Child Cycling seats
The purpose of child seats is not rocket science: they allow you to cycle with your child from when they are around one year old, although depending on who you talk to, and which child seat you buy, this can vary from six to 16 months.
Practical advice dictates that, until a baby can hold its head up unsupported, they should not be carried in a conventional child bike seat. But, once this happens (for us, it was about five to six months), it is a good idea to get the baby comfortable in the bike seat environment as soon as possible, and for you to get used to the extra weight and difference in handling. Also, make sure you get your baby or young child a cycle helmet: manufacturers do make them for small heads, but it’s worth trying a few out to get a proper fit (Halfords, for example, does one with a ratchet-style mechanism that fits to even the smallest head). And persevere: if your child is anything like ours, they’ll need plenty of time to get used to wearing it.There are many types of child bike seat on the market. Most are plastic moulded bucket seats for front or back which should be suitable for children up to six years, depending on the specifications of the seat - and, of course, your pedalling strength. Trying to cycle with a six-year old up a one- in-four hill is a challenge to test the likes of Lance Armstrong, let alone us mere mortals.
Child seats may be either reclining or fully upright. Reclining seats are ideal for younger children who sit upright when semi-supported, and offer a more comfortable ride for a snoozing baby (and respite for frazzled parents). Fully upright seats will suit children who can sit by themselves and are no longer interested in sleeping as you ride. Obviously, these are rules of thumb: our baby is not yet a year, but has long since given up the idea of napping as the world goes by - she’s far more interested in the scenery!
THINGS TO CONSIDER
It might seem obvious, but make sure your bike is in good condition before you plan a trip – you can’t afford to compromise on safety when carrying a little one. Brakes and brake cables, tyres and wheels should be at the top of the list of things to check. Bear in mind that mounted seats will change the balance of the bike, so you night want to practise with something heavy (and not the dog!) before placing a child in the seat. If you are not using a reclining seat, you may want to tilt the seat ever so slightly backwards so that if your child does fall asleep, their head is not going to bang into the small of your back as you cycle along. If balance is likely to be an issue, you may find it easier if children are on a seat in front of you as the weight is centred; this allows you to talk to your child as you cycle along, and also offer encouragement not to fall asleep! The upper age limit for the front mounted seats will be determined by the weight limitations of the seat, and by your being able to see over their head when you are cycling. Check you can still turn the handlebars safely, as you may need to change these or the stem.
CHOOSING A CHILDS CYCLING SEAT
For a start, look for a bike seat that meets the British Standard (it should carry the BS Kitemark). The standard number is BS EN 14344:2004. Other things to consider, as recommended by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) include:
• Make sure your child is within the weight range of the seat you choose.
• Check that your child can seat comfortably in the seat.
• Check that the seat is suitable for use with your type of bike (some won’t fit to full suspension bikes, and you may need rack eyelets for some seats).
• Most injuries suffered by children riding in child seats happen when the child’s feet get caught in the spokes of a wheel, so never use a seat without footrests. They act as a shield between the child’s feet and the wheel.
• A harness is essential. Seats that conform to the British Standard must have a good restraint system, with a child-proof quick-release buckle, to hold your child in place.
• If the seat is designed to be mounted on a rear luggage carrier, make sure that the carrier can take the weight of the seat – and the child.
• Make sure the seat comes with good instructions about fitting and use – and follow them implicitly.
FITTING A CYCLING SEAT FOR YOUR CHILD
• Be prepared to spend money on getting the seat fitted by a cycle dealer if you are at all unsure about how to do it yourself. And, when in doubt always ask for help!
• If you do fit the seat yourself, follow the instructions carefully and make sure all the brackets are tight.
• If the position of the seat is adjustable, position it so that it does not interfere with pedalling or steering. The further back a seat is, the more it will affect the handling of the bike.
While you might be enjoying the wind rushing through your hair, as you reach records speeds with your child, remember their safety should be your number one priority. Always use the harness because many children fall asleep in cycle seats, and could slip out if unrestrained. It’s a bit like wearing a seatbelt in a car - if you brake hard, the harness will lessen the chance of your child being hurt. And, from a practical point of view, if you are cycling in cold or wet conditions make sure your child is cosy and dry: remember, just because you’re warm, they might not be - especially as you’re doing all the hard work.
It might also be worth practising off-road or on quiet roads at first. It may take a while to get used to the effect the extra load of your child has on handling and, no matter how many times you tell them, your child is unlikely to sit still. Getting on and off your bike, signalling and cornering may all feel a little awkward, so you might need to relearn how to do some of these things without wobbling.
THE RETAILER’S VIEW
Stuart Reid runs Wheelbase in Kendal. He told us that, unsurprisingly, it’s safety that most people are worried about. “All child seats sold here have to meet British and European safety standards, so that isn’t generally an issue. However, people do want stability - they don’t want a lot of movement when their child’s in the seat. In turn, much of this is dependent on weight not age, so you can sometimes have a five- or six-year old on the bike as long as they are light enough. Ultimately, the more stable the seat, the better. How long it takes to detach the seat is also important - parents don’t always want to be riding around with the seat on their bike. The Hamax range use a quick-release bracket, which is not very big and doesn’t damage the bike’s performance when the seat’s not on. This is becoming increasingly popular, The CoPilot is a little trickier, and the rack needs to be left on all the time. We sell more Hamax seats simply because of this - in fact, our most popular seat by far is the Hamax Sleepy Recliner. We use it on our hire bikes, which is generally a good recommendation. Ease of fit is also a factor: you have to be able to get the position just right - fit it too high and there will be too much flex in the seat arms.”