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The Ultimate Buyer’s Guide for the Best Kids Bikes

Looking to buy a bike for your child?

You’d probably notice that there are many types of kids bikes available today. They all come in various sizes, colors, configurations and price points.

So, where do you start looking?

In the past, we probably just ride whichever bike our parents buy, or inherited from our older siblings. Today, we’re spoilt for choices when buying bikes for our children.

On this page, I’ll lay out the 11 things you’ll need to know to make a better and informed decision about your child’s bike.

You want to get a bike that suits them so that they can enjoy the ride. That’s the most important thing right?

So, let’s dive in!

1. Choosing the Correct Bike Size

Various Kids Bike Sizes

One of the most important factors, yet also one of the trickiest ones to get right is the correct bike size. 

We can’t assume that children of the same age will ride the same size bike. Each of them grow at a different rate and they all stand at different heights.

Kids bikes are sized according to their wheel size, such as 10″, 12″, 16″, 20″, 24″ and 26″. As the child grow older and taller, they would require a larger bike.

Read More :

For many years, parents have been choosing the bike size depending on its wheel size. The chart below will give you a good starting point of the suitable wheel size. 

But keep in mind that it’s only a starting point. There are other factors involved such as height and inseam measurement before deciding the final bike size.

The table below shows you a bike’s wheel size vs the child’s age and height.

Height

Wheel Size

Age 1 - 4

28" - 38"

12"

Age 3 - 4

36" - 40"

14"

Age 3 - 7

38" - 48"

16"

Age 5 - 9

42" - 52"

18"

Age 7 - 13

48" - 60"

20"

Age 10 - 15

56" - 66"

24"

As you can see from the table above, the age groups can have quite a big gap and even have some overlapping. For example, a 3 year old child can ride 12″, 14″ or 16″ bike. 

Confusing, isn’t it?

That’s one of the reasons you can’t find the ideal bike size judging the child’s age and height alone.

Instead, you’ll have to pay attention to the child’s inseam as well.

What’s an inseam?

Inseam is the length from the child’s crotch to the floor. 

The video below shows you how to measure inseam by yourself at home.

When measuring the inseam length (from crotch to floor), you should make sure that the child’s feet are flat on the ground, instead of them standing on the tip of their toes.

This ensures proper measuring which allows you to find an ideal bike size before jumping into the next steps.

PRO TIP : Use a combination of child’s age, height and more importantly, inseam measurement to get the ideal bike size.

2. Bike Frame Design

Other than choosing the correct bike size, the bike frame’s design plays an important role too. There are two important things to pay attention regarding frame design – wheelbase and handlebar length.

While most parents will do their best to try and get the saddle height right, they tend to forget about these two.

What many don’t know is that the child’s position on the bike will determine how well they can ride and how much will they enjoy it.

So, let’s take a deeper look.

Wheelbase

Kids Bike Wheelbase
The wheelbase is the distance between two wheels. Source : Woom Bikes

The wheelbase is the distance between two wheels.

If you’re looking for a first pedal bike for your child, I’d recommend you to stay away from bikes with a higher center of gravity and a short wheelbase. The reason is because they’re harder to ride, and there will be higher chances that the child might lose their balance much easier.

Bikes with a longer wheelbase will provide more stability and control for the child.

Handlebars

Other than inspecting the handlebars for the grip, accessories and comfort they provide, you should also be inspecting its position, height, and width.

Handlebars which sweep back, or are placed too low will put a strain on the child’s neck and won’t offer as much maneuverability.

Mid-Rise Handlebars

Therefore, make sure to find a mid-rise handlebar which offers plenty of space for the knees and allows the child to lean slightly forward. This increases security, balance, and make it easier to pedal.

While flat handlebars are very close to the frame in terms of height, mid-rise handlebars offer a decent height which allows children a better back posture while riding.

High-Rise Handlebars

There are also high-rise handlebars which raise the handlebar a lot higher from the frame. However, this isn’t ideal for young children.

When you’re inspecting the handlebars, put your child on a bike and check their body position as they’re seated properly. Don’t forget to also have both their hands on the handlebars. 

You don’t want your child to be leaning forward a lot, but you definitely don’t want them to lean backward either.

Flat Handlebars

Flat handlebars often make children lean too forward, while mid-rise handlebars will offer decent height and support. 

The neutral riding position for a child is when the child’s back is leaning forward slightly, at an angle of about 65 degrees.

Children shouldn’t be having a hard time reaching the handlebars, and width should be just slightly wider than their shoulders for a most comfortable position.

PRO TIP : For better balance and stability, always choose long wheelbase, coupled with a mid-rise handlebars.

