Battle of the bike seats: Are front or rear mount bike seats better? It depends.
Child bike seats are an affordable option for biking with your baby once she is 12 months old. Front mount and rear mount child bike seats are available, and each has different pros and cons to consider. Whichever child bike seat you choose, follow installation instructions and age/height/weight limits for the child bike seat and make sure your child wears a bike helmet.
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Front Mount Child Bike Seats
Front mount child bikes seats have long been used in Europe and are becoming more popular in North America. The main benefit is better passenger experience, while the main drawbacks of some models are awkward riding stance (riding bow legged to accommodate the seat) and awkward steering (particularly for shorter riders). For these reasons, I would recommend front-mount child bike seats to taller cyclists who want to easily converse with their little ones and keep an eye on them.
Special note re bike compatibility and installation: If the seat mounts on your stem (below the handlebars), you must have enough space for the mount. If the seat sits on your frame (on the cross bar), you need to ensure the frame is large enough frame to accommodate the child seat and allow you to safely get on and off your bike. Since I’m short, and have an XS bike frame, we were not able to use a front mount seat. Try before you buy!
Front Mount Pros
- Your child has an unobstructed view.
- You can see and talk to your child more easily, and ensure she’s not unbuckling herself (not a concern with babies, but could be with older children).
- Your child has a safety hand/head rest pillow to learn forward on when she wants to sleep.
Front Mount Seat Cons
- Most front mount seats can only be used safely until your child is around 2 years old (vs 5-7 yrs old with some rear mounted seats).
- Your child is more exposed to wind – but models like the Thule Yepp Mini, Thule RideAlong Mini (discontinued), and Bobike Mini have windscreens. Purchase the Thule Yepp Mini Windscreen on Amazon.
- It can be difficult to get on and off your bike with a stem-mounted front child seat on it because the handlebars swing around.
- Steering can be a challenge with your child in front of you if you are on the short side, or your child is quite tall (because it’s hard to reach around the child).
- Your child cannot recline to sleep (but may be able to lean forward on a hand/head rest depending on the model you choose).
- Larger children may grab your handlebars or change gears at inopportune times.
- Some higher seat backs can hit you in the chest on bumpy terrain or when leaning forward to go up hills.
Pro Tip: If you choose to get a front mounted seat, borrow/rent one first and test it out to ensure a) it can be installed on your bike, b) your legs, chest, arms, and vision are unobstructed, and c) you can turn properly. If buying online, be sure to confirm with the manufacturer that the seat is compatible with your bike.
Rear Mount Child Bike Seats
For rear mounted seats, there are two kinds: rear frame mount and rear rack mount. Not all bike seats work with all bikes, so you will have to confirm whether the seat attaches to your seat post or bike rack.
- For rear rack mount seats, your bike must have eyelets for a bike rack. You will also need to purchase a bike rack for the seat to attach to if you don’t already have one, or if the seat does not come with one. *If you have disc brakes, you will require a different kind of rack.*
- Rear frame mount seats typically attach to your seat post and need a few inches of clearance. Since my bike seat is as low as it can go, I was not able to attach a child bike seat to my bike. We ended up putting a rear frame mount seat on my husband’s bike, while I towed our other child in a Chariot. **With some seats (like Thule RideAlong), you can purchase a low seat adapter to use the seat with minimal clearance.
Rear Mount Pros
- It is easier to pedal and get on/off your bike with the child seat behind you than in front of you (especially if you’re on the petite side). Petite riders will find it easier to steer with the seat behind them since they don’t have to reach around the child and seat.
- Many rear mount seats recline to allow baby a more comfortable sleep.
- Your child is less exposed to wind.
- Most rear mount seats can be used a few years longer than front mount seats.
Rear Mount Cons
- It’s harder to chat with your child when it’s windy/noisy.
- You cannot look at your child without turning around.
- You child does not have a pillow to lean forward on (but if you get a reclining seat, you can lean her back).
- Some people find it harder to balance with a rear mount seat (but my husband had no issue with ours). Again, try before you buy!
While the Thule seats are the best, less expensive options include the Bellelli Child Bike Seat or Bell Child Bike Seat. We bought a Bell seat second hand and found it ok for short rides, but not for longer rides when our little one wanted to nap as the seat did not recline.
What to Look For in a Child Bike Seat
Easy installation and compatibility with your bike is important. Other important features include a lock to prevent theft of the seat, and quick-release bracket for those times you’re cycling kid free and don’t want the additional weight.
Safety considerations for front and rear-mount child bike seats include the following:
- A 5-point harness is preferable to a 3-point harness that tiny kids could slide out of. Check reviews to ensure straps stay in place and make sure straps are done up properly every time!
- Many models also have child-proof buckles.
- While vents are nice to have on a hot day, the trade off is safety. If you fall, a seat with covered vents or fewer vents will provide more protection than an airy seat.
- Height and weight maximums will affect how long you may use your bike seat. Most front or rear mount carriers are good until your child is 40 pounds, but there is variation between manufacturers. Adjustable footbeds that grow as your child grows will keep your child comfortable by preventing her feet from dangling.
- Weight of the seat is also a consideration. The less the seat weighs, the less you have carry, but a really light seat may be less comfortable or have less impact resistance. Check what materials are used in the seat and ensure the cushions are comfy for your child.
Front Mount Seats Features/Accessories to Consider
- hand rests on front mount seats will provide something for your child to hold other than your handlebars and shifters. Bonus points for padded hand rests that can double as a pillow when little one wants to sleep!
- wind screen
- rain cover
Rear Mount Seats Features/Accessories to Consider
- A reclining rear mount seat makes for comfy nap time (otherwise little one’s head will flop forward when she naps).
- rain cover
Child bike seats do not provide as much protection as a bike trailer, and falls from 3 feet can cause severe injury or death. If you choose to use a child bike seat, bike on designated bike paths and stay below the speed limit (20 km/hr in Calgary). And always, always wear a helmet!
Not comfortable putting your toddler in a bike seat? Consider a bike trailer. Bike trailers provide superior protection from the elements, insects, and have a built-in roll bar (the frame) for safety.
Ultimately, you have to choose a bike seat that meets your budget and needs, and is compatible with your bike. Although we owned a bike trailer, we liked the child bike seat for short rides around the neighborhood. It made for one less thing to lock up and the seat was a lot lighter than our trailer! If we didn’t have a bike trailer, we would’ve spent more on seats that recline since the kids always fell asleep on long bike rides. Try before you buy to make your the seat fits your bike and that your child is comfortable. Not all seats are equal.