How to choose a child bike seat for mountain biking

How to choose a child bike seat for mountain biking

If you're a parent who loves to mountain bike, chances are you would love to see your little ones experience this great sport as well. A bunch of us here are MTB Direct are parents ourselves and love taking our kids out with us on the trails. You're spending quality time together outside, getting fit, and doing the sport you love - it's hard to beat!

Along with balance bikes, our favourite tool for getting young kids involved in mountain biking is a bike seat that attaches to an adult bike. We now stock a bunch of different kids seats, and while they all have their own unique features and reasons for using them (we've got a buyer's guide here), they all have one thing in common. They are all front mounted and don't use any chest harnesses or back support. This is a deliberate choice on our part as we only want to sell items we truly believe are appropriate for mountain bike use.

Now I write this as a rider and parent who has used lots of different kids seats, both on bike paths and on mountain bike trails - including the two other main styles we choose not to carry. I've also talked this over at length with parents who've used different types of seats, so I'm confident in recommending that parents who want to take their kids off-road should be using a low-profile front-mounted seat for their kids aged 2-5.

Here's why we recommend front-mounted seats:

  • Your child will have so much fun! Show your little one first-hand why you love the sport. I promise this will come in handy when trying to convince them to slog up their first fireroad in a few years time.
  • Sitting up front, your child is encircled by your arms - it makes for an intimate riding experience. You can talk about trail features, chat excitedly about passing wallabies, or just chat about your day - serious quality time.
  • Your child can see the trail and be part of what's happening. They get to learn some bike skills and experience what it's like to be looking down the trail, rather than just being passively stuck behind you and looking at your back!
  • Front mounted seats are comfortable. It's easier to have fun when you are comfortable and relaxed!
  • Rear-mounted seats are dangerous off-road. As they put the weight (a toddler + the seat itself) up and behind you, Climbing, becomes very challenging, the front wheel constantly wanders, and the bike wants to wheelie (which is fun for about the first minute, then becomes annoying).
  • Frame mounted seats are only compatible with hardtails, and being at the back of the bike, the passenger gets a really rough ride.
  • The are some seat post-mounted bike seats which do work on a dual suspension. With a built-in leaf spring flex to absorb bumps, they seem like a good idea. However, you need to mount them high to utilise the flex (otherwise it will buzz on your tyre), and even higher if you have a dual suspension. On top of this, the spring is not dampened, meaning the child is bouncing around constantly, not just up and down, but left and right. As the weight is high and back, it makes for a pretty terrible experience for everyone involved. Fine for a bike path, but not for the trail.

And here's why we recommend seats without a back support or harness:

  • Child Seats without straps are safer. When my parents first saw that my new bike seat didn't have a harness and that I planned to take it offroad with their granddaughter - they were clearly not impressed. However I value sound reasoning over opinion, and this is why I believe straps are dangerous - A motorcycle is roughly 5 times heavier than mountain bike, the same way I am 5 times heavier than my daughter. Having a seat belt holding me in while crashing a motorcycle, scares the hell out of me. So unless your bike has a rollbar, I feel belts have no place on a bike seat.
  • So you might be thinking, what if they just let go? Before taking your child off-road, they really should not only be physically strong enough to hold themselves upright, but they should be self-aware enough to hold onto a moving vehicle. If your child is at risk of spontaneously letting go of the bars of their a tricycle or balance bike and falling ungraciously, then unfortunately they are just not quite ready to accompany you on the trail.
  • Because the child isn't strapped in, they can move their weight around depending on the situation (dynamic weight). Sharp left hand corner coming up? Your child can lean in, just at the right time. Log roll over? They can stand up and absorb the bump with their arms and legs. This isn't just amazing practice for the child's line choice, timing and skills - it also dramatically improves the bike handling and ride quality for everyone on board. If they're strapped into a seat, a child becomes literally a passenger. Imagine yourself being strapped into a mountain bike and unable to move around through corners. It's like being on a roller coaster with speed bumps!
  • Knee angle and height. Fancy going for a training ride with your knees at a 60 degree angle? Front-mount bucket seats around 30 cm wide, which splays your legs and puts your body in a very awkward position and sets you up for knee pain, hip pain and back pain.
  • Being able to hold the bars helps your child feel what it's actually like to ride. Kids learn to stand up over obstacles and absorb bumps with their arms and legs - like a real little mountain biker! I've noticed a big difference between my youngest daughter (now three) and my eldest (now five), in how quickly they picked up “picking a line” on their balance bikes. My eldest spent more time on a seat with a harness, where she couldn't hold the bars. My youngest only ever used a MacRide and has become a lot more comfortable steering, picking her way through rocks, etc, at a younger age.
  • As front-mounted seats with back support are quite bulky, they are not suitable for smaller parents - as they can be hard to get your arms around and onto the bars. For instance my wife Jen is 5ft tall and simply could not use a front mounted seat with a back support as she couldn't get her arms around it and still feel in control of the bike.

We also need to point out that all child bike seats require that you ride within your limits. Mountain biking is actually a very safe sport, if the ability of the rider is not exceeded. A quality front mounted seat has minimal impact on bike handling and rider position for the adult, so it's easy to go fast. Just be mindful that when you've got a little cheerleader on board, having the time of their life, telling you to go "faster, faster", it's important to reign it in and stick within safe limits.

You've got some precious cargo on board and the last thing you want is to have it all end in tears. Ride sensibly, and enjoy introducing your child to the best sport around!

To view our range of kids seats - click here

The top of the line Mac-Ride seat is available here

The mid-level Shotgun Bike seat is available here

If you're on a budget, The FEVA foam seat is available here

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