Monday, June 23, 2008

How to transport an infant by bike?

Brian Ecker of Portland Oregon emailed me asking about transporting his infant son by bicycle. My wife and I dealt with this issue years ago and our friends Brad and Claire have some good current experience transporting their young son, so I included them in the email discussion. I got the OK's from everybody to quote the discussion verbatim and post it here.

First up, Brian's query:
Hi Kent,

I'm an avid cyclist in Portland who also happens to be a new father of a 6 week old. My wife and I own a car (hybrid) but rarely drive as we live in close-in Portland and have access to most everything.

However, since the arrival of our son, I've noticed that there is really no good way to transport him over longer distances (such as the doctor) without the car. I'd like to ride him around on my bike, but all the bike trailer documentation states that children under the age of one year should not be carried this way.

Do you have any tips for infant transport?

Here's my response:
Hi Brian,

I've cc'd my friend Brad Hawkins on this note. Brad and his wife Claire have a young son that they often transport by bike trailer, so I'm hoping Brad will chime in here with his current relevant experience.

The main thing we did when the kids were young was augment the bike trailer with a carseat that we carried inside the trailer and extra padding within the trailer, making it effectively a huge, full-body helmet. In our case, I made our trailer and it had a roll-cage that completely surrounded the kid.

Did you attend the "Why Carfree cities are safer?" session at the conference? One of the hard things at the conference were that there were too many good things happening simultaneously and it was hard to pick and choose, but this was a really good one. Todd Litman, who I've also cc'd, had some very good data and interesting things to say about what choices really effect the safety of our children.

Thanks for writing and trying to make a better, safer world for our children to grow in.

Brad adds:
Transporting kids is fun. Here are a few things I've learned:

We still use the car seat for our 14 month old because it keeps his back straighter and head supported. It also gives him a better view.

Strap the lateral belt across the whole car seat and you should be good to go.

In the early months, place some foam under the car seat, but beware that this make the car seat much harder to secure in the trailer. We gave up on this notion after a few tries and went with fat, pudgy tires. See below.

We leave the transport arm on the car seat up so that there is a theoretical roll cage within the trailer roll cage.

We started with the car seat base and tied the base in, but the baby was sitting backward and wasn't ready for the bumps. Once we turned him facing forward, everything got much calmer. I don't think bikes can stop fast enough to warrant rear facing a car seat.

I like the transportable car seat too because they often fall asleep and when we get someplace, I can just take the whole thing in without waking the boy.

Keep the trailer in a place where it's easy to roll and go. If you have to carry it up or down stairs, you won't use it as transportation. We rent an extra parking space from a neighbor in our condo and keep our bikes there. We also have mini garage door clickers on our key chains so we can keep rolling all the way in our out.

My wife carries a second lock for her trailer but I haven't found it completely necessary. Just leave a toy in the trailer and everyone will know they are stealing from children. No, gas prices are high enough that I'll start carrying an extra lock too. I'll amend my ways.

Find the fattest tires you can and pump them up just enough that they sag but don't bottom out on the rim when you push down. The trailer only holds 50lbs tops so the tires don't need to be anywhere near hard.

Lubricate the snaps with chain oil so they come on and off easily. The Burley Cub we have places the cover snaps right by the trailer tongue and it's hard to unfasten unless lubricated.

As a precaution, we started with knobby tires to keep the speed down but I'm not sure that was necessary.

We still haven't started with helmets on the bike, but he knows that we wear one, and we incorporate it into play. It's one of his toys around the house. Eventually, "big boys" wear helmets. I hope that works!

Carry a blanket even in the summer. The kid is not getting an workout.

You can string some toys with a bungee cord, but that might be overkill.

Sing a lot to them so they still know you are there. We have little mimicking games going on while riding at the one year age group.

During winter months, if the plastic fogs up, it means they are sleeping. Deeper breaths fog up the inside.

The inside is surprisingly warm. I would reach in to check and find the inside of the trailer toasty and his hands warm even in the thirties.

We glued an agricultural slow moving vehicle sign on the back, tied on two blinkies, and have two orange flags on top.

Have couple of hitches around and one on each bike you might use to pull. Undoing the quick release takes too much time and makes the kid bored. They just want to click and go.

Feel free to take the whole lane. Drivers give the respect when you are packing the kids. Basically, it's no fun getting passed in your lane so don't let the drivers think it might be an option.

Just smile when the tourists start pointing and taking pictures.

I don't run any stop lights or signs anymore. I guess that makes me a dad.

Brad Hawkins

Claire adds:
One more thing (from Claire, the mom!)--we didn't transport the baby in the bike trailer until he was three months old. I think it's ok to use the car for the first few doctor visits while they're still so little, especially if it's a longer trip. The first trips we took were quite short; they've only gotten longer as he has gotten older, but we still try to time them with his naps.

Congratulations Brian by the way!


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