Bike Trailer Buying Guide
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One of the great pleasures of parenting is sharing activities with your kids, including bike riding. Here’s a guide to bike trailers (our choice for safety) and bicycle-mounted child seats that will let you take your child on your two-wheeled adventures long before she’s ready for training wheels.
There are three basic ways to tote your child along on a bike ride: seats that mount on your bike, bike trailers, and trailer cycles.
Whichever you choose, make sure your child is wearing a bicycle helmet. Children under 1 aren’t ready for a helmet and therefore shouldn’t be taken on bike rides in any kind of seat or trailer. Check out our bike helmet buying advice and kid and toddler bike helmet Ratings (available to subscribers).
Bicycle-Mounted Child Seats
These are placed behind or in front of a cyclist’s seat and can be used with children ages 1 to 5. (They face forward.) The added weight of a bicycle-mounted seat can affect the handling of the bike. This can be unnerving or just annoying, depending on your cycling abilities. A child would have a fall of about 3 feet from a mounted bike seat, which increases the possibility and potential severity of an injury.
These look like little sidecars attached to a bike’s rear axle or frame. They can carry children ages 1 to 6 years. Some models carry one child; others can carry two. All models have a weight limit that ranges from 85 to 125 pounds (this range sounds quite high for kids who are only 1 to 6 years old). Exceeding the limit can compromise the bike trailer’s structure.
Children are seated, strapped into the carriers, and usually enclosed in a zippered compartment that protects them from the elements. Unlike bike seats, trailers are low to the ground, which can reduce possible injuries from falls. But this low profile makes them difficult for drivers to see. Bike trailers should only be used on trails, never where there is vehicular traffic. Even then, they should have an orange safety flag that’s 3½ feet to 7 feet high.
Most models have a hitching device that will keep the trailer steady if the bike tips over. One example is the Chariot Bike Trailer Hitch Arm Lollipop.
Some bike trailers can also be converted to hiking or jogging strollers by purchasing an additional kit, something to think about when shopping. For example, the In Step Trailer Conversion Kit provides an easy way to transform a trailer into a stroller. If you’re an occasional cyclist or have limited storage space in your home, a bike trailer probably isn’t worth the trouble or expense. Some models fold, which can make them more appealing if space is tight. But if you love to spend your weekends on bike trails, a trailer is a great way to get your little one (or two) in on the fun.
Consider, too, that a bike trailer loaded with a couple of kids can weigh up to 100 pounds. Do you have the bike skills and stamina to haul the load? The challenge will be even greater if you ride on hilly trails.
These are one-wheel extensions that attach to the seat post or a special rack on a bike for an adult. They’re a good choice when your child is slightly older, would like to do some pedaling, but can coast when he gets tired. Trailer cycles don’t have brakes. They’re designed so that they won’t affect your cycling (think of them as a coaster wheel in back of your bike). Most are meant to be used by children ages 3 to 6, although there are some models, like the Trail-a-Bike, about $320, that are designed for children ages 7 to 10. Some trailer cycles are also foldable for easier storage and carrying. Most models require the child to sit on a regular bike seat and hold on to fixed handlebars. Others, like the Weehoo i-Go pedal bike trailer (about $400, for kids 4 to 9 years old), require the child to sit in a seat with a back, and there are no handlebars.
No matter which seat, trailer, or pedal trailer you buy, carefully follow assembly and installation instructions. This is crucial to your child’s safety. If you are at all unsure, have someone at a reputable bicycle shop do the job or ask them to show you.
It’s also a good idea to check with your pediatrician before you take your child out on a bike—no matter what kind of accessory you select—to be sure that he or she is developmentally ready for the experience.
We prefer bike trailers but if you want to use a child’s bike seat, we think it’s better to go for a rear-mounted version. Front-mounted seats can interfere with steering the bike, and with pedaling. While we think bike trailers are inherently safer, a bike seat can be fine if installed and used properly. Ultimately, the choice comes down to what makes you and your child most comfortable.
To make shopping easier, you first should decide which type of tot toter is right for you. Here are the types of bike seats and trailers to consider.
To make shopping easier, you first should decide which type of trailer or seat is right for you. Children should always wear a properly fitting bicycle helmet when riding. If they’re too small for one, they’re not ready for a bicycle ride. Here are the types to consider:
Front-Mounted Bike Seats
Some are designed to be mounted at the front of an adult bicycle, others behind. Both types allow a child to face forward. One benefit of a bike seat is that it allows your child a good view of the passing scenery. They’re suitable for children ages 1 to 5. Any rear-mounted seat you buy should meet ASTM International safety standard F1625, which covers only rear-mounted bicycle seats. (There is no standard for front-mounted seats.) Certification is usually noted on the packaging or in the manual. Rear-mounted seats offer high backs with wraparound sides that form a protective shell. With both rear- and front-mounted models, there should also be footrests to hold and shield your child’s feet so they don’t get caught in the wheel or brake. There should also be straps that secure your child’s shoulders and waist.
