Talk to anyone who’s a bike enthusiast, and they’ll likely tell you all about how their love affair with the two-wheeler began when they were just kids.
You probably have your own memories of learning how to ride a bike as a kid yourself.
It’s only natural for parents to want to teach their kids how to ride a bicycle because doing so has so many positive effects.
As long as parents keep close watch over their kids during the learning process, there’s really no downside to a young child learning how to ride a bicycle.
Of course, the challenge of figuring out how to control a two-wheeler is still something that can be immensely difficult.
To make the whole learning process easier, faster, and more enjoyable for your kids, you will have to find a bicycle that suits them ideally.
In this buyer’s guide, you will be able to read more about the different characteristics that make up a good kid’s bike while also picking up some important tips that will help improve the learning process.
The General Guidelines for Choosing a Kid’s Bike
Later in this guide, we will discuss the more specific considerations you need to keep in mind before putting money down on a kid’s bike. Before we get to that though, it’s important to remember the upcoming reminders when the time does arrive for you to choose a bike for your child.
1. It’s important for the bike to fit the child properly right away
When it comes to buying stuff for kids, we as adults tend to adopt the habit of purchasing things that they may “grow into”, because we want our presents to last a long time. We buy slightly bigger clothes, we get them slightly more complicated toys, and we may even decide to give them books that they will be able to appreciate more once they’re a little older.
While we can employ that habit when it comes to purchasing a wide variety of presents of kids, we must steer clear of that practice once the time has arrived to choose a bike.
The main reason behind why we need to neglect that habit when purchasing a kid’s bike is due to safety.
As noted by HealthyChildren.org, parents must avoid purchasing a larger bike in the hopes that a kid will grow into it. Instead, parents and generous gift-givers alike are encouraged to take into account different factors.
2. The correct kid’s bike will be compatible with the size of the child
Guidelines put forth by HealthyChildren.org suggest that a bike fits the child well if he/she can sit on the seat while also touching the ground with both feet. Look for a bike that only allows your child to get his tippy toes on the ground. As much as possible, it would be best if the child cannot firmly plant his/her feet on the ground while remaining seated on the bike because that is a sign that the bicycle is too small. Conversely, a bike that will not even allow your child to touch any part of his/her foot to the ground is likely too big.
3. Let your child choose what kind of design the bike will have
It sounds so simple, but it’s something overlooked by many parents. The person in charge of choosing what the bike looks like should be the child and not the parent. Even if parents believe that they know what is best for their child, the kid should still be the one who has final say over which bicycle is ultimately bought.
Choosing a Bike Based on the Child’s Height
We talked earlier about the importance of purchasing a bike for a child that will fit his/her physical dimensions right from the moment he/she starts riding it. In light of that, it is important to note that there are specific wheel measurements that work best depending on the height of the child who will be riding the bike.
According to Icebike.org, the reason why we want to focus on the height of the kid and the size of the wheel is because those components factor significantly into the bicycle’s other dimensions.
12” Wheels Are Ideal for Children 2’10” to 3’4” in Height
Bikes with 12-inch wheels are at the lower end of the spectrum in terms of kids’ bike sizes and they should accordingly be given to children who are also on the smaller side. Typically, children that have a height measurement ranging from 2’10” to 3’4” are around 2 to 3 years old.
Many of the bicycles that feature 12-inch wheels are also known as balance bikes. For those unfamiliar with balance bikes, they are the ones that come with no chains and pedals. REI.com notes that these bikes feature only the wheels and the frame because they are designed to simulate how riding a bike will feel like.
14” Wheels Are Ideal for Children 3’1” to 3’7” in Height
The next rung up the ladder from the bikes with 12-inch wheels are the ones equipped with 14-inchers. These don’t vary that much from the first group in terms of size, and that’s important since there is still overlap within the two groups of kids. Bikes with wheels of that size are usually suited for kids aged 3 to 4.
You will still be able to find balance bikes that have 12-inch wheels if your child is more comfortable with that. If he/she is capable of taking on the next level though, it may be a good idea to purchase a bicycle with training wheels included.
16” Wheels Are Ideal for Children 3’7” to 4’0” in Height
You may have noticed a sudden shrinkage in the height range for kids who can easily use bikes with 16-inch wheels. The reason for that is because kids that come in within that height range are usually aged 4 to 5. They are the kids who are right at the point in their early development when their height may generally remain in the same range ahead of a significant growth spurt.
At that age, a bike with 16-inch wheels may also not remain compatible with the child for that much longer, so keep that in mind prior to making a purchase.
In all likelihood, the reason why you’re getting a bicycle for your child at this point is that he/she missed out on the early steps he/she could have taken as a 2 or 3-year-old.
