How To Bike With Newborns

Advice on bicycling with your baby.

By Ryan Mijker

In North America, babies are expected to be kept off a bike until they are at least nine months old and are able to wear a helmet. So why do some parents flout convention?

Online research produces very little information on bicycling with newborns. Angela Koch, advocacy and events coordinator with Revolution Cycles in Arlington, VA, found what little research there was focused on negative assumption and misinformation. Instead of depending on that information, parents have looked to other parts of the world where cycling with small babies is widespread.

When to start bicycling with a baby is a personal judgment. For Carie Weisenbach-Folz, a mother of three from Portland, OR, the time came as soon as she felt physically able. “I was a little nervous with my first child. Our oldest is now six and a half and we started to ride with him when he was about one month old.” Weisenbach-Folz felt more comfortable riding with her third child, starting just weeks after he was born.

Jessica Roberts, a program manager with Alta Planning + Design in Portland, OR, started cycling with her child when he was around five months old, approaching it more cautiously. There is a lot of fear around parenting and this extends to cycling with your newborn. There was a “fear drummed into us [bicycling parents] about vibrations that would damage his nervous system,” Roberts said.

I asked Diana Leung – a research assistant at BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver, BC – to contact half a dozen researchers specializing in pediatric injuries to inquire about the safety of cycling with newborns. None knew of any literature or hard evidence to support the claim that vibrations from normal bicycle riding would lead to brain damage in a newborn.

Parents are concerned about different risks and threats; many, such as Jasper Lieber in Portland, told me that other road users and collisions with cars were their biggest fears. Others saw no extra risk and no difference between cycling and walking with a stroller.

Todd Litman, founder and executive director of the Victoria Transportation Policy Institute, who started cycling with his oldest son when he was just days old, addressed the risk. He said: “There is no reason why, if a child is able to be carried in a car, they shouldn’t be able to be carried in a bicycle trailer. A lot of people overlook the risks and stresses associated with driving, but make a big deal about bicycling.”

Bicycling with your newborn can be done safely. Some parents I have spoken to choose to cycle with a car seat secured in a bicycle trailer. Weisenbach-Folz said that: “With our first child we had him buckled into a regular car seat that was strapped into a trailer. I was not super worried about safety. We made him as safe as we could.” For their second child they purchased a Bakfiets and secured the car seat to its base.

Living in a city with a decent cycling network helps; so does good route planning. Bicycle boulevards, low traffic streets with good connections and safe intersections are often the primary routes for parents cycling with their newborns. Angela Koch, whose first child was born in Jacksonville, FL – “a cycling nightmare” – was relieved to move to Portland where her two other children were introduced to cycling on some of the city’s comparatively safer streets.

Parents have strong motivations to start riding with their newborns, such as convenience and pleasure. Brett Hondorp, a father from Portland, told me, “With the bike we could just park outside and never have to go into the parking garage. It was the healthiest thing for me and my child.”

All parents interviewed for this article managed the risks they were taking with their children by choosing appropriate carriers and quiet cycling routes.

13 Comments

  • Becky Douglas

    I didn’t take my first kid out in our full-suspension bike trailer until four months because I had heard that the bounciness of the trailer would rattle my infants little brains and cause long term damage. I later did research – and no one, including my doctor, shared one study that gave any information that made this advice plausible. I weighed the pros and cons…and took him our earlier than the pros, with no information to back them up, suggested. I have never heard a doctor caution folks to drive slowly on bumpy dirt roads, or to avoid bumps in a stroller, and felt that corralling my kids in a car for their first year of life would actually be a detriment to them and my health and well-being. The second went out with me at one month. They are both quick, healthy kids and have learned first hand a key ingredient to a health life and a healthy planet – exercise and carbon free travel.

  • Organic Haus

    I too believe it is just as safe to carry young children in safe trailers like Burleys as it is in cars or pushing them in strollers. All four of my kids were rolling around behind me within their first week or two. We used car seats securely mounted in our Burley D’lite. As a cycling instructor – I understand the rules of the road as well as the threats. I believe the benefits of riding in a trailer at that young age outweigh the risks and the alternatives are not substantially different.

  • Eric in Seattle

    Surely these laws are a reaction to all the deaths and maimings of small children in Copenhagen and Amsterdam, right?

  • Elias Ross

    I have a Bilenky ViewPoint Tandem bicycle and I strapped my baby’s car seat to the front, which is basically a recumbent seat. I was a little late getting him in the seat (at 5 months) and I suppose it would have happened sooner if the weather was better.

