The answer to the question "at what age is a child ready to be taken cycling" might be "at the age when you are ready for the child to crash if that should happen." This nugget of wisdom is from the US Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute, who say they get many inquires from parents with babies aged about 6 weeks to 14 months, asking when it is safe to put a helmet on the child and take them for a bike ride.
It was a question, as a three week old Dad I'd been pondering myself. Having asked a few friends, who were still trying to decide, I opted to also see what the great oracle, called Internet, had to say on the subject. It was a scary trip. For all their gazillion words on the subject the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute were, when it came down to it, pretty blunt on the matter:
"Nobody we have met in the injury prevention field recommends taking an infant of less than 12 months in a bicycle child seat, trailer, sidecar or any other carrier. Nobody. And we do not either."
They cite several reports and studies that lead them to this conclusion. Mostly based around the notion that a rugrat's head is disproportional large and heavy to the rest of their little body. And until they about one year old their neck muscles haven't developed significantly enough to steady their noggin from wobbling about. The result of which is their precious wee brain bangs about inside their unsecured cranium. Adding the weight and bulk of a helmet to that tiny bobbing head can exasperate the problem rather than solving it.
I found an article on the Guardian's Bike Blog, where Barry Neild was asking the exact same question. He'd been advised by a bike shop that eight months of age was the right time for junior to join parents jaunting about on bicycles. He also garnered advice in the form of 88 comments on what he should do. The whole gamut of opinion ranging from the like of 'go for it,' to sentiment of the 'don't dare dream on putting a kid on a bike - it's child abuse' ilk.
Yet even here riders from the cycling mad Netherlands were cautious about getting youngsters on the bike before 12 or 14 months of age.
Still in the United Kingdom I noticed that the consumer group Which? advocated along the same lines: "It's not recommended that you take a baby who cannot support his or her own head out with you on a bike — as until this time he or she won't be able to wear a cycling helmet. Ideally, your baby should also be able to sit well and unaided." But they weren't as fixed on the starting age suggesting, " Baby bike seats tend to be designed for use by babies from about six months of age."
12 Months? Again
Back home, the Australian consumer association, Choice, passed on advice "not to take kids out riding on a baby bike seat or trailer until they're at least a year old." They said this was for two main reasons:
"It's hard to find very small helmets suitable for kids this young. Also, they need to be strong enough to support their head under the weight of the helmet and under the acceleration and deceleration of the bike
The jolting from the bike is bad for the baby's neck and brain. Baby seats are usually positioned over the rear axle, and the baby can't absorb the bumps with their legs like an older bike rider can."
Nicola Dunnicliff-Wells, ex-editor of Bicycle Victoria's Ride On magazine was considering similar notions when at 38 weeks pregnant she was asked, Do you plan to ride with your baby? Her reply:
"The general recommendation is that you can't put a child on the back of the bike until they can support a helmet, which is about 10 to 12 months. I'd actually like to research this a little bit more though - I have heard of people carrying babies in trailers (lying down, without a helmet - which makes it illegal in Australia), but I've also heard other people say that under 12 months there are issues with the baby getting shaken around."
The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute who clearly acknowledge that their website is "designed to give you an idea of the possible pitfalls" have additional thoughts on kiddie bike trailers. Like the amount of dirt, grit, dog manure, street dust, etc, that can possibly be flipped up by a parents rear bike wheel towards the munckins' trailer being towed behind.
Well, at least there appears to a happy consensus that when kids are four or five they are well ready for outings on tagalong bikes or their own set of wheels.
Hybrid bicycle-cum-strollers like the TrioBike, Kangaroo and Zigo Leader (see links below) may be one option, but not everyone can shell out for such a specialised transport, especially if they already own a decent bike. But check out this lovely Flickr photo collection of parents and kids who have embraced this option.
In concluding their extensive treatise on the subject the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute remark: "We do hope you will wait until your child is at least one year old or robust enough to handle the bumps. We would just repeat at the end the best advice to anyone considering taking a toddler on a bike: take child and helmet to your pediatrician first."
But what do think? Just when should children first experience the most efficient means of transport know to mankind?
::Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute
Photos: First was found at Wheel Revolution. Second is Silhouette Emporium's organic cotton baby tee from Zazzle. Last by Warren McLaren / inov8. (the best offering from Pokhara bike hire.)
More Kids, Bikes and Helmets
• Tykes On Bikes
• Tricycle Round Up: Three Wheels Better than Two? (includes the TrioBike, Kangaroo and Zigo Leader)
• Bakfiets: Move it, Move it
• Clever Cycles - Bikes for Living, Not Just Recreating
• The Moederfiets or Motherbike
• To Helmet or Not To Helmet; This is the Question
• Dutch Cycling: Take the Phone, but Leave the Helmet
• Helmets - for whom? Cyclists or Motorists?