Let’s not pretend we’ve never seen people cycling while babywearing in other countries. Because we have, especially if you have friends from the Netherlands, China, African countries or from other countries.
Are our perceptions accurate, are they really radical in Europe? We often see large promotions from both Denmark and the Netherlands about how great their biking infrastructure is such that I know that what these countries do is used to determine what might work here. 1
Needless to say, Canada does not have a biking culture, nor are we a small country like those in Europe whose winter conditions are basically NIL compared to ours.
So what is a biking culture? We have people who cycle, and cycle extensively, what do you mean we don’t have a biking culture? What are we lacking?
Proper and extensive bike lanes. The thing that keeps cyclists safe above all others is to separate cycling traffic from other vehicles. Bike lanes in all the cities I’ve been to in Canada are either non-existent, leaving you to share the road and they are non-continuous if they do exist. Our bike lanes often do not continue from one road to another. We even have some really weird examples in my home town, where a lane will go for two or three blocks, then disappear. It’s the most useless thing ever. A concrete example of this can be found in in this CBC article that shows the gaps in the urban cycling infrastructure in Ottawa .
Another thing that’s important in a cycling culture, are drivers who are used to having cyclists everywhere. And this is important. Cyclists are fast, they honestly don’t understand the blind spots a driver has, and they don’t behave like cars do. There is also no licensing or training requirements for cyclists, which means the onus is on the drivers. Our drivers simply aren’t used to keeping an eye out because cyclists aren’t a regular part of our everyday driving experience. In the Netherlands, drivers are trained to watch for cyclists. There’s even a campaign, videos and website to teach people about the Dutch reach, a technique of using the hand opposite the driver’s door to get out. It forces you to twist your body to see what’s coming up beside the car to prevent dooring, when a car door opens and knocks a cyclist down. It is taught in drivers tests in the Netherlands.2 See the video below.
But do Europeans really cycle while carrying children?
Some do. Some don’t. I have an extensive international network, so I asked some of my friends to help me out.
In Germany, Laura Dingel who works as a babywearing consultant in Munich, told me the following. Babywearing while cycling is not illegal, it is a gap in the law. In Germany, it is recommended that children wear a helmet, and the Allgemeine Deutsche Fahrrad Club (ADFC – in English, General German Bicycle Club) writes that parents are liable if they use a baby carrier on the bicycle and they might be subject to a fine if it is deemed dangerous. 3 Also, as a babywearing consultant Laura doesn’t recommend any activities where you can fall from a certain height or others can crash into you while babywearing.
Laura goes on to say, “That’s common sense in the German Babywearing scene. If you do so, it’s your own responsibility and you know it’s potentially dangerous.”
In speaking to Katie Nicolai, who works at Bindung trägt and also runs the babywearing group Tragegruppe Oberhausen, she explained to me that the fine for being caught cycling and babywearing is rather small, the charge is only 5 Euros. Moreover, it is rare to see someone be fined. Therefore, does not act as much of a deterrent.4
But this design was heavily criticised and it is fair to say that many Germans would be against babywearing on a bike. Most choose to use a bike trailer or bike seat.
And what about Scandinavians?
Amalie Apitzsch, admin for the large Danish babywearing group Slyngegalleriet and one of the planners of the Dansk Baerefestival told me this:
There are no explicit laws against babywearing while biking in Denmark, but there are general laws describing how to transport younger kids. The laws translates like this:
It is Article 25 of the cycling order that states:
Essentially, they do not promote it in the Danish babywearing group for these reasons.
MariLaura Sjalig, a long time babywearing consultant from Norway, has this to say:
“It is not recommended in Norway. For children over 8 month’s that can sit in a bike seat, it is not illegal, but you are responsible if anything happens. In my opinion, though you change the center of gravity and the steering of the bike alot more in using a bike seat than if you have the babe in a carrier when biking. But we can still ski and babywear though. We have used bike seats for at least 50 years, so their use is culturally ingrained.”
It is not hard to find evidence of cycling and carrying on the internet. Googling and searching in Pinterest pulls up more than a few examples. But when you look deeper, many of the links are dead ends. I tend to think one of two things when I see this, perhaps the parents aged out of babywearing and they took their pictures down, or that they were possibly pressured into taking them down. Discussions of cycling and babywearing do happen regularly enough on Dutch babywearing groups like Draagpraat on Facebook.
The discussions in the Netherlands on whether to cycle while carrying can get a little hot and heavy. The focus can be on accessibility. Many do not have driver’s licenses in the Netherlands, and taking a bicycle is often faster, easier and more efficient than taking public transportation. Equally important, it costs nothing to do so. Plus, their weather isn’t as harsh as ours and using a bicycle can be faster and more convenient than taking a bus or using light rail options.
I also found additional opinion pieces from Selma Langbroek, a consultant in the Netherlands who looks at both sides of the equation. Dutch legislation is like Canada’s in that it requires the feet be against a surface, and so on. Read more in this article.
Selma’s points can be roughly summarized as follows:
Accessibility is important. Extremely so. Here is another link where this Dutch mom who cycled with her baby in the sling with her oldest child to school. She felt it was liberating and much easier to get on the bike, off the bike, her eldest sorted and into the building, and back home again. The general consensus if that if you cycle and babywear, it’s best done on quieter paths and streets.
Then if we expand our consciousness, and look at places on the African continent, owning a bicycle is really liberating and allows people more freedom. They can access services, travel around and go further than they do on foot. When you start looking at things in this light, babywearing and biking can also be about granting dignity to people. There are even charities which fundraise to provide bicycles just for this purpose.
The Bicycling Empowerment Network Namibia is all about empowering disadvantaged Namibians through sustainable transport like cycling. Known as BenNamibia.
Watch the video form more information.
Many Canadians have connections to other places, other cultures and we should always be open to learning about them. Most Europeans are against cycling and many of their laws mimic many of ours, some Europeans like to cycle while carrying because it is such a natural part of their life. And then to others, like BenNamibia, cycling is about accessibility and dignity.
Because of the above about our culture, policies and laws, I believe in taking the conservative approach on babywearing while cycling in Canada.
And yes, for those who are interested. There are no studies showing the impact of babywearing while cycling.
A huge thank you out to people in my network who provided their time, expertise and in some cases their translation skills. Those not included in the article who helped me out also include Wendy and Ariel.
1. The Danes do have an extensive cycling infrastructure, but also a concern for preserving their biking culture. The number of Danes who own and use cars more regularly has increased over the past few decades. To understand a bit more, take a look at this document where they provide an extensive analysis. ↩
2. There is an entire website whose sole focus is educating people on the Dutch reach method. ↩
3. Directly from this website:
In Babyschalen können Eltern Säuglinge schon früh im gut gefeder-ten Anhänger transportieren, wenn sie langsam fahren, Kopfsteinpflas-ter und Unebenheiten meiden. Nicht geeignet sind Rückentragen und Tragetücher. (Not suitable are backpacks and slings) Das verbietet die StVO zwar nicht, aber Hersteller schlie-ßen meist den Gebrauch auf dem Fahrrad aus. Im Schadensfall haften Eltern vollständig selbst.↩
3. Katie quoted me this from the above link: Sie beförderten auf dem Fahrrad ein Kind, obwohl die vorgeschriebenen Sicherheits¬vorkehrungen nicht vorhanden waren.” 5 Euros.↩
4. Another cycling piece from Germany that features this shield. On this website, we see an image of a mom babywearing on a bike in Berlin.↩
5. Use google translate to visit Draagtips website – Selma has written at least two pieces on cycling and babywearing: Dragend fietsen is het veilig and Dragend fietsen mag nou wel.↩