The Best Bikes for Kids
Choose a Properly Sized Bike
Get Kids Excited About Cycling
Kids rarely need encouragement to love bicycles - kids and bikes are simply made for each other. Starting little ones off early will help develop a life-long love of the cycling sport. Children don't have to be able to pedal to enjoy a ride with Mom and Dad: babies and toddlers can enjoy a ride in a bike trailer or infant bike seat. Preschoolers can tag along for the ride on a trailer-bike, or catch a ride in a bike trailer until they are old enough to ride independently. As more independence is gained, the child can be moved from a trailer-bike to progressively more independent bike types (such as a run bike or a bike with training wheels). By the age of six, most kids are able to handle a two-wheeled pedal bike, but might not have the endurance to go for long trail rides.
Every Child Needs a Bike Helmet.
Bike Seats vs. Bike Trailers: Safety
Safety is the most important consideration. In general, kid's bike trailers are safer than a child carrier on the bike. The most common bicycle accident is falling over, and a child in a carrier on a bike will fall when the adult rider falls. A child in a bike trailer, however, is safe from this type of accident. Bike trailers will remain upright when the bike falls over, keeping the child safe in this circumstance. In addition, if the adult hits the brakes hard and flips, or skids into an object by accident, a child in a bike trailer will be completely protected. A child in a bike seat will be slightly protected by the high sides of the seat. If the bike flips, however, a child in a bike seat will probably be injured.
Many adults fear that a car will hit the trailer, since the child feels so far behind the bike. This is highly unlikely, and a car that will hit the trailer is just as likely to hit the bike itself. While a child in a bike seat might be slightly more protected than a child in a trailer in this rare instance, significant injury is likely in any bike-car collision. All bike trailers should carry a bright orange flag to help alert drivers, and cyclists carrying children should consider avoiding bike trails along open roadways. Many state parks offer safe bike trails away from road traffic.
Kid's Bike Seat Vs. Kid's BikeTrailer
Child's Bike Seat
Child's Bike Trailer
Ease of Storage
Bike Seats vs. Bike Trailers: Ease of Use
Child bike seats and bike trailers will affect the maneuverability of a bike. Bike seats will raise the center of gravity for a bicycle, making it more likely to tip. Turning will have a different feel, and children will move about while the adult is pedaling. This may cause the bike to drift or get slightly off-balance. Kid's bike seats are small, however, and will allow the bike to go on narrow trails. Kid's bike seats are also easier to store than bike trailers.
Kid's bike trailers also affect the way a bike "rides." A trailer will reduce the overall aerodynamics of the bike, and the added weight will make riding a bit more strenuous and slow. Bike trailers vary in size, but nearly all are wider than the bike itself, which means the rider has to find bike trails wide enough for the trailer. Kid's bike trailers make the bike longer and increase the overall turning distance required. A bike trailer has more utility than a bike seat, since other items can be stored in the trailer (i.e. sippy cups, jackets, and other necessities). Some bike trailers also convert to strollers, making a a bike ride to town extremely convenient.
Whether a bike trailer or a child's bike seat is chosen, a helmet is mandatory!
This child's bike seat fits on the front cross-bar, and maintains the bike's center of gravity. It is easy to install, and the seat's position allows parents to interact with their children during the ride.
Kid's Bike Trailers and Bike Seats
Bike trailers can be affordable: the InSTEP bike trailer has a 5-star review and is very cost-effective.
Kid's Bike Helmet Types
A full shell style toddler helmet. This style offers the most complete coverage.
A "micro" style toddler helmet. This helmet meets all regulatory requirements, and does not cover the ears. This style will work well for children who wear hearing aids or glasses.
Bike Helmets for Kids
It is essential to start helmet-wearing early, so that the child is used to strapping on a helmet before each and every ride. Helmets are made in many sizes, including infant sizes. Bicyclists between the ages of 5-14 have the highest incidence of injury, and bike helmets have the ability to reduce the rate of head injury up to 85%.
