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I looking for suggestions, ideas and/or devices to solve this problem:

On an entry-level somewhat old mountain bike, at the back, there is a child seat. On the seat there is a child, around 4 years old. This setup is for commuting to and from school, a 40 minute ride. It is possible to hear that the child speaks, but it is very difficult to understand what the child says (barring yelling or screaming).

Is there any way to have conversations while riding?

Updates and clarifications:

  • A real situation, not hypothetical.

  • Back seat is already "put", prefer not to change that.

  • Riding happens in Buenos Aires (Argentina), beside car traffic.

  • The child can be heard. But perhaps because speaking not loud enough, or perhaps because of noise, and add to that sometimes COVID-19 face mask, the problem is understanding the words and phrases.

  • The goal is having normal conversations, talk about things passing by, what happened at school (kinder), about some books or videos, math, whatever. For "emergencies" the kid can scream or be loud well enough, at least if prompted.

Some options / possibilities:

  • Motorcycle intercom. (Will look into that. Any comments? Expensive perhaps.) Also this answer mentions "race-radios like the pros wear". Further answers in that thread also speak about motorcycle intercom systems.

  • Child seat on frame. Would work well for conversations, but uncomfortable for rider (?). Anyway, change grater than hoped for. :-)

  • A friend suggested 2 sets of Bluetooth headphones paired to smartphone. Any idea about that?

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    I recall reading, probably 20 years ago, of an "intercom" system for motorcycle riders, so the passenger and driver could interact. Might be worth checking with a motorcycle shop. Nov 9, 2021 at 23:18
  • The way you've phrased this makes it sound hypothetical. Is it hypothetical or a real situation you are dealing with? Also giving done details about where you're supposedly riding would help, I have no problems hearing my 4 year old riding through downtown Minneapolis, where are you such that it's a problem? Nov 10, 2021 at 0:41
  • As @whatsisname says, but in particular if you already have a rear seat, the answers that say "buy a front seat" are less applicable. Apart from fit issues, a rear seat is also rather better protected from the elements, especially wind chill and spray from wet roads
    – Chris H
    Nov 10, 2021 at 9:09
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    A thought on intercoms (@DanielRHicks) - would the child tolerate wearing such a thing for long (with headphones that might conflict with a helmet or earbuds designed for someone twice the size) or would it end up in the gutter
    – Chris H
    Nov 10, 2021 at 14:03
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    If its just a short sentence every 10-15mins or so (e.g. "dad, i need to pee"), then a kids-toy walkie-talkie set might do it.
    – MPS
    Nov 12, 2021 at 1:49

8 Answers 8

8

Never going to work well with the child behind you, especially if there is traffic noise around. Consider putting the child in front of you on a frame mounted seat, still might be hard to hear, but will be easier to get you ear close to the child, and they naturally turn to try and face you when they want your attention.

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  • Frame seat seems better for talking, but also seems uncomfortable for rider. Rather not change back seat if possible.
    – Pablo H
    Nov 10, 2021 at 13:56
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    @PabloH Nevertheless, the frame seat has some important advantages. Off the top of my head: 1) You can see when your child is doing something dangerous like unstrapping, 2) the child can see ahead, which is both more interesting to your child and at the same time the child will learn about behavior on the road, 3) I guess, it's a closer parent-child experience than when the child is stashed away at the back, 4) handling of the bike+child is better when stopped because the child's weight is squarely between the wheels, avoiding the tendency of your bike lifting the front wheel when stopped. Nov 11, 2021 at 12:01
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    @cmaster-reinstatemonica on the seat I used when mine was that age, a child would have had real trouble unstrapping; by the time she was in a bigger seat with a simpler belt she understood not to. The handling with a rear seat isn't bad for a sensible bike (fairly long wheelbase) and a not-light parent, especially if any luggage is mounted forwards (I still have my D-lock carried on the fork for that reason). I had no worries about the front wheel lifting even on a hill start in 28/34, though the steering got a little light by the time she was 30kg.
    – Chris H
    Nov 11, 2021 at 13:36
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    @ChrisH I won't deny that you can use a back seat. I just tried to point out that the handling is better with a frame seat. And the part about unstrapping was only an example of what kids might come up with doing when they feel bored and unobserved. It's the combination of all those factors that would have me go for a frame seat over a back seat, with a strong emphasis on the part about the child being able to watch the road in first person perspective. Nov 11, 2021 at 13:54
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    Comments are for clarifying the answers, not for arguing language grammar. Keep in mind this is in international community, English is not everyone's first language, and English grammar is not the reason for visiting this site. Head over to english.stackexchange.com if you want to join 'that' crowd.
    – mattnz
    Nov 12, 2021 at 21:45
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There's no good way to hear a rear-seat passenger if the ambient noise volume is high. You can agree on signals like "poke twice means stop" and then talk more once halted.


I always recommend the child seats that sit between bars and saddle. There are many brands, but "WeeRide" is searchable.

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The kid is more central so it stops the bike from becoming rear-heavy, and you can lean in and talk much better.

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  • How does one pedal with these things without turning your knees outwards? They look like a great way to injure your knees.
    – Michael
    Nov 10, 2021 at 8:14
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    @Michael I'm inclined to agree and had a couple of rear seats, but it does rather depend on the proportions of the rider and bike. II have long femurs even for my (tall) height, and with an XL frame have to have the saddle quite high. A frame that's almost but not quite too big for the rider would help a lot
    – Chris H
    Nov 10, 2021 at 8:52
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    Frame seat seems better for talking, but also seems uncomfortable for rider. Rather not change back seat if possible. Thanks for the photos. :-)
    – Pablo H
    Nov 10, 2021 at 14:09
  • Similar to this, but for smaller children, we used to use an iBert Safe-T-Seat Nov 12, 2021 at 11:10
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    I always read the "front seat" posts with interest and today I managed to find out why I basically never see them around here: They've been outlawed here in Austria. The only allowed position for a child seat on bikes now seems behind the saddle here. Doesn't seem to be common in other countries though.
    – Martin
    Nov 12, 2021 at 19:40
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It's difficult. I had rear seats from 8 months to 7 years. With traffic around, a conversation is essentially impossible.

My routine rides with my daughter were shorter than yours, though on holiday they could be a lot longer. While this didn't work when she was a baby:

  • Well before she was 4 she learnt to yell if there was a real problem (like a dropped toy - though even as a baby she'd howl in that case, and they were often but not always attached when we set off).
  • Before she grew out of the first seat aged about 5-6, we'd got pretty good at saving the non-important chat for when there was no traffic noise. Then she was just about audible. But a conversation like you might have walking together still wasn't really possible. She could hear me perfectly.

I would resist all intercom-like solutions that involve headphones (of any kind except bone conduction, and even if only one earpiece is used), as I found that I used my ears even more when riding with a passenger. That's partly because of going a bit slower, trying to avoid more of the bumps, and trying to tuck in at the last moment if it sounded like a close pass was imminent. Also if the intercom failed, you'd then have even more trouble hearing a yell from behind you.

But if you did have bone conduction headphones, there are crude but effective devices designed to be worn round the neck of someone hard of hearing, to amplify conversation ("hearing amplifiers"). Mounting one of these on your back would allow it to relay the child's voice, but check it's got a standard headphone socket.

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  • The idea of saving char for stops is good! Requires training. :-) Thanks for your comments on intercom, I value that experience. I worry that headphone(s) and/or chit-chat may be distracting (and so dangerous). Could you tell more about what you wrote in your last paragraph ("mounting one of these on your back")? E.g. a link, or a brand name.
    – Pablo H
    Nov 10, 2021 at 14:08
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    By "these" I mean hearing amplifiers. Something like [this (Amazon)[amazon.co.uk/Personal-Amplifier-Headphone-Microphones-Listening/…), but not that one because it uses non-standard connectors. It's basically putting a microphone in front of the child to connect to whatever you deem suitable, where I say bone conduction.
    – Chris H
    Nov 10, 2021 at 14:36
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In these days it is possible to buy bicycle helmets with Bluetooth intercom like this just I do not know if any child helmet is equipped with them. Who knows, the smallest size on minimal setting may potentially fit.

As I understand, these intercoms have loudspeakers, not headphones, so should not interfere with your hearing as long as there is no communication ongoing. The red light at the back these helmets usually have would also be beneficial for the safety.

5

Unless the place is really not good for stopping, just stop immediately, put a foot on the ground, turn around and sort the things out. There are not many problems you can solve while still riding anyway and some may really need immediate attention.

Do this also periodically as a routine check. The child likes to see she is not just forgotten.

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    I'm close to downvoting but will hold off. The question about about a commute-like situation when you have to get there on time, and on a bad day with the child in a grumpy mood you wouldn't make any progress at all. Routine checks can be done by talking in quiet patches, though my mirror also helped.
    – Chris H
    Nov 10, 2021 at 8:54
  • This worked for me well but I agree I was not under any big time pressure in a quiet path. Still much faster than walking. When you check yourself periodically rather than waiting the child to alert you, you can pick the better place to stop.
    – nightrider
    Nov 10, 2021 at 9:05
  • That comment doesn't really agree with your "just stop immediately" though
    – Chris H
    Nov 10, 2021 at 9:07
  • In my case it was infrequent for the child to call me for something. She really enjoyed the ride and was focused on the things around.
    – nightrider
    Nov 10, 2021 at 9:12
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    I've updated my question clarifying that the goal is normal conversation. Stopping for "emergencies", and periodic checks, are already normal practice. It's true that solving problems while riding is a no-go. I'll keep in mind the part about "the child likes to see she is not just forgotten", cool. :-)
    – Pablo H
    Nov 10, 2021 at 14:15
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Registered just to place this answer:

It might be a bit weird, but how about a funnel? You take a funnel, add a rigid hose (like a pvc hose) to it which is aimed at your ear.