Front-mounted seats have a lower profile without a high back or wraparound sides. One advantage is that you can see your child as you’re riding, so you’ll quickly notice if he naps or gets squirmy and restless. The WeeRide Kangaroo Child Seat, around $50, is a good example. Some parents find it easier to get their child in and out of a front-mounted seat. And if the bike tips, your arms will probably break your child’s fall. But be sure he isn’t carrying anything during the ride because it could get caught in the front spokes if he drops it, causing a fall. Another concern is that your child could grab the handlebars and interfere with steering.
Rear-Mounted Bike Seat
A rear-mounted seat is slightly less stable than a front-mounted one but usually has more back support. A child in this type of seat is more likely to suffer injuries in the event of a crash. The Bell Classic Child Carrier, which sells for about $30, has a five-point harness and footrests to keep a child’s feet away from the back wheels.
Bike trailers offer space for a child to have a toy or drink to keep him happily occupied while you’re pedaling. Some bike trailers, for example, the Burley SOLO, are designed to carry one child, while others, including the Croozer 525 Double, can carry two. Keep in mind that a double model with two kids aboard takes more strength and stamina to haul. Double models are wider, too, making them trickier to maneuver, and you’ll have to be even more careful to make sure it doesn’t hit anything while you ride.
Trailers attach to an adult bike either at the rear axle or at the frame. They have a rigid metal frame encased in a sturdy fabric that zips up, and mesh vent panels and clear plastic windows. The enclosure provides protection from flying road debris, and the frame should form a full cage to protect your child in case the trailer tips over. It’s also important that the trailer have a rotating hitch so it remains upright, should the bicycle tip over, and an orange safety flag 3½ feet to 7 feet high.
These are essentially a third wheel with a seat that attaches to a seat post or rack at the back of an adult bike. They have pedals that let your child contribute some kid power, or he can just coast if he feels like it. Some models, like the WeeRide Co-Pilot Bike Trailer, about $80, look like a kid’s bike with a hitching bar instead of a front wheel. They have an upright seat and fixed handlebars attached to the hitching bar. Others, like the Weehoo-iGoo, about $400, look more like an adult’s recumbent bike, with lower seats, backs, and no handlebars. Trailers bikes are meant to carry about 80 to 125 pounds (which sounds high), depending on the model. Designed for children ages 4 to 9, these trailers have a regular bicycle seat and fixed handlebars.
Are you an ardent bike rider or just someone who tools around town? The bike and trailer features you’ll want to consider will depend on your riding style as well as space and convenience. Here are some to consider.
Whether you’re using a bicycle-mounted seat or a trailer, you should have a padded, adjustable five-point harness to securely restrain your child. Models designed for two children should have two harnesses. Some rear-mounted bicycle seats, such as the Topeak BabySeat II, also have a cross bar that goes across the child’s lap, which is an added safety feature and gives her something to hold onto during the ride.
If you need to store your trailer in a small space, such as a hall closet, look for quick-folding mechanisms and quick-release wheels, such as those on the Chariot Classic Carrier.
Some trailers attach by an axle mount that clamps directly to the rear axle of the bike. Others use a seat-post mount that uses a quick-release clamp and shims (thin strips to adjust clearance) that go around the seat post. Still other trailers use a stay mount that clamps directly to the bike frame.
Especially critical is the hitch and its arm, which connect the trailer to your bike. This mechanism should have a backup, such as a strap, to prevent the trailer from breaking free of the bike.
Better hitching arms are designed so the trailer will remain upright if the bike falls. Some have springs that allow the bike to twist away from the trailer in the event of an accident, leaving the trailer upright. Some use a rotating ball hitch, another method for keeping the trailer upright if the bike falls over. Some manufacturers have hitches that are specific to their own bikes and trailers, so it helps to have a universal hitch, which can be used with most bicycles. Third-wheel trailer cycles have a specially designed hitch beneath the parent’s bicycle seat. They can be set to swivel or lock in place, and are detachable.
So you’ve been riding with your child on a 10-mile trail and now want to jog along a path. Many bike trailers offer conversion kits, available from the manufacturer, to transform a bike trailer into a stroller for jogging, hiking, or even a cross-country skiing. One example is the Burley 2 Wheel Stroller Kit, about $90.
Most trailer frames are made of steel; the more expensive models might be made of alloy, which is lighter. Make sure that the frame is sturdy. Better-designed models offer a roll cage (perimeter frame) to provide better protection in the event of a rollover. But they won’t protect your child from a collision with a vehicle, so ride only on trails where there is no vehicular traffic.
Trailer wheels are usually made with steel rims, which are more likely to rust, or aluminum rims, which won’t rust and are also lighter. Larger wheels--16 or 20 inches--will handle bumps more smoothly, but smaller wheels offer more maneuverability. It’s a good idea for the wheels to have reflectors in the spokes, and high-quality inflatable tires that allow the trailer to roll more easily on uneven surfaces.
You want to be visible to other cyclists, joggers, and anyone else you encounter along bike trails and paths. So look for side and/or rear reflective strips or reflectors for your trailer.
