The Ultimate Buyer’s Guide for the Best Kids’ Bikes

Jan Poshenko
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Choosing the Correct Bike Size

Bike sizes abound in almost every type and style. Most manufacturers have a detailed sizing guide online or in the bike’s instruction manual.

The most important part about knowing bike sizes is the frame size. This is the distance from the center of the crank to the top of the seat tube (the tube that holds the seat post in place). If you’re purchasing online, you can almost always get this measurement by contacting the manufacturer or by sizing the bike on their website.

The rest of the bike is where it gets tricky. As a general rule, you want to select the biggest bike that your child can comfortably reach the pedals. If you’re buying a bike for your older child and their bike has been in storage for the past year, they’ll likely need a new seat.

Even if your child could pedal the bike down the street, on the way home, he or she may lose the power to pedal as they tire. Smaller frames are nice for those early years before your child learns to pedal well, but a bike that’s too small can actually cause problems. An overly small bike will force your child to reach across the bike to the pedals, and that can develop bad posture.

What’s an inseam?

Your inseam measurements should be a part of your bike purchase process. When you try on a bike, the first thing you will probably do is stand next to it and determine if it is the correct height. However, there is more to the height of the bike than just how tall it is.

The size you take for the individual bike parts will also determine whether you can comfortably ride the bike for extended periods. The most critical measurement that needs to be taken is your leg length. There are three main components that determine the leg length: leg, thigh, and torso.

  • The leg involves the actual distance from your pelvic area to the floor.

  • The thigh is the distance from your pelvic area to slightly above your knee.

  • The torso is the distance from the top of your pelvic area to the head.

Bike Frame Design

Before you shop for a kids’ bike, it’s important to understand the different frame designs available. Each type has its advantages and disadvantages, so it’s important to do a little research to see if any of them would work best for you.

The leading frame style is a diamond frame, also called a step-through frame. With diamond frame bikes, the frame follows the shape of the top tube and forms a diamond shape in the middle. This is the most common frame style you’ll see on kidsbikes.

Another common frame design is the bmx bike frame. These resemble a diamond frame, but they’re much larger and they can also be quite heavy. In addition to the diamond design, you’ll also likely see bmx bikes with a step-through frame design.

The drawbacks to the heavier bmx bikes are minimal if you’re only going to use it for riding on paved roads. However, if your kid plans to take the bike off-road, a lighter frame may be a better idea.

Wheelbase

What is wheelbase? Is it important?

The wheelbase of a bike is the distance between the center of the front wheel on one side and the center of the rear wheel on the other. So, in a nutshell, the wheelbase of a bike is the distance between the two rear tires. This is one of the most important dimensions in a bike when it comes to performance.

There are two primary types of wheelbase: rake and trail. Rake is how far the handlebars are in front of the seat and rider. "Trail" is the actual length of the bike and is measured from the contact patch (where the tire touches the ground) of the bike to the steering axis (the point of the handlebars where they meet the forks of the frame).

Ideally, you want a bike with a wheelbase, or rake and trail, as long as possible. This makes it easier to control, a smoother ride and generally easier to corner.

Some bikes take advantage of a longer wheelbase than others. It should be noted that some bikes will have a longer wheelbase depending on the size you choose. For example, a 29er will generally have a longer wheelbase than a 20” bike.

Handlebars

Handlebars will again be at either a relaxed or upright angle to allow you to ride comfortably. Handlebars also come in single, double, triple, or “dropped” versions. Extended bars offer more stability and comfort on rough terrain. When it is frequently necessary to take your hands off your handlebars, triple bars are used. Elite Kids “Lower drop” Handlebars drop by 1-2 inches and allow a more aerodynamic position. These handlebars require less strength and are better for endurance athletes. These handlebars are usually found on road bikes and track bikes. Drop-style handlebars are popular for mountain bikes because they are wider and give the rider more control. Mountain bike handlebars are also adjustable to accommodate the rider’s preference for a more demanding or relaxed body position.

