A child seat bolts to the back or front of your bike so that you can carry your toddler as a passenger. It's the most inexpensive option for family cycling, and one that the Cycle to Work scheme embraces.
Most child seats are suitable for children aged between about nine months and four years. The lower limit is dependent on the ability of your child to sit up unsupported. The upper limit is not age but weight, typically 22kg.
The majority of child seats sit your child behind you. Some sit your child in front, between your arms. Rear seats are a bit safer in a fall, as you are less likely to land on your child, and offer slightly better protection from wind-chill because you're in front. Front seats offer a better view for your passenger and affect the balance of the bike less. However, they may require an awkward, knees-out pedalling style.
Rear seats are either rack-fitting or cantilevered from the seat tube. Rack-fitting seats fasten to pannier rack that's included with the seat. With the seat removed, you can use this rack to carry bags. Your bike must have threaded eyelets by the rear dropouts to fit the rack safely. Cantilevered child seats employ a big bracket that bolts to the seat tube; a two-pronged rack supporting the seat fits into this. Rack-fitting seats are more solid and stable, while cantilevered seats offer some 'suspension' for your child. Front seats, meanwhile, are smaller and typically bolt to the bike's top tube or head tube. Whichever type you choose, a second rack or bracket lets you use the same seat on your bike and your partner's.
While child seats can be fitted to most bikes, bike handling is better on a sturdy hybrid or trekking bike with a top tube. The frame is unlikely to shimmy like step-through ones, and the wider, flat handlebar provides useful steering leverage. Note that some frame materials, such as carbon fibre and lighter weight aluminium, can be crushed by clamps used by child seats.
Riding with a passenger takes some getting used to. Have a trial run with a big (5-10kg) sack of potatoes strapped in the seat to get an idea. Practise getting on and off the bike by stepping over the top tube rather than swinging your leg over the saddle; you'll kick you passenger if you do that!
Most child seats use a three-point harness that goes over the shoulders and buckles between the legs. Adjust this with care so it will still support a child who slumps against the straps. An extra belt or bar across the waist adds useful support. Secure foot restraints are critical to stop little feet slipping into the spokes, while saddles with springs can squash inquisitive fingers – avoid.
Children fall asleep easily in child seats. They'll sleep more comfortably, and be more stable, if the seat can be made to recline. Some seats are contoured at the top to accept a helmeted head better. Additional comfort is possible by using fatter tyres on your bike (if they can be fitted).
Here's a handful of seats you might consider.
Topeak Babysitter II
The seat slides onto the supplied rack using Topeak's QuickTrack system, so you can attach one of Topeak's trunk bags here with the seat removed. The Babysitter is unusual in providing suspension: springs between seat and rack give about an inch of travel. A six-point safety harness and padded grab bar make it difficult to wriggle out of. It's available with a disc brake compatible rack for a fiver more. Extra rack: from £29.99.
Yepp Maxi Easyfit Rear
This is the rack-fitting version of Yepp's Maxi rear seat, and at this price it comes with the matching Easyfit rear rack. The seat's five-point harness and foot supports are good, and there's an integral lock. Lots of accessories are available, including clip-in letters to brand the seat with your child's name. Extra rack: £21.99
WeeRide Safefront Deluxe
The WeeRide is a front seat that fits onto a flat bar that fixes between your bike's head tube and seatpost. This stays in place, although the seat goes on an off it easily. The lectern-like platform at the front gives a sleepy child something to rest on. If you find balance a problem with a rear seat, this is a more stable option, especially if you hit any bumps. Like most front seats, it can compromise pedalling. Extra mounting bar: £25.
Avenir Snooze Deluxe Reclining
This cantilevered seat is Raleigh's top of the range. A five-point harness should keep even the wriggliest or sleepiest toddler firmly in place, and it can be tilted back for slump-free sleeping. As usual, the footrests are adjustable and the padding easily removable and washable. Extra bracket: £15.99.
Beto Rack Fit Deluxe
While it's called 'deluxe', this is relatively inexpensive for a rack-fitting seat. The backrest of the foam-padded seat can be set at three different angles, and the headrest is adjustable too. There's a grab bar for your passenger to hold onto when awake. The seat slides easily onto and off the supplied pannier rack, where a knurled knob fixes it into place.
The Siesta allows the naps its name suggests, as it reclines by 20 degrees. The top of the seat accommodates a helmeted head. It's a cantilevered seat that, like most, will clear a pannier rack if you have one fitted. There's plenty of foot room and security, and the buckle on the chest harness makes it easier to extract a sleeping passenger. Extra bracket: from £24.99. Lots of accessories available too.
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