Child seat or trailer: what’s best for kids on bikes?


Two quick hand movements are all it takes for David Kossmann to detach his trailer from his bicycle and fold it up. “Now it fits behind the door,” says the family man, who is often out riding his bike with the trailer behind — with his small child inside it.

Kossmann and other parents often find themselves debating the issue of what is better for children — to have their own seat on top of the bike, or to be transported behind in a special trailer?

Kossmann, who works for German cycling association Pressedienst Fahrrad, swears by his trailer. He argues that it is safer, and makes cycling easier for him. “And if for some reason the bicycle crashes, nothing happens to the trailer,” he says, while adding that a trailer can transport not only a toddler, but also shopping bags.

However, other parents are somewhat wary about the bike trailer, wondering whether it will fit through every narrow spot, or how safe is it on corners. And above all, they worry that some car drivers might fail to spot the trailer.

Kossmann recommends installing a pole in the trailer with a brightly colored flag to alert drivers. “The flag is at the same height as the cyclist’s head, so it certainly can’t be overlooked,” he argues.

As to getting used to the feel of riding a bike with a trailer behind it, Kossmann says: “Simply put a sack of, say, garden soil in the back and head out to practice taking a few corners.”

According to Rene Fillippek of the German cycling club ADFC, a trailer is regarded as slightly safer than a child’s seat mounted on the bike frame or above the back wheel.

Crash tests have shown that in an accident, a trailer is more likely to be shoved to the side, whereas with a seat, the child can come crashing to the ground.

“But a child’s seat is not unsafe, per se,” he said. “Both the trailer and seat can be used in good conscience.” Filippek adds that in either case, the child should be wearing a helmet.

But on German streets, at least, the bicycle seat clearly outnumbers the trailer. One reason for this is cost. While a trailer will set you back between 350 and 400 euros (390-445 dollars), a child’s seat costs around 150 euros.

“Many parents also don’t have room to store a trailer,” Filippek notes. And a further advantage of a seat is that a child can more quickly get the parent’s attention than when they are seated behind in the trailer.

Experts do, however, advise against mounting a child’s seat in front of the rider. Having the child behind the rider offers better protection against the elements and flying insects.

“And a fidgety child up front can make it difficult for the cyclist to maintain balance,” says Heidi Atzler of the German technical inspection service Tuev. In addition, the law sets a limit of 15 kilograms for a child sitting up front, with 22 kg being the limit for a child behind the rider.

A rear seat should be installed with a gap of a few centimeters above the wheel frame, so that it can absorb any bumps. Experts advise having the seat fitted by a bicycle shop, and bringing the child along so the right adjustments can be made.

A further important safety feature are foot rests. “They should be adjustable and have straps for the feet,” Atzler says.

Regardless of whether you choose a seat or a trailer, experts have this advice: Parents should make sure that their bicycle is in good working order, especially the brakes, which must be able to handle the greater weight load.