(cross-posted from Sunny Rides)
Several years ago when I first started cycling, I thought that "bicycling with children," meant that the kids would all be on their own bikes, I would be on mine, and we would have to go as slow (fast?) as the youngest could manage to pedal. Oh, and we would have to stay within two blocks of the house, because kids have a low tolerance for activities lasting longer than ten minutes (at least this is what I remember from the forced marches my dad used to take us on, that, in reality, were only a half-mile). I thought riding with kids would be somewhat... tedious.
This was before I learned about the many possibilities out there for riding bikes with children.
Riding with children: the first year or two
From about five weeks old, I had my baby in a Burley bike trailer. Burley makes an infant snuggler, which they tell you is not intended to be used with the trailer when it is attached to a bike, but only with the unit used as a stroller. Blah blah blah... whatev. Jane and I have been having great bike experiences for months!
I like this trailer because it's light-weight and has 20-inch tires. Most trailers come in one and two-seater models. If you have two kids, consider whether one will antagonize the other while in the trailer. If they ride from infancy, you will have less issue then if you start when one is three and the other is 12 months. A better option in this case might be: child seat attached to your bike and a trail-a-bike in addition (more about that in a moment).
Helmet note: If your child is in a bike trailer, he may not not need to wear a helmet. Most trailers come with a rollbar and 5-point safety harness. If the child is not protected by the trailer, make sure he is wearing a helmet. Since Jane is protected by the trailer and reclines while in it, she does not wear a helmet in the trailer.
If you do it right, by the time they can express opinions, your kids will let you know it's time to saddle up and go. I opened the garage one morning to ready the bike, leaving the house and side garage doors open. Jane crawled outside the house as I darted back inside to get water. By the time I returned, Jane had crawled to the front of the garage and was waiting for me next to the trailer.
Riding with children: 12 months - 3 years
Once the child's head is large enough for a helmet (48 cm in circumference) and he can safely sit up and hold his head while wearing a helmet without his neck getting tired, he's usually old enough for the bike child seat.
The bike child seat fits onto a rear rack that is bolted onto your bike. Advantages over the trailer are that a child seat costs significantly less than a trailer, you have better maneuverability, and you are not dragging a 28 lbs trailer in addition to the weight of the child. However, I like being able to give Jane a bottle and let her play with toys as we ride. We can ride when it's cold, because I can cover her with a blanket. Were she in a bike kid seat, bottle and toys would be dropped or thrown long before we reached the first mile marker, and we would have to curtail our activity in really chilly weather.
If you anticipate 45-minute rides in moderate weather, or have two small children who might not do well together in a trailer, a bike kid seat is probably your best option for the younger one. Most bike kid seats have a weight capacity of 40 lbs.
Riding with children 3 - 10 years old
When my little 8-year-old friend Esther was in town from New Mexico and asked me if we could ride bikes, I found her a loaner bike of her own, but even better than that, a friend lent me his Trail-a-bike. A Trail-a-bike allows the adult to be in control, allows the child to rest when she gets tired, and best of all, makes the ride much more predictable, knowing that the child will not get distracted and ride into traffic - she's connected to your bike.
The Trail-a-bike gave Esther and me tremendous freedom! We were able to take water and snacks and ride 3 miles down the bike path to the stables and see the horses. We were able to ride for short stretches on the road in the bike lane without me having to worry about Esther riding into traffic. Suddenly riding with a kid was really fun!
Given the choice of her own bike to ride and riding on the Trail-a-bike, Esther usually chose the Trail-a-bike. She especially liked going really fast down the hills!
Regardless of his age, there's a bike or bike attachment that's right for your child. Start them early, and ride often!