I really love riding with our youngest (R, now almost 3 1/2) on a front-mounted bike seat. It’s pretty much my favorite way to ride with one kid, provided we don’t have to haul much stuff with us. Thus, I was pretty sad when it became clear he was growing out of his bobike mini. Like most front-mounted seats, typically-sized kids tend to grow out of that one at about age 3.
Other parents report feeling wistful and a maybe little sad when, say, their children wean, or no longer fall asleep in arms, or start rejecting hugs at school drop-off. Me? I have that feeling when my kids grow out of bike seats or learn to ride on their own. Goodness knows what I’m going to do when they no longer need to be attached to an adult bike to ride on the street. I’ll be a total mess (and very proud).
So, when a co-rider, one of the very few front-mounted bike seats that claims to work for children over age 3 (the manufacturer claims usability for about ages 2-5) came up used for a good price on a local list-serve, I jumped on it, and crossed my fingers this seat might get me one or two more years.
The co-rider is an updated version of the bike-tutor, which was reviewed favorably by totcycle. My understanding is that the co-rider was intended to be compatible with a broader range of frames.
That seems like a nice idea, but this report at Hum of the City indicates that may well not be the reality. On their (extremely step-through) Breezer bike, the seat failed dramatically, tipping backwards while they were riding in traffic. Amazon reviews report a theme of similar problems. The guy we bought our seat from claimed not to have any issues on a somewhat slanted (but not step-through) top-tube, but we recently found out that a local bike friend had exactly this issue with the seat tipping back on a mountain bike with only a moderate slope to the top tube.
Even with all this info out there, I still wanted to try the seat. Why? In all the reports, the problem is with a slanted top tube, and my old road bike has a completely horizontal top tube. From what I could tell of the seat design from pictures, on my bike, the seat would be completely supported by the tube, and thus I had a reasonable hope that any reasons behind the reported failures wouldn’t apply in my case. So, what did I find once I had the seat in hand?
As it turns out, my expectation was reasonable. On my bike, the install was pretty smooth (took about a 45 minutes), the entire seat is supported by the top tube and the install feels extremely secure. I’ll feel comfortable using the seat until R can’t fit in it anymore. With the Bobike, as R got taller, his helmet would bob around in front of my chin. It was OK, but inconvenient. I could have solved this issue with more wraparound handlebars, but that was more effort than I was willing to put in for a seat he would grow out of soon. In contrast, with this seat, R sits low on the front of the top tube, so he is no longer up so close to my face. We also have less conflict over where his hands should go, because he has his own handlebars (I keep meaning to give him his own bell). My knees touch his sides slightly when I ride with him, but it’s pretty minimal, and is not an issue at all when he’s not on the bike because the seat itself is quite narrow. Overall, for my particular bike, I’m really happy to have this seat so I can ride happily with my pre-schooler in front of me (and put off the reality that my kids are growing up) just a tad bit longer.
That’s the good stuff. But there is definitely bad stuff. I’m pretty decent at figuring out how to install seats, but I’ve seen some impressively poorly installed seats out there, and part of me wondered if maybe the people having trouble with this seat were just doing it wrong.
After examining the seat myself, I’d say that no, they weren’t doing it wrong. In fact, I’d go so far as to say this seat should absolutely not be used on any bikes except those with completely horizontal top tubes. Now, why is that?
It looks like in an attempt to make this seat compatible with step-through frames, this seat is made with a hinged support. This support runs between a clamp to the top tube and the base of the seat. That’s all well and good. The problem is, at both ends, this support can rotate freely, and is only clamped in place by a bolt. There is nothing in the design of the seat that truly locks the support at a specific angle. There’s a paltry attempt at introducing enough friction between the pieces (a pattern of ridges between connecting components where the bolt goes through), but there is no way this is strong enough to hold up reliably to the regular bouncing all of our bikes take out on the road, especially with a 40 pound child bouncing on top of them.
After examining the seat, my take is that this problem will be more of a concern on some bikes than others. For example, on the Hum of the City bike, the top tube on the breezer is so steep, the bracket couldn’t even really provide true support even if the bolts were super tight. I’d say this bike is just solidly outstide a reasonable range of compatibility (which the manufacturers should have made clear). With every bump the child’s weight would push the seat backwards, and with such a steep tube, the fall could be (and sounds like it was) dramatic when the bolts fail. On a bike with a less dramatic slant, the pressure on those bolted hinge points would be much less, but it would still be there, and it’s still hard for me to imagine any way to keep the seat tight enough to be safe on every single ride, and as I said, our friends with a moderate slant on their mountain bike top tube had exactly this problem (and returned their seat).
With all this said, I’m guessing some people have done OK with this seat on more step-through frames. They certainly claim as much in their amazon reviews. Maybe they check the bolts every time. Maybe they are very very strong or used a torque wrench when they installed the seat. Maybe they just don’t ride very often, so they either haven’t experienced the problem or their install is still holding up. But for my part, as just another biking parent (but one who has seen and installed a fair number of seats and rides more days than not) I see this as a very real and dangerous design flaw, and do not recommend using the seat on any bike that does not have a completely horizontal top tube. I feel this strongly enough that I sometimes feel guilty having the seat on our bike, as someone might see it on our bike, look up the info, see the manufacturers claims of broad compatibility, and install on an unsuitable bike. Maybe I should put a note on one of the leg guards.
Despite my enjoyment of this seat on my particular bike, wow, it sure is ugly. And heavy. Much heavier than it needs to be. But I’m still keeping it, and using it, and when I hand it on, I’ll make sure it goes to someone using it on an appropriate bike.
Since this option will only really work on a select group of bikes, are there other options for riding with a kid in front after the standard front seats are too small? I know of the a couple. The ibert claims a weight limit of 38 lbs, which will get you to something like age 4 by weight for many kids. However, I understand from friends who have ridden with this seat that kids tend to grow out of the seat by size well before this limit. There is also a new seat on the market, the tyke toter, that claims to work for the same age range as the co-rider (about 2-5). I have not yet heard any first hand reports (please speak up if you have tried it), but just eyeballing it, I’m not sure how much I’d trust that single clamp onto the seat post as the only support for the seat. I hear that the dutch have nice simple seats that are just a saddle that clamps to the top tube and footrests for the downtube. I don’t know where one might find the dutch version in the states, but I do know that some folks over here do the same thing DIY. Other than that, I’m out of ideas, but this is a common need for which I often wish I had better suggestions (especially for folks trying to ride with two kids on one standard adult bike, where rear seats are incompatible with trailer bikes). If you know of another solution, please speak up.
***As with all the info on this blog, these thoughts are offered as the opinion of one parent biking with their kids. This review wasn’t sponsored (none of ours are). As always, use your own judgment to decide what is safe for your family.