Steering Stem

The steering stem connects the handlebars to the bike frame. A correctly sized stem ensures that cyclists can steer easily without straining. The steering stem also prevents stress on the shoulder, neck, and hands. Important considerations when purchasing a stem include length, angle, and material. Handlebars over 25 cm (or 10 inches) and steering stem between 20 to 25 cm (8 to 10 inches) are ideal for athletes, while 18 cm (7 inches) are perfect for recreational riders.

Q-Factor

When we are talking about kids' bikes, you will discover that comfort and fit are very important. The most important factor for your child's safety on the bike is that they have a bike that fits correctly. Be sure to test the size with your child and spend some time ensuring they are comfortable.

One important factor that is not frequently looked at when considering the right bike for your child is the Q-factor of the bike. The Q-factor is the width of the cranks. The pedals should straddle the frame and not protrude too far out on the frame. This will keep your child’s feet from catching on the wheel of the bike and/or locking up the wheels.

Staying in the right size bike will ensure your child is comfortable as well as safe. You want to be sure to test your child's foot placement on the pedal before you buy the bike for your child.

Bike Weight

The age of your kids will determine what you should do. You should buy what you think will suit your kid.

Cheap vs Expensive Kids Bikes

Which one to Buy?

Bikes play an essential role in the lives of kids. It is an important source of exercise, training, and entertainment. In order to ensure the best possible experience, it is best to buy a bike that is built specifically for the particular target market.

This is especially true for kids — bikes require proper sizing, weight limitations, and a different construction than adult bikes in order to function properly. This includes:

  • Size: It is important to look at the manufacturer’s recommended age for a specific bike. This does not always correlate with the height of the child but rather other factors such as physical maturity.
  • Weight Limit: You should look at the maximum weight limit for the bike you are interested in.
  • Construction: The construction of a bike is important, especially for younger children. For instance, for a toddler, a single speed is a safer option than a geared one which can be confusing for children that are not used to them.

Number of Gears

There are several different uses for a bicycle. A traditional bike for a child has one gear. These bikes do not need much thought to operate. Kids will know instantly how to ride the bike. If you already have a baby at home or are anticipating one, then this type of bike is perfect for you. There is no need to worry about the number of gears, how to change gear, etc. There is only one gear, and it is very basic and easy to use.

What about the other options?

You may also be interested in buying a bike with gears. You probably have an idea in mind of what kinds of terrain your child will be riding the bike over. You may want to take an adventurous ride through the woods. You may need this bike for trail riding and bike racing. You will want to make sure your child is comfortable on the bike and that you have the best bike for the distance you have planned on riding. Having gears will come in handy here, as you will be able to change the gears accordingly to the terrain you plan on riding over.

Does your child need a bike with gear?

Some kids' bikes do have gears and some don’t. The benefit of having gears is that kids can learn to cycle independently from an early age, whereas without gears they’ll need help from their parents or caregivers.

Having gears will make riding more difficult at first but the easier kids learn to ride the fewer accidents they will have. What’s more, kids will have more independence and be able to ride further than they could otherwise.

The age at which kids can ride a bike with gears can vary. Kids who can ride a bike without assistance will be able to ride a bike with gears right away. With that being said, kids don’t need to have learned to ride a bike without gears first in order to ride a bike with gears.

Just like it’s not a great idea to give a three-year-old a bike with gears, it’s also not a great idea to give a five-year-old one without gears. So as long as your child understands the concept of riding a bike, they should be able to ride a bike with gears successfully. If you’re not sure whether your child can, see what they can do on a normal bike before investing in a bike with gears.

How many gears?

The first thing you should consider is all the gears.

The basic idea is that the more gears, the easier the bike is going to be to ride, and some are easier to ride and pedal than others. The number of gears is a balance between the number of speeds the bike will need (number of hills, terrain, etc.) and the number of speeds the bike will have enough room for.

Generally speaking, you’ll want the bike to have between 7 and twenty gears, and nine is pretty much the average.