Obtaining a bike helmet with the child's favorite character design, or finding a helmet with a streamlined, "cool" look will make the child more enthusiastic about wearing the helmet. Take the child on the helmet shopping trip, and allow the child to choose their favorite design.
For children who wear glasses or hearing aids, make sure the devices are on when choosing a bike helmet. Many toddler-style bike helmets come down low over the ears, which might make the helmet incompatible with the devices. A helmet which sits slightly above the ears will fit better than a helmet which covers the ears.
The Kazam balance bike is affordable, offers a resting platform for little feet, and is designed for children ages 3-6.
Run Bikes for Kids
Kids who use "run bikes," or pedal-less bikes, will learn how to maintain a sense of balance much earlier than a child who uses training wheels. Also known as balance bikes, a run bike will let a child focus on obtaining balance without the need to pedal. Run bikes are a great intermediate step between a tricycle and a two-wheeled bike: many parents notice the use of training wheels is avoided altogether when a run bike is used. Within a few weeks, a 5 year old child may be completely independent on a run bike, and ready for a two-wheeler with pedals. A younger child will enjoy a run bike for a long period of time, and will gain the ability to balance earlier than a child who uses training wheels.
The Use of Training Wheels
Bikes with Training Wheels
Training wheels are much cheaper to purchase than a run-bike, and often come with adjustable positions to ease a child into riding on two wheels. Most bikes for preschoolers come equipped with training wheels, so this is certainly the most economical choice for young riders. Training wheels give the child a sense of independence while preventing the bike from tipping over. To decide on the appropriate bike size for a child, please refer to the chart below.
Sizing Bikes for Kids
Child's Age Range
Tag Along Bikes for Kids
A great option for older preschoolers and early elementary school aged children, tandem bike trailers allow the adult to maintain stability while the child gets the feel of riding a two-wheeler. This option also allows for longer bike rides, since the adult does the work, while the child is free to pedal or rest as the ride progresses.
Most tandem bike models come with a seat attached to a single wheel, with a connecting bar to the adult bike. This option works well, though the adult must ensure the size of the tandem bike is suitable to the child's size (see the bike size chart above: choose a tandem bike with the appropriate wheel size to the child's height).
A new product is available (and cost effective): the Trail Gator bike tow bar allows any child's bike to attach to an adult bike. The tow bar lifts the front wheel off the pavement, and stabilizes the handlebars of the child's bike. It is easy to mount, and training wheels can be ordered that swing up out of the way when the child's bike is attached to the adult's bike. This option allows a child to ride independently when desired. If the child gets tired, the bike is easily attached to the adult bike while on the trail.
Moving to a Two-Wheeled Bike
When a child is ready (able to maintain balance and pedal at the same time), it is time to move to a traditional two-wheeled child's bike. Do not purchase a bike for a child to "grow into." Children need a bike appropriately sized to their bodies to prevent injury. Kids will learn to ride faster on a bike that is the right size. Make sure children are wearing helmets at all times on a bike.
Realize that once a child is riding independently, a trail ride may take much longer than it used to. Children tire easily, and ride more slowly than adults. Teach kids bike safety rules, such as riding with traffic rather than against it, and make sure to pack plenty of snacks for little ones!
Teaching a Child to Ride a Bike
Make Cycling Fun for Kids
Get kids excited about cycling on local trails.
- Obtain a map of the trail and plan the ride with the child. Kids enjoy the planning process, and will have a greater investment in the trip if they helped to plan the ride.
- Find bike trails with interesting stopping points. Bike trails in state parks may have historical markers along the path, or may have attractive scenery. Bike trails along a beach or lake may allow for a swim along the way.
- Take a bike tour. Many areas offer guided bike tours, and children as young as seven may be able to participate in these adventures. Bike tours can be found anywhere from Maine to Italy (depending on travel budget and taste)!
- Try BMX biking, racing, or mountain biking: some kids may enjoy these alternatives to classic team sports. This adds a twist on traditional trail rides.