How to Choose Kids' Bikes
When you’re ready to introduce your child to biking, REI offers a wide selection of bikes for kids. From balance bikes for the littlest riders to teen-sized versions of adult bikes, there are many options available.
Kids’ Bike Sizing
Children’s bikes are measured by their wheel size, not frame size. The best indication of which size is right for your child is how comfortable he or she feels on the bike.
The most common wheel sizes are 12", 16", 20" and 24". Make sure that your child can stand over the top tube of the bike with both feet planted on the ground. He should feel comfortable and in control of the bike at all times.
It is not recommended that you buy a bike that is too large for a child and then have her "grow into it." Doing so can set the child back in terms of riding skills and confidence. A properly sized bike will be easier for kids to handle, less dangerous and a lot more fun. And don’t forget the helmet!
Balance bikes are bikes in their simplest form—no pedals or chain, just wheels and a frame. As children walk or coast along on their balance bikes, their feet act as their brakes. A balance 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 a Bike video).
Training Wheel Bikes
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 (the kind you simply peddle backward to engage), though some models have an additional rear brake controlled by a hand lever.
A trailer 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 seat post or on a rear rack so it can pivot for turning. A trailer bike is generally good for 4- to 7-year-olds. It also allows you to cycle farther than your child’s stamina might otherwise allow.
Learn about trailer bikes and other choices in the REI Expert Advice article, Cycling with Young Kids.
Kids’ Road Bikes
Once your child is ready for her own 2-wheeler, make sure to avoid the common mistake of buying a road bike that she’ll "grow into." Doing so can set your child back a couple of years.
Kids’ road bikes range from bikes with flat bars and upright riding positions to small versions of adult road bikes with drop-bar handlebars that put your child in a more aerodynamic riding position. If your child will be cruising around the neighborhood or riding to school, a flat-bar road bike is a good choice. If you have a budding racer on your hands and you want to go on fast family rides, consider a drop-bar style road bike.
Kids’ Cruiser Bikes
These simple bikes focus on fun with catchy graphics and flashy colors. Kids’ cruisers feature wide balloon tires for stability and traction, a simple single-speed gearing coaster brakes, comfy seating and durable steel frames. Use them for short rides on mellow bike paths and neighborhood streets.
Kids’ BMX Bikes
Originally designed for racing over jumps and around banked turns in the dirt, BMX bikes are now popular for everything from around-town riding to doing tricks at the local skate park. BMX bikes come with knobby tires and lightweight frames. They typically have 20" wheels, although some BMX bikes for beginning riders are equipped with 16" wheels.
Kids’ Mountain Bikes
To accommodate the shorter legs of children, kids’ mountain bikes typically have 24" wheels, compared to the larger 26", 27.5" and 29" wheels found on adult bikes. Most are less-expensive versions of adult bikes with simpler components and only front suspension forks rather than full suspension. Suspension forks absorb bumps in the trail, which helps reduce hand and arm fatigue when riding. Generally speaking, kids’ mountain bikes suit children ages 10 to 13, but this depends more on the size of the child than the age. Younger/smaller children can get started biking with 20" wheels.