When Can I Bike With My Baby?

When my son reached 8 months old, summer was just around the corner and I was desperate to get back on the bike. Living so close to beautiful pathways, I wanted nothing more than to throw my baby in the Chariot and go for a rip—here’s why I didn’t.

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First and foremost, I acknowledge that this is a highly debated and sensitive topic. I am in no way an expert and definitely believe that you have to do your own research, form your own opinions, and ultimately choose whatever is best for you and your baby. This article is simply to share the findings and rational that informed MY decision not to venture out until my son was at least 1 year old. I also suggest speaking with your Doctor or Paediatrician.

Here’s my Q&A sequence that ultimately led to my decision:

What’s the big deal about biking with a baby?

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Photo taken from “Baby On a Bicycle” by Totcycle.com

The biggest issue when it comes to biking with a baby is “the bobble head effect.” Since infants lack the muscular strength to hold their head up and stabilize themselves, a number of concerns come to light around safety and potential injury. Although your baby might appear strong (lifting their head while laying on the ground or sitting in your arms) the movements your baby experiences when biking can be much more jarring and unpredictable. Furthermore, their spine and muscle tone also needs to be strong enough to sit independently otherwise they are at risk of sitting slumped and/or “sagging over”. The age in which babies reach these milestones are all different but generally begin round 6 months of age and continue to improve over the following months.

As you are aware, babies also have soft spots on their heads. This means that if anything were to happen in which the baby might receive impact to the head, they do not have the full protective casing of a skull. That brings us to the debate of helmets. Although helmets can help mitigate the risk of head injury (and may be mandatory depending where you live and personal preference), they are nearly impossible to find for infants and not recommended. The added material of a helmet puts your infant’s spine out of alignment, shifts the baby’s head forward, and puts strain on the neck. Similar to carriers, this position can also create air way and posture related concerns. This means you’ll need to be comfortable not using a helmet. Read more at “Bike helmets for babies?” – Helmets.org

And let’s not forget about crashes. Although you might be a skilled biker (and not overly concerned about falling), there are a number of external risks (road conditions, other bikers, trailer tipping, etc.) that could leave your baby exposed without protection. But I’ll leave fall related concerns for your own assessment and personal judgement.

Are vibrations an issue? I mean, cars are bumpy and vibrate but we drive everywhere with our babies.

To help prevent against “long-distance” falls, bike trailers are built to ride lower to the ground. This is good however it comes with a trade-off since it sacrifices vibration dampening and, to some degree, shock absorption. This means that vibrations or continuous shuttering from bumps, beat-up pathways, gravel, curbs, etc. can more easily transmit to baby.

Depending on your trailer, your baby may also sit directly over top of the wheels which automatically makes he/she more suseptable to travel impact—think of a bus, the kids who sit at the back directly over the wheels get bounced much more than the kids sitting in the middle.

Yes, cars vibrate and go over bumps too however car seats are designed very differently to help protect and dampen these effects. I won’t go into the details here because car seat testing is extensive but here’s a good starting point if you’re keen to know more.

Do travel vibrations hurt babies? 

Here’s a quote by Dr. Alden from the Children’s Memorial Hospital (Chicago) referenced from BikePortland’s article “Carrying your infant by bike: How young is too young?“:

“Neurodevelopment is critical during the younger years. An infant’s brain is a bunch of neutrons, uninsulated wires, if you will. During the first year the infant is developing the myelin sheath, which insulates the neutrons and sets the stage for all the development and learning that the brain does next. If you had to pick a time when it is most important to protect the brain from excess vibration or bumps and jostling about it would be during that first year after birth.”

There doesn’t seem to be a lot of concrete evidence that suggests vibrations do effect babies but on the other hand, there also isn’t much evidence to support that vibrations from cycling are ok.

Do baby and infant support devices prevent vibrations?

Although brands like Thule Chariot offer Baby Slings and Child Support Systems, these devices do not fully protect against the concerns mentioned above. In fact, when researching if running or biking was acceptable when using these additions, I was very hard-pressed to find an answer stating that it was ok for children under the age of one or for any activity other than strolling.

How do they bike with babies in other parts of the world?

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Photo taken from “Cargo Bikes – An Ideal Way to Cycle With a Young Baby” by Christiania @ Cycle Sprog

I learnt that many European countries use cargo bikes or bakfiets—especially ones that rely on biking as a primary form as transportation. These unique bikes have a large compartment (either front or back) that make it possible to transport a baby within a car seat when biking. Some also have integrated suspension systems and a design that keeps the baby from resting on the wheels. This seemed to be the most common method I found with some people relying on the use of carriers as well. A good breakdown for “Dutch Biking” is found here , and an article describing one mom’s experience with a cargo bike in the UK with her baby at 5wks old baby here.

So what should I do if I want to bike with my baby?

This list isn’t fool proof (and again, you should definitely run it by your Doctor), but here are some recommendations I’ve compiled that you should consider if you want to pursue biking with your baby. If you want to read about one dad’s experience, here’s a great article.

  • Wait until at least 6 months of age (based on general guidance in the resources I reference) or until they can hold their head and sit unsupported
  • Use a certified, standard car seat if you’re going to bike with your baby—integrate added head support if needed
  • Secure the car seat in the middle of the trailer to avoid resting above the wheels—furthermore carefully consider what kind of “trailer” might best suit your needs
  • Release some air from the tires of the trailer to help cushion
  • Stay on smooth pathways and avoid obstacles that create harsh impact
  • Use a trailer that has adjustable full suspension—Rascal Rides has an awesome article that describes different methods of transportation

 

So there you have it! This article contains most of the resources that I relied upon. If you decide to hold out until your baby is one-year old, I suggest skipping everything I mention above and buying this awesome front-facing carrier, the ibert, for a great experience—but I’ll discuss that more in a separate article.

What are your thoughts—when do you plan to start biking with your kid? Would love to hear any other suggestions or feedback in the comment section!

Happy Biking!

 

 

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