If you read the literature that comes with the average bicycle baby trailer, your reaction to actually hooking it up may be one of panic. Industry standard recommendation is not to even put the kid into a trailer until at least 12 months.
Personally, I find this a little ridiculous. By 12 months, many children are pulling themselves to standing positions or even walking. While there are certainly developmental concerns to be heeded before putting a kiddo in a trailer, that level of advancement is not necessary. At the same time, the people who rig up strange accommodations involving their carseats and the trailer are probably jumping the gun, and creating unstable riding situations.
With my first child, he didn’t land in the trailer for cycling purposes until about 10 months — he was born in the spring, so that first summer was not going to happen, regardless. My second child is a winter baby, and depending on her development, she may get into the trailer in time for fall 2011 — or wait until spring 2012, when she’ll be closer to 18 months.
My doctor says the 1-year recommendation is probably lawyer-driven, and based on a conservative expectation of infant development. Here are some physical signs that a child may be ready for a trailer ride:
- Able to sit up under his/her own power
- Good neck strength
- Ability to find a helmet that fits/trailer harness that is secure
Neck strength is probably the biggest factor, as the bike helmet adds some weight/awkwardness that neck strength is needed to deal with. The soft spots (fontanelles) on a baby’s skull are also a potential factor — but 12 months isn’t a particularly solid guideline around the soft spot, as they typically begin to close at 6 months but won’t completely grow together until sometime between the 9th and 18th month.
My recommendation is to speak to a medical professional about your child’s physical readiness for a trailer experience. Keep in mind that even with a nice child trailer, the ride in a child trailer is not especially smooth, even on the nicest trail. Every bump will be felt. When you feel comfortable putting the child in the trailer, try to choose smooth routes that will minimize the jostling of the trailer. It helps to have a doctor who is supportive of cycling, and whose response won’t be to freak out about the general safety of cycling.
Additional tips I offer based on personal experience:
- Build in fun stops, especially as the kiddo gets mobile. Parks are always a good choice.
- Carry snacks.
- Ride with a friend. Even if you have someone to call if you have a major mechanical or the like, it’s good to have a buddy with in case of an emergency where you can’t call or someone needs to hang on to the kiddo.
- Wear your damn helmet. It is not okay to make sure your kid has one and you do not. Being the adult means being a good example.
- Be sure your bike is in good condition. Tune-ups matter.
- Don’t try too long a ride the first few times out, between the kid getting used to stuff, and you getting used to the turning radius and weight.
Once we started with Child #1 in trailer, we found he liked to nap in the trailer, and sometimes sing. In nice weather these days, at nearly 3, he’s been known to march up to either me or his father holding his bicycle helmet to demand a ride in the trailer, and he also loves outings to the Thursday Night Races at the NSC Velodrome. We’re hoping to achieve similar result with his little sister, when she’s able to get on board — probably in early fall 2011.