We’ve learned a lot in the last two years, riding the waves of a global pandemic. Hours on end inside our houses, working from home, and homeschooling led many parents to discover or re-discover the joy of riding bikes with their kids. Family cycling outings can be done from virtually anywhere. You can go out for 30 minutes, 3 hours, or even go bikepacking overnight with your kids. Being able to grab the bike, hook up a trailer and head out the door became a life saver for many!
Taking your kiddo on a bike ride not only gets you outside in the fresh air, it also allows you to share your love of cycling with them and helps instill healthy habits early on in life.
Fortunately, cycling with kids has come a long way in the recent years. There are so many different options for how to ride bikes with kids, depending on the age of your kids, what you want their experience to be and what you want your ride to be like as well. From one-year-old to adulthood, biking is something for every age to enjoy.
What’s The Best Gear For Biking With Young Children.
There are a number of options when it comes to biking with kids. We’ll tell you all about them and tell you the pros and cons of each way to bike with kids. Some are better for different age ranges, and others are better for different types of biking so we recommend reading through them all, to see what will be the best fit for you and your kid, but if you’d like to jump ahead, the options we’ll talk about are:
- Bike Trailers For Kids
- Rear Mounted and Front Mounted Bike Seats
- Cargo Bikes, Electric and Acoustic
- Balance Bikes
- Tag-A-Long bikes
- Follow Me Tandems
- Separate Kids’ Bikes
We’ll also add in some essential tips and tricks about how to make biking with kids a breeze.
Bike Trailers are our favorite method of taking your kids with you because they are the most versatile option. You can attach a bike trailer to virtually any bicycle. It doesn’t matter if you have a full suspension mountain bike, a lightweight road bike, or anything in between. This allows you to use the bike you have and enjoy riding the most. Tow behind, Bike trailers for kids are fantastic for that reason alone.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, it is safe to put your child in a trailer if your child is at least one year old and can sit in a reclined seat with a helmet on.
This style of bike trailer has a single-arm hitch that attaches to the center of the wheel, which makes it easy to attach and detach. Our bike trailer axles are the strongest and most secure in the bike industry.
Other benefits of using a bike trailer:
- The enclosed trailer is like a mini-fort for your child! Let them bring some toys, snacks, and even a cozy blanket. It’s their own little space where they can feel safe and secure. If it makes a ride in the car fun it will work in a bike trailer.
- They usually have a reclining seat and are quite comfy for a child to sleep in. Perfect for if you want to take them on a longer ride than their attention span will last.
- Many brands, like Thule’s multisport line, have trailers that convert to strollers or even ski sleds. This is great if you want to ride somewhere and then walk around. It also makes the trailer useful for more than just biking!
- Several models of kid trailers have seats for multiple kids. So, schedule that play date or bring their sibling along and get rolling.
- Don’t forget about the furry siblings. With a two-seat kid trailer, you can bring your dog along for the ride and to keep your kid company.
- Trailers can be used in all seasons. A mesh screen protects kids from bright sunlight and bugs, and a rain cover keeps your little one dry, toasty, and protected from the wind if needed.
- Trailers have plenty of room for diapers, food, toys or other items to take on your adventure. In addition to all the space inside the trailer, many have outside pockets as well, so you can keep organized and don’t have to worry about not being prepared for anything that might come up.
- Want to take your kid to a safe place for them to ride their own bike? You can strap a small kid’s bike or balance bike to most trailers. So load up, tow them down to the local park and let them bike their heart out at a safe place.
The downsides to using a bike trailer:
- Kid trailers are a little bulky. You’ll need some room to store it when you aren’t using it, so they can be a little tough for small, apartment living.
- Because your child sits further and lower behind you, it’s more difficult to interact with your kid while riding. It might be more challenging for you to keep your kiddo entertained back there, luckily all the extra space means they can bring toys and activities to keep themselves entertained if the passing views aren’t already enough.
- Kid Trailers are not the cheapest option, but they can be used for a larger age and size range than many of the other options on this list.
- Riding with a trailer takes some additional special awareness because you have a wider load behind you, but you quickly become used to it.
