Introducing the next generation of young cyclists to the joys of the sport is one of the undoubted pleasures of biking, but it is important to bear in mind some key considerations when purchasing bikes for children.
There is a bewildering array of kids’ bikes on the market, but many offer little more than a flashy colour scheme and a tempting price tag. Bikes for children need to be able to withstand the rough and tumble of childhood adventure and so reliability – and safety – are paramount.
The most important thing to consider when trying to find a bike for your child is sizing – kids will find it hard to control bikes that are the wrong size, especially if they are too big. Don’t be tempted to think a too-large bike will be fine on the basis that the child will ‘grow into’ it – it’s too big a risk to take. As with adult bikes, a bigger budget will get you more bang for your buck in terms of a lighter and more durable frame and components, but bear in mind that many kids will grow out of bikes quickly. Also, most kids will care more about the colour scheme than about the type of brakes, so make sure you buy with your child’s preferences in mind – any bike will be ridden more if it is loved.
Most kids’ bikes will feature some range of size adjustment via seat or handlebar height, but in general, bikes for children are sized according to wheel diameter, with each size roughly correlating to an age group.
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AGED 2-5 (12"-14" Wheels)
Bikes with 12” or 14” wheels are aimed at pre-school or early school children (between the ages of two and five) and fall into two categories – ‘proper’ bikes and balance bikes with no pedals or brakes.
The latter are great fun once mastered and can be an excellent way for small kids to build up the confidence to progress to a ‘real’ bike once they have perfected the ability to coast along under their own steam, although stabilisers may still be needed until they are comfortable with pedalling.
AGED 4-6 (16” wheels)
Bikes with 16” wheels are aimed at children aged 4-6 graduating onto their first (or second) ‘proper’ bike. Stabilisers will usually come as standard to help provide confidence for children who haven’t yet mastered the art of maintaining their balance while pedalling. Many may argue that stabilisers are more of a hindrance than a help for kids learning to ride a bike, but whether you keep them or bin them is a personal choice – as with anything, we advise not rushing kids until they are ready as you run the risk of taking them off!
AGED 6-10: 18-20” wheels
Riders from the ages of 6-10 will be covering longer distances so larger wheels are necessary, and gears will come into the picture – usually five- and six-speed rear derailleurs. Fashionable extras like suspension (front and rear) will also be more common in bikes aimed at this age bracket. Rigid bikes will likely be lighter, cheaper and more durable.
AGED 10+: 24” and up
Older children (10+) are ready for 24” or 26”-wheeled bikes that in design terms differ little from those aimed at adults. In fact, adult bikes in smaller frame sizes (13”-15”) may suit perfectly, although be wary of going too big, too soon.
Dirt jump (DJ) style bikes are popular among teenagers, and in fact make tough and versatile all-rounders. Look for a decent range of gears, good-quality brakes and suspension forks that work as they should.