3. Q-Factor

An Example of Small and Large Q-Factor. Source : TwoWheelingTots

You’d probably be wondering what’s a Q-Factor?

Q-Factor is the distance between the outside of both left and right crank arms (at the point where the pedals are installed).

A bike with a lower Q-factor is easier to pedal, especially for young children.They’ll be able to pedal without splay and it will provide an efficient pedal stroke. 

However, if the Q-Factor is high, this means that they’ll have to move their legs outward, instead of keeping them neutral with the bike frame.

Not only this will put the child in an uncomfortable position, but it will be inefficient and might lead to injuries.

Therefore, lower Q-Factor is something you should be looking for. But be aware that budget bikes most likely don’t come with a small Q-Factor due to the specialty parts required. They’re usually found on more expensive bikes.

But if that’s what it takes to give comfort and efficiency to your kid – we definitely find this to be an important factor when making a decision.

PRO TIP : Aim for a bike with a smaller Q-Factor.

4. Bike Weight

Bike weight is a factor that shouldn’t be ignored because it plays an important role, much more important than most people think.

Did you Know : Most kid bikes weight about 50% of their body weight?

This isn’t ideal at all.

While adults ride bikes which are about 20% of their weight, kids should be riding bikes which are less than 40% of their weight.

While this doesn’t require precise calculations, going for the lightest bike you can find out there is still a great way to go about this.

When you’re comparing the weight of a kids bike, you should take a few factors into consideration first.

Cheap vs Expensive Kids Bikes

Expensive bikes are often perceived as lighter.

Sometimes, you’ll come across cheaper bikes which are very similar in weight to expensive bikes. 

But, there’s more than meets the eyes. In most cases, the cheaper bikes lack accessories and components that are present in expensive bikes. 

Therefore, when comparing the weight, take in the consideration value of accessories and components a bike offers. This will allow you to find out which bike is better, even if they are similar in weight.

PRO TIP : A lighter bike is easier to ride for the child.

5. Number of Gears

Single vs Multiple Gears Kids Bikes

All kid bikes up to 12″ in size come with single gear. Sometimes, it’s also referred to as single speed.

For 16″ bikes, there is mix of single speed and multiple speed. Bikes from 20″ and above usually have multiple gears, unless they’re purpose built as single speed.

Does your child need a bike with gear?

The easiest way to determine whether your child needs gear is to observe how they ride uphill.

Do they struggle with a low cadence?

Do they come off the bike and walk the bike?

That’s where you know they’ll need a lower gear to conquer the hill.

But the question is, 

How many gears?

Kids bike gears range anywhere from 7 to 24 gears, depending on the configuration. You’ll have to calculate the gear ratio. 

The gear ratio is ratio between the chainring size to the rear sprocket size. 

Let’s take a look at how the gear ratios work.

Front

Rear

Gear Ratio

Bike 1

24

14

1.8

Bike 2

26

11

2.4

The table above shows the gearing setup for 2 different bikes. The main difference between them can be summed up as follows:

  • Bike 1 has lower gears, hence more suitable for uphills
  • Bike 2 has higher gears, hence more suitable for speed

The lower the gear ratio, the easier it is for the child to ride uphill, similar to how the gearing for your car works.

In case you’re getting a bike with gears, you can expect to see bikes equipped with 7/8, 14/16, or 21/24 gears. It all depends on the front chainring.

If there’s one front chainring and 8 rear sprockets, then the bike has 8 gears. Or if there’s two front chainring and 8 rear sprockets, then it has 16 gears. 

You get the idea…

PRO TIP : Gears will definitely help the child ride across many terrain, especially uphills.

6. Types of Gear Shifters

If you’ve decided to get a bike with gears, that’s great.

But now you’ll have to go a step further to determine the type of a gear shifters used.

Grip vs Trigger Shifters

There are two most common gear shifter types :

  • Grip shifters are built into the handlebar grips. Gear change is triggered by turning the grip.
  • Trigger shifters usually sit slightly below the handlebar. Gear change is triggered with a push action. Some refer them as thumb shifters.

Grip shifters are more beginner friendly and is a good option to start with. Once the child has some experience and really enjoys using gears, trigger shifters would be an ideal choice.

PRO TIP : Teaching a kid how to use gears on a bike is always simpler with a grip shifter type.

7. Drive System

Bike Belt Drive System

Most of us are familiar with the chain drive system. 

But did you know there’s another alternative called the belt drive?

The belt drive system uses a rubberized belt instead of a chain which can never come off as easily as chain drive would. It also eliminates grease and dirt, and requires low to none maintenance.

