There’s no better way to show a toddler how to have fun on bikes in the woods than a front-mounted, unrestrained kid’s seat. They’re not for everybody, but with a capable pilot and passenger, there’s no end to the fun you can have.
These seats allow kids to get an experience that’s really close to real mountain biking while sitting right between your arms. They see and feel obstacles and varying trail surfaces, as well as steering inputs, since they’re holding onto your handlebars. My daughter has even learned to anticipate rocky, rooty sections, standing up on her foot pegs to get her butt off the seat for the bumps.
She hoots and hollers over little rollers and pumps, telling me, “it’s just like swinging!” As a mountain biking dad, it’s a real good feeling to see that stuff soaking into her impressionable little psyche. To date, she has never been unwilling to ride and has never cried while riding, but she has cried on a number of occasions when it’s time to stop.
If a kid has already spent some time in a trailer and knows that zipping around by bike is fun, the acclimation process for the front seat is easy. It’s basically just an upgrade. Most kids are ready for a front bike seat at around two years old. They need to be able to understand and follow basic commands, particularly “hold on” and “don’t let go.” Max weight limit varies, but the upper end of the age range is 4-5 years old.
As the adult, you need to exercise good judgement about how and where you ride. Flatter trails and machine-built beginner stuff are a good place to start.
Top pick: Mac Ride
The Mac Ride is the most expensive front-of-bike kid’s seat in this test, but after extensive use it’s safe to say that it is also the most buttoned-up, well-executed seat in the test.
The $199 price — or more depending on adapter needs — was enough to give pause to some of my fellow bike parents, but when you consider that a premium kid-carrying backpack like the ones from Deuter and Osprey go for $300 or more, it puts things into perspective. There’s a significant qualitative difference between riding bikes on trails and just walking on trails. If riding trails with your 2-year-old is preferable to walking, the Mac Ride’s $200 price tag is, comparatively, a lot easier to stomach. At 1,630 grams, it came in right around the middle of the test, weight-wise.
The first thing that distinguishes the Mac Ride compared to similar seats is ease of installation. You’ll need to install a special headset spacer that mates to the Mac Ride’s front clamp, and that’s the hardest part of the initial setup. If your bike doesn’t have headset spacers, you won’t be able to use this seat. Take consolation in knowing that you are probably a total badass with your slammed stem and aero riding position, and check out one of the other carriers instead.
If you’re not comfortable removing the stem, swapping out a spacer and adjusting the headset, it should be a 5-minute job at the bike shop. It’s worth noting that two of these special spacers are included, which is a nice touch.
Next, you’ll want to adjust the length and angle of the footrests, as well as the fore/aft position of the Mac Ride saddle. A good rule of thumb is to move the saddle as far forward as is comfortable for the passenger to create more room for the rider’s knees.
I also added a couple of “grips” to my handlebar, giving my kid something well-defined to hold onto. Scraps of handlebar tape would probably work, and Mac Ride also sells foam Mini Grips.
After that, it’s about a 10-second process to get the Mac Ride on or off, with no complete disassembly, no loose parts and no guesswork. Just tighten the clamp at the seat post, then tighten or loosen the knurled nut that clamps onto the steerer tube. The nut has a stopper that keeps it from falling out when fully loosened which is another nice touch.
In addition to the quick and easy install after the initial setup, Mac Ride is also distinguished by its mount points. Both the front and rear mounts attach to areas on the bike that are designed to handle clamping pressure and to bear weight. There’s no guess work involved on the install, no loose parts to keep track of, and it’s a very quick and clear process.
Unfortunately, the Mac Ride did not fit my Stumpjumper Evo out of the box, as the bike’s top tube was too wide where it meets the head tube, and the stirrups weren’t able to straddle it. A stock configuration Mac Ride fits over tubes up to 60mm wide. With Mac Ride’s E-bike adapter you can fit tubes up to 90mm wide but it’s worth keeping in mind that you may need to spend an additional $30+ to get this seat to work with your bike. Definitely check this measurement ahead of time.
If $200+ feels like a fair price to pay for a great head start in a lifetime of (increasingly more expensive) amazing mountain biking memories, you can’t go wrong with the Mac Ride.
⭐️ Find the Mac Ride online at Amazon.
Best Value: Kids Ride Shotgun
Those who are willing to put in a little bit more work when it comes to taking this seat off and putting it back on can save some cash and get some priceless early saddle time with the Shotgun (MSRP $150 online).
The Shotgun’s seat, unlike the others in this test, is a real bike saddle, which is a very cool touch when it comes to acclimating kids to bikes. We probably all know adults who never managed to get used to bike seats. They are the ones keeping the gel cover market afloat and running crazy nose-down saddle angles that well-meaning bike shop employees are dying to try to talk them out of when they come in for tune-ups. It’s nice to think that kids who take well to the Shotgun are probably not destined to be buying gel seat covers.
My kid once told me she was sliding off the Shotgun seat on a particularly steep incline, so I just told her to hold on tight and pull on her handlebars, and everything seemed to work out fine. I never heard about it again. Unfortunately for the purposes of this test, toddlers tend to be pretty unreliable sources of feedback, so take that for what it’s worth.
Fitting the Shotgun is a less decisive affair than the Mac Ride and feels a little bit more like an art than a science. On the plus side, it fits bikes with wider top tubes just fine, with no adapter needed, accommodating top tubes from 30-68mm and down tubes from 30-100mm wide.
