Cycling With Kids – Your Definitive Guide
Our definitive guide to cycling with kids explores the options open to you to start your own family cycling adventures. We discuss kit and equipment, the best bikes for kids, safety and offer you some great tips to help your dream of cycling with your kids come true.
We look at how to have fantastic two-wheeled fun for all the family. Your children from 9 months and up can enjoy a cycling adventure starting in a child seat or trailer before moving to a tag-along and their own bike.
Cycling with kids is a great way to spend fun, quality time with your family. Cycling keeps you fit and active in the great outdoors.
Get your kids cycling and you’ll have memorable experiences everyone will enjoy.
Cycling with kids – fun for everyone of all ages!
Benefits of Cycling With The Kids
Cycling can bring us together in unexpected ways. Here are some of the benefits of cycling, and cycling as a family:
Encourage Your Partner To Cycle
Enjoy a real family day out by getting everyone involved in your cycling adventure with the kids. That means your partner too! Make it a family day out that everyone will enjoy.
Your partner will need a bike too. Help your partner choose a bike that you would be happy to ride yourself even if it’s not in your style. The bike needs to be in good working order and to be a good fit for your partner. Buy a lightweight bike that your partner doesn’t have to work too hard to pedal. If you hope to repeat your cycling days out, your partner needs to be comfortable and enjoying the experience.
Help your partner buy a bike of a quality you would buy for yourself. Think about the type of riding your going to be doing. There’s little point in buying a city bike if you’re going to be off-roading.
When you start cycling together, let your new riding partner set the distance and speed. You may want to ride without the kids at first so your partner can get to grips with their new bike and get some practice in before your big day out.
Riding on the road can be very daunting for inexperienced cyclists, why not start with one of the many traffic-free cycle routes in your local area. Check out our A to Z of cycle routes and find one near you. Traffic-free cycle routes are also quieter which means you can have a conversation much more easily.
When you start riding with your partner and kids, as the more experienced rider you should tow trailers and tag-alongs (see below to find out more about these) more than the newer cyclist until they become more confident and fitter when you can share the load.
Remember to take plenty of snacks and drinks when out on your ride to stay hydrated and provide fuel for your ride, particularly when cycling with kids.
What You Need To Go Cycling With Kids
Here we discuss kit and equipment to help you begin your cycling journey with the kids.
Everyone needs a helmet to protect your head in case of a fall. Children (and most adults) will fall off their bike at some point. A helmet will help prevent any nasty bumps or bruises to the head. Set a good example when cycling with kids by wearing a helmet.
Choose a helmet that’s a good fit. It should be snug with little movement. You will know your helmet fits right if when the helmet strap is unfastened, you can tip your head forward without the helmet falling off. When fastened, you should just be able to slide two fingers between your chin and the strap.
Helmets should be well-ventilated for you and if your child is riding their own bike, but this doesn’t matter much if your child is only a passenger.
Cycling helmets should meet EU safety standard EN1080. Some helmets have MIPs protection. MIPS stands for Multi-directional Impact Protection System and it reduces the amount of rotational force that may be transferred to the rider’s head in certain impacts. Basically, it’s extra protection for your head. Who wouldn’t want that?
Wear comfortable clothing. Lycra is optional.
You don’t need to wear cycling-specific clothing unless you want.
If you are going to be riding regularly, you may wish to buy cycling clothing appropriate for the season as it helps regulate your body temperature and wicks away sweat from your exertions. Kids cycling clothing is also available from many retailers.
In the summer, don’t get caught in the sun. Use sun cream or cover arms and legs as when riding your bike you feel cooler than it really is due to the breeze you generate. Don’t forget the back of your neck too as this is a vulnerable area. Read more hints and tips about cycling in hot weather.
Your child isn’t going to be doing as much pedalling as you so will feel the cold, especially on colder days or in the winter. Wrap up warmly, dress appropriately and add an extra layer of clothing if necessary.
No one says you must wear lycra to cycle. Most people wear their everyday clothes.
We suggest you buy cycling gloves. Cycling gloves have padded inserts on the palms to increase grip and stop scuffed hands. All kids fall off their bikes, adults too sometimes. Protect hands with cycling gloves.