Even though the belt drive system has been introduced as a drive system for kid bikes at first, it’s becoming very popular with adult bikes, especially in commuter and urban bikes.

Belt drive is mainly maintenance free as it doesn’t require the use chain lube, which can occasionally get messy. If you go for a chain drive system, you’ll have to make sure the chain is always lubricated and clean just enough so the kids don’t get messy.

PRO TIP : Belt drive systems are maintenance free and getting popular among kids bikes.

8. Tires

Common Types of Kids Bike Tires. Source : TwoWheelingTots

Generally, there are two main types of tires used in kids bikes.

Foam tires are widely used in kids bikes up to 12″. They’re solid tires are made out of foam and doesn’t require an inner tube. Hence, they’re maintenance free and eliminates the risk of mid-ride punctures.

On the other hand, bikes from 16″ onwards usually come with air tires. Basically, they’ve an inner tube and you’ll need to pump the tires up. With air tires, you’ll get a types of tire threads,

  • Road/slick. Road tires are ideal for smooth tarmac surface and have lower rolling resistance, hence faster.
  • Knobby. They’re designed to provide more grip and traction off-road and not as fast as slick tires on the tarmac. 

From my experience, knobby tires are more versatile as they allow the children to explore off-road routes which is way more fun than riding on the tarmac.

PRO TIP : Choose your tires depending on the type of terrain your child will ride the most.

9. Types of Brakes

There are two main types of brakes found on kids bikes,

  • Hand brakes
  • Coaster brakes

Hand Brakes 

Hand brakes rely on the brake levers which are usually hard to reach by children who have smaller hands, are too hard to press, or aren’t very responsive.

If you go with hand brakes, look for brake levers which are adjustable for smaller hands. Make sure that once properly adjusted, they don’t require a lot of force and are very responsive. This will help your child learn how to properly use the brakes.

Coaster Brakes

Coaster brakes only work for the rear wheel, and they’re activated by backpedaling.

You will find coaster brakes on most 12″ and 16″ bikes. Most of them also use a combination of hand (front) and coaster brakes (rear).

A thing to note about coaster brakes is that some children will start to backpedal when they feel they’re starting to lose balance. 

If they ride a bike with hand brakes, they’ll be able to freely backpedal, which would help them regain control of the bike. However, if they backpedal on a bike with coaster brakes, this will cause an unexpected stop which can be dangerous. 

Ideally, you’d want to look for freewheel bikes (bikes with hand brakes instead of coaster brakes) since they will be a lot easier for children to master their bike skills.

While it might not be a cheaper option, it’s an important one. 

PRO TIP : Make sure the hand brake levers are adjustable and properly adjusted to suit your child’s hands.

10. Training Wheels

Most of us learnt riding bikes with training wheels in the past, but with technology improvements, our children now have the chance to learn riding a bike with the help of balance bike.

Training wheels aren’t a bad idea for a child to get the feel of riding a bike at first. However, once you remove the wheels, they’ll still have to learn how to keep a balance.

Read More : Balance Bikes vs Training Wheels : Which is Better?

Therefore, training wheels are recommended for children up to the age of 3. Children between the ages of 4 to 8 most likely have developed physical coordination and agility to achieve a good balance on a bike without training wheels.

Other than coordination and agility, it requires self-confidence and motivation to learn to ride a bicycle, so that’s something you shouldn’t forget either. 

In case your child wants to rely on training wheels a bit longer, there is nothing wrong with it!

PRO TIP : Training wheels help the child to master pedaling, steering, and braking, except for balancing.

11. Warranty

Whether you’re purchasing a cheap or expensive pedal bike, you’ll most likely get a warranty.  The length of the warranty will vary, but it usually covers the entire bike for manufacturer defects.

One thing that is excluded is crashes.

Expensive bikes usually come with a longer warranty period. For example, Woom Bike offer a 5 years warranty on the bike frame and fork, and 24 months for the components.

This only proves how investing in quality high-end bikes is totally worth it. That’s because you’d want to have the flexibility to pass on the bicycle to a second child.

PRO TIP : Read and understand what is and is not covered under the warranty before you purchase.

Summary

Getting the correct bike frame size might be a hassle, but once you get that right, everything else becomes a lot more fun.

Even your child will be able to enjoy the process and learn a thing or two.

Read More : 6 Tips to Teach A Child to Ride A Bike

While it can be quite hard to find a very cost efficient and quality bike for a child knowing he or she is going to outgrow it,  by following most important steps mentioned in this article will save you a lot of time, hassle, and money.

And lastly, it will provide your child a lot of fun and memorable hours, making the learning experience a positive one.