Baby’s First Bike Tour: At What Age?

Luke in the Chariot

A tiny Luke in a very roomy Chariot trailer.

Any bicycle-loving parent will be familiar with the debate that is currently happening in our home: when can we take baby Luke on his first bike ride in a trailer?

If you’re from a country where cycling isn’t a mainstream form of transport, the idea of putting an infant in a bicycle trailer may be shocking. Internet searches reveal plenty of people concerned about harm to the baby from vibrations and the risk of accidents but little in the way of actual data to back up these fears.

One American website suggests two ways of checking to see if your child is ready to ride in a trailer. It starts off sensibly enough:

We would recommend that you do two things before using a trailer: ask your pediatrician if the child is ready.

Put a check mark beside point one. We’ve done that. But then, they recommend this….

If you can find one that accommodates your weight and size, ride in a trailer yourself for at least 10 miles, at the speed you expect to travel. At least put a jar of milk in a trailer and ride as you will with the baby, checking the foam level when you stop.

We find this ridiculous. How are we going to find a trailer big enough to fit an adult? Even if we could, how is that in any way comparable to what a baby would experience?

As for the froth on a bottle of milk, well let’s just say it’s not quite the scientific indicator we were hoping to find when looking for data on babies and cycling. How much froth is too much? And how would we compare that to the vibrations experienced by a baby in a carrier or a stroller or even in a car? Car rides are not always perfectly smooth and safe affairs.

We don’t have a car, so we can only make some comparison with what we see when we take Luke for walk in his stroller or sling. Even when walking slowly and despite our best efforts, Luke’s head inevitably bounces a bit as we go over curbs and uneven sidewalks. These sorts of small bumps happen to any baby unless they are confined to the house and yet we see no warnings about taking baby out for a walk.

The Dutch Way

Let’s move away from the American view to the Netherlands, where we live. Here, there’s still no data on babies and cycling (at least none that we’ve found) but the risk assessment is quite different.

First of all, concerns about traffic and being hit by a car are negligible. The safety record is exceptional (according to some statistics, we’re more likely to drown than die cycling) and we can go almost everywhere on exceptionally smooth, separated cycle paths. Most paths in our area are far less bumpy than the sidewalk!

The Weber baby seat

The Weber baby seat.

It’s common here to see young babies travelling by bicycle.

They’re usually in a car seat, which is then mounted in the box of a cargo bike or a bicycle trailer. They may also be in a special sling or seat for babies, such as the Weber baby seat seen in the photo to the right.

As far as we know, there has been no elevated rate of shaken baby syndrome here, despite all the parents who regularly cycle with their babies.

We wanted to be sure, however, so we asked 3 paediatricians, several nurses, 2 midwives, a children’s physiotherapist, several keen cycling parents and a few people working in the bike manufacturing industry for their opinion.

There was no particular concern about taking a young baby on a bicycle, starting from about 6 weeks old, with these caveats:

  • The baby should be in a car seat mounted in a bakfiets, or in a high quality trailer.
  • Routes should be chosen to avoid cobblestones and other rough surfaces.
  • Speed should be moderate.

In addition:

  • Hold off on longer trips.  Our doctor recommended waiting 3 months before doing any long bike trips, to make sure the baby’s back develops properly. Note: she was not overly worried about vibrations to his brain; an oft-cited fear when parents talk about the effects of cycling too early. She said it was okay to start with short trips at an earlier age as long as we picked smooth bike paths and not bumpy cobblestones.
  • Don’t put a helmet on a very young baby. If the helmet doesn’t fit properly or if the baby isn’t strong enough to hold up his head with the weight of the helmet, the helmet will do more harm than good.
  • A lot depends on your local conditions. Do you have a good bicycle trailer that absorbs shocks? How are the cycling facilities? Is the baby happy being on the bike?
In particular, we received some valuable first-hand experience from the Hopkins family (read their tips for touring with babies and tour journal).
Tallin & Zali

Tallin & Zali in their bike trailer.

We went on our first bike trip with Tallin when he was 7 months old. Zali will be 5 months old when we head off in June to Sumatra. However, we had them both in the Chariot on smooth roads at around 8 weeks old, in the infant sling. We also removed the padding from our carseat and this adds extra support for their head. So, in short, they were both around 8 weeks old and we stuck to smooth roads. Every time we ride they fall asleep with the motion. – Christine Hopkins

What We Decided

After much debate, we tried a first ride with Luke in his bike trailer when he was 7 weeks old, with the infant sling (not officially recommended for cycling). We decided to do this based on two main factors:

  1. Luke is very big and strong for his age. He holds his neck well and – at 7 weeks old – was as big as an average 3 month old boy.
  2. We have a very good trailer and excellent, smooth bike paths in our area.
When we set out, we went very slowly (about 10km/hour), picked only smooth bike paths and cycled less than 10km in total.
In the chariot

On the road with baby in tow.

