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!



bmike said...

Kent, All -

Great information. We get around Burlington, VT with out little one by Bakfiets - you can read about our current setup here:

We mounted a car seat base in the Bak, using a bit of foam for some extra cushion. With a Bakfiets I was worried more about the fron to back jarring that is induced when hitting bumps (the bak is long and acts as a great lever) - versus the side to side that I'd worry about with a trailer. Our doc was a bit skeptical when she saw pics of our rig - but with the car seat and the infant head stabilizer she agreed that it looked as safe as when mounted in a vehicle.

We have 1 car for longer journeys - so having a base in the Bak and another in the car for my wife makes the transition easy - but as primary care provider I cycle everywhere I can - and we do many of our family trips via bike. Our longest day to date has been about 28 miles.

As Ava gets older we will be moving to a trailer for longer journeys - so I can use my road bike or my wife can use her citified mountain bike. We are going to wait until about a year for this - as we feel our current setup works well being able to talk, monitor, etc. - and I admit to being a bit spoiled by the cargo capacity and the ability to always see my little one up front. I'm not sure how I'll react when we start pulling her around, out of site.

I'll be bookmarking the information you posted for sue when we setup the trailer. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Has anyone seen the new Baby Snuggler from Burley yet?

Anonymous said...

I have to say, I really enjoy seeing young kids being transported around by bike. Here in Oxford, there has definitely been an increase in past few years.

fxdwhl said...

My wife and I planned on using our carseat in the Chariot Carrier Cougar One we bought but it turned out the opening is too small for the seat to fit inside. Would have been fine had we gotten the 2 seater model.

Chariot makes infant slings, swaddlers, and neck support add ons but none are recomended for cycling. Too bad as we were hoping to get out with our 9 week old shorlty but we'll have to wait.

KDC Events said...

Does anyone know how many extra calories you burn pulling 2 kids in the bike trailer?? It feels like a much harder workout

Unknown said...

I can't echo enough the "be able to bike in and out of your parking spot." We bike-commute with our daughter (now 2 1/2) year-round in Chicago, and it occurred to me (round about March) that it's warmer for her to go down to the basement and get bundled up in her trailer and zipped in (we added a zipper across the bottom of the front window of our Burley Bee), then roll out into the cold, than it would be to take her out in 5 degree temperatures and buckle her into a cold car seat.

T.S. said...

Thank you for this post. I have a 4 yr old boy who I've been biking most everywhere with for 3 yrs. But now we have a new baby due in a few weeks and both my son and I are really excited to start biking again. It has been really hard to figure out how to bike with both kids.

Does anyone know how well the carseat in trailer with another kid works?

By the way, my hubby thinks I'm crazy :)

Unknown said...

I do not have a car and bike to get around. Now I am pregnant and want to keep the biking up as long as possible and get back to it asap. So I decided to investigate what people do in Germany, where it is much more the norm to not have a car and use a bike to get around, and so bikes are not seen as toys but as transport and as such people commonly do it with their little babies.

At least on the forums people were happy with the infant sling that chariot make. The German Bicycle Club (ADFC, the bicycle equivalent of the AAA) recommend to use a trailer with suspension and the wheels that are angled to give greater stability. They also recommended a hard bottom for greater strength and flags and good lighting. Most people seemed to start their children with about 3 to 4 months and some people found that their infants were happier in the baby sling than in the car carrier seat since its actually softer and not as curved. There were no guidelines that I could find as to minimum age for putting infants into trailers.

A German insurance company (Allianz) did a bunch of crash tests and good trailers won hands down compared to any other kind of bike transport for children.

Personally I imagine a suspended trailer with the soft large tires that someone else suggested is pretty good. And even though the suspended trailer (say the Chariot Corsaire XL) is very expensive the cost is nothing compared to a car and maintaining such.

I just thought I would share this information since due to the language barrier information from other countries doesn't often get here and as I have the ability to translate that information I hope it gives the confidence to do this to someone other than me.

Anonymous said...

Ive been doing research on infants in bike trailers and so far i have found that putting a baby in a bike trailer causes way more shaking than riding in a car and could cause brain damage that you might not notice until grade school. I know, from what ive gathered from my reading, that you all are big into bicycling, but under one year is way too risky. I know im leaving my 6 month old at grandmas when i go bike riding (at least for a few more months). If you all care so much about the environment, bus it.

Unknown said...

Would you please give some references as to where you found your information? I am very interested in what you found. Book titles, article, etc. Thank you.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the information! I am going to try putting the car seat in the trailer...I have a two year old already so I am considering putting a pillow between them...I suppose a quick loop around the block would be enough to see if he can handle being a big brother in the trailer too. We plan to just stay on the bike trail so no bumpy rides!

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know if this is legal in NYS? (where everything is illegal) The only law I've found seems to indicate that there isn't any legal way to transport an under-1by bike. And to "anonymous", not everyone has access to a car nor do they have access to public transportation, or do not have public transportation that is remotely adequate.

Chris said...

With my kids, especially when they were little, we didn't try too much with the bicycle. What I did then, and what I still do, is keep a folding bike in the car. I wasn't able to use it when they were with me, but after I dropped them off (babysitter/daycare/etc.) I would sometimes even just leave my car right there, and take the bike out and get to work or do errands or whatever on that. Then ride back to the car, pick up the kids, and get home. Not perfect, but a lot less driving than I'd otherwise have to do.
They're not as little as they used to be, but I'm really looking forward to when they're old enough for us to all ride places together.

Maggie said...

Does anyone have suggestions on brands/models for a double? I have a four month old and a two year old. I really need to exercise more and plan on biking to accomplish that.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

My husband and I are big into cycling, as are our kids. My oldest started cycling when she was two in the trailer and I was pregnant with my second. When my baby was 7 weeks she and I did her first 32 miles in the trailer. We reinforced with padding and she was in her carseat. When she became a bit more independent and could support her head all the way I was able to strap in the papoose and my two year old would play with her and give her a bottle if she needed it. It worked out awesome and the kids love it. Now that my sister is having her first, she plans on biking right away. Using the same methods I use, her daughter will be in her first organized ride when she is seven-eight weeks.

As long as you bike smart and safely, there is no reason why you can't enjoy biking with the whole family.

mike said...

I used a conventional car seat in a baby trailer, by temporarily removing the seat-back from the top cross bar, and installing a plastic bin in the trailer, so it rested on the fabric bottom, but was suspended by a few dozen heavy duty zipties through holes in the bin near the bottom corners. The carseat was bolted to that, but you could use a car-seat base instead, so the seat could come out.