Everything You Need to Know About Kids’ Bikes

How and where to buy them, kids’ bike sizing guide, kids’ bike accessories, and how to ride with very young children.

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Little ones riding the Lil' Roadster and Lil' Dutchi. Photo courtesy of Linus Bike.

Little ones riding the Lil’ Roadster and Lil’ Dutchi. Photo courtesy of Linus Bike.

Deciding to bike with children is a new kind of adventure that can definitely seem overwhelming at first. But once you get into the rhythm of it, biking with kids is a practical, fun way to keep your kids healthy and engaged while getting to share an activity you love with your family. Whether you’re just looking to do a few fun rides on the weekends, or you’re about to embark on a full-on family bike commuting schedule, there are a few things to consider when getting your kids set up with bikes and gear.

We’ve put together a little guide to bikes and accessories for kids aged 18 months to 18 to help you get started.

How to Bike with Very Young Kids
Type of Kids’ Bikes
Kids’ Bike Sizing
Kids’ Bike Accessories
How to Buy Kids’ Bikes
Kids’ Bike Brands

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How to Bike with Very Young Kids

There are a few things to consider when you’re riding with very young kids, which will ultimately influence what your best gear set-up is. Will you be sharing pick-up and drop-off duties with a partner, how far will you usually be biking, and what can you afford to spend?

For short trips when your kid is 1-3 years old, a bicycle-mounted child seat is a good choice. Yepp, Thule, BoBike, Peg Perego, Polisport, Blackburn Design, Co-rider, Yuba, and Hamax all make child bike seats, which range in price from $80 – $240 USD. If you want to share the bike seat between partners, be sure to look for a seat that has two adapters, or purchase an additional adapter for $20 – $40 USD.

If you’re going to be taking longer trips, trailers are a great option since they provide sun and rain coverage and allow your children to nap. They also have the added benefit of converting to a stroller/ storage compartment once you arrive at your destination. Trailers are also a good choice if you’re going to be sharing transportation duties with your partner, since they can be locked up at daycare or wherever, and as long as you purchase a second hitch, your partner can pick them up on their own bike. They’re good until your child is around 4-5 years old, at which point they’ll outgrow them. Croozer, Wike, BurleyThule, Weehoo, Topeak and WeeRide all make tow-behind trailers, which range from $250 – $600 USD and can accommodate one or two children depending on the model.

Another excellent option if you’re going to be taking longer rides are trailer bikes or trailer cycles. These are basically a wheel, seat and handlebars with a frame that attaches to your bike’s seat tube to create a little half bike trailing behind you. These not only get your kid comfortable staying upright on longer rides, but can also be switched back and forth between you and your partner’s bikes whenever you need to. They’re suitable for kids ages 3 to around 6 or 7, and some models come with backrest and armrests rather than handlebars.  Trail-a-BikeWeehoo, Burley, and FollowMe all make trailer bikes, which range in price from $150 – $450 USD.

 

 

Types of Kids’ Bikes

Balance Bikes

While you may still be trucking your little tots around on longer trips, it’s never too early to get them started on their own set of wheels for shorter rides to the park or around the neighbourhood. Balance bikes are small bikes with no drivetrain or pedals, which are designed to get very young children comfortable staying upright on two wheels. While they’re advertised as being suitable for kids as young as 18 months, in most cases kids won’t be able to use them until they’re about 2 years old.

In the case of balance bikes, the inseam measurement is particularly important since the kid needs to be able to have their feet on the ground to push the bike along. Balance bikes have basically done away with the need for training wheels, as they are very effective at making kids comfortable with countersteering and staying upright. By the time your child gets their first pedal bike, the transition to pedaling along should take less than a day.

Yuba, Early Rider, Spawn CyclesBurleyStriderGlide Bikes, Bixbi, Islabikes, Specialized, Wishbone Design, Boot Scoot, Schwinn, and a few other brands all make balance bikes, which are available in wood or metal and range in price from $100 – $150 USD. Yuba’s colorful Flip Flop is an innovative design in that the frame can be flipped up to add a few more inches to the bike, giving your kids a few extra months before they outgrow the bike.

“Big Kid Bikes”

Once your little one graduates onto “big kid bikes,” a.k.a bikes with pedals and drivetrains, there are a number of options to suit their – and your – riding style and aesthetic preferences. For a long time, most kids’ bikes readily available tended towards the mountain bike or off-road style, but recently a number of brands have been coming out with city bikes for kids as well. Deciding which one to go with basically just requires thinking about where and how your kid is most likely to ride. If you live in a pretty rural area and they’ll be ripping it up on dirt roads and trails, you’ll want to go with a more mountain bike style. If you live in a city and it will be all paved roads, a city bike or a cruiser will do just fine. Many bikes for young kids are singlespeed, but you can also find bikes with gears in 20” wheel sizes (approximate age 5+) at a few companies.