Dad pulled the trailer and mum rode alongside to watch Luke’s head and see how he was enjoying the ride. Our impression was that he was comfortable, stable and not suffering any more vibrations than when we walk his stroller over some of the sidewalks in our area.

At 8 weeks old, we took Luke on a 40km bike ride. Again, we went very slowly (the ride took us 6 hours to complete, including a stop for coffee) and picked our paths carefully.

Our plan from here on in is to take a day trip each weekend, as long as the weather is nice. We’ll build up to a camping trip late next month or in early June. We hope to take a longer bike tour in July.

Obviously this is a decision that will be different for every parent, depending on the conditions in your area and your baby.

What do you think? If you’ve cycled with a baby, we’d love to hear your experience. How did you decide when was the right time to ride together?

Further Reading

We found these articles interesting.

Comments

  1. Thomas Arbs
    16th April 2012 at 11:37 am #

    When checking the photos, I was almost disappointed to say we took Christian on day trips in the Burley Cub with the Weber “banana” only when he was 5 months old, and on an actual holiday (3 weeks across the Netherlands) a year later. I guess this was partially owed to the fact that he was born in December. Lisa only got the Cub when she was 15 months old. You seem to be very prudent in your considerations (you’ll start thinking in more robust terms with child No. 2, but that is an experience every parent has to go through…), and I can only perfectly agree to everything you are writing. You are doing it perfectly right.

  2. Emma C
    16th April 2012 at 12:26 pm #

    I have the Croozer, the trailer which is ‘one down’ from yours. I did a lot of research on what was considered to be the best, and judging by which you have picked, so have you! (although I couldnt afford the really swish one, so I am a little jealous)
    I used the weber seat and took my second son out at 8 wks. I agree I was a little more confident as he was my second son. I dont think I cycled with my eldest until he was a toddler, which I now bitterly regret. For some reason we have been brain washed into thinking that being in a car is the safest way for our children to cycle. It will happen I am sure on years to come, that we will realise that we have been slowly killing an entire generation by keeping them wrapped up and away from any danger.
    I looked at accident figures for the roads that surround my sons school, to try and get more people walking. Road safety was their biggest concern. Over the past 10 yrs there have been 30+ accidents in cars and 2 with pedestrians. But the parents still hold firm their belief that the car is much safer. Its crazy. So you keep cycling with your trailer and I wish you and your family all the best x

  3. Lisa Wood
    16th April 2012 at 12:27 pm #

    Great information about when its the right time to take baby on a bike ride!
    I thought about the baby shaking and not being good for baby..what about car seats? Car rides are not actually all that smooth and can be very bumpy with baby in the car seat?

    I like that you have done so much research and thought about it – I reckon baby will love the bike rides and before you know it you will be going for longer rides!

  4. Lyn
    16th April 2012 at 1:57 pm #

    Great article.

    Ultimately I think the ‘right time’ for babies is whenever the parents are confident and happy enough to take them.

    We reasoned that the trailer was no bumpier/rougher than a car, with much less risk of accident. Certainly when he goes to sleep in the bike trailer, his head is much better supported in his head rest than when he falls asleep in the car and slumps forward.

  5. Jack Bulkley
    16th April 2012 at 2:12 pm #

    Some part of me thinks you missed an opportunity based on where you are living. In my mind a bakfiets is strongly attached to Dutch cycling with kids. How will Luke believe he was born in the Netherlands and didn’t ride in a bakfiets? 🙂

    • friedel
      16th April 2012 at 3:11 pm #

      We may yet rent a bakfiets for a short tour but with such a good trailer we didn’t think buying one would be worth it 🙂

  6. Erin
    17th April 2012 at 10:46 pm #

    5-6 months old, and incredibly slowly! But we only have gravel roads here.

