Baby on Board! How to Ride with a Bike Trailer

Kids as young as 12 months can enjoy riding with mom and dad.

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Want your kids to love riding bikes as much as you do? Start ‘em young. For many triathlete-parents, an hour-long bike ride means an hour away from family, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Children as young as 12 months old can enjoy cycling, thanks to a wide variety of bike trailers available to hitch onto mom or dad’s ride.

Of course, that’s not to say it’s simple. As any parent can attest, going anywhere with kids in tow takes time and planning. But it’s well worth the effort, says Arleigh Greenwald, founder of Bike Shop Girl Family Cyclery, a family-focused bike shop in Denver, Colo. In addition to checking off their workout for the day, parents can enjoy quality time with their kids while passing down a love of two-wheeled fun. Ready to ride? Here’s what you need to know.

Safety First

Check with your child’s pediatrician before embarking on family rides. Though industry standards say children can safely ride in a bike trailer starting at one year of age, each chlld’s physical development is unique. In general, pediatricians recommend that a child be able to sit upright without assistance as well as hold his or her own head up while wearing a bicycle helmet. 

Get the Gear

Do your research before choosing a trailer, advises Greenwald. “Think through all you want to do with the trailer. Do you plan on carrying more than one child? Would it be beneficial to have one that doubles as a stroller? Some trailers have a wheel that attaches to the front. Some even have options to attach skis or fat tires on the bottom to use in snow and sand!”

Your local bike shop should offer several options, either in their shop or by special order. Also consider secondhand or consignment stores, especially those specializing in infants and children—once children outgrow their strollers and trailers, many parents turn to these shops to make room in the garage.

When you purchase the trailer, so too should you purchase helmets for every rider. Even in bike trailers with seatbelts, roll cages and covers to protect the child inside, it’s still important for kids to get in the habit of associating a bike with a helmet on every single ride.

Prep Your Bike

Though a bike trailer can be attached to just about any bicycle, most triathletes will opt to keep their race-specific road or triathlon rig free, instead opting to connect their trailer to a mountain or hybrid bike. The setup of these bikes—particularly, low gearing and upright rider position—lend themselves well to riding comfortably with tows of 30 pounds or more. Regardless of what bike is utilized, it’s important to ensure it’s ready to safely take on a tow: brakes should be able to handle increased pressure, gearing should be sufficient to cover hills and take off from a full stop with extra weight, and the frame geometry should enable a secure connection between bike and trailer.

Prep the Kid

“When you have a trailer, you have more space for the kids and their stuff. Food, drinks, iPad, their favorite stuffed animal, and a diaper bag all fit very easily.” says Greenwald. Pack conservatively, but don’t skimp, either. The extra weight is worth it to avoid the cries of a bored, hungry, or wet child.

While riding, involve your child: talk about what you’re seeing, play games, sing songs, and allow the child to give his or her input on the trip (“Do you want to turn right to go past the big tree, or left to the pond?”). The more engaged they are, the more likely they’ll enjoy the ride.

Start Small

Your first ride with your trailer shouldn’t be a long workout. Get your kids excited to ride with fun rides first. “I’m a big fan of using destinations as a carrot,” says Greenwald. “Go for ice cream, the library, or a park, and build on those experiences.”

In addition to easing your child into the fun of riding, these short rides will also allow you to adjust to the new setup. In addition to adjusting the extra weight, riding with a trailer requires more stopping time and patience in maneuvering curves and corners. As you become more skilled and confident on the bike, you can gradually add time and distance.

Pass it On

Eventually, your wee tot will outgrow the bike trailer. At this stage, Greenwald suggests investing in a cargo bike or kid’s trailer bike to continue enjoying your rides together. When you upgrade, consider paying it forward—your well-loved bike trailer is a generous hand-me-down for a young family, and a great way to foster a love of riding in the next generation.

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