Girls Bikes vs. Boys Bikes

Similar to men’s bikes vs. women’s bikes in the adult city bike world, this distinction is pretty irrelevant. While many larger companies still offer girl-specific bikes and boy-specific bikes, smaller companies are increasingly making their bikes gender-neutral, as ultimately, they are. There is no difference in the sizing or fit of girls’ bikes or boy’s bikes, only in the color and design schemes. So basically it comes down to your child’s preference. Maybe your daughter wants a pink bike with ribbons and glitter, or maybe she wants a blue one with a rocket design and your son tends more towards pink and purple. Companies such as IslaBikes, Cleary Bikes and Linus make decidedly gender-neutral children’s bikes in simple colors such as Orange and Green, without all of the flair.

Coaster Brakes vs. Hand Brakes

Many bikes for young kids only have coaster brakes, but more brands are starting to add brakes optimized for tiny hands right down to the balance bikes. For kids aged 4-6, having both coaster brakes and hand brakes is your best setup, as their little hands often aren’t strong enough yet to only use hand brakes, but it’s good to get them started on learning how. Often, bikes that have coaster brakes also have a freewheel option so you could take it to the shop to get rid of the coaster brake if your kid is fine with just their hands.

A 12", 14", and 20" crew. Photo courtesy of Islabikes.

A 12″, 14″, and 20″ crew. Photo courtesy of Islabikes. Cover photo also by Islabikes.

 

 

Kids’ Bike Sizing

Once your little one has graduated to a pedal bike, it’s more important than ever to find one that fits. If the bike doesn’t fit properly, your child will get less enjoyment out of it and not want to ride it as much. With adult’s bikes, we choose our appropriate size based on the frame, but with kids’ bikes, they’re sized by the diameter of their wheels. Kids’ wheel sizes are generally available in 12, 16, 20, and 24 inches, with some companies offering a 14 inch size as well. 26 inches is the standard size wheel for an adult bike, so once they hit that size, I guess you could say they’re all grown up!

While most kids’ bike companies offer a rough estimate of the appropriate age for each of their models, they always advise to measure your child’s height and inseam before choosing a bike, as that’s a much better indicator of whether or not the bike will fit them. The inseam is the most important determinant of whether or not the bike will be a good fit. The table below is an average guide to kids’ bike sizing, but many companies also offer guides to their specific models. Similar to adult bikes, the best approach is to have your child try out a few bikes and see what’s most comfortable, but if you’re buying online the inseam guide is generally appropriate.

            Wheel Size     Approximate Age   Approximate Height          Inseam
 12″ 2-3 years 2’10” – 3’4″ 14″ – 17″
 14″ 3-4 years 3’1″ – 3’7″ 16″ – 20″
 16″ 4-5 years 3’7″ – 4’0″ 18″ – 22″
 20″ 5-8 years 4’0″ – 4’5″ 22″ – 25″
 24″ 8-11 years 4’5″ – 4’9″ 24″ – 28″
 26″ 11+ years 4’9″ + 26″ +

 

 

Kids’ Bike Accessories

While you won’t be needing a set of panniers and a GPS handlebar computer for your little ones, there are a few accessories that will definitely make their riding life – and yours – easier. Until recently, it has been pretty difficult to find kids’ bikes equipped with fenders in North America. With the rise of transportation cycling, many companies are now making bikes for little ones set up like adult bikes, only smaller. Isla Bikes and Linus both offer fenders as accessories with their bikes.

You should also think about the clothing your kid usually wears and how that will interact with the drivetrain. If your kid frequently wears capes or long skirts and dresses, you’ll probably want to get a chainguard. A backrack with a crate or a front basket is also a good idea so they can cart around their water bottle, snacks, or favorite teddy bear.

For a lock, a cable lock is usually high enough security unless you have unreasonably high rates of theft in your area. Get a combination lock so any family member or friend can ride with the kids. Abus, Knog, OnGuard, and Blackburn all make cable combo locks that cost around $25 USD. Knog’s Party Combo Lock comes in a variety of fun colors that the kids can choose from.

You’ll also want a set of lights, but you don’t need to go crazy on the price here as your lights will be doing most of the leg work. The Lezyne KTV set, Planet Bike 2 Watt Micro or Knog Pop Duo are all decent lights for kids for around $30 USD. It can also never hurt to put the kids in reflective clothing since their little statures can be easy to miss on the roads.

For kids’ bike helmets, Nutcase, Abus, BernBell and Giro are your go-tos. Nutcase has tons of fun colors and patterns in urban styles for kids all the way down to Newborns, while the others have great options for toddlers and up.

Beyond those listed above, there are a few other accessories that will make the bike more functional, or just more fun. Kickstands and bells or horns are really helpful and inexpensive, and you and your little one can jazz up the bike with fun style accessories such as streamers, blinky lights, spoke gems or decorative handlebar attachments.

