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My sister has two children, aged 4 and 2. The 4 year old is starting to get confident on his bike and my sister is finding she can't keep up with him on foot any more. She hasn't ridden since she was a kid and so isn't very confident on a bike. She will only be riding on sealed bike trails (not on road) for the foreseeable future.

I'm not convinced any of the "on bike seat" style of child carriers will work very well for her, because of the reduction in stability and her lack of practice/confidence.

I suggested a trailer but she was wary of the extra weight and the effort required going up hills. I still think this is the best option though.

The other alternatives, the bigger trikes with seating built in are possibly a bit too expensive.

So my question is what's the best compromise of safety, cost, stability, weight and convenience for transporting kids?

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Yeah, trailer. They really are quite light (bike and trailer would probably be lighter than the big trike), and, with a decent multi-gear bike she'll hardly know the trailer is there. The bike seat is not a good choice for someone who's not a strong cyclist -- too difficult getting on and off, too top-heavy. –  Daniel R Hicks Aug 8 '11 at 11:17
    
Possible duplicate: Toddler bike seat vs. bike trailer? –  Neil Fein Aug 8 '11 at 15:38
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2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

The best option is a trailer. The pull weight is fairly low, and the safety factor is far greater than on a child seat.

To summarize what is a very long discussion, the child in a seat can't protect themselves, should you crash, and there is no way for you to protect them by guaranteeing you don't crash.

A trailer has a lower center of gravity, a more stable structure, protection from sun and rain, and a more comfortable ride. It will be heavier to pull uphill, but on sealed bike paths, that is not typically a major issue.

See this question for more information.

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Out of curiosity, is a trailer fixed to the bike's orientation in the axis between the bike and the trailer? In other words, if the bike hauling the trailer tips over to the left, will the trailer tip over as well? Or are they completely decoupled? –  Stephen Touset Aug 8 '11 at 13:07
    
Usually decoupled, at least in a quality system. If you tip, barring a high speed crash or terrain issues, the trailer should remain upright. –  zenbike Aug 8 '11 at 14:19
    
@Stephen Touset - yes and no. You can angle the bike left and right but if you go completely flying then the trailer can get tipped over. It has a frame built in and a harness so that eventuality is catered for. That is the situation with the Burley trailers that are the market leaders in the UK. –  ʍǝɥʇɐɯ Aug 8 '11 at 14:45
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In the UK the market leading solution is the child seat - I reckon that one trailer is sold for every fifty child seats. Cost obviously is a factor in this plus the fact that trailers are a slow seller and many shops do not have the floor space for them.

The situation your sister is in is not a new one, plenty of people start cycling with their kids having not been on a bike since secondary school. Therefore I don't think it is necessary to be defeatist with the child seat.

The child seat, particularly the Hamax ones have suspension built in and offer a superior ride to that offered by a trailer. The view is better too. Okay there may not be UV protection and a cover from the rain but there are pros + cons to each solution.

A two-year old on the back of the bike is a considerable weight, however, harnessed in this is a fixed weight, it is not like riding a tandem.

A Hamax childseat bought off 'craigslist' or out of the local paper can be wiped down and made perfectly serviceable. If it does not work out it can be put back on 'craigslist'. Because children grow there is a healthy second hand market for them.

In the park you could go out with your sister and the childseat and instead of having the two year old in the seat you could have an improvised 'crash test dummy', e.g. a couple of bags of shopping, e.g. a growbag or small sack of potatoes. If she can ride confidently with that weight on the back then she may feel confident enough to go out with her two year old child.

Although the weight at the back makes the front wheel light it will also make the steering feel easier/less twitchy. So it is definitely worth a go.

As for a trike - have you tried riding one recently? They are a nightmare because you have to steer rather than lean. I find them terrifying to be on because they feel so weird.

Getting back to the childseat, the Hamax ones come with a bracket that is easy to get a spare, pop one on your bike and you can swap the childseat from one bike to the other when those hills get a bit steep.

You can also pop a bike with childseat onto a bike-carrier on the back of a car.

This cannot be done so easily with the trailer option. Be open minded about the childseat, give it a go with a 'crash test dummy' and take things from there.

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