A child seat is a great way to enjoy cycling with your young ones and introduce them to the pleasures of two-wheeled fun. Whether you are looking for a child seat for fun spins on the bridleway or the school/work commute, and whether you are looking for something for an older child or a young toddler, we’ve got the right child seat for you.
Read on to find out more about what kind of child seats are available and what you should look for when buying one.
When considering a child seat for your bike the first thing to think about is safety. All child seats must conform to relevant safety standards – in the UK the applicable standard is BS EN 14344:2004, the British Standard for “Child Seats for Cycles”. Seats which conform to this standard are designed to carry children weighing between 9–22kgs or 9-15kgs, depending on the design. Roughly speaking, 9 months is the youngest at which a child can be carried in a bike seat with around five years of age the upper limit (depending on the seat design).
Make sure your child is within the weight range for the seat you choose – the manufacturer’s specifications will include the recommended weight range – and don’t be tempted to put younger or older children in the seat. Kids below 9 months will not be able to support themselves and older ones will cause a weight imbalance and make the bike difficult to handle (and besides, they’ll complain about being too cramped).
NOTE: In the US, the relevant safety standard is ASTM F1625 – 00(2012), which is only approved for rear-mounted seats for children aged one and up.
Aside from the relevant safety standard, and ensuring your child falls within the weight range, there are a number of other things to look for when buying a child seat:
• A secure harness: Your child must be secured with a harness (ideally a five-point one) that has a childproof quick-release fastening, for obvious reasons. Younger children especially will often nod off in a bike seat, so they must be securely strapped in.
• Protection for little fingers and feet: Again it’s important to ensure that younger children cannot grab moving parts such as brakes or gears. Additionally, little feet can get trapped in spokes, causing the wheel to come to a sudden and possibly disastrous halt. Look for a bike seat with footrests that act as a shield between the child’s legs and the wheel, ideally with straps to secure your child’s feet.
• Ventilation and comfort: Your child needs to be comfortable so look for a seat with adequate ventilation and padding. Some bracket-mounted rear seats also claim an element of suspension to help protect your little one’s spine from jarring on rough surfaces.
• Overall protection: A child seat with a high back rest and wrap-around head rests will help to protect your loved on in the event of a fall. Of course, ensure that your child is always wearing a helmet when in the seat.
Finally your bike type will also influence the type of bike seat you choose and whether or not you will be able to mount one. Classic ‘diamond’ frame designs are the most suitable, such as with city bikes or non-suspension MTB bikes, while ‘step-through’ frames can also accommodate rear-mounted seats. In general, suspension MTBs and many race-orientated road bikes are not suitable for mounting child seats owing to irregular tube shaping (to which a mounting bracket cannot be fitted), narrow racing wheels (inadvisable to overload with extra weight) or suspension (mounting issues, interference between suspension path and seat position).
Fitting your child seat
It’s essential that your child seat is fitted securely, according to the manufacturer’s instructions, in order to help prevent accidents. Different types of bike seat will have different fitting methods – depending on whether they are rear- or front-mounted, and require a luggage rack or not (see below for an explanation of the common types of child seat).
Always be sure to carefully follow the manufacturer’s instructions when fitting a child seat, and if in doubt refer to the manufacturer for advice. All mounting brackets and screws must be tight, harnesses must be properly adjusted and the seat must be fitted in a way that it does not impede with steering or pedaling – if it does, you may need to find a seat that’s a better fit for your bike, or consider an alternative way to enjoy cycling with your child.
Riding with a child seat
While bringing your tot on a leisurely ride might seem like a great idea in principle, in practice riding with a bike-mounted child seat takes a little getting used to. The additional weight of the child and seat means more pedaling effort – you’ll certainly notice it while going up hills – while the placement of the seat to the front or rear can affect the balance and handling of the bike.
In particular, care must be taken when starting off on the bike – the extra weight will require more effort to build up momentum and taking off can be shaky when you’re not used to it – and when braking. You will need to factor in the extra weight when stopping, especially in wet conditions, as you will need a longer braking distance before you can safely come to a halt.
Of course, it also must be reiterated that the seat must be positioned in a way that it doesn’t affect steering or pedaling. If it does, go back to the drawing board.
If you can, it’s a good idea to practice riding with a child seat on a quiet, grassy area with no traffic – and maybe even considering replacing the child with a load of equivalent weight until you get used to the effect on balance and get into the habit of making the necessary adjustments.
There are two common types of child bike seats – front-mounted and rear-mounted (with or without luggage rack).
• Front-mounted: Front-mounted child seats affix to the top tube or via a bracket that attaches to the fork steerer tube between the headset and stem (this type is designed to turn when you turn the handlebars). The former work best with regular round tubes while the latter are incompatible with some kinds of headset/stem combination. Front-mounted seats have the advantage of putting the child closer to the rider (so they can chat, for example, and which also centres the bike’s balance a bit more) but are not designed for larger children over the age of three.
• Rear-mounted: Some rear-mounted child seats are designed to be mounted without a luggage rack, utilising specially-designed brackets to secure the seat to the seat tube. These have the added advantage (manufacturers claim) of offering an element of suspension to protect little spines. Other rear-mounted seats require the use of a luggage rack (usually sold separately) which in turn requires the presences of frame eyelets in order to be bolted to the frame. If you are looking at a rear-mounted seat that needs a rack, make sure you can put a rack on your bike, and also ensure that the maximum recommended load for that rack is not less than the combined weight of child and seat. Rear-mounted seats are sometimes regarded as the safer option owing to their increased size and security (harnesses, footrests etc) and they are suitable for children up to five years old, but they can be heavy and the positioning of the extra weight over the rear wheel will affect handling. Additionally, when choosing a rear child seat for your bike ensure that there are no compatibility issues with cable routing – gear and brake cables mounted on the seatstays (as opposed to the chainstays) can sometimes be problematic.