A guide to child bike seats
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Bicycle child seats should offer full back and head support. Even then, a sleeping child’s neck won’t be well supported so it’s best if the seat also reclines. If it does, you can also use an inflatable, horseshoe-shaped neck pillow (from baby shops, and intended for use in car seats) for even better support.
Some kind of seat padding is essential, and it should be readily removable so you can wash it. Recently potty-trained kids will wet themselves at some point, usually when you forget to bring spare pants and trousers! For greater comfort, use fatter tyres on your bike and run them at a slightly lower pressure; the bigger air pocket in the tyres will ‘eat’ bumps and absorb vibration better.
Off-road, stick to smooth tracks to prevent bouncing your child around. Save mountain biking proper until your child is old enough for his or her own bike, or at least the back of a tandem. A fall off-road at an early age could deter your child from cycling even if it doesn’t result in serious injury, while shaken baby syndrome is a risk for infants forced to endure choppy singletrack. A youngster in a child seat can’t move around to absorb impacts like you and so will feel every jolt. It’s common sense, really.
Weather protection is also essential. Children on child seats get cold very easily as they’re not generating heat like the person doing the cycling. Put at least one extra layer on your child than on you – fleece-lined all-in-one outdoor romper suits are good, as are salopettes in winter.
When cycling in Britain you’ll also need rain protection. Soggy kids can get chilled quickly. You could adapt a buggy rain cover or a canoe spray deck, or you can buy a dedicated child seat cape from Edinburgh Bicycle Co-op (£15, www.edinburghbicycle.com). This will help keep the wind off as well as the rain.
In summer, children in seats burn easily – especially on the back of the neck if they slump forward. Use plenty of high factor barrier cream. On sunnier days you might even want to fit a cap under their helmet – a traditional cotton cycling cap for adults fits surprisingly well.
Flies and wasps can freak out small children, who often attract them by being sticky. Take wet wipes on any ride that will involve eating or use some kind of repellent.
Small-wheeled folding bikes tend to handle poorly when fitted with a child seat, even where this is possible (usually by fitting a cantilevered seat).
Recumbent cycles don’t have the seat tube that some seats require, but any bike or trike that can be fitted with a conventional rear carrier rack can take rack-fitting seats.
Tandems can be fitted with rear child seats and are much less affected by handling issues. Upright tricycles with two wheels at the back can take two child seats between the wheels, facing forwards or back.