A guide to children’s bike seats
I was asked by Radio Scotland to provide an assessment of bike seats for children. I talked about the good points and not so good, the price range and the attractiveness of these seats for kids and parents. It was only a 10-minute slot on the Fred MacAulay show so I promised a blog with all the details.
Top tips for children’s bike seats
- It’s recommended that infants can hold up their own head and a helmet before being put on a bike seat. This could be from age nine months, but usually around 12 months.
- Hire before buying. Many hire outlets and shops will lend you a bike seat or trailer for a small cost. Try it before committing to buying your own.
- Practise getting on and off a bike with a bag of coal (or similar) in the bike seat. You’ll see how the bike feels with an extra weight.
- Ask another adult for assistance when getting on and off the bike with a child strapped in. It can be tricky.
- If you are brave enough to go on the road amid busy traffic go for it but make sure you are wearing bright clothing and can be seen by other road users. I would prefer to cycle with a child on off-road routes, such as canals, in parks etc. It’s up to you.
- Buy second-hand bike seats and/or trailers but make sure they are in good condition.
Up-front children’s bike seats
These are attached to the cross bar or handle bars. I haven’t used one of these myself but friends recommend the cross-bar version. If your bike doesn’t have a crossbar you can buy a bar to fix between the seat post and handlebar stem of your bike. Some bike seats are a simple seat and harness, while others are moulded from plastic to create a seat and back support for kids.
Price range: From around £25 to £75-plus.
- Great for younger kids who are smaller and can fit neatly between the cyclist and the handlebars.
- Balance is reportedly easy to grasp and you might feel a greater sense of safety with your child cosied up in front of you.
- It’s easy to talk to your child while you ride.
- It can be easier to manage the getting on and off the bike manoeuvre when compared to the back seat.
Not so good for:
- Some riders say they need to cycle with splayed legs.
- These seats are not ideal for road racer bikes.
- Not the right thing for older children.
- Kids can be faced with all that the weather throws at cyclists because they are up front on the bike.
Child back seats for bikes
These fit on the back of a bike using an attachment, usually to the bike seat post or on to a tack. Most back seats are made from moulded plastic with protection at the back and sides for kids. Look for seats with padding and safety harnesses, as well as foot rests. A recliner version will be good for kids who like to fall asleep on the back.
Price: From £40.
- Fairly easy to master balancing while riding with a kid in the back. Some people complain that the bike feels back heavy but the popularity of these seats shows that most riders quickly get the hang of it.
- Many kids enjoy being given a “backie” by their parents.
- Easy to mount these bike seats and they can be transferred between different bikes.
- Recliner version is useful for younger kids.
Not so good for:
- It is not easy to communicate with kids when they are stuck behind you.
- The weight of the bike can suddenly change if they loll to the side when they fall asleep.
- You need to stay seated on your own saddle and can’t get out of your seat to swing the bike form side to side to propel yourself uphill
- Not the easiest version for uploading children
Trailer buggies (chariots)
A chariot-style buggy that can be two or three-wheeled, which attaches via a long pole to the back of your bike. The trailer buggy is usually enclosed and can fit two children inside. Some versions have a recliner seat for younger infants.
Price: From around £150
- Ideal if you have two young children
- Some versions allow for babies to be fitted in a recliner style seat
- Trailers are sturdy, practical, well-balanced and easy to get the hang of
- Kids are protected form the elements
- These are fairly easy to attach to bikes
- Buggies with suspension can be used on bumpy terrain
- Flat-folding models are available so they can be transported in a car.
- Great second-hand sale potential.
Not so good for:
- Pricier than bike seats (although second hand makes good sense)
- The lighter the model the pricier it becomes (on average)
- Add suspension and off-road tyres and the cost goes up further.
- Some people worry that because a trailer is low down on the road it can’t be easily seen (you could add flags so other road users see it.)
- The wider size of these trailers can make it tricky to get through narrower gates or similar on off-road routes
- Not easy to communicate with kids.
Cargo bikes for adults and kids
Apparently a Dutch invention, these are specially made bikes that have a cabin area at the front of the bike for children. Some other versions, with three wheels (two wheels at the front), allow for a stroller pushchair to be attached to the front of the bike for cycling along with.
Price: Around £1000 or more
- Kids seem to enjoy being out front in their own protected bubble and with great views
- These bikes are a designer cycling statement (in some cycling circles!)
- Very stable and practical
- Drive like a car with the two wheels at the front
- Created for purpose.
Not so good for:
- Can be very heavy (around 27kgs)
- Wide and will not easily fit through gates et
Tagalongs and trailgators
A tagalong is a “half bike” with a wheel, pedals and handlebars that is child size and attaches to the back of the adult bike. A trailgator is a metal pole that attaches an ordinary child’s bike to an adult bike. Both allow the child to pedal.
Price: From about £50 for a trailgator and £120 for a tagalong
- Older children who are too big for an alternative bike seat yet still too young to keep up with their parents
- Fun for kids who will enjoy being “part of” the ride
- Speedier for adults and children
Not so good:
- Some children find them unsteady. They do require children to balance otherwise they will lean to the side.
- Can be heavy going for adults if kids don’t pedal too.
- Tagalongs can be pricey so hire one and try before you buy.
- Don’t try to get out of your saddle to propel yourself uphill because the bike and tagalong will swing wildly to each side
Tandems for adults and kids
I didn’t mention these on the radio show because I wasn’t aware of them until someone from Laid Back Bikes in Edinburgh emailed me.
The Helios tandem is apparently a “much more stable concept for cycling adults and children than the tag-long approach”.
Price: From £1200
- Suitable for older children
- Low step-over aluminium tandem bike
- The longer wheelbase of a tandem makes it easy to balance.
- More stable than a tagalong
- Give good speed for adults and children combined with kids contributing to the pedalling
- Light at an all-in weight of around 16kg.
- A neat concept and manageable size.
- Can have a child’s back seat attached so you can carry a younger child, too.
- Can be used by two adults.
Not so good for:
- A fairly big investment at £1200 plus
- Small wheels and a not so trendy design (in my opinion, before I face an outcry!).
Please do tell me about your favourite bike seats for kids and add your tips.