We didn't own a car when our child was born. That made the idea of running errands as a family much more complicated. There are well-meaning laws in California and other states that require you to use a car seat to take your child home after they are born (assuming they are not born at home!). Though apparently, the hospital is not allowed to deny discharge if you don't take your child home in a car seat.
A friend generously loaned us a car for a month. Since we don't drive much, we only used it for the trip to and from the hospital, and to meet up for a friend's birthday at a cafe. We live in a fairly urban area, so we were able to walk most other places we needed to go and transport our child via a carrier or stroller. We took the bus to visit the pediatrician, and took our child in the carrier.
As far as the bike goes though, we weren't sure what to do.
Strollers and trailers
We wondered, are trailers safe for babies? I found conflicting information. It seemed that in the USA the recommendation was to wait until a child was a year old, but this seemed to not apply in other countries. We purchased a Thule Chariot that functioned as a jogging stroller and bike trailer, and purchased an infant sling so our daughter could ride in it sooner. It's recommended for use for aged 1-10 months. The Chariot was very expensive, and we would not have bought it we had not come across a big discount.
We started slowly jogging around with her at around the age of 2 months, and once we felt her neck was strong enough, we started running with it. If you're wondering when a baby can go in a jogging stroller, we probably started running with it around 3-4 months, though it's important to note that we did so with the infant sling that allows your baby to lay down.
Running with a child in a jogging stroller was an interesting experience. If we were lucky, she'd be in a good mood or fall asleep. But there were many situations where she didn't want to be in there at all and my slow jog would be accompanied by the sound of a screaming baby. One time a woman stopped, mouth agape, as I had stopped on the sidewalk to try to comfort my child. She stared at me in shock and disapprovingly said, "I thought it was a cat!"
If you're wondering how much slower you'll run with a jogging slower, I found it to be 1-2 minutes per mile slower than my normal pace.
Are jogging strollers safe? Ours felt pretty safe. It was probably not as cozy and smooth as our regular stroller, and turning it required that we push the handle down, using the rear wheels as a pivot, to raise the front wheel and rotate. But it was way more stable and made jogging and running possible. And we felt that our child was in there securely, protected by a metal frame. I wouldn't use the jogging stroller for everyday use as it was fairly enormous and hard to fit in places. The stroller, with jogging attachment, is very long, so you have to be careful that you don't jut out past the curb as sometimes car drivers can take a turn too tightly.
From stroller to trailer
We felt that she was strong enough to ride in a bike trailer around the age of 9 months. I gingerly rode around the block with her, and put a camera in there so I could see how she did afterward. She was too young to communicate, but seemed okay after the ride. I checked out the footage later and realized that she was looking around and smiling during most of the ride. This was a good sign! (There was also a lot of footage of feet, as I couldn't find a good place to mount the stroller other than near where her feet rested.
We soon started towing her in the trailer when we wanted or needed to ride somewhere with her.
Since then, we've learned of others who have mounted their car seat into their trailer or into their Urban Arrow or Bullitt box-style cargo bikes. A parent at Adventure Cycling detailed their experience using a car seat in a trailer here.
We used a bike flag to increase our visibility. Our trailer attached to our bicycle via a hitch on the rear wheel axle. You add a little metal piece under the quick release, and then this latches onto the arm of the trailer. One really nice thing about riding with a trailer is that it makes for a very stable ride. You can definitely feel the drag, but you'll be balanced well with a low center of gravity.
Child seats when the trailer was too much to tow
We also bought a rear child seat, that attaches to the seat tube of our bikes. Using one of these made for a more compact travel arrangement and made pre-school drop offs and other short trips easier to set up. Many parents have asked us about at what age could their child go in a bike seat. We started at the age of around 20 months, though she could have fit in there sooner. Thule's recommended age range is from about 9 months old to 6 years old, or about 48 pounds.
There were a few other options then, and many more now. The Yepp seats looked the best, but we were on a budget and selected the Thule Ridealong instead because we were able to find one at a discounted price. Topeak made a seat too, but we preferred the aesthetics of the other seats. Thule later purchased Yepp, so they're part of the same family now. Two Wheeling Tots has a good summary of options.
The Ridealong reclines, which is nice. The foot platforms adjust depending on the height of your child. We could also easily swap it between bikes, so both of us parents could ride with our child.
Installation took a little while, because I had a bike with a cable running down the seat tube and a cable stop that was partially in the way. It took many adjustments, but I was eventually able to get the seat mount to fit on my bike. The seat itself locks into the clamp, and two beams cantilever out to set the seat back and provide a bit of a suspension to absorb bumps. The seat can be locked in place with the included key.
