How Do You Select The Right Bike Trailer For Your Child?

Written by Denise Somsak MD

My autistic son’s latest request is both timely and ironic, “Mommy, I want to hear Bicycle Race.”

David has zero interest in riding a bike, hates the heat, and only wears a helmet with lots of cajoling, but he’ll listen to that Queen anthem for an hour straight if we let him.

“I don’t believe in Peter Pan, Frankenstein or Superman…Don’t wanna be a candidate for Vietnam or Watergate.  Cos all I want to do is bicycle bicycle.”

The fact that he knows EVERY word without understanding the song only adds to the irony.  He used to ride a bike with training wheels indoors with his occupational therapist, but it was never an activity he approached with any sort of enthusiasm.

In fact, he looked quite joyless and a little frustrated.  Compare that to music and dancing, and it makes me wonder if I should force him to learn.

I’d love it if our family could bike together.  If we could talk, laugh, share the sites and maybe a slurpee at the end of the ride.  But that’s fantasy, not my family, not my reality.

Instead my husband takes the girls biking while I hang out with David.  Honestly, it’s safer that way.  Pee Wee Herman looks like a triathlete compared to me.

Seriously, please consider your own skill and comfort level in riding before you make your child a passenger.  And I don’t care if you cycle like Lance Armstrong, the AAP recommends slower speeds, bike paths, and quiet streets when kids are on board.

Consumer Reports and the AAP recommend trailers instead of mounted seats for safety.  One study (about 10 years old) in the Archive of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine found that children in trailers were less likely to be injured than those on mounted seats.

Mounted seats are higher off the ground than the trailer, so children have farther to fall in an accident.  Mounted seats can make steering and balance more difficult and thus accidents more likely.  However trailers proximity to the ground make them less visible to drivers and more likely to stick out into the road.

Check out the tips from Cascade Bicycle Club Education Foundation to maximize your safety with either option:

What to look for in a trailer:

  • ASTM (American Safety Testing Materials) safety standards sticker
  • A full metal roll-cage
  • 16 or 20-inch wheels with inflatable tires: they roll on uneven surfaces more easily
  • A rotating hitch that allows the trailer to remain upright even if the bicycle falls or
  • is laid on its side
  • A safety flag to increase visibility

What to look for in a bike-mounted seat:

  • ASTM safety standards sticker
  • A back that comes up around the child’s head
  • Sides that wrap around the child
  • Straps that connect around shoulders, waist, and between legs
  • Straps for the feet in the foot wells (so that feet don’t get caught in the wheel or brakes)

Children less than one year of age should NEVER be passengers on a bike. They have big heads relative to neck strength and body mass.  Don’t do it. Even the best helmet won’t make up for the weak neck muscles.

Kids need good helmets that fit correctly (video link).

With all those safety tips, enjoy the ride.  I’m staying home.  If typical children or adults can choose their leisure activities,  why can’t David?

He’s not concerned with popular conventional play or the world’s bigger troubles (“Don’t wanna be a candidate for Vietnam or Watergate”), he just wants to listen to his favorite music and dance with me.  I’m a better dancer than biker anyway.  Maybe it’s genetic?

Dr. Somsak was born and raised in the heartland. She recently joined Pediatric Associates of Cincinnati. She’s a no frills, practical gal. Dr. Somsak blogs regularly at Pensive Pediatrician