When can a baby ride a bike?

I was asked recently how old a baby should be before riding in a bike trailer. I’ve been meaning to compile what I read about it before we shopped for our bike, so here you are!

First, bike trailer manufacturers say to wait until the baby is a year old. I found that our babies didn’t fit well in the trailer until then anyway (and we still put a pillow in behind them, even now at almost two).

Our bike seats are designed for children nine months and up. They are far more supportive than the seat in the trailer, and sized for a baby, so they work much better for the under-ones. But they are Dutch seats, designed for cycling in the Netherlands, where nobody wears helmets.

When thinking about biking with children, the first risks you may think are the risks of falling or of getting hit by a car, but for a baby, another worrying risk is shaking. Babies have heavy heads relative to their neck strength and helmets make that worse. Trailers are bumpier than you think. On our bike, the front seat is more stable than the rear.

So when can you ride with your baby? It depends on why you want to ride with your baby. There is no reason to put a baby on a bike before a year for recreational riding. You can go for a walk. For transportation cycling, there are benefits to mitigate the risks. There are benefits to the family, the child, and to society. Riding in a car is not risk-free, even if we think of it that way. It’s not just the immediate risk of collisions, but the more pernicious long-term risks of a car-dependent society that concern me.

Here are more articles for you to read.

How they do it in the Netherlands

A nice article about different options at different ages

A long discussion about biking with infants (in the comments)

More on equipment options and risks

I hesitate to post this article, because it’s alarmist, but you may need to counter these arguments if you choose to bike with your baby.
In addition to the above, here are some people who have biked with really small babies.

Note: I am not a doctor, nor any other kind of professional that might help you make this decision.

What I Learned while I was out Shopping by Myself (by bike, of course)

One thing I love about getting places by bike is the time I get to think about things. I recently (okay, it was a few weeks ago) got a chance to run some errands all by myself, which means I really got a chance to think.

The speed of a bike gives a nice chance for people watching. When I crossed the Sammamish River into Redmond, there was a guy with a bike stopped on the bridge. After crossing the bridge I saw a boy on a bike coming slowly up to the bridge, and then a woman with a trailer. I wonder if they are all the same family. Then I saw a woman pushing a pink scooter. If I’d seen her without the scooter, I wouldn’t have expected her to have a scooter, but then I saw (presumably) the rest of her family: a man, a boy on a scooter, and a girl walking. Maybe it’s the girl’s scooter?

A bike is neither fish nor fowl. It’s also neither a car nor a pedestrian. On our streets, we have space for cars (the street) and for people (the sidewalk) but often not for people on bikes. This means that I can ride wherever I feel is best, but it also means awkward transitions from “bike as car” to “bike as pedestrian” and back. I try to signal these clearly, but when I pop off the sidewalk into the street, it perpetuates the perception that bikes are unpredictable.

I actually like these wheel-bender racks at Redmond Town Center. Some people hate them, but I just don’t use the wheel-bender part, and park my bike on the center stand next to it. It fits nicely in the space between wheel and pedal, and I find it works better than anything else around. Even with staples I find myself scooting the bike closer to the rack once it’s on the stand.

 

You need a path from the trail to the store if the store is to be accessible. Most of our trails are old railroad paths, which, by design, go past the backs of buildings and have few road crossings. There are many places where there’s no way from the trail to the building, which is incredibly frustrating, since bike access should be easy. Our doctor (right on the Redmond Central Connector but with a curb in the way) is the biggest offender of our destinations, along with PCC Kirkland. On this trip I found the path into the back of the Ben Franklin Crafts newly repaved. It was full of roots before, but it existed, so we used it. How nice to have a nice new smooth path!

 

There’s even a nice wide spot for pulling a trailer out into the parking lot!

 

These sling-style bags work really well for me. Yeah, they are open on the end, so if you toss small items in the bag, they can fall out. My favorite water bottle took a tumble on the street early on. But they sure can swallow a bunch of things in bags.

I’ll also note here that I really don’t mind the coathanger-style rack, as long as the end spot is free and there’s plenty of space on both sides of the rack.

 

If you bike as a car, you get car Level of Service. When I left Trader Joe’s, I was in a hurry, so instead of riding back through the parking lot and out to the trail, I took a shortcut on the street for a few blocks. The first thing I had to do was ride through a light, and when I pulled out on the street I could see the pedestrian signal counting down. If I’d been riding as a pedestrian, it would not have been legal for me to enter the intersection, and I would have had to wait an entire light cycle. But I was on the street as a car, and I made it through the light with plenty of time to spare.

Without a front seat, I can reach the basket. And then I can do things while waiting at these interminable lights like take pictures of the intersection. This is West Lake Sammamish Parkway/Leary Way/SR-520, and it’s a mess.