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Child Bike Seats: How to Choose

With a wide variety of bikes and child bike seats on the market, finding a bike seat that properly fits your child, your bike, and your riding style can be a challenge. That’s where we come in!

After testing out the vast majority of baby, toddler, and child bike seats on the market, we’ve learned the ins and outs to finding the best child bike seat for you, your little ones, and your bike!

mom riding with her daughter in the burley dash child bike seat

Our Favorite Child (Baby) Bike Seats by Type

Front MountedOur Top PickBudget Pick

Seat Type

Our Top Pick

Budget Pick

Rear MountedHamax CaressBurley Dash
Front MountedThule RideAlong MiniPeg Perego Orion
MTB/ Mid-MountedKids Ride ShotgunTyke Toter

If you already have a seat and are trying to make it work, be sure to check the seat’s user guide as it usually provides helpful tips. More than likely, however, if you can’t make the seat fit, your bike is likely not compatible with the seat. Our fitting guide below will help you find a child bike seat that is compatible.

How to Find Best Child Bike Seat for Your Bike

STEP 1: Determine what type of child bike seat you prefer. (Front, Rear or Mid-mount)

STEP 2: Check your bike for compatibility

STEP 3: Narrow down compatible seats by features

Visual learner? Our Child Bike Seat Buying Guide video will quickly walk you through step 1 and 2 to help you determine what type of seat you prefer as well as if your bike is compatible with that style of seat.

STEP 1: What Type of Child Bike Seat Do You Prefer?

There are three different types of baby or child bikes seats, classified by where the seat is mounted on the bike.

REAR MOUNTED SEAT

Rear seats are suitable for ages 12 months to 48 lbs. and are the most popular type of seat on the market. All rear seats are larger than front-mounted seats and offer more features such as the ability to recline, suspension, and shoulder straps with more adjustability

Rear seats can mount to the frame of the bike or a rack. Unless you need a rack for panniers, we recommend frame-mounted seats, unless your bike isn’t compatible with a frame-mounted seat (see step 2).

FRONT MOUNTED SEAT

Front-mounted seats are the smallest seats and are suitable for ages 9 months to about 2.5 years old. With the baby bike seat placed between the adult rider’s arms, babies and toddlers often feel more comfortable and carefree in a front seat versus a rear-mounted seat. Parents also enjoy the “snuggle factor” of having their child in front of them.

MID-MOUNT/MTB SEAT

Mid-mount seats are suitable for ages 2 to 5, are free of harnesses, and place kids in between the adult rider and the handlebars. These types of seats are typically used for mountain biking, as they help the adult rider maintain their center of balance while also allowing their littles to come along for a trail ride.

Which type of seat you should choose depends on the age of your child, your style of riding, as well as the compatibility of your bike (covered in-depth in step 2). Use the chart below to help you choose your preferred seat type.

Types of Child Bike Seats

CategoryRear FrameFront MountedMid-Mount/ MTB

SEAT LOCATION

REAR

FRONT

MID-MOUNT/MTB

MOUNT POSTION

Bike's frame or a rear rack

Below the handlebars

Between the handlebars and seatpost, usually on the top tube

AGE RANGE

12 mo. - about 48 lbs.

9 mo. - 3 yrs. or 33 lbs.

Ages 2 to 5

BEST FOR

Longevity of use

Babies and young toddlersOlder kids who can hold on (no harness)

PROS

  1. More room for kids to grow
  2. Many can recline
  3. Suspension for bumpy rides
  1. Better fit for babies and young toddlers
  2. Close proximity to child
  3. Allows for easy conversation
  4. Less effect on adult's balance
  1. Fits older kids
  2. Cradles child between arms
  3. Take up less space in cockpit
  4. Safest bet for aggressive riding

CONS

  1. Child out of sight
  2. Conversations difficult
  3. Most effect on rider's balance
  1. Toddlers can outgrow them quickly
  2. Limits space for adult rider
  1. No harness, child must hold on
Hamax CaressThule RideAlong MiniKids Ride Shotgun

STEP 2: Is Your Bike Compatible with a Child Bike Seat?

With a wide variety of child bike seat styles and bike designs, compatibility is a major issue and is the result of most negative reviews on seats. Once you’ve selected the type of seat you prefer, you’ll need to examine your bike to determine if the seat type is compatible with your bike.

Mounting Requirements by Child Bike Seat Type

Click seat style to jump to its mounting requirements.

REAR FRAME – Our preferred rear mounting style

REAR RACK – If your want to use a rack or your bike isn’t compatible with rear frame mounting seats

FRONT SEATS – Mounts below the handlebars

MID-MOUNT/MTB– Mount between the adult seat and handlebars

REAR FRAME CHILD BIKE SEAT

Our preferred rear mounting style


Mom riding Priority Bike with 2 year old toddler sitting in the Burley Dash child bike seat.
Is your bike compatible with a rear frame-mounted child bike seat?

