Buying a Bike for Your Kid: Here’s What You Need to Know


The awesome but sometimes annoying thing about kids is that they grow– and sometimes they grow fast. That’s usually in the back of parents’ minds when bike shopping. We often don’t want to spend as much on our kids’ bikes as we might on on own since they’re eventually going to grow out of them. But we do want quality and a great fit that’s going to keep our kids safe and help them fall in love with cycling. That’s why choosing a retailer that can help you find that just-right fit is so important.

How Do I Find the Right Size Bike for My Child?

The main rule of thumb is to shop based on your child’s size but also take their age into consideration. Adult bikes are measured by frame size, but children’s bikes are measured by the size of their wheels, with sizes including 12-inch for little ones, 16-inch, 20-inch and 24-inch. One of the main factors in choosing the right size is the length of your child’s inseam (or inner leg length), and doing a test ride is key. Your child should be able comfortably mount and dismount the bike and sit on the seat while standing on tiptoes. If your child is flat-footed while seated, the bike is definitely too small. On the other hand, buying a bike that’s too big with the idea that your child will grow into it is not a good idea. It can be dangerous and may discourage your child from riding if it’s uncomfortable or embarrassing.

Choosing a Bike for Your Child: The Price Factor

Heavy bikes are usually cheaper because they’re made of steel instead of more expensive metal alloys, but you want something that is easy for your child to lift and maneuver. So it’s often worth spending a little more for a higher-quality, lightweight bike. In most cases, there are great happy medium options that meet your child’s needs without breaking the bank.

What Types of Bikes Are Available for Kids?

Every kid is different, and there are different bikes available for every kid. Some are riding proficiently and ready for bigger and better things at an early age while others need a little more time to get the hang of things. Here are a few popular styles:

  • Cruiser Bike: These simple, old-school bikes are great for cruising the neighborhood, with their fat tires and high handlebars. And the price is usually appealing for newer riders.
  • Mountain Bike: When your young rider is feeling confident and ready to take on a little terrain, a 20 or 24-inch mountain bike is a great idea. These are often best for kids over 10 but can work for younger children with the right skills. They’re sturdy with tough tires and suspensions to take some bouncing around. Prices can run the gamut so talk with your favorite bike shop about your budget and your needs.
  • BMX Bike: these lightweight, knobby-tired bikes are no longer just for dirt courses. They’re popular for everyday riding and are known for durability and the cool factor.
  • Road Bike: for older kids who know that bikes are about more than getting from point A to point B. Children’s road bikes are increasingly popular, especially when mom and dad are cyclists and eager for their kiddos to hit the road.

What Do Kids Really Need in a Bike?

  • Brakes: Just like with cars, good brakes that your child can use are probably the most important feature on any bike. Your child needs to have control over stopping to keep them safe and give them a sense of security while riding. Children’s bikes offer two types of brakes: coaster brakes (the kind many of us grew up with which allow young children to stop their bikes by moving the pedal backwards) and handbrakes. Handbrakes require hands that are big enough to operate them along with strength and coordination, so coaster brakes are usually best for first-time riders. We often recommend a bike with both types of brakes as a transition.
  • Gears: Most experts suggest that age 9 or 10 is a good time to have children switch over to a bike with hand gears, but some children may be ready earlier. Gears help change how far your child can go with each pedal and come in handy as kids get more adventurous with their riding.
  • Frame: Choose a durable, yet lightweight, frame that can stand up to normal use by an active kid.
  • Tires: Wider tires tend be best for kids, which is why mountain bikes and BMX bikes are so popular. As children get older and develop their own riding preferences, you can talk with them about getting a road bike with thinner tires.

How to Fit Your Child’s Helmet

Making sure you have a high-quality helmet that fits is key. The Cleveland Clinic has a few tips for getting just the right fit:

  • Make sure the helmet has a snug (not too tight) but comfortable fit. If you try to move the helmet sideways or up and down, it should stay snug.
  • The helmet should sit level on your child’s head and not tilt back.
  • The bottom of the helmet should be one or two finger-widths above the eyebrow. Confirm with your kiddo that they can hear and see clearly with the helmet on.
  • If you’re having trouble getting a good fit, ask your bike shop for help. It may be as simple as adding some internal padding.

Choosing a Bike for Your Child: Personal Service is Key

When choosing a bike for your child, two of the most important things are safety and fostering a lifelong comfort with and love for cycling. We want them to feel good and secure on their new bike. That’s why choosing a professionally-staffed cycle shop can make a big difference. Finding a retailer where you know and trust the staff can help you find the right bike for your child, taking into consideration safety, size, weight, age and ability and keeping your budget in mind. You may pay a little more than at a big box store, but there’s really nothing like getting just the right fit.