Choosing a Bike Size Based on the Child’s Weight
If you still want other factors to take into consideration before you put money down on a new kid’s bike, you’re in luck because there are indeed other things to be mindful of. For instance, weight is something that can be used as a point of reference as well.
When you’re considering the weight of your child before buying a bike, your intention should be to find a bicycle that can easily be controlled.
Similar to what you should look for in your bike, a kid’s bike will ideally weigh significantly less than him/her. We’re not talking about small discrepancies here either. Your goal here is to acquire a bike that weighs only about a third as much as your child.
The issue though is that kid’s bikes are not easy to spot.
Another potential problem here is that there are bike manufacturers who simply prefer not to include the specific weight of the kids’ bikes they are offering. If that is the kind of issue you encounter, your best bet is to go look for higher-end kids’ bikes.
The manufacturers of those bikes have no problems with printing the actual weights of the products they make, so you’re guaranteed to receive what you are paying for.
You are probably going to end up paying more for a higher-end bike, but a bigger price tag is insignificant when it comes to ensuring the safety of your young rider.
Choosing a Bike Based on Handlebars
We’ve already talked about how the child’s height and weight can be used as references for pinpointing the ideal kid’s bike, but you may be surprised to learn that handlebars also have to be accounted for prior to making a purchase.
In well-designed bikes, the handlebars are not parts you will pay attention to that much. They are on the bike because they are needed for steering, but they should not have any other kind of impact on the rider.
The Types of Handlebars That Work Best for a Kid’s Bike
So, what types of handlebars should you look for in a bike for your child?
Two types will suffice:
- Low-rise handlebars
- Mid-rise handlebars
Low-rise handlebars will work fine in a kid’s bike. Because they force the child to lean a forward a bit, the low-rise handlebars provide enough room for your kid’s arms to be stretched. This type of positioning will give him/her increased control over the bicycle’s steering.
Low-rise handlebars also encourage the child to adopt a style of riding that is more conducive to building up speed. If you are going to give your kid a bike with low-rise handlebars, make sure that he/she is advanced enough as a rider to handle a potentially higher speed.
If your young cyclist is still trying to get the hang of this biking thing, it would be ideal for you to purchase a bike with mid-rise handlebars. Mid-rise handlebars are elevated enough that your child will no longer have to hunch forward just to get a good grip on them.
Instead, mid-rise handlebars promote better posture when riding. The child’s back is not completely straightened out, but the curve is less pronounced and less strain is placed on the body.
The Type of Handlebars to Avoid in a Kid’s Bike
If the low and mid-rise handlebars are the ones to look for, then by process of elimination, the ones that rise high are the handlebars that must be avoided.
When you’re a little older, a bike having high handlebars is no big deal, but for a child, those are really tough to work with. The high handlebars force the child to have his/her arms in an awkward position where they are kind of tucked in and the elbows are flaring out. The child’s back will also have to stay at a 90-degree angle when operating a bike with high handlebars.
While it’s possible that less stress will be placed on the child’s back while riding a back with high handlebars, it’s still simply not ideal to cede that much control. It may also take a kid longer to figure out how to steer a bike properly if the handlebars are placed way too high up.
Choosing a Bike Based on the Placement of the Wheels
Size is not the only thing that matters when you’re thinking about which wheels should be installed on a child’s bicycle. The size of the wheels is undoubtedly important, but so too is the way they are positioned on the bike itself.
If the wheels are too close to one another, steering will be difficult. The lack of space between the wheels takes away a good amount of the bike’s maneuverability.
You’ll also want the bikes with the bigger wheels to be set farther apart from one another so that there will be no issue in controlling either the front or rear wheel.
Choosing a Bike Based on Available Speeds
Speed levels are minor considerations when you are looking for a kid’s bike.
Remember that bikes with training wheels typically only feature a single speed level, and that’s what you would expect given that the kids riding them are still trying to figure things out.
Meanwhile, the balance bikes that will be used by the newbies don’t even have an available speed available.
Speed levels are going to matter more when your child has graduated to using road, cruiser, and even BMX bikes, but for now, don’t spend too much time worrying about this.
Choosing a Bike Based on Brakes
Because available speed levels are not something you should be too worried about when looking for a child’s bike, that also means that brakes are not that important as well, right?
While one can make the argument that brakes aren’t as important on bikes that travel at such low speeds, you still have to take every measure available to ensure the safety of your child, and that includes purchasing a bicycle with functional brakes.
Balance bikes don’t have brakes because the kid is supposed to learn how to stop using his/her feet.
Beyond the balance bikes though, there are different brake options available.
When looking at bikes for kids, there’s a good chance that many of them come with coaster brakes included. These brakes differ significantly from what you’ll typically find on larger bicycles because of the way they are activated.
