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The Inside Track On Gearing Up For Biking With Kids

If you’re itching for a bike ride but your kid can’t even walk yet, you’re going to need some kid-towing bike gear. You could search the whole internet without finding a better resource than Natalie Martins’ Two Wheeling Tots. The site is loaded with reviews and product comparisons of bike trailers, trailer bikes (there’s a difference!) and bike seats, but before diving in you should ask 6 key questions – which Martins was kind enough to answer.

When Is My Kid Old Enough To Be My Wingman?
Most bike products for kids are recommended for 1 year and older, although there are some bike seats rated for 9 months. Ultimately, it comes down to how strong your kid’s neck muscles are and whether or not they can ride comfortably with a helmet on. “Some kids are more developed than others and might be strong enough at 9 months. If you’re really anxious to get out there, ask your doctor,” says Martins.

Do I want a bike trailer or a bike seat?
“For a more active family riding longer distances or on trails, the trailer is a better option,” says Martins. That’s because trailers can go from being bike-specific to being jogging-specific, cross-country skiing-specific and even hiking-specific. That’s right – you can voluntarily turn yourself into a pack animal with a chest harness conversion kit. The oversized wheels go well on dirt, and they’re roomy enough for naps if you plan on riding for a while. Child seats, meanwhile, are a better option for short rides around town. If you’re leaning toward a seat, Martins prefers the front-mounted options.

Wait … aren’t front-mounted bike seats supposed to be death traps?
The first front-mounted bike seats sold in the U.S. had unreliable shoulder straps that made abrupt stopping dangerous. But front-mounted seats have been the norm for years in bike-centric countries like the Netherlands, and the safety issues have been addressed with 5-point harnesses and strategic padding. Martins prefers them because they increase communication. “You get a much better feel for how the child is doing,” she says. “You learn what they like, how fast is too fast or too slow. It’s a good way to start off.” The main drawback is that you need long arms to comfortably fit a kid between your chest and handlebars, so they may not work for more diminutive dads. The Dutch never noticed this drawback because they’re all giants.

What about little bikes that attach to the back of my bike in a mini-tandem scenario?
You mean trailer bikes. Once your kid can ride a bike and is too antsy to sit in a trailer, they’re a good option for longer rides. Martins’ go-to in this category is the Weehoo i-Go Pro, which differs from most in that kids are securely strapped to a seat in a recumbent position. Martins says it’s the only viable option if you want to take a kid on a real single-track mountain bike ride. That’s due to its narrow, single-wheel profile, which gives it cornering and clearance that a bike trailer doesn’t have, while the strapped-in seating and low center of gravity make it far safer than a normal trailer bike. “We just did a 7-mile ride with it in the forest, ran into a moose, the whole deal,” she says.

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Is my expensive road bike or mountain bike going to work with all this cool new gear?
Even if it does, you probably don’t want to use it. No matter the contraption, bikes endure a lot of wear and tear in all the securing and removing of various components. Additionally, as your kid gets heavier, your wheels may pop the occasional spoke in protest.

Most bike trailers are compatible with standard 35mm rear wheel axles, but there are a gazillion variables for bike seats and trailer bikes. In general terms, they’re either rack-mounted or seat post-mounted, but not all racks fit all bikes and not all racks are built to hold a kid. Front-mounted seats may require an adapter, depending on your bike’s headset. Martins goes into it in detail on her site, but even she says your best bet is to ask at the local bike shop.

Speaking of the local bike shop, helmets are cheaper at Wal-Mart – does it matter where I buy one?
Only if you’re a fan of the kid’s cranial structural integrity. “The main thing for helmets is fit and comfort,” says Martin. “Helmets at most big box stores are going to be very heavy. That weight really matters, especially when a kid is only a year old. I hear parents all the time complain about their kid not wanting to wear a helmet – would you wear this big uncomfortable thing?” The local bike shop is going to stock higher quality, lighter weight options and you’ll learn how to fit it correctly. The best helmets have pinch-free straps that are easy to adjust for daily riding and as your kid’s noggin grows. You’ll pay a premium for the better product and service; you also won’t have to worry about being the parent who visibly cheaped out on his kid’s brain bucket.