A car isn’t essential to ferry children around for local journeys. With the right bike or accessories you can easily cycle together instead
As schools return in September, many parents will breathe a sigh of relief… and every commuter on the road will notice an upsurge in traffic. Government statistics from 2021 show that 43% of 5-10 year olds are driven to school, along with 30% of 11-16 year olds. That’s a lot of cars.
It doesn’t have to be this way. You can do the school run or nursery drop-off by bike and then carry on to work. It’s greener and cheaper. And it’s even cheaper if you get the bike, child seat or child trailer through Cyclescheme. That’spermittedas long as the bike or accessory is one that you’ll be using; you can’t get your child a bike with Cyclescheme.
Prices below are approximate recommended retail prices. Age ranges are also approximate; development, height and weight are the real criteria.
Age range: 9 months to 4 years
Price range: £50-£150
The cheapest option for transporting little ones is a child seat, either behind or in front of you. Front and rear seats at the same time is possible but awkward, although two rear seats are fine on most longtail cargo bikes. Front seats balance the child’s weight better (on non-cargo bikes); rear ones allow more natural pedalling. Both are best fitted to bikes with a relatively upright riding position, a stiff frame that won’t shimmy and a flat or backswept handlebar. Invest in a second rack or bracket if you want to swap the seat between bikes.
Your child needs to be able to sit up unaided to use a child seat. A sleeping child will still slump but all good seats have an effective harness to keep them in place, and more expensive ones often recline. Some rack-fitting seats convert to freestanding seats and can be removed with your child in place so you don’t need to wake them. Footwells with straps are essential to keep small feet away from spokes. Make sure clothing can’t get trapped either.
Children can get chilly in seats as there’s no weather protection, and unlike you they’re not pedalling. Wrap them up warm. Rain ponchos are available for children in seats. Take care when mounting and dismounting. If you swing your leg over the saddleyou’ll kick a rear seat passenger. Practise stepping over the top tube instead.
Age range: 3 months to 5 years
Price range: £150-£1,000
A child trailer is a little buggy with one or two hammock-style seats, which attaches to your bike with an articulated towing arm. A trailer puts your passenger(s) lower down than a child seat but the trailer’s width encourages drivers to give you a wider berth. A trailer is more stable, too, and has a roll-cage for your strapped-in passengers if you do manage to tip it – something that only tends to happen on bumpy off-road trails or if you clip a kerbed corner at reckless speed.
While the minimum age for most trailers is about 9 months, some have optional padded seat inserts for infants as young as 3 months. As well as your passengers, child trailers have cargo capacity for bags of shopping, toys, spare clothing or any other paraphernalia. The trailer’s contents – children and luggage – are protected from the wind and rain by a canopy, which can usually be rolled up for ventilation in better weather. Trailers generally fold down for storage. Many can be converted into a stroller with the addition of a nose wheel and a grab bar. More expensive ones may have suspension, which improves passenger comfort.
A trailer doesn’t affect the handling of the towing bike much; you just need to develop an awareness of its width. It can add a lot of weight, however, so you need a towing bike with good brakes and low gears – or an e-bike. A trailer used at night must be fitted with a red rear light, positioned centrally or towards the righthand side.
Age range: 4-11 years
Price range: £150-£450
Sometimes known as a tag-along, a trailer cycle is essentially half a child’s bike plus a towing arm. Attached to the adult bike, this creates an articulated tandem. Your child can pedal – or just freewheel and be towed – but you’re in control of steering and braking. Children are ready for a trailer cycle whenever they can be relied on to hold onto a handlebar with both hands and not doze off.
Budget trailer cycles attach at the seatpost (ideally pivoting behind the seatpost on a vertical axis rather than using the seatpost as a pivot point), while more expensive ones attach to a rear rack. Rack-fitting trailer cycles tend to be more stable and track the towing bike better rather than cutting corners. Whichever you choose, it’s worth investing in a second hitch or rack if you want to use the trailer cycle with more than one bike.
Most trailer cycles are singlespeed. Gears aren’t essential but do enable your child to contribute more to the ride over a great range of terrain. They also help your child learn about using gears, something they can transfer to their own bike. To grow with your child, the trailer cycle needs to have plenty of seat and handlebar adjustment. A full-length rear mudguard, preferably with a mudflap, is essential for the towing bike to keep your child dry. Don’t forget a mudguard for the trailer cycle itself. The trailer cycle must have its own rear light when used in the dark. A handlebar mirror is useful for the towing bike so you can check on your child as you ride.
Age range: 3-11+ years
approx price: £1,000-£4,000+
A tandem is a two-seater bike that sits one rider behind the other. The stronger rider controls the steering, braking and gear shifting and normally sits at the front, although there are models where the rear rider does this: semi-recumbents, with a chair-style front seat (a great option for a disabled rider); and uprights with linkage steering. Both riders pedal and, unless there’s an intermediary freewheel, must pedal in synch. Toe-clips are thus a good idea for children on tandems, to prevent their feet slipping off and being whacked by the relentlessly turning pedals.
Children can ride tandems in one of two ways. An adult tandem can be adapted with kiddy cranks, which bring the pedals up to the saddle via a bolt-on bottom bracket and an extra length of chain. Or there are child-back tandems from companies such as ThornandCirce, which have a smaller frame at the rear so the saddle can come down to reach the pedals. Both companies also produce triplets (three seats), and Circe makes quads (four seats). A tandem (or triplet or quad) can also be fitted with a childseat and/or tow a trailer or trailer cycle, enabling one adult to ride with a number of children.
Children may be ready for a tandem slightly earlier than a trailer cycle, as it’s more stable and can be equipped with DIY side bars similar to those of cargo bikes. (You need an extra ‘stoker handlebar’, fitted upside down to the rear seatpost, plus a couple of broom handles; tandem specialists can advise.) Tandems are hard work on hills, so low gears (or electric assistance) are very useful. Good brakes are important, too.
Age range: 3 months to 11+ years
Price range: £1,800-£9,000
Cargo cycles are designed to haul loads but can also carry passengers. The three most common types are: longtail bikes, which have an extended rear rack behind the rider; box bikes (sometimes known by their Dutch name, bakfiets), which have a box or platform in front of the rider; and box trikes, which have an even bigger box in between the two front wheels. Many cargo cycles are electrically assisted. Unless you’re fit or live somewhere flat, this is a better option for family cycling.
Some cargo cycles can be fitted with baby seats, similar to those for cars, and can carry infants as young as 3 months. All take children from 9 months, either in a conventional child seat or on a padded, safety-harness-equipped bench seat. Maximum age depends on the design; many longtail bikes will carry adults. Most cargo cycles will carry at least two children – in childseats or an a one-behind-the-other bench on a longtail or on a side-by-side bench seat in a box bike. Box trikes, meanwhile, can often carry four small children, sitting side by side on facing benches. You may also be able to add a conventional child seat, trailer or trailer cycle – in which case you’lldefinitely want electric assistance.
Many cargo bikes have optional rain covers, which offer the same kind of weather protection as child trailer. And like trailers, they have lots of additional load-carrying space. Aside from the purchase price, the main issue with cargo cycles is parking. If you don’t have a garage, a metal shed – one of those for garden equipment or motorcycles – is the next best thing.