To engage coaster brakes, the rider must simply reverse the way in which he/she is pedaling.
Coaster brakes are designed that way because they are based on a child’s natural tendency to pedal backward when he/she is having some difficulty steering.
Hand brakes are the standard stopping mechanisms found on most bikes. They are activated by pressing down on levers found near the handlebars.
The problem with teaching a child how to use a hand brake is that it can be a struggle for them to pull off that action.
It may be a natural instinct to grab down on something when trying to come to a full stop, but because the handlebars are the parts of the bike closest to the hands, those are likely going to be the components that the child will press down on.
Furthermore, many hand brakes are not easily activated with a light pull, so a child may have to divert attention from the road just to try and properly operate it.
The aforementioned Two Wheeling for Tots suggests performing a simple test to see if the hand brakes installed on a bike can be used by a child easily. According to the site, if an adult can be pulled easily using just a pinky finger, then the child may also be capable of activating it when needed.
Choosing a Bike Based on Your Child’s Skill Level
For this section, we’re no longer just focusing on the bike, but also factoring in how good of a cyclist your child is.
Obviously, your primary goal when getting a bike for your child is just to teach him/her how to ride one correctly, and that’s why it is recommended that you start slow and pick up easier-to-master bicycles early on.
The catch with doing that is that your child may pick up on the important lessons right away, and suddenly, he/she is now stuck with a two-wheeler that is no longer capable of keeping up with him/her.
Yes, your child has learned the basics of riding a bike, but if you spent your entire budget on that beginner bike, then you may not have enough left over for a more advanced machine.
Talk to your child about that matter too and ask about what he/she would prefer.
Choosing a Bike Helmet for Your Child
We are now finished with the different factors you can take into consideration when trying to identify the right type of bicycle to purchase for your child, but that doesn’t mean that you have no other things to think about.
You may have ended up buying the bike that is most compatible for your child, but you should still not allow him/her to ride it until you get one particular piece of equipment, and that is none other than the bike helmet.
According to HealthyChildren.org, all bike helmets that are manufactured for use after 1999 must bear the seal of the CPSC as an indicator that it has been deemed safe for use. The seal is commonly found inside the bike helmet.
If for some reason, bike helmets bearing the CPSC logo are not available in your area, the next best thing you can do is to find a multisport helmet that has been approved by the aforementioned commission.
It is simply not acceptable for you to allow your child to ride a bike without a CPSC-approved helmet because of the potential risks.
Helmets approved by the CPSC are specifically designed to protect the skull from the kind of high impact that can be produced when the head meets the ground at even just a moderately high speed.
Even beyond just protection, a CPSC-approved bike helmet is what you want your child to use because it has been designed to also provide comfort.
Which Type of CPSC-Approved Helmet Should I Get for My Child?
There are two general types of CPSC-approved bike helmets:
- Hard-shell helmets
- Soft-shell helmets
As long as the two helmets are approved by the CPSC, then you can rest assured that they are safe to use, but if you want the piece of equipment that provides the most protection, the hard-shell helmet should probably be the item you purchase.
The hard covering found on these helmets is designed to withstand sharp objects. Your child shouldn’t be riding his/her bike anywhere near a place lined with jagged rocks, but just in case he/she has veered off the widely used path, the hard-shell helmet should provide enough protection to keep your child safe even in the event of an accident.
Soft-shell helmets also provide a good amount of protection, but they may be more prone to getting punctured by a sharp object.
Your number one concern as a parent should be your child’s safety, so require your child to wear that hard-shell helmet if he/she wants to ride his/her bike around the neighborhood.
Are There Any Other Items I Must Buy for My Child Who Is Studying How to Ride a Bike?
The bike helmet is the most important accessory you need to get for your kid, but if you still have some extra money to spend after making that purchase, KidsHealth.org has some suggestions for other items you should look into purchasing.
The site notes that bright pieces of clothing would be great purchases because they draw plenty of attention to your child when he/she is near the road. If those brightly-colored clothes also happen to be made of breathable material, then they will be even better for your child.
You don’t need to get a special pair of pants for your child, but you must absolutely avoid having him/her wear loose-fitting pants that can get ensnared in the chains.
Shoes that are designed especially for bikes aren’t available. Instead, you can just buy ones that are capable of sticking well to the pedals of the bike so that your child will not suddenly lose control over the machine.
As this buyer’s guide shows, purchasing the right bike that meets all your child’s specific needs is not as simple as getting one that is small and looks cool. There are several other factors you have to consider if you want your child to be as safe as he/she can be while riding a bike, and you need to think about all of them before settling on a particular item.
Hopefully, though, this buyer’s guide has provided you with all the information you will need to find that bike that is just perfect for your kid.