How to start cycling with a small child in a bike seat, cargo bike or trailer
How to start cycling with kids in a bike seat or trailer is something we often find ourselves getting asked about by parents with young children. For many parents issues of confidence and worried about safety are preventing them for taking that all important first ride with their baby or toddler.
Even for people who were confident cyclists before having children, it is an enormous step to be transporting the most precious thing in the world on your bike. For people who haven't cycled before, or haven't been regular cyclists for a while, it can seem an insurmountable barrier.
If you've read this far you're obviously considering it, so here are some tips we hope will get you wheeling away.
How to start cycling with a baby, toddler or small child in a bike seat, trailer or cargo bike
Tip 1 - It's ok to feel nervous
It's only natural to feel nervous - you've loved and nurtured your baby, and it is inevitable that you'll feel apprehension about cycling with them.
However, nerves can be a healthy thing, especially if you adapt your riding style and habits to take less risks and be more aware of any dangers around you.
The first few trips out may be a bit nerve wracking, but you will soon get used to the feel of having your child on your bike.
The exhilaration from the freedom you get cycling, plus watching the enjoyment your little one gets from the experience will help sooth your nerves.
Tip 2 - Try before you buy
If you're feeling a bit worried that you might be investing your money in something you're not going to use then it's a good idea to try before you buy.
Most cargo bike shops will be more than happy to offer you a test ride before you buy, but until recently it's been a bit harder to test ride trailers and seats.
There's now a great scheme that lets you rent a trailer or a kids bike seat from KidsBikeTrailers.co.uk for between 2 and 12 weeks on their "try before you buy" scheme - if you decide not to go ahead with your purchase you just send it back at the end of the rental period.
There's also a small number of family bike libraries springing up around the country so if you're lucky enough to have one near you they will offer a similar service.
Day rental of trailers and seats is sometimes available at bike hire facilities at tourist destinations or bike shops. This is good for checking out that you like the concept of a trailer or seat, but unless you live close to a rental location you'll struggle to ride it on your local routes, or experience riding at different times of the day or in various weathers.
Tip 3 - Get some training
Cycle training has grown massively in the UK in the past few years, so there should be a training provider near you.
If you haven't cycled before this is especially important, although anyone who hasn't been a regular and confident cyclist would benefit from brushing up on their skills before taking on board a passenger.
For training providers in England and Wales the Bikeability website lists all training providers by region.
Further details on training in Scotland can be found on the Cycle Scotland website.
Tip 4 - Leave the sprog at home
Before you start cycling with your baby or toddler in a bike seat or trailer, practise without them. Make sure you are confident on your bike, and get some miles under your belt. Never try and set out on your first ever ride with your child.
Tip 5 - Become a cycle spud
Even if you're a regular cyclist, it always pays to load up the seat, cargo bike or trailer with something heavy (a sack of potatoes is perfect!) and get used to the effect this has on your stability, braking and riding style before you take a passenger on board.
Tip 6 - Start slowly
When the time comes for you to start cycling with a small child in a bike seat, cargo bike or trailer, take it easy. Plan your route carefully, and don't try and do too much on the first ride.
You both need to get used to the experience (although they'll probably be less phased about it than you). Where possible start off road - flat cycle paths along disused railways or canals are often ideal starting places.
Tip 7 - Don't avoid roads at all costs
It is cycling on the road that tends to scare people the most and with very good reason. However, if you are going to get out and about, you are likely to have to cycle on road at some point.
Try and avoid rush hour and school chucking out times, and plan your route carefully to avoid main roads. It may help to ride a new route several times without your child on board so you're aware of exactly where any difficult points may be.
There are many training courses available to help you cycle in traffic, so look out for one in your local area. Tell the provider you want to start start cycling with your kids in a bike seat, cargo bike or trailer, and they may well be able to tailor the course to suit this.
Tip 8 - Make sure you are fit enough
Carrying the weight of your child makes cycling much harder than you may be used to. Make sure you are fit enough to make the return journey.
If you are recovering from child birth and pregnancy then make sure you are fully fit before starting to transport them on your bike - always check with your midwife or doctor before starting cycling again.
Tip 9 - Secure your child
Always read the manufacturers instructions for fitting and using your bike seat or pullalong. Make sure your child is properly strapped in, and there are no loose straps, scarves or toys that will interfere with the mechanisms of your bike.
Tip 10 - Practise getting your kids in and out before you set off
Tip 11 - Enjoy yourselves
This is the most important bit!!! Cycling with your little one is great fun, so do try and relax and enjoy it. Hopefully this will be the start of many miles great rides out together.
So, these are our top 10 tips on how to start cycling with a small child in a bike seat, cargo bike or trailer - we'd love to hear how you get on.
Let us know via our Facebook page, or tag #cyclesprog on Instagram for a repost.
This post was first published in January 2013, and updated in February 2023.
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If you feel you're ready to take the next step, check out these articles:
- The best rear bike seats for toddlers and small children
- Best bike trailers
- The best front bike seats for toddlers and young children
- The best front mounted bike seats for older kids
- Choosing the best cargo bike for your family
- Keeping warm on a bike seat – great ideas to keep the cold at bay
- What's it like using a cargo bike for the first time?
- Mycle release new family cargo bike
- Burley Baby Snuggler