Child Bike Seats: How to Choose
From the type of bike you have to the type of rides you are planning, here’s what you need to know before your purchase any bike seat. Already know what type of seat you want/need? Check out our Bike Seat Comparison Guide.
The safety of bike seats is still up for debate in many people’s eyes. While widely used Europe and in some parts of Asia for regular transportation, they are mainly used in the US for recreational purposes. As a result, several differences between regulatory safety standards exist between the two. In Europe, the English Standard (BE EN 14344) is required on all seats and is used to certify front and rear-mounted seats from a child 9 months and up. In the US, the ASTM standard will only certify rear-mounted seats for a child age one and up. While the ASTM does not certify front-mounted seats, they are legally allowed to be sold in the US and all front-mounted seats available are certified by English Standards.
The difference between the 9 months and 1 year significant when shopping for bike seats. While front-mounted seats sold in the US are certified by the English Standard for ages 9 months and up, in the state of New York it is illegal to transport any child under 12 months of age in a bike seat. Other states, cities or counties many implement similar laws, so be sure to check local laws before riding with a child under a year. In most states, it is also illegal for any aged child to ride a bike without wearing a helmet (click here to see our recommendations for helmets), but regardless of your local laws, if your child isn’t ready to wear a helmet (and keep it on!), they aren’t ready to ride a bike.
2. Type of Bike
One of the main frustrations parents have with child bike seats is getting them properly mounted. With countless different types of bike frames and sizes, as well as numerous different bike seat mounting systems, it’s easy to see how challenging obtaining a perfect mount can be. As a general, standard city bikes or commuter bikes (mountain bike style frames without suspension) are the most versatile, while specialty bikes, such as road or full-suspension mountain bikes, are not recommended. Prior to purchasing a seat, you will want to ensure your bike is compatible with your seat of choice. While I cannot guarantee a specific seat will specific bike, here are some basic guidelines to follow based on typical front and rear-mounted seats.
Required Bike Specs for front-mounted seats:
- Type of Headset: While there are various types of headsets, you essentially just need to know if yours in threaded or not. Luckily, you can easily determine your type of headset by looking where the handlebars attach to the frame of your bike. With a threaded headset you will see a locknut circumferencing the frame, while with a threadless set, there is no locknut, but two bolts will be visible higher up on the stem (the bar that connects the handlebars to the fork). Threaded headsets do not need adapters, while with threadless headsets require a special adapter with the Yepp. BoBike front mounting system is adaptable to threaded and threadless and comes standard with every seat.
- Available Space on Quill Stem (Threaded) or Steer Tubes (Threadless): All front-mounted bike seats mount to either the quill stem (threaded headsets) or the steering tube, the tube that runs through the frame and connects the handlebars to the front fork (threadless). Various distances between the stem (bar that attaches handlebar to steering tube) and head tube (portion of the frame that the steering tube travels through) are required for all front-mounting brackets, ranging from 3/4″ and up.
- Available Space on Frame: Front-mounted bike seats take up about 10″ of space between the stem and saddle of the bike. If your top tube or the distance between your handlebars and seat tube, is less than 20″ you may have difficulty riding with a front-mounted seat.
Photo Source: Dutch Trading Company (Brighton UK)
Specs for Rear-Mounted Bike Seats:
- Rack-mounted Rear Seats: The majority of rear-mounted seats on the market mount to a bike rack, thereby requiring bike rack eyelet mounts on your bike. Without these eyelets, a rack substantial enough to hold a child’s weight cannot be mounted to the bike and a frame-mounted rear seat must be used (explained below). Four eyelets are on the frame, two on the seat stay (below the seat post) and two on the frame where the rear brake is attached (shown below). If your bike does have eyelets, you will also need to determine whether it has disc-brakes. Disc brakes are easy to spot as you can see the small braking disc around the hub of each tire. Due to the extra width required for the caliper on disc brakes, a bike rack specifically designed for disc-brakes will be needed, such as the Topeak BabySeat Rack with Disc Mount.
- Frame-mounted Rear Seats: If your bike does not have mounting eyelets or even if it does, the location of braking and derailleur cables can be problematic. If any cables are on the seat stay, versus the chain stay, the mount for the rear-mounted seats may prevent the cables from functioning properly.
Once knowledgeable of your bike’s mounting options, ensuring a proper fit is much more likely.
3. Front Mount vs. Rear Mount
Front- mount versus rear mount? While the safety of the seats is often debated (click here to read a great article on the issue), it really is up to the rider. First off, front-mounted seats should not be used for kids over the age of three or even on larger two-year-olds. As a child grows, they can block your field of vision making it unsafe. Front-mounted seats can also force you to bow your legs out as you pedal to prevent from hitting the seat. Being 5’10” with a 35″ inseam, I was able to lower my seat to prevent hitting both the iBert and BoBike without any problems. On a side note, as a mom, I admit that I did not allow my first two babies to ride in the front-mounted seats for safety reasons, but after watching our third safely enjoy the ride, I wish I would have allowed my younger two to experience it. Having tested and used several front and rear-mounted seats, I can also say that I feel much more comfortable and safe using front-mounted seats with kids under three versus rear.
