Tips for buying a bike-mounted seat or trailer

Consumer Reports News: June 27, 2008 04:42 PM

Thinking about buying a bicycle-mounted seat or trailer so your toddler can tool around with you on scenic bike rides? Consider these key features as you shop:

Bicycle-mounted seat:

Cross bars. Some bicycle-mounted seats have a bar that goes across the lap in addition to a five-point harness, which is an added safety feature in case of a fall—and gives children something to hold onto when they ride, which may make them feel more secure.

Seating. Look for a padded seat cushion for a smoother ride. Seats with a reclining backrest and an adjustable foot and headrest are common at the top of the price range.

Seat location. Consider whether you want a seat that mounts in the back or the front. In our tests with an 18-month-old and a 30-month-old, the kids seemed to prefer riding up front, and we found the tested front-mounted seat did not affect the bike’s handling much. However, our parent testers had to bow their knees out slightly to avoid rubbing against the seat or the occupant, which isn’t necessarily a safety issue, but it can be uncomfortable. A front rider can grab the handlebars while using this seat, which could cause an accident.

Harness. A padded, adjustable five-point harness is ideal: two straps over the shoulders, two for the waist, and a crotch strap, much like a car seat’s.

Side protection. Some bicycle-mounted seats offer side protectors, which can help shield a child in the event of a fall.

Reflectors. Some bicycle-mounted seats have side and/or rear reflective strips, which are good even if you’re riding at twilight—although we don’t recommend riding either at twilight or at night.

Bicycle trailer:

Convertibility. Some manufacturers offer conversion kits that allow you to turn a trailer into a jogging stroller or a cargo carrier. That’s an attractive, expense-saving, two-for-one option.

Protection from the elements. Many trailers come with plastic shields, which protect against sun, wind, and rain. A zippered front shield can keep water or mud from splattering your child. But if the shield encloses the entire cabin, make certain there’s ventilation, such as breathable mesh windows. Your kids may appreciate tinted windows, which aren’t available on all models. They protect your child from sun glare, and keep the “cockpit” cool.

Folding mechanism. Some trailers feature quick-release wheels and fold easily for storage (even in a hall closet), which can be an advantage if you don’t have a garage.

Frame. Trailer frames are generally made of steel, but more expensive models may be aluminum alloy, which can be lighter. The frame should be sturdy. Better models offer a roll cage--a perimeter frame--to protect passengers in the event of a rollover. Keep in mind that these roll cages are not strong enough to protect against a collision with a vehicle.

Harness. A padded, adjustable five-point harness is ideal: two straps over the shoulders, two for the waist, and a crotch strap, much like the restraints on a child’s car seat.

Hitching arm. A trailer’s hitching arm should have a backup to prevent the trailer from breaking loose. Check the wheel mounting to be sure that it will hold. Look for a universal hitch, which can be used with almost any bicycle. Some hitching arms are designed to help keep the trailer upright even if your bike goes down.

Safety flag. A safety flag--a high visibility pennant on a whip tall enough (3 and one half to 7 feet) to make it visible to drivers--is a must.

Seating. The interior of a trailer should offer comfortable seating with adequate legroom and good back support. The seat’s protective cavity should be free of protrusions. Roominess is a plus, as are storage pockets for toys and such. At the higher end of the price range, you’ll find seats that recline, cushier padding, and on two-person trailers, a seat divider.

Reflectors. Some trailers have side and/or rear reflective strips, which are good for twilight and night rides, although, as we mentioned, we don’t recommend riding at these times.

Wheels. Trailer wheels usually are made with steel rims, which can rust, or aluminum ones, which don’t, and can be lighter. The wheels should also have one or more reflectors. Look for high-quality rubber tires. Also, consider wheel size. In our tests, larger wheels rolled over bumps better, but smaller wheels made maneuvering easier.

For more information, see our full report on bike seats and trailers for children.

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