Often selling for under $50, the Bell Shell Rear Child Carrier is the most affordable child or baby bike seat we’ve found. For budget-conscious families, we really wanted to love it. But we didn’t. In fact, we’re going so far as to say, DO NOT BUY this Bell child bike seat.
We’ve tested over 400 biking products for kids. In all that time, we’ve only had a handful of products that we’ve told our readers to never buy. Unfortunately, the Bell Shell makes that short list. There are many budget-friendly products we love, but based on our testing, this product has a serious design flaw that is a huge safety concern for us. Read the review below for all the details.
Bell Shell Overview
RATING: Not Recommended
BEST FOR: No one. DO NOT BUY.
MOUNT TYPE: Rear frame
AGE RANGE: 12 months to 40 lbs.
- Well ventilated
- Mounting bars locking mechanism has a faulty design
- Harness is cheap and flimsy
- Wide shoulder straps don’t secure child very well
- Seat pad needs to be taped or glued down
- Velcro foot straps are hard to use
- No back-up safety strap
Bell Shell Rear Child Carrier Review – Results of our Testing
This review covers the rear Bell Shell, not the Bell Shell front mount child carrier. We didn’t actually take our toddler for a test ride because we are that concerned that the Bell Shell’s is a potential safety hazard. We don’t feel safe riding with the Bell Shell, which speaks volumes.
For child and baby bike seats that we’ve tested and do recommend, check out our 10 Best Child Bikes Seats list.
Bell Shell’s Attachment Flaw
We’re going to start with the biggest problem we have with the Bell Shell. The problem lies in how the Shell seat attaches (and is locked) to its mounting bars. The design of the locking mechanism creates the potential for the seat to slide forward on the mounting bars while you are riding. Yes… the seat and your child could come sliding forward into your back.
We want to be upfront and state that this did not happen to us while riding, but we know of one person to whom it did happen. We were, however, able to recreate and validate the issue in our “home lab”.
We also want to caveat that we are not saying this will happen to everyone who purchases this Bell child bike seat. Clearly there are many happy users based on the number of positive reviews on Amazon.
What were are saying is that the potential for a safety hazard is absolutely there. We would never ride with our own children in the Bell Shell, so we can’t recommend you do so either. While a sub-$50 price tag is tantalizing, there are some things you really do just have to spend more money on.
How the Bell Shell Attaches to Your Bike
To understand how the seat could slide forward on its rails, we need to explain how the Bell child bike seat attaches to your bike. The metal mounting bars are attached to the seat’s plastic bottom and locked in place by a plastic locking pin. Once secured, the end of those bars are inserted into a mounting block on the seat tube of your bike, as seen below.
There are seven different slots you could lock the mounting bars into. Because the seat will fit every adult bike differently, this allows you to position the Shell so that it is properly centered over the rear axle of the adult bike.
You simply unlock the green locking pin and slide the Shell forward or backward along the rails. You can see how this feature affects the positioning of the seat below.
Once the mounting bars’ position is chosen, to secure the bars in place, the green locking pin is turned into locked position. Most rear child bike seats have a similar set-up, because being able to center the seat over the rear axle of the bike is imperative for proper weight distribution.
The Locking Pin Problem
Unfortunately, the Bell Shell’s locking pin design is flawed. The weight of a child sitting in the seat and riding on flat ground keeps the seat anchored in place.
However, if you were to hit a large bump with enough force, the locking pin can actually slightly separate itself from the seat, creating just enough space for the seat to slide forward on the rails. This is even though the pin is still in locked position.
A video demonstration really is the easiest way to explain. Video review coming soon!
We discovered this potential problem while searching on YouTube for a Bell Shell installation video. We came across this video, in which a horrified father shows the exact same issue. But for him, he discovered the problem because his Bell Shell actually did come sliding forward and crashed into him while he was riding!
Bell Shell Rear Child Bike Seat Features
In our reviews, we normally give a detailed description of all of the features of a child bike seat. Because we don’t recommend the Bell Shell, we’ll provide only a brief commentary here. Overall, the Shell’s features are very basic, often to the point of being cheap and flimsy.
Shell’s 3-Point Harness is Cheap and Flimsy
Even if the sliding seat problem didn’t exist, the flimsy harness of the Bell Shell would still give us pause. We’ve tested almost 40 child bike seats, ranging from super high-end, to very budget-friendly. We’ve seen our fair share of harnesses.
The flimsy nature of the Bell Shell’s harness is immediately noticeable, and significantly lower in quality than any of the other budget-friendly seats we’ve tested – like the Bellelli Pepe.
It reminds me of the thin nylon straps on my toddler’s $15 Elmo backpack. You actually have to attach the harness to the seat as part of the assembly process, something we’ve never seen before.
There are a few additional qualities of the harness that speak to its low-quality.
- To tighten the straps, you have to pull the ends up. This leaves extra strap dangling down awkwardly.
- The straps are set very wide at the top, making it difficult to get a snug fit on a small child’s shoulders.
- While there are 3 shoulder strap height settings, they are placed so close together as to be mostly useless.
- The buckle is placed very far from the child’s crotch, leaving a ton of wiggle room between the buckle and the child’s body.
- The buckle is very basic, more basic than any other buckle we’ve seen on a rear child bike seat.
All in all, the harness is kind of a joke, and I would absolutely not put a young child in this seat that wasn’t able to sit still. I also wouldn’t put a young toddler in this seat because that harness just isn’t designed to hug their small proportions.
For reference, the toddler above is 3 years old and 39 pounds. The seat has a maximum weight capacity of 40 pounds. Most toddlers riding in this seat would be smaller than her, making the harness much less ideal due to its wide straps and forward-placed buckle.
Seat Padding Comes Off Easily
The easy-to-wipe foam seat pad is better than none at all, but it comes out of place easily. If I were to use this seat regularly, I’d probably Gorilla glue it into place.
Foot rests are Adjustable
The Bell Shell’s foot rests are height adjustable, which we certainly appreciate. Nicer child bike seats have foot rests that slide up and down for easy adjustments.
The Bell Shell’s foot rests have to be taken out and re-inserted. Kind of a pain for initial set-up, but not a big deal afterwards. The child’s feet are secured to the foot rests with a Velcro strap.
Bottom Line on the Bell Shell Rear Child Carrier
With a cheap and flimsy harness, and the potential for the seat to slide along its rails when you’re riding, the Bell Shell rear child carrier is a sure pass for us. If you’re looking for a super-budget seat, the Bell Cocoon 300 is a safer option.
Be sure to check out our list of 10 Best Child Bike Seats for options we confidently recommend.