Even people who have never considered buying the family and cargo bikes I mostly talk about here are familiar with the idea of a child seat that sits on the back of the bike and allows you to carry a young kid with you on a standard bike (or provides support for young kids on a cargo bike). In most cases, what comes to mind is a Yepp Maxi style seat intended for children from about age 1 to age 4 or 5. By age 5 most kids can handle riding a bike of their own, with or without training wheels, in the recreational context of short distances on relatively flat, protected trails. Unfortunately, this still leaves a fairly large gap for those looking to bike for utility, because very few children will be strong and attentive enough to bike on city streets for transportation at age 5, at least with North American bicycle infrastructure. Most parents will find that their children can start very short trips around that age, but won’t be ready to do full transportation on their own bikes until at least 7 or 8. Add in hills or crappy infrastructure and it can be much later. So what do you do with a kid who has outgrown a Yepp Maxi but isn’t a strong enough rider to do daily transportation cycling when you don’t have a car or a cargo bike?
There are a few solutions to this problem. One obviously, is to buy a cargo bike and put on a passenger rail. Cargo bikes are pricy and big and not for everyone, though. Sticking with a standard bike there are still a couple of other ways to keep your older kid riding with you. The first, and most common in the US, is a trail-a-bike. This could be the standard style, such as the excellent Burley Piccolo, or a recumbent style, as with the WeeHoo (which also allows for some weather protection options!). These are great because they are much cheaper than getting a cargo bike and they allow your child to participate in the ride, while still making it easy for them to just tag along when they’re too tired to pedal. They’re also pretty easy to find used. The biggest downside is that they add a lot of length and some drag to your bike (when the kid decides not to pedal, anyway). If you’re just dropping a kid off at school this might be easily solved by locking up the trail-a-bike at school before you continue on (which is also an advantage if different adults are doing drop off and pick up). Additionally, the less expensive models that attach to the seat post of the adult bike tend to be fairly unstable, which can be unnerving for both the adult and the child. I’m not going to go in depth on trail-a-bike options here because 1) I haven’t used them much personally and 2) they’re popular enough that reviews are fairly easy to come by.
In some cases you might prefer to be able to keep your kid close to you, on your bike. Maybe you have a cargo bike and need to support an older kid who isn’t quite old enough to just hold on to stoker bars but can’t/don’t wish to add a passenger rail, or have a kid who is outgrowing the Yepp Maxi but isn’t quite ready to ride with just the passenger rail. Maybe you have a section of your commute that makes dealing with the extra length of a trail-a-bike difficult and want to use your regular bike but not add all that length. Whatever the reason, this is where the second option for older kids comes in: the “junior” seat. These are seats that are designed for kids who are too big for a Yepp Maxi and are usually recommended for ages ~5-10. The weight limits are also higher than Maxi seats, usually around 35 kg (77 lbs). Instead of the 3 or 5 point harnesses typically found on Maxi seats Junior seats have a simple waist belt, or even no strap at all, and may or may not come with foot rests to attach to your bike. They basically add a cushion + backrest and some light restraint to your rear rack.
I got the GSD with the idea that my 3 year old would ride a Yepp Maxi and my 5 year old would ride on the deck with stoker bars. I don’t want to add a passenger rail because my commute involves taking the bike on a walk-on ferry, where bike space is limited and I’m working with little space between bikes many days. Anything that adds extra length or width to the bike makes things harder for me in that context, so I try to keep it pretty trim (this is also why I don’t use the Transporteur rack on the front of my GSD). Unfortunately, while the planned setup was great for keeping the 3 year old secure the 5 year old proved to be too wiggly on longer rides with only the stoker bars. Plus, when she got tired she got upset because she didn’t feel secure. On top of that, the 3 year old was annoyed at being in a baby seat and it was often a showdown to get him into the Yepp Maxi, with him insisting he wanted to sit on the deck whenever his sister wasn’t there. Also, the Yepp Maxi makes the GSD longer, preventing me from putting it on it’s rear end for maintenance unless I take the seat off, and making maneuvering with it on the ferry more challenging. So I wanted to look at other options and the junior seat seemed like exactly what I was looking for. I found two different brands that made junior seats that seemed likely to work on the GSD: Yepp and Qibbel (there are other options, like BoBike, but these are the two that I felt most confident would work on my bike).
The Yepp Junior and Qibbel Junior have a lot of similarities, but differ in how they attach to the bike. The Yepp Junior uses the same EasyFit hardware as the Yepp Maxi, while the Qibbel uses a clamp that attaches to the outer rails of the rear rack or deck of the bike it’s being placed on. Both of these have advantages and disadvantages. The EasyFit system is nice because it places the mounting hardware in the center, leaving the outer rails potentially free to attach bags (which works with the Junior seat in a way it doesn’t with the Maxi because there aren’t “legs” extending down from the seat blocking everything). On the other hand, it limits you to locations with an EasyFit window and makes the seat sit up higher than the Qibbel’s clamp system. On the GSD this means the Yepp Junior still extends beyond the rear of the bike and needs to be removed to place the bike on its rear end for maintenance. The clamp the Qibbel uses places the seat as low as possible, meaning the wiggly weight of your kid is lower and less likely to move the bike. It can also be places in more points along the rack/deck. But it does block the outer rails, preventing you from using panniers more completely than the Yepp Junior and it takes many more turns to tighten or loosen the seat than the EasyFit clamp, which is a little annoying and means it takes about 15 seconds vs. 5 seconds to take the seat off the bike. Finally, the wheel you tighten sticks out to the side and makes it a bit more difficult to use the rear part of my sling bag on the left side of the bike. A big advantage on the GSD is that a Qibbel Junior placed all the way at the back of the deck will be basically flush with the rear of the bike and does not need to be removed for putting the bike on its rear end.
