Your child’s first bike is more than just a rite of passage—it’s a way to get good exercise and to start to explore the world around them. Choosing the right kids’ bike is as much a matter of safety as style, as the wrong bike can be hard to ride or even dangerous to your child. Pronto’s Kids’ Bike Buying Guide will help you choose a bicycle that your child will love and that will give you peace of mind.
When buying a kids’ bike for your child, make sure it is appropriate for their dimensions. If a bike is too large for a child, it can prove unsafe, as your child will not be able to correctly balance or control it.
The size of a kids’ bike is determined by the size of its wheels. Choose 12-inch bikes for younger children and 24-inch bikes for kids around age 9. Choose aluminum or metal alloy rims over chrome, which tends to skid when it gets wet.
Coaster brakes are the best choice for beginning riders. Hand brakes are best for older children who have the hand strength and dexterity needed to operate them. If the brakes squeak, it’s a sign that they’re not properly aligned.
No part of a bike’s frame should bend or twist. Grease the handlebar and seat posts before installation to prevent them from freezing up in the rain. Look for bikes with handlebar designs that let new riders sit upright, as this is the easiest way to learn proper balance.
Bikes for young children should have a single gear and a chain guard that keeps pant legs and shoelaces free of the chain wheel. If you choose a kids’ bike with training wheels, make sure they can be removed. Bikes with derailleurs are best for children who are experienced riders, as the chain can sometimes slip or bind.
A plastic or metal shield mounted between a bike’s chain mechanism and the pedals. This feature is required by law on all kids’ bikes sold in the United States.
A pedal brake that engages when a rider pushes backwards on a bike’s pedals.
A cable-driven mechanism that slides a bike’s chain back and forth between the gears on a multispeed bicycle.
A cable-driven braking system on a bike that engages brake pads against the front and back wheels when the brake handles are squeezed.
An adjustable mount for handlebars or a bike seat.
Consider the size of your child when selecting a kids’ bike. You may want to purchase a kids’ bike that your child can grow into, but a bike that is too big is unsafe because your child won’t be able to control or ride it safely.
Your child should be able to get on the bike’s seat without struggling. While sitting on the bike, your child’s feet should just touch the ground. Make sure your child can easily reach the bike’s handlebars, and that knees aren’t bouncing off the handlebars when your child pedals.
Though the sizes of adult bikes are based on frame measurements, kids’ bikes are categorized by their wheel size. A 12-inch kids’ bike will have 12-inch wheels, for example. In general, a 12-inch bike is good for kids between the ages of 2 and 4 and a 24-inch bike is good for kids’ around the age of 9. These are rough estimates; the bike you need will depend on the height of your child.
A bike’s wheels are essential for proper operation and your child’s safety. The wheels of any kids’ bike should be made of metal alloy or aluminum. Though steel or chrome rims may seem attractive, you should avoid these materials because brake pads tend to slip when they’re wet. Aluminum and metal alloy rims skid less.
The wheels should spin freely without touching any other part of the bike. When you’re testing out a kids’ bike, make sure that you can’t feel any give or movement if you try to move the wheel side-to-side. The front wheels on kids’ bikes are required by U.S. law to remain attached even after the nuts have been removed. In short, it should never be able to fall off.
A bike’s brakes are another essential safety feature. Brakes shouldn’t creak or grate, and should move easily. To test a bike’s brakes, flip it upside down, spin the wheels and engage the brakes. The brakes on any bike must be strong enough to handle the weight of a rider at any possible speed.
Most kids’ bikes have coaster brakes that work when the pedal is pushed backwards. Choose a bike with coaster brakes for younger children, as they’re easy to operate. Hand brakes are available for bikes meant for older children who have stronger hands and more dexterity.
The brake pads on a kids’ bike should be positioned over the wheel rims. The back end of the brake pads should touch before the front end. If the brakes on a kids’ bike squeak, it is a sign that they are not properly aligned, which could result in skidding or a failure to stop.
The frame of a kids’ bike needs to be strong enough to not only handle the user’s weight, but also to handle everyday use and abuse, including drops, potholes and adventurous jumps. You should not be able to bend any part of a bike’s frame by hand. Look for corrosion-free metal frames, as paint can chip off a kids’ bike very quickly, leaving the metal beneath vulnerable to rain.
The bike’s frame should be in straight alignment with the brakes and wheels. To check the alignment of a bike’s frame, stand a few feet behind or in front of the bike and look at the position of the wheels relative to the frame. Make sure that the handlebars are centered and at right angles to the front wheel.
The seat and handlebar posts on a bike need to be bolted tight, and you should not be able to twist, move or jiggle them. The handlebar post on a kids’ bike needs to be firm because this is the base that controls steering. Be sure to grease the seat post and handlebar stem before assembly so that they do not freeze in the rain. If the handlebar stem freezes, your child will not be able to steer the bike, which could cause an accident.
For beginning riders, choose a kids’ bike with handlebars that let the child sit in an upright position. This makes it easier to learn the proper balance needed for bike riding.
The U.S. Government requires all bikes without derailleurs to have a chain guard. This metal or plastic shield sits on the pedal side of the chain on kids’ bikes with a single gear. Chain guards keep shoe laces, pant legs and backpack straps out of the chain ring’s teeth, which reduces the chance of accidents and injuries. Make sure that the bike’s chain doesn’t rub against the guard.
Some kids’ bikes allow you to add longer seat posts and handlebar stems that will make the bike’s fit last as your child grows. This will only work so long, but it can help save you money.
Training wheels come with most 12- and 16-inch kids’ bikes. If they don’t, consider investing in them for new riders. Make sure that the training wheels on a kids’ bike are removable. Once your child masters bike riding, you—and your child—will want to remove them immediately.
Bikes with gears and derailleurs should be reserved for older children who have mastered the basics of riding a bike. These kids’ bikes don’t have chain guards, and rough handling can knock the derailleur out of alignment, which can cause the chain to slip or seize.
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