Mounting a rear seat to the bike’s frame is more cost-effective because it doesn’t require a separate purchase of a rack. Unfortunately, many bikes are not compatible with frame-mounted seats.

To determine if your bike will properly fit a rear frame-mounted seat, you will need to answer two questions about your bike.

Two Key Questions

(1) Is your bike’s seat tube compatible with a child bike seat?

(2) Is your saddle (seat) set too close to the frame of the bike?

1) Is your bike’s seat tube compatible with a child bike seat?

The mounting bracket for a rear frame-mounted seat attaches to the seat tube. The seat tube of the bike is the vertical tube that travels down directly beneath the seat and seat post.

In order to properly mount, the seat tube must be round and have at least 4″ to 6″ of open space. This open space must be clear of studs for water bottle mounts, wire mounts, and for most child bike seats, clear of all wires as well.

Interfering Cables for Rear Frame-mounted Seats

Collage showing good and bad examples of Interfering Cables for Rear Frame-mounted Child Bike Seats

If your bike has at least 4″ of open space, but does have wires going down the back of the seat tube, the Hamax Caress will likely work for you. Its specially-designed mounting bracket allows its mounting arms to slide between the wires and the frame of the bike.

If your bike does not have 4″ to 6″ of open space on the seat post, your bike is not compatible with a rear frame-mounted bike seat but is likely compatible with a rear rack-mounted seat. (see below)

2) Is your saddle (seat) set too close to the frame of the bike?

Even if your bike’s frame has the proper clearance to mount a seat, if your saddle is set to its lowest position on the bike or within an inch of touching the bike frame, you still may have trouble mounting a rear frame-mounted seat.

While every brand varies, all brands need about two inches clearance below the seat for the seat and mounting poles. If this is the case for you, the Thule RideAlong rear seat along with its low-saddle adapter is your best choice.

Room Needed for Child Seat Beneath Saddle


Ready to Pick a Seat? Visit our 10 Best Child Bike Seats Article or jump down to Step 3 to learn more about the various features found on bike seats.

REAR RACK CHILD BIKE SEAT

For those who want to or need to use a rack


Is your bike compatible with a rack-mounted child bike seat?

Rear rack-mounted seats mount to a rack attached to the frame of the adult bike over the rear tire. Child bike seats typically do not come with a rack and the must be purchased separately. If your bike can take a rack, any rack-mounted child bike seat will likely work.

If you already have a rack, make sure the rack’s weight capacity is at least 60 lbs. (or more depending on your child) before mounting a bike seat to it.

To determine if your bike will properly fit a rear rack-mounted child bike seat, you will need to answer two questions about your bike.

Two Key Questions

(1) Does your bike have eyelets for mounting a rack?

(2) Does your bike have disc brakes?

1) Does your bike have eyelets for mounting a rack?

Eyelets on your bike are necessary for mounting a rack. Without eyelets, you can’t connect a rack to your bike, and thus can’t mount a rear rack-mounted seat.

While there are two sets of eyelets on the frame of a rack-compatible bike (two near the rear wheel axle and two near the top of the rear triangle), the top eyelets are easier to spot and essentially guarantee that the lower eyelets are on the bike.

As shown in the image below, the top set of eyelets are found at the top of the rear triangle of the bike frame and are generally covered by a black plastic plug. If your bike has these top eyelets, it is rack-compatible.

Eyelets for Bike Rack Mounts on Adult Bikes

Collage showing where to find eyelets on a bike for mounting a bike rack

2) Does your bike have disc brakes?

Bikes with disc brakes have a large rotor around the tire’s hub and are only compatible with disc-brake specific bike racks, such as the Topeak Explorer with disc-brake mounts. If you have disc brakes, you must buy a rack made specifically to work with disc brakes.

Disc Brakes vs. Non Disc Brakes

Collage showing how to identify if your bike has disc brakes


Ready to Pick a Seat? Visit our 10 Best Child Bike Seats Article or jump down to Step 3 to learn more about the various features found on bike seats.

FRONT FRAME CHILD BIKE SEAT

Mount below the handlebars


Mom riding with 1-year-old in the Thule Yepp Nexxt Mini child bike seat
Is your bike compatible with a front-mounted child bike seat?

To determine if your bike will properly fit a front-mounted seat, you need to answer three questions about your bike:

Two Key Questions

(1) Is your bike big enough to comfortably ride with a front-mounted seat?

(2) What type of headset does your bike have? Threaded/Quill or Threadless/Ahead?

Don’t worry, these questions can easily be answered with a tape measure and your eyes, no pros needed. 🙂

1) Is your bike big enough to comfortably ride with a front-mounted seat?

