Get the right size bike
Getting the right size cycle is really important. A cycle that is too big or small will be harder work to pedal and handle, and can even be dangerous. If their feet can’t touch the floor when you’re on the seat, it can be easy to fall over. Don’t pick the biggest cycle they can handle, instead go for one that fits well and will be enjoyable to cycle.
Unlike adult cycles, children’s cycle sizes are determined by wheel diameter. You just need the child’s age and height, and then you can use Halford’s handy kids bike size chart to work out what size you are looking for.
Try before you buy
Once you know what size you need, you can buy online but if you have the time and can get to a shop, it’s worth trying out different cycles. Trying them out can help you make sure you have the right size. The things to check for are whether the rider can reach the handlebars and the pedals easily.
Children’s cycles can be expensive, and they can grow out of them quickly. A subscription service like Bike Club is worth exploring, where you pay per month to spread the cost and can then upgrade to a larger cycle after 18 months, or 12 months for a balance bike. Plus you get the first month of Bike Club free with Bikeability. Find out more about Bike Club here.
Are balance bikes a good idea?
A balance bike is a small cycle without pedals that young children can scoot around on. They use their feet to push off and along the ground to ride the cycle, which helps them learn how to balance with their feet on the ground. Children can start balance biking from about 18 months to two years old.
Balance bikes can be a good alternative to cycles with stabilisers as children can learn the basics of balance before they start pedalling, which makes the transition easier. Often children are older when they get rid of their stabilisers and this can be a more difficult and scary adjustment.
What to look out for
You should also make sure they can use the brakes easily – they should be easy to reach when your hands are on the handlebars and shouldn’t be too stiff or difficult to pull. Children tend to have less grip strength, so a good test on a kid’s cycle is whether you can pull the brakes with just your little finger. If you can’t, chances are they will be too stiff for a child to work.
Not all balance bikes have brakes, but they’re useful as they can help young children get used to using them, and of course are very important when going downhill!
Easy to use gears are also important, if they have them. Most pedal cycles for young children, up to about age six, will be single speed. This is partly because there isn’t room on cycles with 16 inch wheels or below for them to work properly. But also generally younger children are unlikely to be cycling far or over terrain where gears are most useful, so they aren’t necessary.
Once they move on to bigger cycles with gears, look for grip shift style gear shifters, which are twisted to change gear, as these are easier for young children to use as they need less thumb strength and are generally intuitive.
You should also make sure they can climb on and off the cycle easily and consider how heavy it is – steel cycles are durable but very heavy, for example. A really heavy cycle is no fun to ride, so look for something light within your budget if possible.
Think about how they will use their cycle
Will it be mostly for zipping around the park at the weekend, or are they going to cycle to school? Are you an off-road kind of family, or do you prefer well-pedaled cycle tracks? Mountain cycles are often popular with children, but do they have somewhere to attach mudguards, or a pannier rack to carry bags to school or if you’re off on a trip. Having an idea beforehand of how the bike will be used will help you work out what you need.
You don’t have to know everything about cycles before you buy one, but if you know how it will be used and have some ideas of your requirements then you will be better able to make sure you can get the right one for your child.
If you are interested in Bikeability training, you can find out more about the different options here.