The restrictions on indoor activities brought about by COVID-19 have resulted in a dramatic rise in family outdoor activities, including cycling. The increased number of families enjoying Ottawa’s beautiful shared paths and closed parkways has been noticeable. As always, safety must be the number one concern when enjoying a bike ride. What should parents be thinking about before cycling with their children?
There are many options for bringing children on a bike trip. The best option for you depends on the age of your child.
Do not cycle with infants who do not have the neck strength to hold their heads up while wearing a helmet. Wait until your child can sit up on his or her own and can wear a properly fitted, certified bicycle helmet. I have seen a general rule that children under one should not wear a helmet, which means they should not be included in any cycling activities.
Toddlers can be carried in a bicycle trailer or in a seat mounted to the bicycle frame. Always make sure your toddler is wearing a properly fitted and certified bicycle helmet and that the equipment is properly attached to the bicycle.
Bicycle trailers provide a stable and secure vehicle for your toddler. Trailers may not always be visible to motorists so attach an orange safety flag to the trailer for greater visibility. If you are cycling in a group, position another adult behind the trailer.
A rear-mounted seat shifts the bicycle’s center of gravity and can make it unstable. Before placing your toddler in a rear-mounted seat, practice riding with a weight, comparable to your child’s, in the seat. Be sure to get a seat with a high back, lap and shoulder harness, and foot guards to protect feet from getting in the spokes.
Various front-mounted seats differ in shape and where they are placed on the bicycle. Do not use a seat that mounts to the handlebars. These can interfere with your ability to steer. Front-mounted seats that attach to both the seat and handlebar stems are more stable. They also place your child in front of you, so you can see both the child and the road.
More than one add-on seat
The websites for some children’s seat suppliers have pictures of bikes with more than one additional seat. Some have both a front and rear seat, and some have double rear‑mounted seats.
A question of safety
Reviewing the promotional material for several name brand children’s seats, I noticed that their products have received “seals of approval” from a variety of agencies, such as the TÜV Seal of Approval, and ASTM and EN regulatory bodies. These approvals are based on design and materials. There are plenty of inexpensive children’s seats available on the internet, many from overseas’ manufacturers. They do not claim to have any “seals of approval” attesting to the quality of their design or materials.
Claims of safe design and materials are universal in children’s seat adds. When it comes to safety, a solid bike mount and a secure strapping system are emphasized. The danger of the child getting injured in a fall or crash does not seem to be relevant to the safety characteristics of children’s bike seats, perhaps because it is obvious that the child is exposed to injury in such an event.
Could a parent, who bought an inexpensive child’s seat, be held liable for injuries their child suffered in a bike crash if it were shown that a seat which met international standards would have prevented or reduced the severity of the injury? A court might find that a parent was negligent in purchasing a cheap child’s seat which was obviously flimsy and provided insufficient protection in a fall.
Personally, I worry about small children in seats that are mounted high up on the bike frame. It is a long way for them to fall if the bicycle tips over and they hit the ground. At least one children’s seat manufacturer recommends that potential customers think twice about buying its front‑mounted child seat:
“FRONT SEAT: Someone might not feel that comfortable when this baby seat sitting at front due to the riding position also the geometry of some of the bikes which you can imagine. Therefore we recommend that you have a good think about this point before make a purchase.”
I agree, and am of the opinion that a trailer is the safer choice.
Young children can ride along with a parent using a trailer-bike. This apparatus attaches to the seat post and transforms an adult bicycle into a tandem bike for kids. It allows the child to peddle and become accustomed to balancing a bicycle. It is very useful for longer trips where young children do not have the strength and stamina to ride on their own and keep up with the bigger riders.
Eventually, every child wants to have their own bicycle. It is important that they develop the ability to maintain their balance, either by training on a trailer-bike or with training wheels on their own bike.
Teach safe cycling
Cycling with your child before they start cycling on their own will give you a chance to teach them the rules of the road and safe cycling habits. Modelling safe cycling will help instill safe cycling practices in your child. If you wear a helmet whenever you go cycling, your child is much more likely to wear a helmet when he or she becomes an adult and helmet use becomes optional. It may also save you from suffering a traumatic brain injury.