For bicycle-mounted seats, a padded seat like the one on the CoPilot Limo will give your child a more comfortable ride. In a rear-mounted seat, your child will be looking at your back and might shift her weight, which could throw you off balance. A front-mounted seat allows your child a better view of the passing scenery, but we don’t find them as safe as rear-mounted seats or bike trailers.
With a bike trailer, there should be adequate legroom and good back support for your child. Pricier trailers usually offer more comfortable seat padding, reclining seats, and even seat dividers on two-passenger models.
Weather and Trail Protection
Many trailers come with a plastic or fabric shield to shelter your child from sun, wind, rain, and road debris kicked up in the bicycle’s wake. Tinted windows will provide additional protection from sun glare and keep the trailer’s interior cooler. If the shield encloses the entire trailer, be sure there’s adequate ventilation, like the mesh windows you’ll find on the Burley Encore.
Bike carriers simply aren’t an option for children under 1 year of age. The American Academy of Pediatrics is clear on this. Some states, like New York, prohibit children younger than 1 from riding in bike trailers or bike seats. The jostling of a bike, or being pulled by a bike on rough roads, simply isn’t good for a young baby’s developing brain. And a young baby isn’t strong enough to support her head while wearing a helmet. Older children should wear helmets whenever they’re on a bike, or being transported by bike.
"We love kids getting out with their parents," says Dr. Beth Ebel, a member of the AAP Committee on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention. "Parents biking with kids is wonderful for promoting a lifetime of healthy, active living."
But there are some rules to follow, she cautions. "The helmet has to be on every single time," she says. "We recommend that children under 12 months of age not be carried on a bike. It’s a physiological issue." Ebel also says that parents shouldn’t ride a bike while carrying a child in a backpack or a front sling. "It affects your center of gravity on a bike," she explains.
Whenever you take your child on a bike, be sure he’s wearing a properly fitting bicycle helmet that meets standards set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. If she’s too small to wear a helmet, don’t take her out on a bike.
Don’t forget that bike trailers are off-road vehicles. They’re meant to be used in parks and on bicycle paths where you’re not going to encounter cars.
There are no federal standards for trailers or bike seats. The AAP recommends that any trailer or bike-mounted child seat meet the safety standards of ASTM International. Look for a sticker on the product or the packaging that indicates compliance. It’s also a good idea to buy trailers and bike seats from reputable bicycle stores and manufacturers. Be careful about what you might find in toy stores, because those items might not meet the same safety standards.
Bike seats and bike trailers are often found at tag and garage sales, but secondhand equipment could put your child at risk. If you must use a secondhand bike seat, you should check the CPSC website , which lists product recalls, so you don’t buy a dangerous or unreliable model. Also check for missing pieces of hardware, and look for signs of an accident or excessive wear and tear. The owner’s manual should be available. If not, go to the manufacturer’s website to be sure that you’re attaching the bike seat or trailer correctly.
Before you buy a bike trailer or bicycle-mounted seat, do a test drive (not with your child, though). Most reputable bike stores that sell trailers, bike seats, and trailer cycles will allow you to take a spin. Substitute a sack of potatoes for your child. Return to the store with your child when you’re ready to buy to be sure that the seat or trailer will be a good fit. Keep your receipt in case the product doesn’t work once you get it home.
You should also make sure that whatever model you select works for your particular bicycle.
This 30-year-old company based in Eugene, Ore., promotes active outdoor fun by designing and developing bicycling products that provide functional design, safety, and many years of use. It also makes conversion kits, accessories, and replacement parts for its products. Available at Amazon and specialty stores, and on the company’s website.
This privately-held family-run business is solely dedicated to the outdoor transportation of children, which includes a variety of bike trailers and even a side-carrier. Based in Calgary, Alberta, the company also sells conversion kits and accessories for its products. Available at bike shops, Amazon, and the company’s website.
Croozer makes bike trailers not only for children, but for the family pet and cargo. See company’s website for availability.
A division of Dorel Juvenile Products Group, InStep is available at Target, Toys "R" Us, Burlington Coat Factory, Buy Buy Baby, juvenile product retailers, and on the company’s website.
For 19 years, this cycling-accessory company has focused on performance, style, light weight, and durability in its cycling accessories. Available at bike shops and the company’s website.
Founded in 1986, this Canadian company strives to make riding a bicycle easier and more fun for the whole family. This idea spawned the Adams Trail-A-Bike, a name that is now synonymous with an entire category of bicycles. The line now includes six models of Trail-A-Bike, a range of accessories and add-ons, and the Runner—which introduces young children to riding a bicycle. See company website for availability.
WeeRide provides safe and reliable cycling comfort for the entire family with its center-mounted child carrier, tow-behind trailers, and cycling trainers. Available at sporting goods stores, Target, Walmart, Amazon and the company’s website.
Based in Golden, Colo., the company’s first bike trailer was designed by the bike-riding parents of twins. After a three-hour ride, they realized that riding with the children was effortless, plus the children enjoyed pedaling and being part of the adventure. See company website for availability.