Bicycle-mounted seats are mounted behind or in front of a cyclist's seat and can transport a child who is 1 to 5 years old or so. In both seats, the child faces forward. They're potentially less safe than trailers, which attach to a bike's rear axle or frame and can carry children 1 through 6-year-olds or so. They provide some protection to passengers because children are seated, strapped in, and usually enclosed in a zippered compartment. (See more specifics in the Types section.)
Don't buy a bike trailer or a bike seat until your baby is at least 1 year old. We don't recommend bike trailers and bike seats for children younger than that because they may not be physically equipped to withstand the forces they'll be exposed to when riding in them. Children younger than a year old can't support their heads properly while wearing a helmet, as all riders should. Choose based on your needs, riding ability, and where you're riding. Trailers are "off-road vehicles," use them only in parks and on safe, smooth trails where there's no risk of encounters with cars. Follow the manufacturer's recommendations regarding the maximum weight, which is usually up to 100 pounds.
The better bike trailers have sturdy construction, tinted windows, a comfortable interior, and a wide wheelbase. But before you buy, ask yourself whether you will use the trailer enough to justify the price. If you think you'll use it only occasionally, buy the most durable trailer you can find at the low-end price. Also, consider how much weight you'll tow. If the weight of the bike trailer plus the passenger or passengers exceeds 50 pounds, you may start to feel like a beast of burden. Pedaling uphill can be especially difficult. At that point, maybe it's time for kids to get their own bikes.
Take your cycling ability into consideration. If you opt for a bicycle-mounted seat, you might find a rear-mounted seat with a child in tow unnerving and exhausting to use. If you're a novice or not in top shape, you'd probably be better off with a front-mounted seat. If you go with a bike trailer, ride with only one child at a time if you're an infrequent rider. Keep your receipt in case you want to return your bike trailer or seat for any reason, including the possibilities that the trailer or seat doesn't fit your bike or impedes your ability to pedal or turn the handlebars comfortably. Many bike trailers and mounted seats are also under manufacturer warranty. Send in the registration card and hold on to warranty information so you can refer to it. That small step can also help the manufacturer to contact you in the event of a recall. Finally, have your child wear a lightweight, well-fitting bike helmet (see our bike helmets buying guide).
There is no certification program by an independent organization for these products, although the standards developer ASTM International has established a voluntary standard for rear-mounted bicycle child seats and one for bike trailers designed for human passengers. A manufacturer may test to the requirements of that standard and certify that the product meets it. Our advice is to buy a trailer or a rear-mounted seat that meets all ASTM standards. And be aware that although some bicycle seats will accommodate a child up to 50 pounds, the standard covers child carriers with a maximum weight load of 40 pounds.
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