After weighing the options I settled on getting two Qibbel Juniors for my GSD, because I liked the lower profile, that I could pick their location on the deck, and because the way my sling bags on the GSD work I didn’t need access to the outer rails to use them. After taking a look at our bike seat needs I decided to also go ahead and get a Yepp Junior to try out on my husband’s commuter bike, in the hopes we would be able to put panniers on his rack while using it, giving him a seat he could leave on the bike and be able to pick the 3 year old up from daycare without needing to plan in advance. Because Junior seats are basically not available in the US I ordered all 3 seats directly from a shop in Europe. (Note: If you are in the Seattle area G&O has started to carry Qibbel seats and accessories!) It took a little over a week for them to arrive. We’ve now been using various combinations of seats for over a year months, on the GSD and on the commute bike, and I feel like I can give a good run down of the benefits and drawbacks.
Although other reviews I’ve read favor the Qibbel Junior in terms of comfort, my kids seem to have a slight preference for the Yepp Junior, though both think the Junior seats are less comfortable than the Yepp Maxi. It’s totally possible to put two Qibbel Juniors on the GSD, or a Qibbel Junior in front of a Yepp Maxi, or behind the Tern deck cushion. You can even put two Qibbels on facing each other, at least if the adult piloting the GSD is fairly short. And the low profile of the seats means you should be fine to put the bike on a bus bike rack without blocking the view for the driver if you leave the seat on. The 3 year old (now 4, admittedly a seasoned rider and fairly mature for his age at sitting still and holding on) loves that he feels like a big kid and on warm and dry days will always pick to sit in the Qibbel Junior over the Yepp Maxi. The 5 year old (now 6) likes the security of the Qibbel and behaves better in it than when on the deck, but she does complain that the seat isn’t soft enough over bumps. The waist strap works pretty well but is slick and I had to play with the way it went through the buckle to get it to stay in place rather than immediately loosening as the child moved.
The Yepp Junior does allow some panniers to be used on the rack with it (you should keep overall weight limits for your rack in mind if you do this and it’s not going to work with all panniers). I haven’t really seen any advantages to it on the GSD, so I haven’t used it there, but it did work well for a seat that could be left on the commute bike. The flexibility of being able to have either of us pick the 3 year old up from daycare without needing to plan and have the Yepp Maxi along (and then figure out what to do with my husband’s work bag since the Maxi blocks pannier use) was awesome. In comparison to the waist belt on the Qibbel the one on the Yepp is rough and difficult to adjust, and it comes installed in a way that makes it take forever to adjust. So while I had to figure out a way to thread the Qibbel strap so it would grip better, I had to do the opposite with the Yepp strap. The Yepp strap also sits higher on the child than the Qibbel strap. I liked this for the 3 year old, because it feels a bit more secure, but it’s probably inconsequential with an older child.
For a junior seat on a cargo bike, I think either can be a good option but I like the lower profile of the Qibbel in that context, especially since most people won’t need to retain top rail access for panniers on a cargo bike. That said, the Qibbel won’t work on some cargo bike decks (like the tapered deck of most Xtracycle based bikes), but the Yepp will work on any cargo bike deck that accommodates an EasyFit Yepp Maxi, which is most of them. For a standard bike I think the Yepp has a bit of an edge because you can squeeze panniers around it. The higher center of gravity with the Yepp might be a problem for lightweight people carrying heavy kids though, so in that context it could be worth considering if the Qibbel is a better option. The biggest problem with a standard bike (in the US anyway) is finding a suitable rear rack for a junior seat and a bike that’s suitable for carrying this sort of load. The Yepp Easyfit rear rack is probably the easiest option, if it fits on your bike. Obviously it will work with the Yepp Junior. I can’t confirm that it works with the Qibbel at this time, but I’ll try to remember to check the next time I’ve got my Qibbel seats at the bike shop. As for whether your bike is suitable, you should talk to your bike shop. In particular you want to confirm that the brakes, rear wheel, and frame are up to the task of carrying a heavier kid. You’ll also want to add wheel skirts to any bike that doesn’t already have a protected rear wheel (see note below).
There are some other potential options for older kids, like the CompanionSeat, or simply putting a cushion on a standard rear rack. I haven’t had a chance to use a CompanionSeat and the cushion + rear rack option depends a lot on your kid, your rear rack, and your comfort level with doing things outside of manufacturer recommendations. Both options also hinge on some of the same concerns about making sure the bike you are using can handle the extra load that I mentioned above.
A final safety note
Junior seats, the CompanionSeat, and having a kid sit on the rear rack on a cushion all share an important safety risk: unlike the Yepp Maxi type seat, the child’s feet are not strapped in and there is nothing built in to keep the child’s feet out of the rear wheel. I strongly encourage you to buy or make wheel skirts for any bike you will be using with any of these seats. If you are using them on a cargo bike you’ll be OK as long as you have bags on both sides that fully block access to the wheel. If you don’t you should use wheel skirts for any kid carrying that doesn’t involve a Yepp Maxi style seat. Most longtails and midtails have a wheel skirt option available from the manufacturer.
I’d love to hear from you if you’ve used one of these or have another method for carrying your older kid!