4. Size and Age of Child
Front-mounted seats should not be used for babies under 9 months (12 months in some areas) and kids over the age of three and/or over 33 lbs. In addition, any child that is not willing to wear a helmet should not be on a bike seat. The weight recommendations for rear-mounted seats vary greatly, they generally max out at 40 lbs. but can go up to 70 lbs.
5. Place for Hands/Sleep Bar
Keeping your kids comfortable during rides is an added bonus for everyone. Happy kids make for happier rides. While testing, we found that front-mounted seats with handlebars made for a more comfortable ride for child and adult. The kids felt more secure having something to hold on to while adults found less “grabbing” of the their handlebars from the kids. Padded handlebars and “sleep rolls” are also as added bonus as they provide a soft place for kids to lay their heads when they inevitably fall asleep.
If long rides are in order with your rear-mounted seat, handlebars are “sleep rolls” are not available.
6. Adjustable Buckling Systems and Foot Straps
Making sure your child is safely buckled into their seat is essential. While all models have a three-point harness system, we found the bucking systems on some models far superior to others. Some were easier to adjust compared, but we found the ability for the straps to stay in place the most telling of the buckling systems. Falling off the shoulder was our biggest complaint and found the higher-end models, with a rubber component on the top of the strap, kept the straps securely in place. The rubber straps also preventing a child from slumping over when falling asleep.
The ability to strap down your child’s feet on front-mounted bike seats is an often overlooked safety concern. While keeping their feet out-of-the-way of the front tire is a minimal concern since their legs are simply too short to reach the spokes, the main problem is their ability to reach the shifters with their feet. While all front-mounted bike seats, except the iBert, come with foot straps (see the yellow straps in Yepp mini picture above), we found them to be ineffective on one-year-olds as they can easily slide their feet out of the straps. Older kids or kids with larger feet however, were unable to remove their foot from the straps.
For rear-mounted seats, straps and plastic shields are essential as they prevent a child’s foot from entering the wheel. Once again, we found the straps to be ineffective on smaller children. If you are considering purchasing a rear-mounted seat for a one-year-old, be sure to purchase one with plastic shields such as the or Yepp Maxi.
7. Weight of Seat
The lighter the additional load on your bike, the easier your ride will be, so the lighter the better. Front-mounted do not vary as much as rear-mounted seats. Rack-mounted rear seats however, is where the rider should be of most concern. The maximum load of bike racks can range from 25lb. to over 150 lb., so considering the rack has to support the bike seat and your child, be sure to calculate the weight of the seat when determining the total load on a rack.
8. Family Lifestyle
A family that occasionally goes for a family bike ride, versus a family that commutes on their bike will be in the market for different seats. The size of the mounting bracket, the ease of mounting an un-mounting and the level of comfort of a child experiences during a ride should all be considered when selecting the best bike seat for your family.
- Windscreen and Storage Options: If you are planning to use a front-mounted seat in cooler weather, consider purchasing the Yepp or the BoBike as they both offer a windscreen to help protect your child from the cold. If you need additional storage on board, BoBike also offers a front mounted BoBox that attaches the BoBike mounting bracket. For rear storage BoBike’s BoBag pannier bags are available for their rear-mounted seats.
- Size of Mounting Bracket: If you plan on riding your bike regularly without the bike seat, then a small mounting bracket, that does not inhibit your ride will be very beneficial. For example, the iBert, BoBike mini and the Yepp mini front-mounted seats are all able to be removed quickly, but only the BoBike and Yepp mounting brackets are small and compact. A similar compact system is available for frame-mouted rear seats in the Britax child bike seat (also branded Romer) as shown below.
- Ease of Mounting and Un-mounting: European seats, such as the BoBike and Yepp, can be more challenging to mount as compared to US rack-mounted seats, such as the ToPeak and iBert. If you are looking to take the seat on and off often, stick to a rack-mounted rear seat or one with a small mounting bracket shown above. If however, you plan on mounting it on a bike and leaving it there, ease of um-mounting should not be of concern.
- Level of Comfort of Child: A child should not have to endure a bike ride rather than enjoy it. If you plan on doing longer rides, you will want to consider the comfort level of your child. Shocks, padded seats, the ability to recline, sleep rolls and wrap around head frame, all provide additional comforts to children.
What bike seat is best for my family?
Check out our Bike Seat Ratings & Comparison Charts to view and compare the top rated child bike seats.
By: Natalie Martins
Last Updated: January 21, 2017