Cycling with kids of all ages
Begin cycling with kids using a child seat placed in front or behind the rider. Child seats are for children from 9 months of age or as soon as the child can sit up straight comfortably.
Most child seats support a child’s weight of up to 22 kg or 49lbs (maximum load, children weighing more than 22 kg will need different equipment such as a tag-along). Please check the manufacturer’s guidance before buying as some child seats only support 18-20 kg depending on the model.
Riders need to be aware that the height of the child seat, and the combined weight of the child seat and child, will have a significant effect on balance, stability and cornering. This is due to an elevated centre of gravity on the bike. Take extra care until you become used to riding with your passenger.
Front-mounted child seats have much better bike handling, but may force you to ride with your legs further apart than normal which may cause irritation and be potentially uncomfortable after more than a couple of miles.
Rear-mounted child seats should be mounted with the seat back directly above or in front of the rear axle. Any further back or behind the rear axle can severely affect handling of your bike and may even lift your front wheel off the ground.
A useful tip is to add a twin kickstand to your bike. This is a great idea in order to make loading your child onto the bike much easier, particularly if you are strapping the child into the seat without help.
A child seat attaches to your bike like a pannier rack on the rear, and front-mounted child seats sit on the top tube between your saddle and the handlebars.
Please check your bike has the right mounts on the frame before purchase as not every child seat fits every bike.
An advantage of child seats is that they do not require as much pedal-power as trailers and are often much cheaper. However, trailers also give you the opportunity to transport bags and toys too.
After fitting your child seat but before putting your child into the seat for the first time, strap something of a similar weight as your child to the seat and ride around to get used to how the bike handles with the change in the centre of gravity. For bikes with rear-mounted child seats, practise getting on and off the bike without swinging your leg over the saddle as you could accidentally kick your passenger.
Your bike type makes a difference. Bikes with wide riser bars or flat bars such as found on hybrids and mountain bikes are easier to handle than drop bars on a road bike or cyclocross bike when riding with a child seat.
Another great idea is to get two attachment systems so you can quickly swap your child seat between your and your partner’s bikes, especially on longer journeys in order to share the load.
Its vital for your child’s safety that your child always wears a suitable helmet when riding in your child seat. A common issue is the helmet pushing the child’s head forward forcing chin to chest. The reason for this is a ‘bump out’ at the rear of the helmet to protect the back of the head striking the floor in case of an off. With a child in a high backed child seat, the back of the seat will protect the child from this issue, but we still have your child’s head being forced forwards – the answer is to buy a helmet without the ‘bump out’ such as the Casco Mini Pro or Raleigh Rascal.
A child seat should have secure straps and side panels to stop fingers and feet becoming caught in any of the bike’s moving parts. Dangling laces, scarves or mittens on strings can also be an issue if they become caught up in the bike. If you have saddle with springs, curious fingers can find their way into the springs becoming trapped when your weight bounces the saddle. Fit a bike saddle spring protector to keep inquisitive fingers away from harm. Always check your child is safe before starting off. Never leave a child unattended in a child seat.
Child seats should meet EU safety standard EN14344. Remember to regularly check the tightness of bolts and screws securing your child seat.
Bike trailers carry more than just your kids
A bike trailer is a fantastic way to include your young child on a bike ride. Connecting to your bike with a secure hitch, you pedal along secure in the knowledge that your child is safe, secure and having fun.
Trailers are not the cheapest option and are often £100+, but they are effective, and do not interfere with your pedalling and handling of the bike.
A trailer usually has space for two children or, if you only have one child, you have room in the second seat for clothes, bags, toys, extra cycling gear, a balance bike or even a picnic in the summer months.
Children will still need to wear a helmet and use a seatbelt in case of sudden stops.
Riding in a trailer, your child is sheltered from the weather as most trailers feature a rain cover which also protects against road grit, and mesh windows give protection against insects as well as making the trailer breathable. You will find that a trailer is far more stable than a child seat mounted on your bike too. If the hitch link to your bike fails, the trailer should stay upright or in the highly unlikely event that the trailer topples, your child is protected by a roll cage.
