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Teaching your child to bike is one thing, but helping them find the right bike can be an entirely other challenge. Biking took off as a family pastime during the pandemic, a popular way to enjoy the outdoors and get exercise. Sales of kids bikes increased twofold last year. Now that school’s out and the weather’s warm, your child may be itching to take a joy ride around the neighborhood. Since kids bikes are often sized differently from adult bikes, and there’s a lot to consider when shopping for the right one. We consulted cycling experts on how to find the right one for your child — and some of the best options around.
SKIP AHEAD Best kids bikes
How to shop for a kids bike
The most obvious difference between child and adult bikes is size. The size of an adult bicycle is based on the frame, while kids bikes follow wheel size, explained Ken Tashoff, manager of Danny’s Cycles. When shopping, you want to make sure you’re getting a bike that will fit your child. Typical wheel sizes for kids bikes range between 12 and 24 inches, and the bigger (and often older) your child is, the bigger their bike’s wheels should be. Another way to measure bike size is by your child’s inseam, which is the length from the floor to your child’s seat. Most bikes will offer multiple sizes, and bike maker Schwinn offers estimates as to which size to buy, depending on your child’s age:
- 1 to 4 years old: 12-inch wheels
- 3 to 4: 14-inch wheels
- 3 to 7: 16-inch wheels
- 5 to 9: 18-inch wheels
- 7 to 13: 20-inch wheels
- 10 to 15: 24-inch wheels
There are also different types of kids bikes, noted Alison Dewey, education director with the League of American Bicyclists, a bicycling advocacy organization.
- Tricycles are made for the youngest riders and are measured by wheel height and weight capacity.
- Balance bikes, also known as “push bikes,” are designed without pedals to help your child get accustomed to balancing on a bike and steering.
- Two-wheeled bikes can come with removable training wheels, which help stabilize your child.
- Most kids who know how to ride will use a pedal bike, styled after adult mountain bikes. These bikes typically have thicker wheels and fewer gears and parts than adult bikes. Most kids bikes will come with coaster or ‘foot’ brakes that stop when the rider pushes back on the pedals.
Pay attention to weight, as well, said Dewey. A bike that’s too heavy for your child will make it difficult for them to navigate and exhausting to ride long distances. Danny Sonnentag, bike training lead for Trek Bicycle, recommended finding a bike with a frame no more than 50 percent of your child’s weight, as lighter bikes are easier for your child to maneuver. Safety is also important — make sure your child is wearing a helmet and you’re planning your family bike trips accordingly.
“Consider traffic, other trail users, and how long your ride will take. Also, ensure that wherever you choose to ride, you can stay together as a family,” said Sonnentag. “And a parent pro tip: Always throw a few band-aids and fruit snacks or granola bar in your backpack or pocket before heading out. The band-aid’s will help with any potential scrapes but the snacks will actually stop any tears and can ward off the inevitable, ‘I’m hungry.’”
Best kids bikes to consider
To help your child have fun and stay safe while on the road, here are some of the best bike options on the market right now, in line with guidance we got from cycling experts above.
Best tricycle: Radio Flyer
This tricycle is a great way to introduce your child to biking — this model is made of plastic and steel and comes with a handle on the back for parents to help their child steer (and avoid crashes). This tricycle comes with an adjustable seat, a storage compartment in the back and a petal lock in case you want to push your child via the handle. This tricycle weights around 14 pounds and has a weight capacity of 49 pounds.
Best balance bike: Strider
This affordable balance bike is ideal for beginner riders, specifically for children aged 18 months to three years. This model comes with thick tires for balance and weighs under seven pounds, making it easy for your toddler to maneuver. It has a weight capacity of 60 pounds. It comes in four different colors: blue, green, red and pink.
Best bike with training wheels: RoyalBaby
This bike is made for kids who have outgrown a tricycle but aren’t quite ready to be on two wheels yet — this highly-rated model comes mostly assembled, so your kid can be riding within minutes of opening the box. This bike comes with five size options, ranging from 12- to 20-inch wheels, and seven colors.
Best bike for older kids: Schwinn
This sleek kids bike has 20-inch wheels and a durable steel frame. The model comes with a small pocket in the front to hold belongings and has both petal brakes and hand brakes. This bike weighs around 27 pounds and comes in two colors, blue and green.
Best durable bike: Dynacraft
This bike was designed for wear and tear, with a steel frame and colorful design. This model has 16-inch wheels (and removable training wheels) and weights under 25 pounds. This bike also has pedal breaks and a handlebar pad for more comfortable grip.
Best high-end bike for older kids: Cannondale
This high-end bike boasts 24-inch wheels and seven gears, great for more advanced riders. The frame is made of aluminium and is extremely lightweight, at only 20 pounds. This bike is designed less like a mountain bike and more like a road bike, with thinner tires and a lighter frame.