Cycling with Young Kids

 Wide shot of two young children riding bikes on a forest trail

"How do I get my child started in cycling?" It's one of the first questions bike-riding parents ask.

Happily, kids and bikes seem to be drawn together by a natural kind of magnetism. By following the tips outlined in this article, you can quickly strengthen that bond into a lifelong pursuit.


A Child's Bike Progression

To start kids early, don't wait until they can pedal. Connect a child carrier to your bike, strap in your child and go for rides regularly. Be enthusiastic. If you want your kids to be fired up about cycling, you need to set the example.



As they become more comfortable and their bodies become better equipped to handle physical activity, progressively move children to bikes that offer greater degrees of independence. Self-sufficiency is a great motivator for most kids.

Tip: Get your child used to wearing a helmet while still at the ride-along stage. It's easier to instill this essential safety step in a child's early years before peer pressure sets in.

Up next: various bicycle options to get your child comfortable with cycling.


Step 1: Child Bike Seat


Toddlers must be able to easily sit up and fully support their head before they can join you for a ride. Many areas have laws requiring children to be at least 1 year old and to wear a helmet while riding in a bike seat.

Most carriers attach to the back of the bike and are suitable for children weighing up to 40 pounds. Their high backs support a child's shoulders and head. Though lightweight, carriers do make your bike a bit harder to maneuver. Remember, should you fall, your child falls, too.

Tip: A bike seat is directly over your rear axle, so your child will feel bumps more than you do. To increase cushioning, inflate your tires to slightly below their maximum setting.



Step 2: Bike Trailer


This is a popular option for toddlers and children up to 6 years old. You get to cycle; the kids get to sit and see the sights. Trailers are stable and easy to steer. Even if you fall, your child won't.

Tip: Give your toddlers a pillow so their head doesn't bounce around too much.

Trailers have a few downsides. Kids sit low to the ground, so they're less visible to others and they are a bit more exposed to the exhaust of cars. Also, keep in mind that older children can get bored with such passive transport.


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Step 3: Balance Bike


This is a bike in its simplest form—no pedals or chain, just wheels and a frame. As the child walks or coasts along on their push bike, their feet act as their brakes. A push bike helps teach 2- to 5-year-olds how to coordinate steering and balance. The better they get, the easier their transition to pedaling will be (see our Teaching a Child to Ride video).


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Step 4: Trailer Bike


A trailer bike (sometimes referred to by the brand name Trail-a-bike) allows your child to pedal and feel independent, though he or she is still relying on you for balance and control. This single-wheel bike attaches either to your seatpost or on a rear rack so it can pivot for turning. A trailer bike is good for 4- to 7-year-olds. It also allows you to cycle farther than your child's stamina might otherwise allow.


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Step 5: Training Wheel Bike


Bikes with training wheels can give children the confidence boost needed so they can start riding on their own. Once the confidence is there, the training wheels can be removed. These are single-speed bicycles with coaster brakes, though some models have an additional linear-pull rear brake to ready them for future hand brakes.


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Step 6: Kids' Bike

Once they are ready for their own 2-wheeler, make sure you avoid the common mistake of buying a bike that they'll "grow into." Doing so can set your child back a couple of years. When shopping, be aware that children's bikes are measured by their wheel size (not frame size). The most common sizes are 16", 20" and 24". The right size is one where your child can comfortably get on the bike and stand with his or her feet on the ground.




Another Option: Tandem Bike

A bicycle built for 2 is another option for the beginning cyclist. Using conversion kits, adult tandem bikes can be modified so a child can pedal with you. Some manufacturers make child-adult tandems that allow you to control steering, braking and gearing while both of you get to pedal.


Learning to Ride

Check out our popular video for an easy way to teach kids how to ride:



Once your child initially gets the hang of a riding a bike, what's next? See the REI Expert Advice article, Cycling as a Family: Riding Tips for our suggestions.

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