Initial setup requires a width and angle adjustment for the carrier’s “legs,” as well as adjustment of the seat angle. Shotgun includes two full-size box wrenches and an Allen wrench to accomplish this, which helps ease the install process even for someone who already owns these tools but has them buried away in a toolbox somewhere.
Once set up, the Shotgun kid’s seat clamps onto the top and down tubes using a quick release lever, with a tacky rubber gasket to protect the frame’s finish. Some will object to subjecting their frame to any amount of clamping pressure, and while that’s understandable, the clamping force required to keep the Shotgun in place is actually pretty minimal and spread out over five points of contact. As Shotgun points out, there are happy customers across the globe using the saddle on carbon and alloy frames without issue.
While this setup has worked for me and my daughter and lots of other people who are giving it 5-star reviews on the Shotgun site, it is somewhat uncertain just how much clamping pressure you need to keep the seat in place versus how much your delicate, thin-walled frame tubes can take. There’s no real, objective measure, and this ambiguity puts users in the position of balancing the safety of their child against the integrity of their expensive mountain bike frame. My approach was to start out with an install that slipped just a little, and then gradually tighten from there. In any event, the install is not as clear cut as the other carriers in this test.
Timewise, the Shotgun can be installed in minutes once you’re familiar with it, but there’s a handful of loose parts to keep track of – a threaded rod that needs two nuts to be threaded on to just the right place inside the legs, along with two foot pegs that thread on separately outside the legs and a two-piece quick release clamp that needs to be taken apart and put back together every time the carrier comes off the bike.
Shotgun also offers a nifty clamp-on handlebar with its own rubber grips that my kid seemed to really enjoy. The add-on handlebar is installed with two 3mm bolts and a variety of shims to suit different bar diameters. Pro tip: Sneak a bell onto a friend or co-parent’s Shotgun Handlebar and tell the kid that ringing it will help keep bears and Gruffalos away … or maybe summon fairies … then send them out on a ride.
The Shotgun tipped our scale at 1,500 grams and 1,710 grams with the accessory handlebar.
We loved the fact that the Shotgun fit my fat-tubed bike right out of the box, with no adapters. For those who don’t mind being a little extra attentive about putting on and taking off their kid seat, Shotgun offers the best combination of price and trail capability.
⭐️ Available online from Kids Ride Shotgun.
Cruiser/Commuter Pick: Tyke Toter
The Tyke Toter is a bit of an outlier here, as it doesn’t fit on a dropper post and doesn’t rely on the rider’s handlebars – It actually has its own little static bar for kids to hold onto. But it’s been around longer than the other seats in this test (since 2011) and has paved the way for the unrestrained-front-seat concept. It was also the lightest carrier in the test, weighing in at only 860 grams.
Tyke Toter is definitely worth a look if you want to test the waters of unrestrained front bike seats without committing to one of the more mountain-bike-worthy alternatives. The going rate for a brand-new Tyke Toter is around $110 (available from Tyke Toter and Amazon), giving parents and kids a great chance to see if front-end seating is for them. If mountain biking isn’t much of a priority and you want a seat for casual rides around the neighborhood, this could definitely be the best way to go.
For us, the ideal bike for Tyke Toter is either a beach cruiser – with a naturally low seating position that makes it easy to put your feet all the way to ground when stopped – or an older mountain bike with a fixed seat post.
Tyke Toter install is about as easy as Mac Ride, with a single clamp attaching the seat assembly to the seat post. It’s necessary to have enough post showing to clamp onto, and those with carbon or otherwise delicate seat posts will need to use a metal sleeve or other form of protection, as the steel clamp can be a bit harsh on your post. Tyke Toter fits seat post diameters ranging from 27.2 mm to 36 mm. Some smaller frames might not be compatible, since there won’t be enough exposed seat post to get the Tyke Toter up over the top tube.
Since it’s not compatible with dropper posts, a little creative problem solving will be necessary for even the most confident bike handlers to consistently support the bike at a stop without bobbling. Some reviewers report using a curb for the extra height to get feet all the way down, while others simply run the seat a little lower than normal when carrying kids on the Tyke Toter. After all, it’s not like we’re trying to win any world cups with our kids on front, and a lower seat over the course of a few short rides isn’t the end of the world.
The foot rest is a separate plastic piece that attaches to the down tube using Velcro straps. Unlike Mac Ride or Shotgun, there are no stirrups over the foot pegs, so feet tend to flail a bit more around the fork and front wheel – something you’ll want to keep an eye on. On my old Surly, the pegs slid right down to the bottle cage and lodged there snugly, which made for an ideal ride.
Technically you can use these seats without a dropper post – but I wouldn’t want to. You’re going to want to get into the habit of lowering it preemptively before coming to a stop. With a kid taking up all the space between your seat and handlebars, you can’t just slide forward over the top tube as you normally would. If you’re not already in the habit, this may take some getting used to. But with a heavy, wiggling kid balanced high over your head tube, you don’t want to be precariously holding the two of you up at a stop by your tiptoes.
Flat pedals will also help make everything easier. Even if you’ve been comfortable riding clipless for decades, flats just take away another variable and reduce the odds of a dumb, low-speed spill. And while a dumb little spill on dirt is unlikely be to a big deal, it could put a real damper on the general popularity of your kid’s seat. Besides, this is a good way to justify trying out flats if you haven’t already. Lots of great riders are using them lately. There’s probably something to that.
Last off, newer, longer bikes are legit better for these seats, because a longer top tube means there’s more room for the kid, which means more room for your knees. On size-large bikes with effective top tubes upwards of 63 cm, I’m still pedaling a little bow-legged, but it’s totally worth it.