Front-mounted bike seats take up about 10″ of space between the stem and saddle of the bike. If your top tube (the distance between your handlebars and seat tube) is less than 20″, you will likely have difficulty riding with a front-mounted seat as your chest and knees may both hit the seat.

Cruisers, hybrids, or other bikes in which the adult rider is in a more upright position can get away with just about 18″. Road bikes and other bikes that put the adult rider in a more forward-leaning position on the bike are not suitable for front-mounted seats as the rider’s chest will make contact with the child bike seat.

Photo Source: Dutch Trading Company (Brighton UK)

2) What type of headset does your bike have (threaded/quill or threadless/ahead)?

There are two main types of headsets on adult bikes – threaded/quill and threadless/ahead. Threaded headsets are tightened with a threaded locknut (hence the name threaded), while threadless do NOT have a locknut and are tightened with an internal bolt (which you can’t see).

Diagram showing difference between a threaded headset and a threadless headset.
Threaded/Quill Headsets

Bikes with quill stems (threaded headsets) are generally very compatible with bike seat mounts. On quill stems the mounting bracket is clamped around the stem. Mounting brackets range from 0.5″ to 1.5″ tall, so you will need 0.5″ to 1.5″ of open space on the stem. If you don’t have enough room, it is very likely that you can loosen the locknut and raise the handlebars to get the space you need.

Threadless/Ahead Headsets

Ahead/threadless headsets are much more challenging to fit with front-mounted bike seats.  While many seats manufacturers claim that their standard mounting brackets are compatible with ahead stems, we have rarely found that to be the case.  Ahead adapters are much slimmer than standard adapters and typically fit into the tighter spaces available on bikes with ahead headsets.

Hamax Observer Mounting Brackets

Instead of mounting around the quill stem like standard brackets, ahead adapters mount between the spacers on the steer tube (the tube that travels up from the fork to which the handlebars attach) and require removing the handlebars to mount.

The Thule Yepp Mini and the Hamax Observer are the only two front-mounted seats to offer ahead adapters for their baby bike seats. Luckily they are both great seats!

Thule Yepp Mini and Caress Observer Used with Ahead Adapters

However, not all bikes with ahead headsets will be compatible with ahead adapters.  Bikes that typically have success with mounting ahead adapters have several flat spacers along the steer tube (beneath the handlebars) and  have riser handlebars.  Some bikes without spacers, but with riser handlebars often work as well.

Due to limited space, bikes with flat handlebars typically do not have enough room to either mount the adapter or to prevent the legs of the seat from hitting the bike’s fork.  For bike with flat handlebars (typically advanced mountain bikes), mid-mount child bike seats are a much better bet.

Ahead Headsets Compatible with Front-Mounted Seats


Ready to Pick a Seat? Visit our 10 Best Front-Mounted Child Bike Seats Article or jump down to Step 3 to learn more about the various features found on bike seats.

MID-MOUNT – MOUNTAIN CHILD BIKE SEAT

Mount between the adult seat and handlebars


shotgun feature
Is your bike compatible with a mid-mounted child bike seat?

Mid-mount seats are MUCH easier to fit on a bike than rear and traditional front-mounted seats. Since most of these mid-mount seats mount by “squeezing” the top tube and bottom tube on a bike, they can adjust to fit a wide range of bikes. All mid-mount seats do not come with any type of harness, so the child must hold on tightly!

Recreational vs. MTB-style Mid-mount Bike Seats

There are two main styles of mid-mount seats that are designed for completely different uses. Recreational seats are designed for quick and easy rides about town while mountain bike child bike seats are design for mountain biking, but can also be used recreationally.

Recreational Use (Tyke Toter) vs. Mountain Biking (Do Little)

side by side of a mom using a tyke toter and a do little bike seat

Recreational seats are bigger and bulkier and are great around the town, but not ideal for mountain biking. Our favorite recreation mid-mount seat is the Tyke Toter. As long as you have an inch of free space on your seat post, the Tyke Toter should fit!

Mountain bike child bike seats are designed to be slim to minimize the amount of space the seat and the child rider takes up in the cockpit. There are three main brands of MTB seats – Do Little, MacRide and Kids Ride Shotgun.

We’ve tested out all three and they each have their pros and cons, but they all offer universal mounting systems for all mountain bike style bikes, including carbon fiber and full-suspension bikes. To learn more about the fitting requirements of each seat, check out their individual reviews: Do Little, Mac Ride and Kids Ride Shotgun.

mountain bike seats mid

Ready to Pick a Seat? Visit our 10 Best Front-Mounted Child Bike Seats Article or jump down to Step 3 to learn more about the various features found on bike seats.