More expensive trailers offer more features, for example, greater rain protection, UV protected windows, and a greater weight allowance (45 kg or 100 lbs). Remember though, the greater weight, the more you have to pedal!
Please note if buying second-hand, some older model trailers are mounted to the bike’s chain stay which means they can’t be used with bikes with disc brakes. Newer models have an axle mount, good for all including quick release wheels.
A trailer is better than a child seat in terms of better bike handling and greater carrying capacity. As trailers support a wide age range they will last your child much longer than a child seat.
Trailers are also wider, and therefore more visible, encouraging drivers to give you more room when out on the roads. Most trailers fold flat when not in use for easy storage.
The downside to trailers is that the weight of a trailer is noticeable even on small hills so your bike needs a low bottom gear. Your bike also needs good brakes as the weight of trailer will push you along. Be careful when suddenly braking as the trailer may shunt the bike forward especially when going downhill.
Tag-Alongs and Trailer Bikes
Tag-Alongs are great fun for young cyclists. Stay safe, wear a helmet.
A tag-along or trailer bike is half a bike with one wheel at the rear and a pole that attaches to the adult cyclist’s seat post. Depending on whether the tag-along has pedals or not, your child rides it like a regular bike or is strapped in similar to a child seat. Tag-alongs are for kids aged 4-9 years.
As a tag-along is an extension of your bike without any additional width, you can go almost anywhere.
Tag-alongs are useful to get your child used to pedalling while making sure they can keep up. If your child gets tired, they stop pedalling and simply enjoy the ride.
Not cheap at £100+, but tag-alongs are great at getting your child into cycling and enjoying a fantastic day out.
A tag-along has no moveable handlebars or front wheel so you control all the steering and braking. Your child only helps to pedal if they wish.
As seat posts come in different sizes, check the clamp size on the tag-along is the right one for your bike before buying.
An important note for using a tag-along is that your child should not exceed half your body weight as this puts too much strain on the towing arm and could effect the structural integrity of the tag-along and your bike.
A cheaper alternative to a tag-along is a Trail-Gator which attaches your child’s own bike to your bike like a towing arm. A Trail-Gator mounts to your seat post and the child’s bike head tube holding their front wheel off the ground. Like a tag-along, you control steering and braking. Your child helps with pedalling.
Trail-Gators are usually cheaper than a tag-along, priced less than £100. They fit children’s bikes with 14″ to 20” wheels, but are limited to a child rider weight of 32 kg / 70 lbs. An advantage to using a trail-gator is when you get to the park or traffic-free cycle area, you can detach your child’s bike and your child can ride independently in a safe environment.
While out riding with your child keep checking on how tired your child is and remember to stop regularly for snacks and drinks to keep hydrated and refuel.
Please remember if riding at night, you will need a rear light on the trailer bike.
Top Tips for Tag-Alongs and Trail-Gators
- Add a rear mudguard to your bike so you don’t splash the kids with dirt and mud
- Buy a second hitch so you can swap the tag-along / trail-gator between your and your partner’s bikes to share towing on longer journeys
Try Before You Buy
‘Just a few minutes more…’
Not sure how you would get on cycling with kids and a child seat, trailer, tag-along or trail-gator?
Why not combine your next cycling adventure with a visit to your local cycle hire and try out the equipment for a reasonable fee. Find out if you and your child like your choice in a ‘road test’ before committing and buying.
Please note you may have to rent a bike as well as a tag-along/child seat/trailer as cycle hire shops may not be insured to fit one to your own bike.
Bikes – Kids Ride Free!
The day will come when they want one of their own
When you child is 4 to 6 years old, they will be ready for their own bike. But where do you start? Well, your child can start riding before the age of 4…
…with a balance bike. Great for improving your child’s balance without having to worry about pedals or gears. A balance bike helps your child learn to ride a full bike more quickly and without the need for stabilisers. A child riding a balance bike can’t cover a lot of ground, but that’s not the point here. You also need to remember that children get tired or bored quickly and you may need to carry both your child and their balance bike – a bike trailer attached to your bike is ideal for this.
