A guide to child bike seats
Riding with a child seat
Even if you’re used to riding with rear panniers, a child seat takes some getting used to. Panniers put the weight around or between the axles. Child seats put the weight above and – more significantly – behind the rear axle, which destabilises the bike. Get a plumb line to check where the base of the seat is relative to the rear axle. The shorter the distance it is behind the axle, the better the handling will be. If it’s level or in front, so much the better. There’s no hard and fast maximum distance, but keeping it under 10cm is a reasonable rule of thumb.
Before you ride with your child on the seat try loading it up with a heavy weight, such as a 7-10kg sack of potatoes, and take it for a ride. That will give you a clear idea of how different the bike will feel with a passenger on the seat. At first, you will wobble, particularly at slow speeds. Don’t be tempted to stand up on the pedals to power uphill. The bike will handle better with your weight on the saddle, so change down the gears and spin instead. If that fails, get off. It’s easier than you might think to fall when you’re going up a steep hill. (I did it twice in eight years of child seat use. The wraparound seat prevented any injury to my passenger both times, but it was still a nasty shock – and I took some nasty gouges.)
You can stabilise the unbalancing effect of a rear seat to some degree by using low-rider panniers on the front of the bike and filling them with the picnic, toddler paraphernalia or shopping. The extra weight around the front wheel will steady the steering and keep the tyre on the tarmac – especially uphill, where the lightly-loaded front end can otherwise become skittish.
Front seats don’t have such a dramatic effect on handling, but it’s still worth taking the aforementioned spin with the spuds so that you get a feel for riding the loaded bike.
Unless you have a step-through frame, you will need to practice getting on and off the bike with the child seat in place. If you swing your leg over the saddle like you’re used to doing, you’ll risk kicking your passenger in the head. Instead you need to step over the top tube.