Do the benefits of cycling on London’s streets with your children outweigh the risks? Rob Kemp finds out
Whether it’s for the nursery run, a trip to the shops or a family day out, more and more parents are now choosing to take their kids along for the ride when cycling these days.
Of the estimated 610,000 cycle journeys made each day in the capital, a rising number of them feature babies, toddlers and children being ferried along our busy roads in child seats, trailers or purpose-built ‘family’ bikes.
“Of course, cycling with your kids in tow means you have to ensure you keep your wits about you,” says dad John Amir. “I first took our eldest boy, Eddy, on the bike seat when he was eight months old. I take his little brother Kit, who’s 19 months now, in the same seat.”
Since becoming a father, John has also opened his own bike shop, BonVelo, in Herne Hill. “My partner Karina and I are both keen cyclists so it came naturally to take the boys with us on the bikes as soon as we could. We use a rear-fit seat – it’s the most comfortable and will take a child up to 22kg, so around five years old if you need to.”
Child seats for bikes come in many shapes and sizes, including recliner ones for babies as young as six months to sleep in without slumping. Front-fitted child seats are common too – these attach to the top tube or bar of the bike frame. “Some are moulded plastic seats – like mini versions of rear seats – while others for older children are little saddles and footrests bolted on to the bike,” says John.
Front-fit seats do enable your child to see more and talk to you more easily – but they may not be ideal for longer journeys and if you have to brake sharply or have a fall, your child could end up acting as your airbag.
Whichever type you choose, taking your children by bike is a much more convenient way to get around in London. “Getting your kids in and out of the car to go a mile or two and then finding a place to park is enough to put you off driving,” says John. “Cycling is more economical and environmentally sound, and it’s really enjoyable.”
But many express concerns about the safety of cycling in London. “I’ve met parents who’ve been knocked off their bikes while riding with their children attached,” says John. “Thankfully none have been seriously hurt. We take particular care at danger spots, getting off and crossing at the lights in some cases.”
While it’s possible to use both front and rear seats on the same bike, it can make things very cumbersome. A more popular solution for carrying two or more children is a trailer or a specially designed cargo bike.
“I use a Babboe Big four-seater cargo bike,” explains Maria Ona, a childminder from Isleworth. “I take children aged 10 months to four years old and have used it ever since doing a trial run with one on Wandsworth Common a few years ago. Not only does it cater for up to four children, there’s room for school bags, too.
“I’ve always enjoyed keeping fit but being a mum to three children and working up to 60 hours each week as a childminder makes it hard to find time to exercise,” Maria adds. “I can end up cycling 25 miles in a day, so this way I benefit fitness wise, plus, I reckon I save over £1,000 in petrol annually.”
Both John and Maria agree that one of the downsides to cycling with children on London’s roads are the potholes. “I was constantly getting flat tyres until I invested in anti-puncture inner tubes,” says Maria. “My advice to parents is to be aware of your surroundings, and use common sense around buses and lorries – if necessary, dismount on to the pavement. I find most motorists are respectful and keep a safe distance, and on the whole I feel safe. Most of all, the children love the bike. They sit opposite each other chatting away while I do the hard work.”
Tips for staying safe
- Always give your bike a quick once-over before using it. “If it doesn’t ‘feel’ or sound right then it probably isn’t,” says Maria.
- Ensure the children are secured using a three-point safety harness, and everyone on the bike should wear protective helmets.
- It’s essential that any child’s seat has secure foot straps – feet in spokes account for 50% all child hospital admissions involving child seats.
- Make sure items such as scarfs, mittens on strings and long laces can’t dangle into the spokes.
- Child seats aren’t as conspicuous as trailers or trailer cycles when you’re on the road – attach a flashing LED light to the back of your child seat.
Rob Kemp writes for Cycling Plus magazine. He’s also the author of The Expectant Dad’s Survival Guide (£10.39, Vermilion)