Buyers guide to kids bikes

Lego bicycleThe vital thing to remember with kids bikes is that less is more.

A bike is the best thing ever to buy a child. Yes, even better than Lego. This guide will help you chose the correct and most fun bike to get your kid. You can buy a bike to suit children aged around 2 years old upwards.

Less is more

Scaled down versions of full-on adult bikes with loads of gears and suspension and all that sort of stuff are not fun bikes. They’re punishingly heavy. And the extra bells and whistles actually offer woeful performance too.

It can be hard to explain this less-is-more approach to a child who wants an all-singing all-dancing bicycle but that’s just the way it is. They’ll thank you in the long run!

Balance bikes

If your child is under 3 years old then the best bet is to get them a balance bike. Balance bikes have no pedals and chain. They have two bars, a saddle and a pair of handlebars.

Balance bikes teach your child the fundamentals of cycling: balance, momentum and steering. A kid who learns on a balance bike will find the transition to a pedal bike much easier.

A balance bike may come fitted with a rear brake but the child often won’t use it at first (sometimes never) as they’re happy to control speed with their feet.

Pedal bikes

For kids 3 years or older, you’re looking at pedal bikes. Single speed (no gears), again less-is-more. With brakes that are a bit more appealing and useable.

Once your child is old/tall enough for pedal bikes, essentially things just keep scaling up in size.

The governing dimension is wheel size.

Age Wheel size
2 – 3 yrs 12″ (balance bike)
3 – 4 yrs 14″
4 – 5 yrs 16″
5 – 7 yrs 20″
8 – 10 yrs 24″
12+ yrs Adult bikes

Don’t be tempted to buy a bike that’s far too big for your child. “They’ll grow into it” is often the mantra. Bikes that are too big are much harder and less fun for kids to ride. So they don’t get ridden. Which isn’t very good value for money is it?

There is a degree of overlap potential between bike sizes. You don’t have to buy a bike in every incremental wheel size as your child grows up but we’d recommend not missing out more than one step on the wheel size ladder.

You can pick up kids bikes cheaply but to do so is often false economy. A well designed and constructed kids bike will be more durable, more fun to ride, more ridden.

A well made kids bike will survive being (ab)used by more than one kid, so you can pass it on to younger brothers and sisters to use too.

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Balance bikes (12″ wheels)

Things to look for:
Lightweight (around the 4kg mark is okay).
Headset with a steering limiter that prevent the bars from spinning too far.
Narrow gauge handlebars and grips for small hands.
Aluminium wheels rims.
Non-knobbly tyres (better for learning on).

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14″ and 16″ wheels

Things to look for:
Lightweight (around 6-7kg is good).
Scaled-down brake levers for small hands.
Headset with a steering limiter that prevent the bars from spinning too far.
Single speed (no gears).
Hybrid tyres for a bit of light off-roading.

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20″ wheels

Things to look for:
Lightweight (around 8-9kg is okay)
Single speed is still fine but 7 speed twist-grip gears start to appear at this point too.
Hybrid tyres for a bit of light off-roading.
No need for steering limiter headsets or narrow gauge handlebars now.
20″ wheel bikes come in a couple of sizes. The sizing is based on inside leg measurement eg. 52cm or 55cm inside leg.

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24″ wheels

Things to look for:
Lightweight (around 9-10kg is okay)
Single speed is still fine but 7 speed twist-grip gears start to appear at this point too.
Hybrid tyres for a bit of light off-roading.
No need for steering limiter headsets or narrow gauge handlebars now.

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When your kid is big enough for 24″ wheels, you can pretty much get scaled down versions of any adult bike that you can think of. Road bikes, BMXs, cyclo croos bikes, downhill bikes… You name it.

Again, whichever mini-adult bike you go for, be careful not to go OTT and lumber your child with a hefty lump of a bike.

Browse our selection of quality kids bikes.

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