More people are travelling by bicycle, with some choosing to make it a family affair. For those keen to join the cycling ranks, we’ve sifted through the options for carrying little passengers.
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Is your child up to it? Legally, a child can be carried by bike from any age but it’s a good idea to wait until a baby can sit independently. You should also factor in the age, weight, temperament of your kid/s and whether they’re up to it.
Can you get a helmet for them? All children must wear a helmet while on a bike. Some helmets are as small as 45cm in circumference, so you should be able to find one that’ll fit. A baby should have a strong enough neck that they can comfortably take the weight of a helmet (about 200 to 300g) for the length of your usual ride. For more information, check out our guide to children’s bicycle helmets at consumer.org.nz.
Is your bike up to the task? A bike seat and a child adds a fair amount of weight to the bike. Will your bike manage it? For rear seats which rest on the rack, check the weight capacity of your back rack (this should be stamped on the rack). The stays can fail if the back rack is overloaded. Step-through bikes or bikes with lower crossbars can make life easier too – it’s easier to balance while getting on and off. A sturdy kickstand can be helpful for getting a child safely on and off the bike. Also consider going electric – an e-bike can take a lot of the strain and make your trip much easier.
What will you use it for? Are you planning on everyday commuting, trail-riding on back country routes, mountain-biking or just the occasional cruise? What weather will you be riding in – does the seat need to be waterproof? How many kids will you be transporting?
Will it work? Will the carrier fit your bike? Some carriers require specific clearances around the seat post. If you want to swap your carrier between bikes, check it’s compatible and easy to switch. If not, can you get an adapter or attach a different mount to your bike? Can you find a carrier that will take your child’s weight now and for a couple more years?
Does it meet any safety standards? Australia and the European Union (EU) have voluntary standards that cover front-mounted seats of up to 15kg weight capacity and rear carriers up to 22kg. The EU and US also have safety standards for bike trailers. Here, our standard only covers rear carriers. The US also has a standard for these carriers. There are no standards for mid-mounted seats.
Front-mounted seats ($100 to $250): Front-mounted seats are designed for children between about nine months and three years. They attach to either your handlebar stem or head tube and put the child between your arms. Most seats take up to 15kg, but some go up to 18kg. Your kid might get too tall for it too, you don’t want to crane your neck to see over or around them while riding.
Mid-mounted seats ($130 to $220): Mid-mounted seats attach to a bike’s crossbar and are basically just a seat. They’re designed for kids aged between two and seven and targeted at mountain bikers or off-road riders. Children on this seat will need a good sense of balance, good hand grip and to be able to follow instructions.
Two seats on the market are made by New Zealand companies: the Do Little takes children up to 28kg and the Shotgun up to 22kg. They both have footrests.
As with front-mounted seats, your child’s height is a factor; you’ll need to be able to see comfortably over their head.
Rear-mounted seats ($95 to $320): The original child carrier, rear seats are a good option with plenty to choose from. There are no-frills options that’ll suit Sunday riders through to tour-level carriers with extra cushioning, suspension systems and tilt functions.
Rear-mounted seats usually have harnesses and we recommend looking for one with a five-point harness to minimise the risk of little fingers undoing it mid-ride.
Rear-mounted seats often have high backs – a higher back can reduce the chance of injury in a crash – but you’ll need to check your child’s head, with a helmet on, sits comfortably against the seat back. Most have a weight capacity of 22kg.
Longtail and cargo bikes ($3000 to $11,000): The family wagon option of bike carriers. They are pricey, especially if you go for an electric model. Depending on the bike, you may be able to carry up to four passengers – or more if you add a trailer.
The two options are:
A box bike, which has a long front and space to fit a cargo box into. It can be fitted with seating platforms and seat belts. You can get two- and three-wheel options; the latter is harder to handle, so better suited to experienced riders.
A longtail has a long rear that can have seating platforms or extra seats attached. You can add footrests, handlebars and other accessories so it works for your family.
Trailers ($350 to $2400): A trailer clips on a bike, so can be a straightforward solution. They can be handy for loading up with multiple kids, including babies strapped into a baby capsule, with room for the groceries too. They’re also a good option on rainy days as they can be covered.
However, the fact that they’re behind and a distance from the bike can also make it difficult to communicate with your kid/s. Trailers can also be prone to tipping if they get caught in a pothole (though some trailers have roll cages and restraints to minimise the chance of injury). However, trailers are fitted with a hitch that prevents them from tipping if the bike tips.
