Wednesday, June 4, 2014

When can I start biking with a baby?

Heading to Fit 4 Two class with B.
I asked myself (& Google) this question about three years ago & I hear it a lot from other parents: When can I get my baby on a bike? In fact, one of my friends asked me recently on Facebook, & after typing out a response, I realized I should probably turn it into a blog post because it was so long. So here's my answer to the question, from the perspective of a cycling parent. I'll tell you now that I am not going to give you a definitive answer on when you can put your baby on a bike. I don't claim to be an expert; this is my experience, & my opinions on the matter.

We started riding with Linnaeus in the trailer when he was 9-10 months old. Bronte we had in there at 7-8 months for really short trips of 5-10 minutes. Our recent ride to Spanish Banks was her longest trip so far (about 45 mins each way) & she's just about 9 months.

The info you read online seems to be mainly based on bike gear companies who are afraid of litigation, so they give you very conservative ages like 1-2 years old. There's also the helmet issue--here in BC, all cyclists must wear helmets or face a fine. Helmets aren't made for little heads smaller than 43cm, which is about the size of my kids at 8-9 months, but they've got bigger than average craniums!

I don't think that riding in the trailer is inherently more dangerous to a baby's spine or neck or whatever than being in a stroller on a bumpy path would be. There is the issue of the helmet adding some weight, but I felt like B was able to hold her head well with it when we started, as was L.

I also keep in mind that newborns regularly ride on bikes in the Netherlands, either in baby carriers strapped to their parents (see image here), or in their car seat in a bakfiets (image here), & there is no epidemic of shaken baby syndrome in that country (or whatever it is that people are afraid of when talking about babies in bike trailers).

As for the danger of getting hit by a car, you can't really compare Vancouver to, say, Amsterdam, as the cycling environment here is much different. However, I find that drivers generally give me a lot of space when I use the trailer because it's easy to see & very obviously means I have a young child with me.

If you want some concrete numbers, a Vancouver Sun article from last year looked at the safety of cycling compared to walking or driving:

A recent analysis compared the fatality rate by mode of travel in B.C. There were 14 deaths per 100 million trips for bicycling, 15 for walking and 10 for driving – remarkably similar. Per 100 million kilometres travelled, there were three deaths for bicycling, seven for walking and one for driving. 

When you look at the stats per distance travelled, walking comes out as twice as danerous as cycling & driving as three times safer. However, three deaths compared to one per 100 MILLION KM is still a very small number. Most people don't think twice about walking with their babies from the day they're born, nor do they wear helmets or other safety gear when they do so.

So the answer to the question--when can I put my baby on a bike or in a trailer?--is it depends. If you plan to put them in a helmet, where & how long you plan to ride with them, plus their physical development are all factors. For helmets, their head needs to be big enough that the helmet will not slip around or fall off. You can put a hat on underneath a helmet to make it fit better, but head size is pretty important. In terms of development, a baby who's 3-4 months old is probably not able to sit up on their own, meaning they wouldn't be very stable in most bike trailers or baby seats. However, you could do as the Dutch do & put a car seat in the baby trailer or bakfiets. If you're doing really short rides with your baby--5-10 minutes to the store or whatever--you probably won't have to worry about them falling asleep & flopping over. & you can 'customize' the trailer seat with a cushion or foam as we've done to make the harness fit better & keep the baby in a better position.

Lastly, I thought I'd offer a great post I found on this subject here: Baby's First Bike Tour: At What Age?  Though I wish there were a black & white answer, this is just one of the many decisions you need to make on your own as a parent, based on what works best for you & your baby.

Now I turn it over to you: when did you/do you plan to start riding with your child? What were your biggest concerns? I'd love to hear your comments!

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  1. With our eldest we started at 8 months. Now, her sister is 3 months old and we're looking for biking solutions. Hard to imagine summer in Vancouver without lots of family biking.

    1. Yes! I know exactly what you mean. Once the weather got nice, I was just itching to ride with Bronte. Hope you can figure out something that works for you!

  2. With the chariot and its newborn sling, you could start pretty early! We didn't have one, but friends had their little girl in while she was still pretty flopsy, and it seemed to support and cradle her pretty nicely. My kids have teeny heads, honestly we just had probably less than 100% effective helmets at the beginning, just added more padding and a hat and similar to your info on the "dangers" of walking (!) we figured that statistically driving somewhere was far more likely to result in injury/accidents than biking anyway. And used common sense, didn't really go where there wasn't a designated bike route.

    1. I have heard of those Chariot slings & some made by Weber too--which is mentioned in the article I linked to above.

      Having smaller heads makes it difficult--I have a friend whose child is very small for her age & didn't fit a helmet until she was three, I think, even with extra padding. Seems like if we're required to wear them, there should be helmets that fit all of us, no?

      Statistics on accident rates are tricky--there are far more injuries in cars, but that's because there are far more trips made & kilometres driven in cars. In any case, statistics are only part of the picture when you're deciding when to start riding, right? I agree with you: common sense is definitely a big factor.

  3. You missed this possibility:

    Greetings from the Netherlands!

    1. I've seen that one--thanks for posting the link!


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