  7. marieke
    18th April 2012 at 7:58 pm #

    5 month did not have a trailer before and it was a very cold snowy winter. but i would say about 10 weeks and then only a few km’s, for going to daycare (our second did that and our due 3th will do that. 5 month for longer journeys.
    Of course you could do it earlier but why all this consulting of dokters, smooth roads and constant checking of the child is okay if you can just wait a few months and be on the safe side? What is a few months in a life? That’s my opinion. Everyone has to make his own.
    And even after 5 months we stop very very often cause we think a child has to move, well at least ours have to crawl, jump etc. I feel a bit sorry for children being strapped in trailers, buggy’s or carseats for ages.
    I would also recommend a seat in front of your bike (normal dutch thing;)) cause it is very nice that you can talk to you child and he or she can see a lot more than from the trailer. When the child gets tired, it can go in the trailer and sleep. When they are above 15 kg they can no longer be in front unfort. But at that age around two well ours pff began to complain about beiing in the trailer with his younger sister. But maybe that’s because we do it on daily basis. And he also tries to climb out..
    Well enjoy your rides look forward to reading the stories!

    • friedel
      19th April 2012 at 10:09 am #

      Totally agree that a kid should not be in a trailer all day. That’s why we plan to keep our distances short and schedule in plenty of play breaks.

      As for all the consulting, there are so many scare stories on the internet and conflicting information. Some say start immediately. Others say not for 1 year. Luke was in the hospital for the first week of his life so we had a lot of chance to talk to doctors, etc… and that helped us to make an informed decision.

      We could wait a little longer but if he’s okay then why not start when we can? Now that we have taken a couple cautious trips, we’ll be able to relax more. Finding smooth paths is not hard here, and we don’t feel the need to ride alongside him anymore. We know what he can and can’t handle so we’ll just take it easy, slowly increasing our speed and the types of roads as he grows.

  8. Amelia
    20th April 2012 at 7:16 pm #

    We live in a small town and had both our boys in the sling in the Chariot for walks/short bike rides by 4 weeks old…. We checked them often, went slow, and felt they were very secure and comfortable. The Chariot is awesome for this…. http://www.talesofamountainmama.com/2012/04/gear-review-chariot-cts.html

  9. Andoni
    20th April 2012 at 9:40 pm #

    Hi
    There isn’t an age. We started travelling around the world with our daughter Maia (she was 2 years old, now 4). In South-America, Bolivia, we had a baby, and we started again cycling when our son was 10 weeks old (he is now 6 months old). we can ride a average of 50 kms per day. Everything is fine.

    Andoni
    http://www.mundubicyclette.be/2-viaje/Inicio.html (spanish)
    http://www.mundubicyclette.be/la-terre-en-carriole/Accueil.html (french)

  10. marieke
    21st April 2012 at 5:02 pm #

    thanks for your reply! No thinking hard about cycling with 3 kids. pff And it seems a long way for our oldest to learn to cycle by himself. He is not interested at all. i love kids they do the opposite of theire parents:)

  11. marieke
    21st April 2012 at 8:48 pm #

    thx thomas but that is way beyond our budget, tandems and all that stuff. Probably wait a few years so they can cycle on their own.

  12. steve
    25th April 2012 at 9:18 pm #

    Chariots rock! Cycling in Ecuador….

    http://tober-zambrano.blogspot.com/2011/08/tz-family-bike-trip-along-ecuadorian.html

  13. Don Acton DC
    26th April 2012 at 3:01 pm #

    We purchases a Burley double wide when our son was born 12 years ago. At 3 months we started securing the infant carrier into the Burley. He and later his younger sister, rode in it until age 4 or so. At that point we started using tandems. We did at least 100 miles with him on at least 3 different occasions, which usually took at least 7-8 hours.

    The double wide allows better stability. It also allows more toys and our small dog to ride along.

    It is important to not put a child into an upright anti-gravity position until they can sit up by themselves.
    Also make sure you carry pillows so that when they fall asleep, you can put their head into a neutral position and NOT allow it to fall forward or to the side.

    In my opinion, you will do long term damage if you don’t position the head while sleeping. Think about how you feel if you fall asleep sitting up for any period of time. Since a small child is exploding in growth, multiply that by 10 or so and then you will understand why head position is so important. Remember, when you are born your head is almost one forth of you body weight. Protect the neck by keeping the head in proper alignment.

  14. Rona
    10th May 2012 at 6:59 pm #

    Just found your wonderful website. I first took my daughter out in a childseat, the Beto one, which was sold to me by a cycling friend whose daughter was just growing out of it. She was 9 months old. I did dummy runs with a rucksack full of books to get used to the handling. She had a helmet, but as it stuck out so far behind her head, I always had to wedge a cushion down the back for her to be comfortable. We got a trailerbike when she was four and getting too big for the seat.
    Here is a brilliant article about cycling with baby:
    http://sheldonbrown.com/carrababy.html

  15. Chris
    7th June 2012 at 1:55 pm #

    Fully loaded touring with a baby in Laos, not once but twice !

    http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/6241

    http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/8037

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