Bike Trailer brands that we recommend:
- Thule (Our favorite)
- Nordic Cab
- Doggy Ride (just for the furry friends)
- Allen Sports
Frame Mounted Kids Bike Seats
If you want to give your kid a seat closer to the action, the next option would be a child bike seat that mounts to your bike. Riding with a child in a bike seat allows for a more intimate opportunity to chat and explore the ride together. Like trailers, your child must be at least 12 months old and be able to wear a helmet to sit in a bike seat. Most seats fit a child up to 3 years old.
Most child seats attach at the rear of the bike and are akin to a child seat in a car, with back and head support. For the more adventurous there are front attaching seats that give your kid a first-hand view from behind the handlebars.
Benefits to using a front mounted bike seat:
- Your child gets a front seat view of where you are going. What better way to share your love for cycling!
- You can see your child the whole time in a front mounted seat. You can also anticipate weight shifts or dropped objects.
- Some riders prefer to have the extra weight in the front as the bike feels more balanced.
- They come in multiple styles. The Mac Ride Child Bike Seat, is a more minimal design tailored for mountain biking so you can take your kid on mild and moderate trails. The Thule Yepp Nexxt Mini has a full back, seatbelt harness and handles. It’s good for younger children that will enjoy the ride but aren’t ready to keep themselves on the bike.
Reasons to use a rear mounted bike seat:
- Rear mounted child carriers usually have a slightly higher weight capacity of 40lbs.
- Some riders find that having more weight behind them is easier to handle.
- Rear mounted seats are better for taller riders, where a front mounted seat might interfere with pedaling if you have longer legs.
The Thule Yepp line of bike seats includes both rear mounted and a front mounted options. The seats include a 5-point harness and can grow with your child.
The downsides of frame mounted child bike seats:
- They take a little more effort to install and uninstall so they can be better suited to a bike that is a commuter or mainly used for riding around town.
- They won’t fit on all bikes. If your bike has rack mounts you’re probably ok but we recommend checking with your local bike shop.
- They can be tricky to load and unload a child from without help or a sturdy kickstand.
Cargo Bikes Electric and “Acoustic”
It’s worth mentioning cargo bikes, especially with the growth of e-bikes, they have become a much more capable and enjoyable option. Often used for commuting, a cargo bike can essentially replace a car. There are two main styles of what we’d consider “cargo bikes;” longtails and front loaders/bucket style.
The Tern GSD and the Xtracycle eSwoop are both popular examples of “longtail” bikes, where the tail end of the bike is extended and includes a robust, built-in rack/seat that your kids can sit on. They are a bit smaller and lighter than a bucket style cargo bike, so they are easier to store and maneuver, but I wouldn’t want to carry them up too many flights of stairs.
Front loader cargo bikes, sometimes known as “bakfiets” bikes, are popular in the Netherlands and other European countries and are quickly gaining popularity in the US. Bakfiets bikes include bikes like the Yuba Supercargo or the Urban Arrow Family, and have a large “bucket” in the front, so they definitely steer and ride differently than a regular bike. However, you can really load it up – with multiple kids, dogs, and stuff! These are the real SUVs of bikes.
Benefits of an e-cargo bike:
- They have a ton of capacity to allow for a roomy ride for your kid or multiple kids.
- You can usually carry quite a bit of gear or food as well. Most long-tail cargo bikes come with massive pannier bags to carry gear and with a bucket style ebike your friends will be asking you to help when they move.
- With the electric assist, you can get up hills with ease and accelerate quickly when you need to. Most will comfortably cruise at 20mph.
- They are great for commuting purposes, like taking your kids to school or running errands. Cargo bikes are a true car replacement option for urban trips.
- They are great for kids of a much wider age range. Longtail cargo bikes are even popular for adults to ride on the back. Bucket style cargo bikes are strong enough for adults but are more common with small children up to young teens.
The downsides of a e-cargo bike:
- Many of them, especially the front loader type, are quite large and heavy, so you need ample storage.