Burley MyKick Balance Bike

The Burley MyKick Balance bike, photo courtesy of Burley.

 

 

How to Buy Kids’ Bikes

Buying Kids’ Bikes Online vs In-Store

As with any bicycle purchase, there are benefits to going into a shop and talking to somebody versus the convenience of buying online. With children’s bikes, however, it’s a little easier to make the purchase online since the fit is a little less specific, and kids bikes often arrive ready-to-ride so you don’t have to worry about doing your own assembly. Basically much of what it comes to do is how many questions you have about the bike, how much you covet a specific brand, what state of assembly the bike will arrive in, or how difficult it would be to get to a shop from where you live. For balance bikes, ordering online is a very safe bet. For bikes with drivetrains, ordering online will still be fine if all that needs to be done is add the pedals and tighten the headset and you know how to tighten brakes. Otherwise you may want to make your way to your local bike store.

Cheap Kids’ Bikes vs. Expensive Ones

It’s no secret that kids cost a pretty penny, and when you know they’re just going to outgrow the bike in a matter of years anyway, it can definitely be appealing to head down to the big-box store and pick up the cheapest bike you can find. This should really be avoided for a number of reasons. Mass-produced, cheap bikes are generally of a considerably lower quality than even the least expensive bikes from reputable brands. They’ll be less comfortable to ride and less functional, decreasing your child’s enjoyment of their new wheels. In many cases, they’ll break before your kid even has a chance to outgrow them.

Importantly, cheap bikes are a real environmental burden. Since they use such low-quality parts and materials, they’re basically beyond repair once they break, so they almost always end up in the landfill. If you can, spring for a quality kids’ bike which you’ll be able to pass down to the younger kids, you can always just sell it when you’re done with it. Since a number of people have that same idea, you can also find second-hand quality kids’ bikes very easily on sites such Craigslist or at second-hand sports stores.

Lightweight Kids’ Bikes

A very important feature to consider when buying a children’s bike (and another reason to avoid cheap, low-quality bikes) is the weight. Well-made kids’ bikes tend to be much lighter than their lesser-quality counterparts. It takes a lot of momentum for kids to get their bikes moving, so a few pounds can make a real difference to their enjoyment of their ride. Furthermore, since you’ll be the one carrying that bike around on the back of your cargo bike or loading it in and out the car, you’ll be thankful for the lighter weight as well.

Photo courtesy of Schwinn Bikes.

Photo courtesy of Schwinn Bikes.

Kids Bike Brands

Balance Bikes Only:

Other Bike Types:

10 Comments

  • Ben

    Ku bikes in germany also makes very decent kids bikes. Not as fancy as Early Rider, but a bit cheaper. If you’re in Europe and Early Rider is a bit rich for your blood (or you don’t want to spend the money but still want a good, functional bike), they’re a great option (since getting islabikes can be a pain). They also make an extra small 14″ bike with pedals that’s great for young/short pedal-wanting riders.

  • Well-written article. Of course, it would be impossible to list all the major brands. My top 3 would be WOOM, Cleary and the Ridgeback Scoot.

  • FCormier

    FollowMe now have a canadian distributor: https://www.trucavelo.com/

  • Robert Johnson

    Excellent article. Covers everything in a short space. Additional brands in the other comments are important too.

  • Nina Sabghir

    I did almost the same thing as Greg. I bought my 5 year old grand daughter a bike at a local shop and requested they assemble it without the pedals or training wheels. Lily balance biked for a few months. Then ehen BikeNYC had a kids learn to ride class near us we joined in. I am one of their volunteers. Lily was sent to me within an hour to attach the pedals and off she rode! By the way, she will be my first interviewee for a blog I write for cyclerecycleuk.com.

  • If you’re handy enough to do basic bicycle repair, one option we did was to buy a small kids bike and remove the chain and cranks. It is then an instant “balance bike”! Save the parts in a box in the garage, then re-install them a year or two later when your child is ready… it’s 2 bikes for the price of one and served our son from age 1 to 4! He learned to balance bike then “real” bike on it before graduating from 12″ wheels to 16″!

  • Robert

    Jamis bikes have been left off the list. They have several very nice and very rideable bikes for children.

  • Bike Fixer Chris

    You can get afront basket for the Yuba Flip-Flop that is similar to the Breadbasket for their full-size cargo bikes.

  • Lorraine

    Strange they dont mention Chariot stroller/. They are amazing. Maybe they are only available in Canada, but keep n mind that Canadians are reading this too!
    If costs are an issue, you could test drive a bike in store, then troll Craigslist for that product – just a thought.
    Wholeheartedly agree that bikes should be purchased from local bike shops, but if cost is super challenging, go second hand. Some bike shops sell refurbished bikes, and often can’t get rid of them because parents want their kids to have new.

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