If you find a way to attach it somewhere between your upper arm and body, aimed at the child, and attach the hose to the upper part of you shoulder, you're good to go.

You can find black materials if you would like it less visible (or a color similar to your jacket). Again, a odd solution, but very low cost and a possibly fun solution!

PS: The downside to using hardware like bluetooth is that there is a delay. Even a 0.3sec delay will work very confusing, hearing yourself talk and 0.3s later again is very disruptive, more than you'd think.

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    Bluetooth may have a delay (though it should still be less than that 0.3 s even on cheap hardware, and may not be detectable), but analogue electronics for an amplifier to relay the signal wouldn't have a delay.
    – Chris H
    Nov 11, 2021 at 13:32
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    Nice!! So the funnel is at the back, facing the child (i.e. the big part pointed at the child), connected to a hose or tube, right? What would you put at the other end? Nothing? Where exactly would you put the other end (the one for the rider)?
    – Pablo H
    Nov 11, 2021 at 14:36
  • I dont think you need anything, just aim the hose in your ears general direction. I must confess: I do not own a bike funnel system (surprise!), so you might need to experiment a bit. But that might be a fun project to do with your kid :)
    – Martijn
    Nov 11, 2021 at 15:49
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I'm assuming your problem is one way, you can't hear your child but you can speak loud enough for him/her to understand you, so I'm pretty sure this is a hearing aid amplifier use case. There are some with bone conduction headset and relocatable/aim-able microphone.

You could place the microphone on your back, close enough to pick your child's voice, so the apparatus is fully on your body, diminishing the need for the child to wear an uncomfortable device.

Just a few minutes of search turned out some interesting results, I used the following search terms: "hearing aid headset with microphone". And this is the one that caught my attention: https://www.amazon.com/Bone-Conduction-Hearing-Aid-Seniors/dp/B08M9DQ2JG/ref=sr_1_12?crid=OUEANOJ22IQM&keywords=hearing+aid+headset+with+microphone&qid=1636640208&sprefix=hearing+aid+microphone+and+head%2Caps%2C269&sr=8-12

I'm not trying to give product recommendation as I've never been a user of these equipment nor work for any related company.

I once knew a person with hearing problems, who was always wearing headphones. Later I found that this person had programmed something for using the smartphone as hearing aid. I do not know how this can be done, but I'm also sure that by now there are multitude of available apps for that. For this, I've seen wired microphone for smartphone with regular headphone output jack, so you could fix the microphone on the back of your jacket, route the cable to a designated pocket where you put the phone, and do the same with your preferred headphone. Search for "lavalier microphone with headphone output"

I´ve never tried bone conduction headphones, and I do not endorse use of headphones while cycling on routes with automotive traffic or the like, but I have used regular over the ear headphones worn not directly over the ear, but close enough to hear the music. This can also block wind noise to the ear.

I think a fully wired solution can be more practical, as will not require to keep multiple batteries charged, except for the phone, which most of us already do, and the full setup can be made "wearable" so it takes no more time than putting on a coat.

I have also used a bluetooth speaker inside the top of a backpack for riding in the city, The speaker volume is set close to a normal conversation loudness, so when there are no other vehicles close I can clearly hear the music, but just the rolling noise of car tires is enough to overcome the speaker, so the risk of not hearing an approaching car, siren, etc. is really low. I later found that this concept of using an open air speaker near the ears at low volume, does exist commercially: "neck speaker". The idea would be to make your child's voice louder. Again, you could combine this speaker with a suitable hearing aid or microphone amplifier.

Related anecdote: When I was a kid I had a small handheld voice recorder (the ones that used micro cassettes). The thing had headphone output and I really liked to use it to better hear faint noises, or as a rather poor electric stethoscope by pressing the recorder's mic into my chest. If by any chance you already had access to a similar device, you could try the concept before investing in more specific accessories.

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As your child can hear you, facing away from her, but you can not hear her, facing to you, it is either your hearing or her not talking loud enough.

In either case it might be possible to 'train' her to speak in a way that does reach you. No tech, just using her voice louder or in a higher pitch, or even a lower pitch, till it comes through to you.
This is not screaming or yelling, just talking louder and does occure naturally when in a big group like in the play area at school.

Give it a few weeks and work on telling her to repeat louder if you do not understand her.

Picking moments with lower traffic noise will help.

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  • Nice idea! You have a good point. The child can be understood when speaking loud enough. But, at the moment, it seems that that level is too loud/high, too far from normal. But I'll see about it / try it.
    – Pablo H
    Nov 15, 2021 at 13:19

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