- They can be expensive. But if you think about having an e-cargo bike to replace a vehicle, then the cost becomes quite attractive.
- They are not as nimble as a normal bike. Their length makes them stable and comfortable to ride but you won’t want to be on a sidewalk or narrow path with one for too long.
Balance bikes, sometimes referred to as strider bikes, are pedal-less bikes that allow even the youngest of kids (2 years old and up) to learn how to balance on two wheels. They are really cool because they give kids some independence, they are small and easy to carry, and they allow little kids to progress more quickly to pedal bikes. They have quickly replaced training wheels as the preferred way to learn to ride a bike, teaching balance and steering first.
The Benefits of Balance Bikes:
- Your kid isn’t just along for the ride, they get to explore on their own.
- They will learn to ride a pedal bike faster than if using training wheels.
- They are compact and light, so they can be paired with other options on the list like trailers or cargo bikes.
The Downside of Balance Bikes:
- They won’t be going very fast so you’ll be doing more watching them than riding with them.
- Kids tire quickly. We can call this a pro as well, but if you also want to get a good ride in a balance bike by itself is not the best option.
Our favorite bike rides with children under 4 are when we use kid trailer with a balance bike strapped to the back. This makes it easy to ride to a local park or scenic trail where they can ride in safety. This way we get a good ride in with them in tow, and they get to ride in a nice, safe place, and tucker themselves out for a nap on the ride back home.
Tag A Long Bikes
Tag along bikes, also known as trailer bikes or trail-a-bikes, are systems that attach to your bike that allow your child to pedal along with you as you ride. A tag along basically turns your bike into a tandem bike. There are several styles to choose from, each with their own features that you might like.
The traditional style trailer bike has an arm that attaches to your seat post on your bike or to a rear cargo rack. While some have gears others are simple singlespeeds. Keep an eye on the weight – even though your child should be pedaling as well, it’s been our experience that you’ll find yourself towing a little freeloader a good portion of the time. A lighter model might be the better bet to lessen your efforts.
The most popular trailer bike is the original Adams Trail-A-Bike. The Weehoo Trailer Cycle has a unique recumbent seat that has a five-point harness, so it can be used for towing younger kids as well. The Weehoo also has a double option, so you can ride with two kids.
Advantages to a trailer bike:
- Your child gets to pedal along with you, and you might be able to cover greater distances.
- Trailer bikes are a great option for older kids who no longer fit in a trailer, but can’t quite go the distance on their own bike.
- They are usually pretty easy to store as they are essentially half of a bike.
And a few disadvantages to a trailer bike:
- They take some getting used to because they have a high center of gravity.
- You can’t always anticipate sudden weight shifts, so you’ll need good communication with your child back there.
- They don’t offer your child the same freedom that riding their own bike does.
We think the coolest design available for biking with kids is the FollowMe Tandem because it allows you to switch modes easily. The FollowMe is a coupler that turn your kid’s existing bike into a trailer bike. Then, if your child wants to ride their own bike, you let them rip. The FollowMe will just fold up and sit above your rear wheel ready to deploy and tow your kid again when they get tired.
It looks like quite an engineering feat, but it is really quite simple. The FollowMe Tandem attaches at the center of your rear wheel, so it fits on a lot of different types of bikes. And yes – we have thru axle adapters for the FollowMe Tandem! (where should this link to?)
Benefits of a FollowMe Tandem
- They get to ride their own bike
- You can go farther with them, towing them when they get tired
- You can tow them to a safe place to ride like a local park or protected bike path.
- It can stay on the bike when not in use or it packs up small when removed from the bike.
- Connecting to your bike through the axle rather than the seatpost is very stable and secure.
- It is compatible with 12”-20” tires
- You can bring it along just in case the ride ends up being too long for your kid.
Downsides of a FollowMe Tandem
- There aren’t many…
- Adjusting it can be a little tricky the first time.
