The big day is here. That day when you get to hold onto your kid’s bike seat and send them wobbling off on their first bike ride.
For myself, my children getting old enough was a big landmark. We had been carrying them in a bike trailer, so they were already in love with the sport and itching to start pedaling on their own.
One of my greatest memories was when my dad taught me how to ride. I think I was loathed to learn how to pedal by myself because I enjoyed the fact that he and I were enjoying quality time together.
Why Bike Size Matters
Getting the correct bike size is essential. A bike that is too large can be unsafe for the child to control it. Conversely, a bike that is too small can make it difficult for the rider to catch their balance.
A well-fitted bike creates a more confident rider and allows the child to fall in love with the sport with fewer frustrations.
How Old Does Your Child Need To Be?
Your kid’s balance should start to develop around the time they turn 4. Dave’s Cheap Bikes mentions that he’s seen some kids who practice regularly with balance bikes may out-perform the “average” child and learn to ride a pedal bike as young as 3.
But those early pedalers are the rarity.
Most kids don’t start pedaling with training wheels until they are four years old and then they become independent and ride without training wheels sometime between 6-7 (with a few early bloomers insisting that their training wheels come off as young as 5).
Pedaling is half the battle. You also want to make sure your child can safely stop.
Note: Helmets are Important
One last word before we get into bike sizing. A child’s brain grows until they are about seven years old. This growth means that some of the spaces in their skull have not hardened yet and are still “soft” to allow brain growth.
A blow to one of these little heads can be way more detrimental than an accident to a more developed — and protected — skull.
Sure, you probably grew up riding without a helmet.
However, crashes will happen. It is imperative that these little skulls receive the maximum protection possible.
Fitting A Bike Based On Tire Size
Most kid’s bikes are categorized based on the tire size. You match your child’s height range to the proper tire size.
This size estimation has been used for decades and has proven to be extremely useful. It also makes it easy for the parent who is buying the bike as a surprise for their kid to be able to get the correct size every time.
The 12-inch Bike
These are becoming harder to find. Most of the 12-inch models are balance bikes that kids kick-push around the driveway.
For the most part, these bikes are small and squirrely and a child will be too young to learn how to ride them. Most of them are direct-pedal as well, making them even more difficult to ride, and it is hard to find training wheels that fit these bikes.
These bikes are going to be for children under 4 years old and under 36 inches tall.
The 16-inch Bike
This is where most children begin their pedaling journey at about four years of age. Most of these bicycles are sold with training wheels.
Your child will need to be at least 34 inches tall to ride one of these bikes and should be able to ride them until they are about 48 inches tall.
The 20-inch Bike
If your child is a tall five-year-old, they might move to this bike size a little sooner, but, definitely by the time they turn 6, this will be the bike size for them.
Children should be 48 inches tall, and they will likely be able to ride these bikes until they are 9 or 10 years old.
Some models are available with multiple speeds, but most kids will simply need a single speed model.
The 24-inch Bike
At around 9 or 10 years old and 55 inches tall, it will be time to bring your child up to the 24-inch tire size. These bikes rarely include training wheels and, if your child needs training wheels, you will likely need to buy them separately from the bicycle.
At this age, it makes more sense to invest in gears, especially if the family enjoys riding together, or if the child rides in the hilly country.
How Much Should You Spend On A Bike?
Many parents worry about their children outgrowing a bike too quickly. It is likely that you will need to buy a bike every couple of years as they get started.
Most parents buy a bike for their kids around 4 (16-inch), and then the next size around 6 (20-inch) and the next size up around 9 (24-inch). Approximately 12 years old, many children can ride a small adult frame (26-inch wheel with a 15-16″ small frame) and switch to traditional frame sizing instead of tire sizing.
Buying their first few bikes used or from a cheap source such as Amazon or Walmart can make sense. You can often get these bikes in the $60-$120 price range.
Once they hit 8 years old, however, your child will be at that point where they are deciding whether to fall in love with the sport or not. Bike frustrations at this age can turn them against this sport for the rest of their life.
For these children, it would be worth the investment to purchase a bike that is made by one of the well-known bike companies such as Trek, Cannondale, Giant or Diamondback.
Establishing the habit of riding opens the door for a family-wide activity, with the children continuing to join the family on rides well into their teens.