Only a few downsides
The Ridealong was really useful and allowed us to take our child a lot of places. There were only a few things that didn't work out so well for us. Adding a seat and a kid raises the center of gravity of your bike higher and moves it backwards. This can make handling pretty twitchy when riding and when walking with the bike. It was particularly hard getting started on a ride. The bike felt wobbly until you were a few pedal strokes in.
I discovered that one of the foot straps broke one day when I was confused by noises behind me. When I turned back, our daughter was kicking one foot around while the other was still buckled.
When our child fell asleep, it made the bike lean off to the side, and it just looked kind of bad. She was fine though.
Front child seats
There are a number of front child seats. Parents like them because they can be closer to their child and can see how they are doing. Children get a front row view of the bike ride. We decided not to go with one of these because the front seats can only fit smaller kids, and our child was starting to grow out of that size range. There are some minimal ones like the Kids Ride Shotgun seat that clamp onto the top tube and down tube of your bike.
We also tried some pedal trailers. We started with the Weehoo iGo. It's basically a recumbent trailer that attaches to the seat post of your bike. Your child can sit in a chair-style seat, be securely buckled in, and pedal on their own. Being strapped in with a harness and being able to pedal were the main draws to this trailer. I was a little scared of my child falling out while sleeping or not paying attention. The seat is adjustable so that the pedals can accommodate a large range of leg lengths, and it comes with pannier-reminiscent bags that you can store snacks, a jacket and other things in. It has two side pockets so your child can store their own water bottle, toys and snacks and reach them on their own.
This trailer was a lot of fun, and it was especially fun to see if our daughter could pedal both bikes when I stopped pedaling. She could, but it was not very perceptible. It was still very fun to try though.
Our daughter really liked the Wehoo trailer, and we did too. But we didn't use it often because of its bulk. We don't have a garage, and moving the trailer and bike was so much of a process that we usually found a different way to travel. We mostly ended up using the trailer for longer rides (1+ hours) or mini adventures. The trailer itself feels like it weighs about 20-25lb, and it is large, so carrying it is difficult.
We eventually switched to an Adams Trail-a-Bike, which runs a little lighter and folds up smaller than the Weehoo. These are sometimes called "tag along bikes" or "trailercycles". It's a little less secure for the kid, but she's bigger now and can handle riding without being buckled up. There are a lot of other alternatives now, notably ones made by Burley and WeeRide. It took a while for her to get used to at first, and she refused to ride it when she was smaller because it was too wobbly.
Long-tail cargo bike with padded seat and rails
A cargo bike makes a great family bike. You can add a padded seat and rails and carry multiple kids on it. Electronic cargo bikes make it even easier to tow kids and/or a load of groceries and make a great car alternative. We unfortunately live in a small apartment and don't have any more space for one, but we'd probably make something work if one became available.
Their own bike
We started letting our daughter ride her own bike to school when she was about 4. Her preschool was only a few blocks away, and we'd roll next to her while she took the sidewalk. Intersections were a little scary because we always worried about whether she'd stop at an intersection. But we've had some very sweet commuting experiences. Now she is old enough to ride with us on the road by herself.
Sometimes you need to go up a hill, or you want to get to your destination a little faster, but you still want your child to be able to ride. There are a few interesting towing devices available now that can help if this is your issue.
The TowWhee is a version of a bungee strap that attaches to your saddle and the handlebars of your child's bike. You can help pull your child up hills while still giving them the freedom to practice steering and braking on their own.
There are a few other alternatives out there, like this one made by Shotgun. You can even make your own cheaper (and riskier) version with an old inner tube. We've tried this out, and though there have been a few crashes, it works out well when we need it.
All of these options pack up nice and small, and allow you to connect and disconnect when you need to.
More substantial towing devices
There are more substantial towing devices, notably the FollowMe Tandem and the TrailGator.
I first saw the FollowMe during a bike ride in Alameda. This device looks sort of like a bike rack when folded. When in use, it securely attaches to your child's front wheel and frame and lifts the wheel off of the ground so that they can pedal but not steer. I elected not to purchase one of these mostly due to cost and weight.
The TrailGator is a more affordable option. It mounts and folds differently and requires the addition of clamps to the head tube of your child's bike. It's more minimal than the FollowMe, but we elected to go the tow-rope route for the same reasons as above: cost and weight.
How do we ride with our child now?
Looking back, we've ridden with our child a lot of different ways. Now that she's a capable rider on her own, we usually ride our own bikes while she rides hers. We will occasionally use the Trail-a-bike if we need to do a ride longer (or steeper/harder) than she can handle, and we'll use our inner-tube version of the tow-rope if we are in a rush to travel a short distance or if there's a short climb where she needs a boost. It's been a rewarding experience to be able to ride as a family and see our child learn to ride and become a more capable rider.