Trailer tips: get mudguards so your passenger doesn’t get dirt and water in their face, and attach a tall flag to help with visibility.
Trail-gators, tag-alongs and tows ($175 to $400): Great for kids learning to ride a bike, these options help build their confidence on the road and their stamina. It gives them the option of cruising if they’re tired.
There are basic tow attachments that connect a kid’s bike with the adult’s bike, usually lifting the front wheel of the child’s bike off the road, and tag-alongs, which are basically half a kid’s bike that attaches to the seat post of the adult’s bike.
Three-year-old Stella Mcleod likes riding her own bike, but loves the bike trailer too: “We can hoon around town on it. The bike seat is fun to be on too as we can do jumps. [My tips are to] hold on tight and wear your helmet.”
Stella was just two when the family of four did their first cycle trail, a 180km stretch near Queenstown.
Her mum Olivia admitted to not knowing how hard it would be.
“Very much novices, we probably took too much gear and were a little casual about start times. This was the biggest ride that any of us had been on, and so it was a learning curve in regards to how to ride with the kids and what distances are achievable each day,” she said.
It was challenging, but the family feel they’ve hit upon an activity that’s fun for everyone and gets the kids engaging with the environment.
Olivia and husband Alex have a couple of different bikes each, and the kids are in a Croozer trailer or a Weeride front seat, or for mountain biking, a Do Little seat.
Their equipment has been picked for practicality and hardiness – they needed it for everyday riding, mountain biking and cycle tours.
“We feel completely happy with our choices. The Croozer has done well over 3000km with two kids in it. We have regularly overloaded its recommended limit with camping, food and kids’ gear. We are yet to need to repair anything, and it was at least half the price of its other European alternatives.”
It's fair to say the Townsends know a thing or two about bikes. The Wellington family of four have 13 bikes between them, and a range of seats and trailers.
“Cycling's in my blood, I was on a bike before I could walk,” Hilleke said.
Both Hilleke and husband Mike were commuter cyclists before they had their two children, so it was natural the kids joined them.
When their first child Kāhu (5) was born, they got a three-wheeled box bike that they could belt his baby capsule into. When he was big enough, they put him in a Yepp Mini, a front-mounted seat.
“You’re almost cuddling him between your arms so it felt very safe,” Hilleke said.
It was also good for being able to chat as you go, Mike said.
Kāhu eventually moved into a rear-mounted seat. The pair said having a kid at the back can motivate drivers to take a bit more care in passing.
They recently bought an electric longtail bike, a Pedego Stretch, to make commuting with – now two – kids up and down Wellington’s gusty hills a bit easier. Both kids fit on the back and complain when the family travels by car.
The family also have a Do Little and a trailer, which they describe as better suited to off-road cycling.
The rules on carrying children by bicycle are brief: make sure they have a separate seat, keep their feet clear of the wheels and put a helmet on them.
The New Zealand standard for child carriers on bikes is voluntary, only applies to rear seats and hasn’t been updated since 1995. In comparison, Australia updated its standard in 2016 to include safety requirements for both front and rear seats. It also applies to electric bikes.
A New Zealand Transport Agency spokesperson recommended young children be secured in a cycle trailer.
And that’s where the official advice ends.
Rosie Swanson, who imports and sells the front-mounted WeeRide, reckons the child carrier standard is in desperate need of an update and there needs to be better rules around safety when carrying kids on bikes.
“We get questions from parents all the time about what the rules are, they’re nervous about it and looking for guidance on it. For parents it’s a big deal.”
There are no numbers collected on how often children are injured while passengers on parents’ bikes either here or in Australia. A 2016 University of Adelaide study found the most common cause of injury was as a result of the bike tipping, usually when getting on and off, rather than incidents with vehicles or other cyclists.
The study found parents were more likely to change to a safer road route if they had kids on board, reducing the chances of an accident. However, the authors said children in bike seats could be exposed to “adult-level forces” in the event of crash, putting them at risk of serious injury.
Given the growing popularity of bike seats, and the safety risks of poorly made products, we’d like to see the Australian standard adopted here.
The New Zealand Transport Agency should also update its guidelines to include advice on how to carry kids by bike safely.
By Tessa Johnstone