When your child is ready to ride independently on their own bike, we strongly suggest you buy the lightest bike you can afford so your child can easily manage pedalling and control, especially going up hills. Frog bikes and Islabikes are particularly good examples of children’s bikes as they are light and very well-built. Each component from handlebar grips and pedals to brake and gear levers are designed to fit the child. A lightweight bike that your child enjoys riding gives your child confidence in their cycling ability, and makes riding more fun and not a strenuous workout as heavier bikes can be.
Lighter bikes do cost more, however lower priced bikes are often very heavy as they can be half your child’s body weight if not more! This makes for a very tiring ride especially when you come to even the smallest hills. Check bike weight before buying so as not to put your child off cycling through a bad experience.
Cheaper bikes often have cheaper components which may cause difficulties, for example, your child cannot change into first gear because the sprocket ratio (the size of the rear cogs) is too big a jump from second to first, or it is too hard for your child to change gear as the gear cable needs to be pulled too tightly and your child isn’t yet strong enough.
A mistake most parents make is to buy a bike that their child will grow into. Bikes that are too large for the child are very awkward to ride and will likely put your child off cycling. Buy a bike that is comfortable to ride from the beginning, and still have scope to raise the saddle as needed to last your child about 18-24 months before needing to swap the bike for a larger model.
You can maximise growing room by buying a bike with a longer seat post and steerer tube with lots of spacers or a quill stem, making it height adjustable. Please make sure small hands can reach and pull brake levers easily.
Buying bikes can become an expensive business, but there are other options available such as rental schemes. Rental schemes allow you to pay monthly for the hire of a bike (and sometimes the eventual purchase). An advantage to these schemes is that as soon as your child grows out of their current bike, you upgrade to the next size up. Rental schemes usually operate for a monthly fee and you usually pay for delivery and return of bikes. Find out more from these rental schemes:
When cycling with kids, safety is important for everyone.
Here are our top safety tips:
- Always wear a correctly fitting helmet
- Make sure feet and fingers are not able to go near any of the moving parts of the bike
- Make sure no dangling laces, scarves or mittens on strings can be caught up in the bike
- Regularly check tightness of bolts and screws
- Wear sun cream or cover arms and legs when riding under the sun
- Wrap up warm any passengers on cold days
- Never leave a child unattended in a child seat
- Wear cycling gloves
- Wear long trousers e.g. tracksuit bottoms; and long sleeves to stop scratches
Before every ride, we recommend you complete a 2-minute M-check on your bike to prevent any issues while out and about.
Basic Tools For Your Ride
Here’s our list of suggested tools you may need when cycling with kids or alone:
For more help on what to take with you on every ride check out our ride essentials.
We also suggest you learn basic bike maintenance skills. As a minimum, make sure you (and your partner) know how to fix a puncture as necessary, especially out cycling when most punctures occur.
Safe, traffic-free cycling for a stress-free ride with the kids
Kids love cycling and where better to ride your bike than on a traffic-free cycling route. Check out our A to Z of cycling routes where we are always adding new routes for your family’s enjoyment.
When cycling with kids, it’s important to plan out regular refreshment and toilet stops. To help you, we provide that information in each of cycling route listings along with cycle hire, tourist information and much more.
Kids cycle at about 5 mph off-road so please take that into account when planning your ride times.
Make Cycling Fun!
Cycling is fun for the whole family
Cycling will become a big part of your family’s lives. It promotes a healthy, active lifestyle as well as being an environmentally-friendly mode of transport. Most of all, it’s fun!
Children get bored easily. Here are some top tips to help make your cycling adventures more fun:
- Choose routes your child will find interesting
- Include stops at playgrounds
- Treat your child to an ice cream or other suitable treat (they will work off the fat and sugar content while cycling)
- Have fun and relax, and enjoy cycling with the kids
Cycling with kids is a great way to encourage an active lifestyle within your family. Enjoy and have fun!
We hope you enjoy our definitive guide to cycling with kids and find it useful, informative and fun.
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