    The baby does get a bit shaken pretty hard by going over bumps and pot holes. I would be concerned about going fast with a newborn.

    I don’t know what drivers think, but I have gotten a lot of surprised looks from drivers, as well as had my picture taken. Not any negative attention so far.

  • heather

    Have heard this from so many people but it really depends on where in town you are riding, Jacksonville is roughly 874 sq miles, Porland is less than 150. I would never subject anyone to riding in some parts of town unless if they were aware of their rights as a cyclist, had plenty of years experience, and a good helmet. There are many places where cyclists are everywhere and just about everyone is courteous to each other, these areas together make up roughly 200sq miles. The bicycling community is coming together to help remedy some the safety woes. The first Wednesday of each month is Art Walk, a night for people from all walks of life to come downtown and experience art, music, and free informative seminars. The upcoming May Art Walk is themed Bike Walk which kicks off bike month. Hopefully this will make those drivers on other sides of town aware of the laws in place to keep everyone on the road safe. We all hope that one day the city of Jacksonville, FL as a whole can be removed from the dangerous list, but for now we cautiously proceed to work on the Southside of town with helmets in tow and cellphones at the ready to report aggressive drivers. Here is a link http://www.jacksonvillebikemonth.com/

  • David

    I was a stay at home dad. I started riding with my eldest daughter when she 7 weeks old. She was strapped in a car seat that was strapped in a Burley deLite trailer. I had two vertical flag poles with orange flags on them. I had a big “Slow Vehicle” triangle on the back. I replaced both rear reflectors with flashing lights. I also had a spring mounted horizontal pole with another orange flag mounted on it. My oldest was born in the middle of May. Little sister was born 20 months later in the middle of January. It wasn’t until it was warm enough for big sister to ride in a bike seat that little sister took over the trailer at 13 weeks of age.

    My eldest will be 19 in a couple of week and little sister was 17 this past January.
    We have been completely car free for about a year now and still riding.

  • vangroover

    I’ve wrestled with the issue of riding with our baby since before he was born. I want to believe what was written above – that it’s safe – because I ride with our baby despite the warnings I’ve found online. I still don’t feel 100% about it because of sites like the “Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute” (http://www.bhsi.org/little1s.htm) – and I think that’s a good thing. Their info has helped me mitigate the risks.

    My wife and I ride so slow I think the risk of shaking our little guy’s brain is pretty low. And we ride with so many flags, reflectors, bells, horns and lights that I think our risk of getting hit by a car (or another cyclist) is also pretty low. We look like complete dorks, but we feel safe. I tow our trailer and my wife plays crossing guard / defense / guinea pig when we have to ride off bike paths with car traffic.

    I think the warnings on the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute Site are worth noting, but they don’t need to stop you from riding with an infant so long as you manage the risks.

  • Ryan Mijker

    Patric,
    This article was to focus specifically on the North American experience. However, researchers at the Emma, the children’s research hospital in Amsterdam, were contacted. They did not have any specific literature on this topic. I also talked to advocates of cycling with infants in Holland. I was told that the Dutch do not keep specific records on cycling with newborns. Even in the Netherlands there is not much hard data kept on this topic, but it is much more common there.

  • bob cooper

    as patrick above, i did a great deal of on-line research.. this wonderful country of ours (baby experts) had nothing good to say about new born cycling.. “DANGEROUS”.. “MUST WEAR A HELMET”.. stop i said.. what do our friends in other countries do?? strap them in safely, and go.. like others above.. install car seat in bike trailer.. and off we go, choosing the safest routes possible just as if i was driving my car, except, i am riding my bike..
    i get really tired of all these “experts” trying to protect me from myself.. glad i live in portland or..
    enjoy the ride…….

  • James Bikes Green

    Wonderful article and topic.
    Thank you Momentum “families”.

  • Kara

    When I was pregnant, my family were aware and try to discourage me of my plan to continue commuting with my baby and partner. We don’t own a car and the bus service is unreliable; plus I just love bking. Often, when I was riding around town, I had comments like “your a irresponsable mother” or “poor baby”. I had little support. Thank you for bring light of hope.

  • patrick barber

    this is not a mystery. newborns are carried by bicycle all over the world. why not ask health professionals in the Netherlands, Denmark or Sweden for their perspective? They have decades of data for us to peruse.

  • Jen

    I agree that it is safe to cycle with a newborn if you are careful. I ride with my 2 mo old in his Chariot. I just go slow, watch the bumps, and do the same things I would if I were pushing him in the stroller mode.

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