Thule, the Swedish brand best known to most of us as a supplier of automotive cargo solutions, has steadily diversified its output to now produce a veritable smorgasbord of people – and gear-carrying kit.
And the Thule RideAlong Mini is a child carrier is one of them. Unlike most child seats this bike seat that is mounted on the front of your bicycle handlebars.
Suitable for children from nine months to three years or a maximum weight of 15kg, it has excellent safety features, funky colours, great adjustability. It also has (apparently), a comfortable riding position for your little one at the front of your bike. Priced at around £75, it’s also reasonably affordable.
On the downside, bikes aren’t designed to carry this type of kit and some machines will accommodate the product better than others; basically the more straight-backed and upright the riding position the better.
Why would you want to put a child on the front rather than behind you?
Well, it’s a good question and after several days with the Thule RideAlong Mini, I’m not sure that I have a very good answer.
Yes the opportunities for your child to see exactly where they are going, taking in the world around them and for you to have close contact and easy communication with them are obvious.
But if these advantages come at too high a cost in terms of bike stability and ease of mounting/dismounting – especially when travelling single-handed – then are they worth having? That, in a nutshell, was the dilemma I found myself facing based on my experience with this product.
Also, placing a child face-on into the wind is never going to work in winter or even for very long on anything other than a warm day, that is unless you invest in the optional windscreen which costs an additional £30.
How easy is it to get a child in the seat?
For some reason Ava hates being buckled into anything: car seat, swing, high chair, you name it. Initially there were howls of protest about both the seat harness and the helmet that she was forced to wear.
But then, what a revelation! She loved bowling along our country lanes watching the world go by. The 3-point harness has two shoulder straps with side buckles, which attach to a central buckle in a crotch strap – similar to a car seat.
The side buckles each have two release buttons, making it virtually impossible for little hands to undo them. There are plenty of adjustment options to get her comfy and secure, while adjustable footrests (also with straps), mean little feet are kept snugly in place. The seat padding is reversible and washable, and there are even little drain holes in the seat to help take care of rainwater and spillages.
What’s it like out and about?
As we tootled along single track country roads, Ava gripped her handlebar and beamed with delight, seemingly nestled in my arms and close enough to chat to.
So she was happy but was I? Well, not entirely is the honest truth. Mine is a touring bike, a Ridgeback World Panorama, with drop handlebars a stretched out geometry that’s set up for long, comfortable days in the saddle.
It turns out that the classic “racing bike” shape, does not sit particularly well with the RideAlong Mini, even if it should do according to the diagram on the packaging.
On the first few turns of the pedals my knees thunked into the underside of the seat so that I had to ride with them splayed in an unflattering, unnatural and uncomfortable way.
Worse still, the sheer bulk of the seat in front of me meant there was no way I could ride out of the saddle on some of the sharp inclines around my home.
It’s important to feel confident and in control when you are carrying a child on a bike. With drop handlebars your ability to turn at low speeds is already compromised as it is compared to straight bars. And with even less steering control given the extra weight and bulk acting on the bars, I began to fear the possibility of the front wheel “washing out” on loose gravel, with me potentially unable to stop it.
Does it work with all types of bikes?
According to the manual it’s compatible with most bikes but when I looked online for video reviews of the product to see if others had a problem with hitting their knees on the seat, the only one I could find was from Holland.
It featured a long-legged, Dutch yummy- mummy gliding around serenely without so much as a hint of a bruised kneecap. The difference? She’s riding a classic Dutch sit-up-and-beg bike on a beautifully flat suburban cycle path.
And there’s the rub – or at least there and possibly on your knees. You really need to have the right type of bike and the right type of roads (ideally flat, traffic-free cycle paths) to get the most out of this product.
Beautifully designed and sturdily manufactured though it is, somehow I don’t think the boffins at Thule’s HQ were thinking of a classic-style British touring bike and the hilly west coast of Scotland when they put this product together.
As it happens we have access to a hybrid bike, which might work better for me, as well as a heavy Dutch-style bike which is a relic from my partner’s time spent working in Germany. Given the joy it seems to bring to our daughter, we are determined to make the Thule RideAlong Mini work on one of these machines. So assuming we can crack the kneecap issue, all we’ll need is the optional windscreen, some flat roads and, ironically perhaps, a cycle carrier for the car.
How easy was it to assemble?
Thule describe the RideAlong Mini as an intuitive, safe and easy-to-use front child seat. I wasn’t so sure about the intuitive bit when it came time to attach it to the bike.
I used Google to check that I had an Ahead type handlebar stem as opposed to the “normal” type. I then had to:
- Remove the handlebars
- Remove three spacer rings
- Drop the bracket over the exposed handlebar stem
- Reattach the handlebars
- Ensure the front wheel was correctly aligned
- Tighten the handlebars
- Tighten the bracket – I resisted the temptation to get my partner to help.
Perhaps I was wise to do so because my partner then attempted to fit the seat to the bracket without, of course, reading the instructions.
If he’d done so he would have seen that it is a lockable system and the seat can’t be attached to the bracket in the locked position. That’s not the point of the lock of course, rather it’s protection against component thieves.
Once I had stepped in to demonstrate the correct fitting procedure – you simply lower the seat onto the bracket until it clicks and a red warning indicator is no longer visible – it was time for our 15- month-old-daughter to go for her first bike ride.
Can the seat be removed easily?
Yes, it can! If you want to take the seat off the bike for any reason, there’s a quick release button underneath it which only works when the seat is unlocked.
Is it value for money?
Yes and no. With any Swedish product you are generally paying for expert design, engineering and manufacturing input as well as quality materials.
That doesn’t come cheap but it does tend to pay dividends in terms of how useable and potentially how re-sellable a product is.
With this type of product where safety is so important, going for the cheaper option is never going to give you peace of mind, so I would have no hesitation in saying that if you have the right type of bike and the right type of terrain the RideAlong Mini offers good value for money. It has a five year warranty too meaning it could see you through a couple of offspring.
What’s in the box?
- An orange moulded plastic seat
- A purple seat pad
- A black and blue three-point harness
- A black and blue footrest-and-strap system
- A black handlebar
- A transport bracket holding the handlebar
- Two lock keys
- An allen key
What about accessories?
- Windscreen – £31.49
- Extra bracket – £22.49
- Extra seat padding – £22.99
- Handlebar padding – £17.99
This is a stylish, cleverly designed and well-priced front-mounted child bike carrier that kids will love to ride in.
It would be perfect for parents with a ‘sit-up-and-beg’ city-style bike who want to cycle in the park or on cycle paths or flat surburban roads.
But if you have a classic ‘racing bike’ or ‘touring bike’ you will find it difficult to handle and awkward to ride on anything other than flat, smooth terrain.