STEP 3: Narrow down child bike seats by features

Now that you know your bike is compatible with a child bike seat, here’s what features to look for when shopping for a bike seat for your baby, toddler, or child: 1) harness design, 2) shoulder straps, 3) seat shape, 4) adjustable footrest, 4) suspension, 5) reclinability and 6) availability of accessories

1. Harness Design

There are two styles of harnesses – 3-point and 5-point. 3-point harnesses have shoulder straps that meet at the buckle. 5-point harnesses have shoulder straps and waist straps that meet at the buckle

side by side comparison of a 5 point child bike seat harness and a three point harness

While both styles of harness comply with safety standards, 5-point harnesses may be safer in certain situations. If your kid manages to wiggle out of the shoulder straps (which our toddler has done!), the waist straps keep them anchored in the seat.

We especially appreciate the Burley Dash’s 5-point harness that has a buckle that is placed much higher on a child’s torso. Most child bike seats buckle in the crotch. The higher buckle of the Burley seat makes it much more difficult for a child to escape the shoulder straps.

Burley Dash child bike seat buckle placement is high on the chest compared to other seats with the buckle in the crotch

2) Shoulder Straps

For optimal safety, shoulder straps on child bike seats should remain firmly on the shoulders of a child. While all bike seats have shoulder straps, the design and functionality of the straps vary greatly.

Through years of testing, we have found strap systems with simple, “pull-down-to-tighten” straps far easier to use than straps that require rethreading the straps through a slide buckle.

Pull to Adjust Versus Buckle Rethread Adjust

Height adjustable straps that adjust up and down the back of the seat allow you to properly position the shoulder strap just below the shoulder of the child; they provide a tighter, more secure fit. Some seats, such as the Thule RideAlong and the Hamax Caress, offer easy sliding adjustment systems (that lock into place), others require rethreading, and some provide no height adjustment system at all.

Continual Adjust, Rethread Adjust vs. No Adjust Shoulder Straps

3. Seat Shape

Helmet Pockets

A helmet pocket is an additional comfort feature to look for in a seat design. Recessed helmet pockets prevent a child’s head from being pushed forward by the seat, making the ride and the helmet much more comfortable.

Bumpers

Bumpers are designed to prevent fingers from being squished along a wall, pole, or other objects and are an additional safety feature available on the Thule RideAlong and several other seats.

Helmet Pockets and Bumpers

Seat Back Height (FRONT Seats Only)

The shape of the seat can make a significant difference in the comfort level of the seat. With front-mounted baby bike seats, seats with a low back, like the iBert Seat, force the shoulder straps to originate low on the child’s back, which causes the straps to slip off the shoulders during use.

The lower back also prevents kids from being propped up by the seat if they fall asleep during the ride. Seats with a taller back, such as the BoBike Mini City shown below, help keep the shoulder straps in place as well as support a child’s body when they fall asleep.

Low Back vs. High Back Front Bike Seats

4. Adjustable Footrest

Footrests help to properly support a child’s feet and legs on front and rear-mounted seats. Footrests on rear-mounted seats also help to protect the child from the rear wheel. On front-mounted seats, baby’s and toddler’s legs are generally not long enough to reach the wheel, but their feet are long enough to reach the handlebars.

In addition to interfering with steering, young toddlers can also switch gears by pushing on the shifters with their feet. Well-designed footrests offer tool-free height adjustments while comfortably keeping the child’s feet secure with wide, locking straps.

Adjustable Footrests Provide Additional Safety for Child and Parent

5. Seat Suspension

Suspension on a child bike seat helps to cushion the child from any bumps that come up through the bike. Whether going down a curb or riding over a speed bump, suspension helps to provide a more comfortable ride.

Suspension is not available on front-mounted seats but is a feature on several rear frame-mounted seats, such as Thule RideAlong, and a couple of rear rack-mounted seats, such as the Hamax Caress.

Rear frame-mounted suspension systems have several names, but they all essentially rely on the metal mounting bars that attach the seat to the bike frame to flex under additional stress. The bars generally flex 1″ to 3″ inches to absorb the impact.

Rear rack-mounted seat suspensions are created via springs in the mounting bracket of the seat. Spring systems offer less flex and only flex about 1″ to 1.5″.

Suspension on Rear Frame-Mounted Seats vs. Rear Rack-Mounted Seats

6. Reclinable Seats

Kids often fall asleep while riding in child bike seats. The ability to recline the seat can prevent their neck from flopping around during a ride, providing a much more comfortable (and safer) sleep and ride.

Burley Dash X Child bike seat in the reclined position

Front-mounted seats do not recline as that would interfere with the space of the adult rider. Many higher-end rear seats, both frame and rack-mounted, like the Burley Dash X shown below, offer reclinable seats.

7. Front-mounted Seat Accessories

Keeping your baby or toddler 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 their handlebars from the kids. Several front-mounted seats also offer windscreens which help to significantly reduce the wind on a child’s face during a ride – like the Thule RideAlong Mini and the Hamax Observer.

Hamax Observer Shield and Thule RideAlong Mini’s Handlebars

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