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Bicycle seats vs. bike trailers for children

Q: I’m in the market to buy a bicycle seat so I can ride my bike with my 1 year old. Which is safer—a bicycle-mounted seat or a bike trailer?

A: Both types of bicycle seats have their safety issues. Because of its low profile, a bicycle trailer, which attaches to the rear axle or frame of a bike and can transport one child age 1 to 6 or so, can be difficult for motorists to see, especially in limited light. (If you go this route, get a 31/2 -foot- to 7-foot-tall, high-visibility orange flag for it.) Trailers are also wider than the bike, so they take up more of the roadway. If you’re riding on the shoulder of a road, which we don’t recommend because we consider trailers “off-road” vehicles, the trailer can stick out into the road if you’re not careful. And trailers can tip over if you turn abruptly or turn when one wheel is going over a bump. As you speed up, braking becomes harder, especially on wet surfaces. Trailers can become snagged on bushes or other objects.

Despite these pitfalls, however, we recommend opting for a bicycle trailer over a bicycle-mounted seat. Here are three major reasons why:

–It’s lower to the ground. Trailers, which have two bicycle-type wheels and a long hitching arm that fastens to a bicycle from behind and ride low to the ground, are potentially safer in an accident. That’s because a child would fall about three feet from a mounted bike seat compared with a fall of about 6 inches from a trailer. A mounted bike seat, which can transport one child age 1 to 5, is positioned behind or in front of a cyclist’s seat. (In either case, your child faces forward.)

–A bicycle trailer may be easier to maneuver. With the added weight of a little passenger at the back or front, a bicycle with a mounted seat might be harder to handle, which can be unnerving or just annoying, depending on how experienced you are as a cyclist. Getting on and off a bike with a baby in a mounted seat can also be difficult.

–It’s less risky. A bicycle trailer provides some protection to passengers since kids are seated, strapped in, and usually enclosed in a zippered compartment. Trailers have a rigid frame enclosed in durable fabric, which offers some protection for young passengers if the unit rolls over. Some designs have a hitching arm that allows the bike to fall without tipping the trailer. But kids still must wear a bike helmet.

Although both types of bicycle carriers have safety issues, the American Academy of Pediatrics states that is preferable for a child to ride in a bicycle trailer rather than a front or rear-mounted bicycle seat because “a young passenger on an adult’s bike makes the bike unstable and increases braking time.” (See the AAP’s tip sheet.) The AAP believes that a mishap at any speed on a bicycle-mounted seat could cause significant injury to a child.

See our full report on bicycle seats and trailers.

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