Cycling with a baby

Source: BICYCLE DUTCH

To the Dutch there’s nothing more natural than cycling with their children. Manufacturers of Dutch baby front bike seats tell their customers they can be used from the time a baby is 6 to 9 months old, or, more accurately, when a baby is able to sit upright on its own. Foreign experts add that in their eyes the time a baby is one year old is a safer starting point. But in the Netherlands much younger babies are already transported on bicycles. For young babies, some of the Dutch will use a maxi-cosi mounted on the rear-luggage carrier, or they put their babies in a trailer or a bakfiets.

My video shows Dutch parents carrying their babies on their bicycles.
I haven’t found any Dutch expert advising against this common practice. The only warnings I found were against carrying your baby on your body in a baby carrier bag on either front or back. Because in case of a fall you would then land on top of your baby. However, even though experts advise against this, in the streets of the Netherlands you will find a lot of parents who do carry their baby on their bodies while cycling.

The Dutch experts’ advice is in sharp contrast with the views of US safety experts, one of which has been quoted to state: “There is no age when a child should go on a bicycle with a parent … Who would want to take a chance of the child falling? Even if you weren’t in danger of being hit by a car, just a slip, the baby goes down and the baby would go down very hard.”

No wonder that in the US people are warned that if they decide to transport their children on their bikes they “will be judged“. And it is not much different in Australia.

Advice to Dutch Parents

The Dutch advice couldn’t be more different. To parents worrying if they can transport their baby safely on a bicycle, the response is: “Sure! Just cycle away!“  So what are the tips Dutch experts give?

General Advice
In what ever way you transport your baby on a bicycle, don’t take them too long! When seated on a bicycle a baby can’t move much, so the blood flow might suffer. One hour is safe but then there should be some other physical activity to get the blood flow going again. If your baby cries or shows in any other way that it doesn’t like being in the seat on the bicycle, the tour has to stop right away.

Babies who cannot sit upright by themselves yet
If your baby is not able to sit upright on its own yet, it can be transported in a so-called baby mee (baby-along) on which you can mount a maxi-cosi to the rear luggage carrier. The manufacturer advises it for use with babies from 2 months old.

Disadvantage: your baby is in a very high position, there is no weather protection and even with the suspension it could still be shaky. (For that reason the DutchCyclists’ Union advises to also cycle with slightly deflated tyres.) But the all around seat and the carrier handle put in an upright position do protect the baby in case of a fall.

A baby trailer is much lower and better protected from weather conditions (with a cover on the trailer) but your baby is not in view behind you. On the other hand a trailer seats more than one child.

That is also true for a bakfiets: there are also adaptors to mount a maxi-cosi to a bakfiets. In which case you can then see your baby in front of you. But not everybody wants to have a bakfiets of course. They are larger than an ordinary bicycle and that could be a problem when you need to store it.

Typical Dutch dad transporting kids on a bike. You can just see his young baby in the box of his bakfiets in a mounted maxi-cosi. His older son sits in the rear seat. Clearly visible are the black straps with which this child is strapped to the seat.

Typical Dutch dad transporting kids on a bike. You can just see his young baby in the box of his bakfiets in a mounted maxi-cosi. His older son sits in the rear seat. Clearly visible are the black straps with which this child is strapped to the seat.

Babies who can sit upright
Dutch parents are encouraged to carry their babies from about 6 to 9 months, who are able to sit upright themselves, in a front seat mounted on the handle bars. These front mounted seats can be used until the child weighs about 15 kg which is at the age of about 3 years old.  In good seats you are able to strap your child securely to the seat. And it is also very important that the feet are protected. To further increase the comfort of your child a transparent wind shield can be mounted to the seat as well.

Yours truly in April 1966 in the front seat of dads bicycle. I actually have vivid memories of sitting in that position! That’s probably because I liked it so much (although this picture doesn’t really show that!). Note that the straps to secure a baby in the seat had not been invented yet in 1966…

Yours truly in April 1966 in the front seat of dads bicycle. I actually have vivid memories of sitting in that position! That’s probably because I liked it so much (although this picture doesn’t really show that!). Note that the straps to secure a baby in the seat had not been invented yet in 1966…

Some advantages of the front seat are (as described on this English site) that “parents also benefit from being able to point interesting things out along the way and generally keep an eye on their child.” And on a more personal note the writer adds: “my son was thrilled to be facing the front.”

Bigger children can only be carried on the back. The back seats can transport children up to about 22kg, generally the equivalent of a 6 year-old. For rear seats it is even more important that the feet are protected, as the child’s feet are right next to the fast-moving spooks. In the past, many Dutch children suffered awful wounds to their heels when they got caught in the spooks. Modern seats prevent that from happening. It may also be important to cover the springs of the saddle. So children will not get caught in these springs with their fingers.

The main reason the Dutch can safely transport their babies on their bicycles is of course because there is a dense network of safe cycle routes. Not only are there protected cycle paths away from traffic (29,000 kilometres) but also many 30km/h zones (over 30,000 kilometres). If you come from a country where that is different, you may look at the Dutch and their kids on their bikes with surprise. Already in 2006 a foreign observer published an account on the internet of how the Dutch transport their children. Under the heading “multiple riders”, Brian from the Bay area in California keeps referring to the front seat as the “suicide position”. I think almost nobody in the Netherlands would agree with that term.

Other Americans are more informed and transport their own children on Dutch bikes in Amsterdam. On his blog, Ryan Cooper, who is originally from Detroit, first described how he rediscovered freedom when his daughter was finally old enough to be in the front seat on his bike. And then he published a lovely videoabout an outing to an Amsterdam Park.

There is also a wonderful post by Henry from WorkCycles about taking his kids on a trip in a bakfiets.

He also wrote about carrying newborns on a bicycle. Recommended reading!

King of the world

I had this post lined up for a later date but I pushed it forward because this week my attention was drawn to a magnificent video by a band from Groningen that I just have to share here. They do a far better job than I do in portraying Dutch parents cycling with their children and it works especially well because they never meant to do that. This unintentionally underlines the normalcy of this type of transport!

Anthony’s Putsch – King of the world – Beautiful parents with their beautiful children!

The video generates such positive vibes that it is making the rounds in circles of international cycling enthusiasts now. People can’t get enough of all the happy children on the bicycle. When people started to comment how special they think this is, it prompted the front man of the band to write: “Typically Dutch I guess. Didn’t realize that when we made this vid.

Isn’t it amazing how completely unaware the average Dutch person is about how special the cycling culture of the Netherlands is! It is a strong point that cycling and everything connected to it is so normal, but at the same time there is a risk the Dutch might lose it, because why would you fight to keep something you don’t even notice is special. But that may be a topic for an entirely different blog post some day!