How to Bike Safely with Your Child?

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Dr. Sandro Cantoni. Pediatrician.

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You’ve been a bicycle enthusiast since you were a kid. You just don’t want to give it up, and you want at all costs to take your child with you, everywhere.  That’s the great thing about being parents. You also want to pass on your passion for cycling. A beautiful and complete sport. But how to take him?  And how to do it in the best way and with maximum safety?  That’s the subject of this article.

How to take the child on a bike?

Parents who want to take the child with them on a bicycle, whether it is a small child or a little older, have two choices. They can either use a bicycle seat, or they can use a suitable bicycle cart, basically a bicycle trailer for children.

Of course, the choice between a child seat or trailer also depends on where you are going with your child. In fact, if you normally ride your bike in busy areas, in the city, where there are no wide bike paths, then probably in this case the best choice is the child seat, for its smaller size and better maneuverability.

If you want to go out cycling with two children, the best solution is a trailer. In fact, using a front and rear seat at the same time is dangerous, because of the considerable instability of the bike and therefore the increased risk of falling. 

Safety of the child on the bike. What to watch out for.

Whether you use a bike seat or a bike trailer, you must always be very careful because, as we will see later, the ride and the space required are not the same as those of a bicycle without a child.  For example, always remember that the braking time is longer because the bicycle is heavier. 

Then the bike is less stable, especially in the case of the front bike seat, which is normally not recommended. In both modes of transport, the child must be buckled in and wear a suitable helmet. 

Another important thing to remember is this. Only an adult should ride a bicycle with a child on board. Other important precautions include the following.

Avoid crowded streets and bad weather. 

Another tip is to avoid roads with car traffic and prefer parks, or bike paths. Also although many trailers are equipped for the weather with rain or wind, better to avoid going out in these conditions. Also because driving is more difficult the bike is more unstable with an increased risk of accidents.

Avoid the carrier or backpack. 

Although it may seem safe to carry a small child or infant in this way, never use a baby carrier or backpack when you are cycling. In fact, in this way the risk of accidents, even serious ones, is clearly increased, due to the difficulty of riding with the child carried in this way.

Do not use a front child seat. 

The front seat is not safe. Always use an approved rear bicycle seat. Never use a front seat, i.e. one that is attached to the handlebars. In fact, the child’s movements make the bicycle unstable, with an increased risk of accidents.

Moreover, it is difficult to protect the child well in this way, because it does not have the dimensions of the rear one. Then the child can fall asleep and then put his head forward.  Or lean on the handlebars of the bike, and interfere in some way with riding, and this increases the risk of falls.

Finally, the child, in case of a fall, will suffer greater injuries because he is the most exposed, being in front. There are other specific precautions if you use the bike seat or trailer, which we will see in the dedicated chapters. 

Bike seat or bike trailer. Which is the safest?

The safest, and most comfortable for children, for several reasons we’ll see, is the bike trailer. But it also depends on what kind of trips you make and how both the seat and the bike trailer or trolley are used. This means that if you’re biking with your child on roads that are crowded with traffic, the bike seat then is probably safer than the bike trailer.

If used correctly, and if you use a rear-approved model, even the bike seat is still a safe means of transportation. Also keep in mind that the bike trailer is much bulkier and more expensive than the bike seat. Generally speaking, the reasons why the bike trailer offers greater safety are as follows:

A fall with the child on the bike seat is more dangerous.

The basic reason is that if we have a bike accident or slip or someone runs into us, the child in the seat is much less protected. For example, in the case of the most frequent bicycle accident, the slip, if the child is in the seat, he falls with you. 

And even if the child is perfectly attached to the seat, with the helmet on, he falls from a considerable height, so the trauma is discreet. In these cases, the child may have injuries to the legs or arms, or to the face, as this is not protected by the helmet.

Another situation occurs in case your bike has a problem with the brakes, or you have to brake abruptly or the wheels and go into a pothole. In this case, the bicycle may tip forward. If your child is on the seat the trauma is considerable. There are also small seats that are placed at the front of the bicycle. These are particularly dangerous in case of a fall. 

Less risk of trauma if the child is inside the bike trailer

One of the most important things is that even if the bike slides sideways, the trailer often stays upright and therefore the child does not have trauma. In the event of a major accident, such as if a car hits the bike, in case the child is on the trailer, both the frame and the covers will also protect the child in the event of a rollover. If you have hitched a trailer, it is very difficult for the bike to tip over because the weight is held behind, by the trailer with the child inside. 

Remember also that the bike with the trailer is larger, bulkier, especially if it is flagged, so it is more visible to motorists who normally give it more space. In addition, parents who have children on trailers are normally more careful, because driving requires more effort at lower speeds anyway, and maneuvers are less easy. 

On the other hand, with the child in the seat, the bike is more maneuverable, and we can go faster with tighter turns, and therefore with a greater risk of falling.

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About the author

Hi. My name is Sandro Cantoni. I’m a Pediatrician. I work in the General Pediatric Clinic. Hospital of Neuchatel, Switzerland.

References

Embree TE et al. Risk factors for bicycling injuries in children and adolescents: A systematic review. Pediatrics. 2016;138

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