Since their first day out of the womb, kids are working on propelling themselves through the world without us. Crawling, walking and running come with a taste of independence. But, in their mere two to five years on this planet, nothing is going to feel as free as zooming down the street on their first bike.
So how do you choose the right bike for your little one?
We'll walk through the factors you need to consider when buying your kid's first bike.
Styles of First Bike
A few key components need to be considered when choosing the right bike for your tiny cycler.
First, you have to get an idea of what style of bike you are shopping for. Are you looking for their first pedal bike, or are you going to start with a balance bike? Then there is the controversial (apparently) question of training wheels, good or bad?
A balance bike looks like a bike that has been stripped for parts but in a really cute way. It still has it's wheels, fork, handlebars and a frame, but it's missing a drivetrain and pedals. Meaning, to move this bike through space, your kiddo pushes themselves using their feet, ultimately pulling their feet up and balancing, riding on their own momentum.
These bikes are great for really early riders, as young as 18 months, but can be ridden until your kid can comfortably balance on two wheels. In fact, many people say that by completely bypassing training wheels altogether, learning how to ride a bike is smoother and takes place when the individual kid is ready.
A pedal bike is powered by the rider pushing pedals forward with their feet. These bikes can have two wheels or four with training wheels, can be single-speed or multi-speed, and use coaster brakes or hand brakes.
To Training Wheel or Not to Training Wheel
Training wheels give even the youngest riders a sense of confidence in their first bike experiences. But to truly "train" on them gives the rider an incomplete idea of what actually steering and balancing on a bike feels like. So what exactly are you "training" them for?
How to Size a Bike
While the "they'll grow into it" attitude may work for winter coats, your kid's first bike is not an area you want to buy bigger to make it last longer. A properly fitted kids' bike is not only safer but will give your kiddo a better overall experience.
Kids' bikes are sold by the wheel diameter, not by the size of the frame, like bikes for grown-ups. So-how exactly do you pick the right size for your kiddo? By Height? Age? Consult a fortune-teller?
All technically wrong: you need to measure your child's inseam. The inseam is the distance from the floor to essentially their crotch. You are going to compare this number to the minimum seat height and standover height in the bike's specifications.
Now, most bike sellers will give an approximate age and height the bike is suitable for, but unless you've got a perfectly proportioned kiddo on your hands, this isn't very telling. You will have to dig into the specs and find the seat height and standover height information to get a truly accurate fit.
Here are step-by-step instructions for choosing the right size bike for your young rider:
Consult the charts. There are a million and one sizing charts for kids' bikes that can be super helpful in narrowing down the correct wheel size for your kid's first bike. Knowing you're probably only going to be shopping a certain size is helpful when wading through the sea of bike options.
Get out your measuring tape. Measure the overall height of the child and inseam in inches. These two measurements are going to be your reference point while you shop.
Add in your variables. Since we are talking about a child's first bike, we assume they are not an experienced rider. For comfort and safety, you want them to be able to stand over the bike and sit on the seat, with feet flat on the ground. This means the standover height can be no more than their inseam, and seat height needs to be within an inch of the measurement. The same goes for balance bikes.
If you have an experienced rider or are using training wheels, you want them to touch the ground on their toes while seated, but you still want them to clear the standover height. Add up to two inches to their inseam to determine the perfect seat height.
As a rule, a child should not be riding a bike where the minimum seat height exceeds their inseam by three inches.
The Best Kids Bikes for Young Riders
When starting your shopping journey, it's important to know that not every style of bike is going to be available in every size, and from personal experience, the 14" wheel can be a little elusive. With that in mind, here are ten of the best kids' bikes that would make the perfect first bike for your tiny rider.
A Note: Ages are listed for reference only, be sure to consult each bike's specifications and compare them to your child's measurements—all bikes listed feature single-speed gearing for early riders.
Balance Bikes (Ages 2-3)
You’ve probably seen kiddos on balance bikes before. They are a great way for them to get used to balancing on a bicycle at a young age. Not to mention, they are much more fun than a stroller for your evening walks.
Strider, one of the more well-known brands of balance bikes, brings the Sport 12. With puncture-proof tires, a durable steel frame and an adjustable seat that accommodates a 12" - 20" inseam range without needing any tools, this bike will be around for many years to come.
$107 - $150, Amazon
Weighing in at just 4 pounds, our lightest selection, the Croco Lightweight Balance Bike, is going to give your kid the most control and easiest first ride, making it perfect for most two-year-olds.
The adjustable seat can accommodate an 11" - 17" inseam without the use of tools, thanks to a clip design that allows the seat to move freely on the seat post.
This bike is so adorable; there are barely words to describe how adorable it is. Available in ten hip colors and adorned with a tiny wicker basket, the Baby Beaumont Balance Bike is "growth spurt friendly" with its fully adjustable seat and handlebars.
12" - 14" Bikes (Ages 3-4)
Once they have the hang of the balance bike or are starting out a little bit older, you can get them a bike that is a tad bigger, which gives them a little more freedom.
This steerable bike lets you help your kid make the transition to two wheels with its removable parent handle and training wheels. The Grit & Petunia feature a simple single-speed design and a chain guard to keep anything from being gobbled up in the chain while pedaling.
The lightweight aluminum frame and easy to reach brake levers of the Frog 40 make this rather spendy selection worth the dough. Bonus, it comes with a 5-year warranty on the frame and forks, so your little rider can really rough this puppy up without worry.
This bike accommodates a 15.5" average inseam.
$360, Frog Bikes
OK, this isn't a bicycle, but it's a classic, so liberties were taken. The Radio Flyer Dual Deck Trike features the iconic cherry-red paint, chrome fender, bell and streamers.
While the inseam measurements aren't listed, it features a 12" wheel and suggests it's perfect for 2 to 5 year-olds.
The Gecko 12" Kids Bike features a discrete handle under the seat to help steer new riders and a standard freewheel design with hand brakes. You can swap this out for coaster brakes before placing your order.
This bike can accommodate a 14" with the seat, and the seat post dropped to the lowest position and extends to fit an 18" inseam comfortably.
$310, Cleary Bikes
14" - 16" (Ages 5+)
And finally, bikes for kids ages 5 and up are a great place to start for beginner riders. You really can’t go wrong with any of these options.
The Zulu One is a kid's mountain bike made for off-road adventures. It ships 95% assembled with standard coaster brakes, but a rear-disc brake kit can be purchased for only a buck and is self-installed. Prevelo's signature design keeps the rider's center of gravity low for optimal control and performance.
The standover height is 14.5" with a minimum seat height of 16".
This bike is not available until January of 2021 but can be preordered today.
Islabikes are only available to our lucky UK readers and are some of the most thoughtfully designed kid's bikes. The Cnoc 16" features micro-reach brake levers for itty bitty hands, a super lightweight frame and a completely enclosed chain with their unique, free-floating chain guard.
£350 (Approximately $424), Islabikes
If you're at all familiar with Public Bikes, you'll love the attention to detail in their Sprout line. Everything about Public C adult bikes people have come to love is replicated in child size. This includes the coordinating chain guard and fenders and hipster brown vinyl grips and seat.
The standover height is 17.5".
With the help of a measuring tape and a little homework before purchase, you can be sure that your child will be able to comfortably and safely ride their first bike with ease. We can't promise there won't be wipeouts and skinned knees, so be sure to get your kiddo a good helmet, elbow and knee pads.
Unfortunately, there is no magic measurement for comfort and safety for buying their first car, but luckily, you've got time for that.
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The 9 Best Kids Bikes: