re used to babies on bikes.

I first took to Twitter to ask for advice:


I got a lot of suggestions to talk statistics and data and while that sort of information speaks to me, I don’t think it’s the sort of thing that will sway someone trained to think babies belong in cars.

My favorite response was from @FBorgal in Canada:

I am fully expecting this eventually so am planning my strategies. So far it’s: asking what their fears are, asking why they don’t have those fears in a car, showing footage of cute kids riding in bikes, showing the routes I’d be taking (and how they’re pretty safe).

For wee babies (probably the hardest) I would just point out that they are in a car seat. Going roughly 20km/hr. Parents have no problem flying down a highway at 100 kph with their baby strapped in, why is this worse?

Have you had these conversations? If so, how’d it go? If not, what would you say?

— Madi Carlson, @familyride on Instagram and Twitter

We’re looking for people to profile. Get in touch if it sounds like fun to you. I’d especially like to feature families of color so please get in touch or ask friends of color who bike with their kids if they’re interested in sharing their stories. And as always, feel free ask questions in the comments below or email me your story ideas and insights at madidotcom [at] gmail [dot] com.

Browse past Family Biking posts here.

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    Chris I July 23, 2019 at 9:33 am

    Driving on a exurban 2-lane, undivided highway at 70mph is significantly more dangerous than carting a baby on a bike at 10mph on a greenway. People just vastly underestimate the dangers of driving.

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    Dan July 23, 2019 at 10:18 am

    “Anything that hurts the baby will hurt me as badly — or worse — and you never tried to stop me from riding my bike.”

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    dan July 23, 2019 at 10:46 am

    “I agree with you that violence against vulnerable road users by motorists is a serious concern. How can we work together to lower the incidence of these events?”

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    Eric Porter July 23, 2019 at 10:52 am

    This summer I started biking with our 1.5 year old in a cargo bike. Most all the conversations have had to do with watching out for “crazy drivers”, and less about being careful about crashing the bike. My #1 concern with biking in PDX these days revolves around distracted drivers in ever-larger vehicles.

    We started off with small rides to the local playground, and have slowly worked up to bigger rides. We did 10 miles on Sunday going to outer NE sunday parkways and riding the loop. That ride really emphasized the concerns I have with riding. We started in our quiet neighborhood and then had to cross some busy 4 lane roads (82nd/102nd), and skirt some big intersections on Glisan. Lots of cars and hurried and distracted drivers. Once we were on the Parkways route, the car stress was removed, and mainly just had to watch for distracted kiddo bikers…

    My biggest fears about biking with a little one have little to do with the safety of riding a bike and everything to do with what happens when a car hits a bike. A car seat in a car has a steel cage and structure around it. A car seat on a bike has…less.

    I tell concerned people that to reduce risk and minimize exposure I try to go for rides at off peak hours, ride greenway/lower traffic streets, not be afraid to ride the sidewalks sometimes, and I’m constantly keeping aware of my surroundings. I ride much more slowly and cautiously then I would if I were commuting solo. Despite all this, my biggest fear is still the person absently staring at their phone and pulling out in front of/swerving & hitting me.

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      Johnny Bye Carter July 23, 2019 at 12:27 pm

      “Once we were on the Parkways route, the car stress was removed”

      I wish this was my experience. I always seem to be on the course when an angry driver is also on it trying to get to/from their house, and it’s a way bigger problem with a lot more drama when the street is packed full of pedestrians and cyclists sandwiched in one lane between two curbs full of parked cars.

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    Audrey July 23, 2019 at 10:58 am

    Beyond the occasional “For the love of god be careful” nobody gives me much grief. My laughing, playing kids on the back of my bike are all the communication I need to send out to the world that this is good for them and me.

    Though actually just yesterday the toddler was MAD to be strapped into her seat, screaming and demanding to be let out (she wanted to ride on the running board where her big brother sits, rather than her Yepp seat). It was very stressful because I feel pressure to project that my kids are HAPPY on the bike and with this lifestyle choice. I told myself that there are hundreds of screaming toddlers in car seats right this second, they are just in a sound-proof box away from judgmental eyes.

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    ED July 23, 2019 at 11:13 am

    For me, it was precisely waiting until the kiddo was one year old rather than biking with her as a baby that helped. I know that we (me individually and as a society) have a hard time conceptualizing risk, and perhaps biking with a baby isn’t as “risky” however we quantify that as driving with one, but I had specific questions about how helmets and car seats work for the youngest of babies. Most helmets are made for kids a year or older, and I also don’t think they would fit if you have the kid in a bucket style car seat. And car seats work not because the seat itself is magic, but because it is anchored to the car–so putting one in a bakfiets even with some straps certainly doesn’t follow the recommended installation. Not sure if we can say how much a DIY installation changes the safety performance of a car seat, in part because there is no testing like there is for car seats. FWIW, our pediatrician even advised against the jogging stroller for infants under 6 months or so (maybe it was 4 months?) because of the road vibrations, and I would assume that biking is the same.