All that being said, you’ll eventually have to have a bike with a reasonable number of speeds, but there are plenty of multi-speed bikes (18 and 24 speeds, for instance) that are more complicated and will be harder to fit in your child’s closet.

Types of Gear Shifters

When shopping for kids' bikes, you might come across shifters that have different names. You should know the various features and mechanisms behind each one if you want to make the best purchase.

Fixed Gear Bikes

The fixed gear bikes have no shifters. The front and rear chainrings are both typically one size only. Two pedals attach to the front chainrings and allow the bike to be easily propelled when you pedal. The pedals have a clutch that prevents the bike from moving when you are not pedaling. Because of the simplicity of the mechanism involved, these bikes are less expensive than the multiple-geared bikes.

Drive System

The first thing you are going to want to check is the drive system. As we mentioned above, most kids' bikes use a rubber band to power the rear wheel. If yours does not look damaged or broken, you probably just need to get a new rubber band.

Some models use an internal government-driven belt or even a chain. They are usually used at the higher end and are considered the best children’s bikes. They are good because they are faster but are also harder to maintain- anoints and brakes can be extremely dangerous for the kids, so you should wash them.

Note on chain-driven bikes

Their chains are highly sensitive, and they can snap and run you over. Be doubly careful with this type of bike.

Tires

Tires are probably the most important piece of equipment on a bike. They are one point of contact between the bike and the ground, and they dictate how the rest of the bike will handle. Tires also dictate how much control the rider will have, determine the bike’s top speed, and influence the price.

You may have heard the term “fat tire,” and you may be wondering what “fat tires” are and why they’re good for kids' bikes. For starters, fat tires on a bike provide better traction and stability, which means fewer falls for kids. They also make riding through mud and snow a lot easier. Most importantly, fat tires are just plain fun! Most kids' bikes come with wide tires, so you don’t have to worry about finding them.

Types of Brakes

Before moving on to discuss other parts of the bike, let’s have a quick look at the most important piece of a bike: the brakes. Disc brakes are the most common type of brake on all the different types of kids’ bikes, and determine how fast they stop and how easy they stop. They also determine your level of confidence in letting your son or daughter ride their bike.

Hand Brakes

Parents often have a hard time deciding between different types of brakes for their kids’ bicycles.

Hand-Operated Brakes

Hand-operated brakes are simply levers and were the first widely adopted braking mechanism for bikes. To further improve safety, some brakes feature a manual and automatic braking mechanism. With a manual lever, it is up to the rider to squeeze the levers on impact. With an automatic grip, the levers remain open, but automatically close when you squeeze and release the levers to slow down your bicycle.

Coaster Brakes Vs. Disc Brakes

Disc brakes are becoming more popular on kids' bikes as they’re more reliable than coaster brakes. Disc brakes are also easier for kids to use, as they just need to squeeze the lever like adults do, rather than constantly pushing down on the pedals.

Coaster brakes, however, are usually found on cheaper bikes.

Other Safety Features

Besides brakes, some bikes come equipped with other child-friendly safety features such as bells, reflectors, and color-coded hand grips.

Training Wheels

In one of the first stages of bicycling, children learn about training wheels. This is why beginner bikes for kids usually come with training wheels attached. They are able to stabilize the bike, which gives the bike a flat surface, and the rider can build confidence and develop their balance. This freedom is something that many parents have taken for granted due to the fact that riding a bike with training wheels can keep their kids active and healthy.

How Important Are Training Wheels?

Since your child is developing from a walker to a bike riding, we should caution by saying that training wheels could be all that he or she needs. If your child is tall enough to reach the pedals, it is time to ride without training wheels. It may be hard to make this decision as parents, especially since this is a big step for children; there are also a lot of kids who have given up their training wheels too early and have been unable to ride. Getting a feel for balancing on a bike is critical, and because children have to work for it, when they ride without training wheels, they master it much quicker. However, please be aware of the increased risks of falling that come with this.

Conclusion

As a parent, we know the struggle to find the best option for your kid. Here is our guide for the Best Kids' Bikes where we provide all the information that will make that choice easier.