Getting kids out on their own bikes
Once young kids are ready for their own two-wheeled pedal bike, the world is your oyster. Here are some tips and tricks once your child is two-wheeling on their own:
Buying a kids bike
Bike Exchange has a great write up on how to buy a kids bike, but here are few basics to get you started:
- Take some time getting a proper fit. Sure, you’ll want to get something that they will “grow into”, but don’t go overboard. You want them to be comfortable today. Buying your child’s bike at your local bike shop is the way to go to get that right fit.
- Balance bikes are a great start to help kids go right into a full pedal bike without training wheels.
- Kids bikes are often measured by wheel size – typically 14”, 16”, 20” and 24”. You want your child to be able to stand over the bike with both feet on the ground.
- Consider what type of surfaces you’ll be riding, so you get the appropriate tires.
- Helmets – always!
Riding with your kids
- Try to find routes that include bike paths, protected lanes or bike corridors.
- Ride with them to teach them safety and rules of the road. Some school districts have bicycle safety information available. You can also ask your local bike shop about bicycle safety classes for kids. In the US, the Safe Routes to School program promotes safe biking and walking for kids.
- Empty parking lots or grassy fields are great places to practice skills, such as turning, signaling and braking.
Congratulations on teaching your children about cycling. It’s a lifelong, healthy activity, and starting them young will reap indefinite rewards. Now, get out there and pedal!
Essential tips and tricks for biking with little kids
Being a parent of young children is an adventure in itself. Now, adding spinning wheels, dirty chains, and getting away from the comfort of the couch can be an overwhelming proposition. Hopefully these tips will make it fun and easy. Biking with young kids doesn’t have to be a challenge or a hassle. Here are a few things to keep in mind to have a smooth ride.
Start with short rides.
Yes, you may want to hammer out 40 miles at race pace, but your two-year-old doesn’t share that desire. Start small with a 15-to-20-minute ride, then work up from there. For the first few rides, go on out-and-back routes. This way, if anyone gets grumpy or isn’t quite comfortable yet, you can easily turn around and head back home.
Look up your local bike paths.
You’ll probably have more fun knowing you’re not near cars, so let’s just remove them from the equation. Find some off-street bike paths, greenways, parks, or at the very least, some roads in quiet neighborhoods. Apps like Ride with GPS have a “Bike Path” setting so you can map out a route that sticks to safe bike paths. After all, you are bringing your precious cargo along.
Don’t hesitate to take breaks.
Some kids plop into a trailer and are simply mesmerized by all the new sights youroll past. Other will just fall right asleep, lulled into dreamland by ride. Others…don’t. For those curious kids, think of these rides as an exercise in exploration. Is there a nice park along the way you can stop at for 10 minutes? Can you visit a friend along the way? If at any point on your ride you wonder if you should take a break, do it! Take breaks when you can, and you’ll have an extra enjoyable adventure.
Bring lots of snacks and drinks.
We all love snack time, no matter how old we are. Keep a Ziploc of Goldfish or fruit gummies and a sippy cup in the trailer and have extra stowed away. Keep that blood sugar going. Another option is to add snack destinations – ice cream stops are the best, for kids and parents!
Wear your Helmets.
Always outfit your child (and yourself) with a properly fitting helmet. Our favorites include Nutcase Helmets for their fun skater style designs and easy magnet chin straps. Big brands such as Giro and Lazer also make great helmets with MIPS (a safety technology). Check the helmet before each ride and periodically check during the ride to make sure it hasn’t slipped or twisted.
We know you might be wondering why your kid needs a helmet to ride in an enclosed trailer. While a trailer will add more protection than nothing and they often have seatbelts, they do not have airbags, they do not have a roll cage at it’s never too early to start associating riding a bike with wearing a helmet.
What to wear when riding a bike.
Keep in mind that while you may be working extra hard towing or carrying a little person around, your child is sitting back and enjoying the breeze. Be sure to bring some warmer clothing or a blanket in cooler weather. Layers make it easy to add more or remove some as needed. If you’re out riding in really cold weather, onesie style ski jumpers are a great option to keep nice and toasty.
They happen, and many times they are unavoidable. Take some deep breaths and ride it out, so to speak. When the going starts to get tough, take a break, look for another fun activity or break out another snack.