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    dan July 23, 2019 at 11:25 am

    Also, this may be a function of aging eyes, but I’ve found that on bright sunny days, cyclists in shadow are hard for me to see. I’ve started using daytime running lights on both front and back — I’ve noticed when I see other cyclists that it makes a big difference.

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    Johnny Bye Carter July 23, 2019 at 12:22 pm

    In order to prevent child services from taking our child away we didn’t put them onto any kind of bicycle until they were 1 year old, because that’s when everybody said they could wear the legally required helmet.

    In other words, there’s absolutely no way to convince most people that it’s OK to break the law and put your child into traffic without the legally required protections.

    The hospital wouldn’t even let us leave with our baby unless we put the baby into a car.

    A mediator at the Multnomah Courthouse Child Services stated that she doesn’t think it’s safe for children to be on bikes in traffic.

    This is no way to treat new parents who believe in better transportation.

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      Alex Reedin July 23, 2019 at 1:15 pm

      Yeah, the helmet thing is a big issue for kids <1 yr. old – helmets just are not safe IMO for kids that little, yet they're legally required.

      Personally, I just put my kid in a car seat on a box bike with no helmet, but if I were lower-income or non-white I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have done that due to the risk of child services getting involved.

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        BradWagon July 23, 2019 at 1:23 pm

        Agree, way more dangerous for their necks to try and wear Helmet at that age. If they need a helmet inside a car seat… that helmet isn’t gonna do much good compared to other major injuries such an incident would result in. I do the same, never had anyone bother me about it and they would get a very smug “oh” and a shrug as I rode off if they did.

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        Doper July 23, 2019 at 3:26 pm

        no adult wears a “driving helmet” while driving a car. A helmet in a carseat is not a good idea.

        When your preschooler has a full on rage tantrum while riding on the back of your longtail, remain calm, park your bike on the side of the road, deploy your sturdy center stand, and politely ignore the well meaning but ignorant bystander who tries to tell you that you are somehow doing something dangerous by keeping your child safe, remaining out of reach of brutal little fists, and waiting for everything to calm down. Remain calm. Then vent about it a few years later on bikeportland comments. whew. I feel better now.

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    BradWagon July 23, 2019 at 1:21 pm

    I just… do it regardless I guess. My usual response is obviously that as concerned about them in a bike they are I am equally or more concerned about them being in a car. Both my kids started riding in trailers / cargo bikes around 6 mo old in car seats. Move into regular seat and a helmet around a year.

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    carfree July 23, 2019 at 4:49 pm

    I’m very interested in this topic because I’ve been car-free my entire life and plan to start raising kids soon. I was devastated when I learned that it’s illegal to transport kids under one year old by bike, and thought “how are we going to reach our sustainable future this way?” However, after doing some thinking about it, I concluded my bike focus was misleading me. Most people without cars don’t bike; they walk and take the bus. I can walk and take the bus for a year, no problem.

    Here’s what convinced me not to try and take the kids by bike:

    First, it’s illegal. Helmets are mandatory for kids in Oregon, and there are no infant bike helmets.

    Second, this useful post ( describes a potential harm that is unique to bikes and not remedied by car seats in a bakfiets:

    > 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.

    (in fact, this is a quote from a 2009 BikePortland post:

    There are also some very good points in the post about how bikes have less suspension than a car, and how a kid in a bakfiets or on the back of a bike gets even less suspension than the rider due to their position.

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      Alex Reedin July 23, 2019 at 6:42 pm

      One would think that if bike transport of babies really were causing brain injury, that someone would have noticed the impairment of a large percentage of Dutch and Danes.

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    Mark smith July 23, 2019 at 7:34 pm

    The minute and baby is injured or killed on a bike, the state will rise up and take notice. Enjoy the time before then now. It is illegal to have a child without a helmet. Do I like it? Nope. You don’t like it? Change the law.

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    Arron Eades February 29, 2020 at 3:23 am


    Second, this useful post ( describes a potential harm that is unique to bikes and not remedied by car seats in a bakfiets:

    Not true. Your link doesn’t mention Bakfiets at all. Nor does it mention “cargo” “car seat” “long john” “front loader” or any other keyword I can think of about cargo bikes or car seats.

    There are also some very good points in the post about how bikes have less suspension than a car, and how a kid in a bakfiets or on the back of a bike gets even less suspension than the rider due to their position.

    Nope. You’ve misunderstood this completely. The seats that mount directly over an axle will transmit a sharper impulse to the child. But a child in a Bakfiets is about as far from an axle as you can get. Further than the rider of a normal bike, therefore they move less. For example, the middle of a see-saw moves a lot less than the ends.

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    Not trying to be an arse, just pointing out that you may have misunderstood the article and making sure others don’t get mislead by your mistaken claim.

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