To a kid, a bike can be pretty much everything, and a little extra knowledge when selecting one can make all the difference in their riding experience. For example, whatever your child’s age, you’ll want to aim to get the lightest bike you can afford. “Weight is critical, especially for younger kids,” says Kristen Bonkoski, founder of popular kids’ bike website, Rascal Rides. For that reason, you’ll also want to avoid the temptation to buy too big a bike in the hope your kid will grow into it. “It is understandable to want to save money,” says Sean Wilson, physiologist, former cyclist, and founder of the Youth Cycling Association. “However, a bike that does not fit properly will make it more difficult for the child to ride, and ultimately can cause them to have negative experiences.”
There are balance bikes, pedal bikes, and convertible bikes. There are bikes with gears and without. Bikes with chains and without. There are 12-inch bikes and 24-inch bikes. When deciding which one is best for your child, Jack Niewold, bike expert for parenting-advice and product-review site Little One Mag, recommends considering the bike’s geometry, or, “what fundamentally makes a mountain bike different from a cruiser or road bike.” You’ll also want to think about what kind of riding your child will be doing. “If they’re going to be riding on the road,” Wilson explains, “having a bicycle meant for the road would be preferred, while if they’re riding on single track trails, a mountain bike would probably be better, and if they’re on dirt or gravel roads, a hybrid bike would do well.”
Overwhelmed? Don’t be. We’ve consulted two bike sellers, a former pro cyclist and physiologist, and the owners and experts at three acclaimed kids’ bike testing and review sites to help you on your quest. One thing they all agree on? Don’t waste your money on a cheap bike: “Cheap bikes are generally heavy, have poorly designed geometry, and have components that aren’t serviceable or will fall apart quickly,” says Bonkoski. “If you buy a good-quality bike, you can get a good portion of your investment back by selling it used later on,” she says. Or even handing it down to a younger sibling. Whatever you do, don’t forget the helmet.
Best balance bikes for kids
A lot of kids skip tricycles completely and start on what’s called a balance bike, which looks like a regular bike but has no pedals. For very young kids, “the concept of pedaling may not happen,” says Ian Tsuji at Danny’s Cycles. A balance bike allows them to push with their feet, Fred Flintstone–style, and then pick their feet up and glide. And although balance bikes tend to be more expensive than tricycles, they do eliminate the need for training wheels when your kid graduates to a pedal bike, explains Natalie Martins, owner of the kids’ bike review site, Two Wheeling Tots. “What happens is, when they’re tall enough, or when they want a pedal bike, you can actually skip training wheels completely. They literally get on the bike a pedal away.”
This lightweight and relatively inexpensive (for a kids’ balance bike) option from KaZAM comes in lots of colors, has an adjustable seat and handlebars, and puncture-proof tires that never need air. It also has a patented, step-in footrest that Martins says is best suited for bigger kids since it might be too wide for smaller ones.
Martins’s favorite balance bike is the Woom 1 plus, which she says is “lightweight and perfectly proportioned for little bodies.” She admits that Wooms can be a little pricey, but says they’re worth it because they’re so light and well made. (Just because your kid’s not riding in the Tour de France doesn’t mean she wants a heavy bike. Martins says you should aim to get a bike that’s no more than 30 percent of your child’s weight.)
Note: This bike is currently available for pre-order and is expected to ship by late January.