Biking with baby: Trailer vs. front seat vs. rear seat

This is probably the last “Biking with baby” post that I’ll write.  Sir is certainly no longer a baby — he’s well into toddler-hood, and, in a few short months, he’ll be a [young] preschooler — but I started writing this post over a year ago, when he was about 19-months-old.

With the addition of our longtail with a rear child seat, we’ve now tried three out of the four main methods I can think of for transporting a baby or toddler by bicycle: trailer, front-mounted seat, and rear-mounted seat.  That just leaves some type box bike on our “yet to try” list (maybe that will happen in Portland this summer!).  So, let’s start at the very beginning, shall we?

Trailer
Oh, the trailer.  Going into this whole biking with a baby thing, the trailer was really the only option I knew of for riding with a little one, short of buying a box bike.  (A trailer or a box bike really are the only options, short of carrying the infant on one’s body, for safely biking with a baby who is too young to support his/her own head, which usually happens around the 12-month mark.)

So, we did our research, decided that the Chariot Cougar trailers, with their built-in suspension systems, were the best-of-the-best, and finally found a good deal on a very good condition, 2-child model.  We added the baby supporter accessory and were good to go.  Kind-0f.

Ready to roll

Ready to roll

In reality, biking with a small infant in a trailer is tricky.  The baby supporter seemed necessary to keep him from just tipping over (even strapped in), and the optional neck/head support is not optional with a 6-month-old.  However, it didn’t really work to use the head support piece AND a helmet (and at 6-months old, even with a big head, the smallest helmets were too big anyway).  Even though I don’t [usually] preach about it, I’m a helmet girl myself, and riding around with a helmet on my head, but NOT on my baby’s head, always felt wrong.

Also, even with the baby supporter, Sir always slumped to one side or the other in the trailer, and, understandably, he was not happy about it.  This continued to be an issue with the Chariot trailer even after he outgrew the baby supporter.

In hindsight, we would have been better served by a 1-child bicycle trailer.  I’ve heard about people securing a standard infant car seat directly in a 1-child trailer.  Using a car seat would have allowed us to start biking with Sir at an even earlier age, and it would have been easier to prop him up and eliminate the slumping/tipping problem we encountered.

In June 2012, just shy of Sir’s first birthday, my biking with babies world changed dramatically when I acquired an IBert front-seat.  We kept the trailer for back-up, rain, cold, etc., but the Chariot rarely saw the light of day after that.*

Front seat
Best. Thing. Ever.  Our IBert front-seat was a total game changer in terms of biking with an infant/toddler!  I cannot recommend a front seat enough, for all of the reasons that S covers so succinctly over at Simply Bike.**

Riding with a front seat was easy from the get-go, and, now that I can compare, I can report that overall bike handling and balance was better with a front seat than with a rear seat.

0405131614a - Copy

But the real selling point of the front seat is the constant parent-child interaction and priceless bike-bonding time.  You just don’t get that with a rear child seat (more on that in the next section).

My only complaint with the IBert is the strap system.  The shoulder straps are widely spaced, and it was difficult to keep them from slipping off of Sir’s shoulders.  Once he got bigger, the straps were also not long enough to really fit.  Fortunately, there is a lap bar that also clicks into place, so even with the wonky shoulder straps, I always felt he was fairly secure.

At least on our older model, the strap also had to go over the head, which meant the helmet had to go on after clipping him in and come off before removing him from the seat — this was annoying in instances where we were making a very short stop, say, running into a store to grab one thing, and it would have been convenient to just leave the helmet on his head.

While there are a variety of options, I would say either the IBert or the Yepp Mini are the way to go here.  While I really liked the IBert overall, given the issues with the straps, I would certainly look into the Yepp Mini, were I to do it all over again.  But I also would not hesitate to buy the IBert.

The IBert is rated for children up to 38 pounds.  Sir is just shy of that number, but, although the seat doesn’t officially have a height limit, at 39 inches tall, his legs have been pretty cramped in the IBert since last fall, and I’m now bumping my chin on his helmet.  Time for something new.

Rear seat
After a lot of research and pondering, we settled on a longtail bicycle with a rear child seat (Yepp Maxi) as the best option for biking with an older toddler.  You can put a rear seat on almost any bicycle, but most set-ups come at the expense of cargo room, which we weren’t willing to give up, hence the longtail.

IMG_4038

The longtail also provides a very stable base for the seat (especially with the heavy duty center kickstand), and, once he outgrows the Yepp seat (48 pound weight limit), we can add either the Hooptie accessory or just a standard handlebar, mounted to our seat post, along with a cushion, and continue to carry our growing passenger for many years.

Our longtail is great, but I do miss having my little guy right up front with me, between my arms.  With him in back of me, I can usually hear what he’s saying perfectly well, but I don’t think he catches much of what I say unless I turn around, which is unsafe and unpractical to do all that much.

There are a few options that might get Gabriel in front of me again, and, ideally, we would have a second kid-hauling bike set-up anyway (say, if Matthew used the Roadrunner to drop Sir off at school in the morning on his way to work, but I needed to pick Sir up in the afternoon), but that’s for another post!

*We ultimately decided to part with the trailer this spring.  It was tempting to keep it as a back-up and for bad weather, but it really didn’t make sense — the money and garage space went to the Roadrunner.  I almost felt guilty selling it because having the child on the bike is just SO superior to pulling a trailer!
**More from Simply Bike on trailer vs. front seat here
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5 Responses to Biking with baby: Trailer vs. front seat vs. rear seat

  1. EcoCatLady says:

    I saw someone with a baby in a front seat on the bike path yesterday and it made me think of you.

    I have to say that those trailers scare me to death, and I’m just speaking from the perspective of someone who encounters people using them on the bike path. I think people ride WAY too fast with them… just yesterday we came upon a girl using one – she was riding fast – seemed to be over 15mph through a very narrow and twisty section of the bike path, and she was oblivious to the fact that the trailer was fishtailing wildly behind her. She was going the opposite direction as we were, and met us as she came around a very tight corner onto a narrow bridge – I seriously though all of us were gonna end up in the creek! And don’t EVEN get me started about the guy I saw once riding with one going well over 20mph with only one hand on the handlebars because he was busy talking on his cell phone. I seriously wanted to call child protective services on that guy!

    What do you think of those pull-behind, trail-along things?

    Sir is probably too young for that option, but I see them all the time. They don’t seem to fishtail as much as the trailers do… or maybe it’s just that they’re heavier and people can’t ride them as fast… or since the kids are older, the parents have had a few more years to become a bit more, ahem, sensible!

    • Melissa @ HerGreenLife says:

      Sounds like you encountered some of the folks who give cycling with kids a bad name!

      I think Sir might be big/old enough to make some trips using a trail-a-bike in about a year, which means it’s time to start researching!

  2. draedie says:

    We just got the IBert this spring and love it for biking with our little guy. It seems much nicer than the trailers, interaction-wise like you mentioned.

    • Melissa @ HerGreenLife says:

      Yay — glad you’re enjoying it! We’ll be loaning ours to another family, who I hope will love it as much as we did!

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