Finding the Best Kids Bicycles

As I mentioned in my post about how to ride a bike, I’ve got two young children who have been learning to ride bikes and enjoying it a lot.  As a result, I’ve did a lot of research about different kinds of bicycles for kids.  I thought I’d share what I learned with our Cycling for Beginners readers.

The first thing I learned is that childrens’ bikes are different from when I was a kid.  When I was a kid most kids got started on on AMF or Schwinn kids bikes that had banana seats and “ape hanger” handlebars.  These days, it seems like even most toddler bikes are more like kids bmx bikes with knobby tires.

Buy Bikes for Kids Depending on Experience Level

The first thing to consider before buying bikes for kids is what is the experience level of the child.  Here I’ll differentiate between what I’ll call “toddler bikes” (for those who figured out walking not long ago) and “little kid bikes” for those a little older (and perhaps they’ve already had a toddler bike with training wheels).

Toddler bikes really run the gamut — from balance bikes and tricycles for the very young, to 12 or 16 inch wheeled bicycles with training wheels (which are not usually on 20″ bikes);  there are even some bike-like scooters too.

  • Tricycles are a good way to get kids used to the pedaling motion, yet be sure to keep an especially close eye on the child because tricycles usually have no brakes.  The classic tricycle is the Radio Flyer Classic.
  • Balance bikes look like bikes with no pedals, and many people like them because they allow a child to get used to balancing while being able to touch both feet on the ground and without having to worry about pedaling at the same time.  An example of this is the Kazam Balance Bike.
  • Small Wheeled Bicycles with wheels usually 12 or 16 inches high, often come with training wheels.  Some people contend that you can save money by not buying a balance bike and instead buy a small wheeled bike where the child can touch the ground with both feet and take the pedals off to start with as a kids training bike.  Our daughter learned to ride on a 12 inch Dora Bike and or son learned on that one first, then switched to a 16 inch Spiderman bike — both of those bikes were surprisingly good bikes for the money.
Little kids bikes — If your child is a little bit older, you’ll likely be looking at a bike with 20 inch wheels or larger.  The key to bike selection is to buy the right size bike for your child, and avoid the temptation that cheapskates like me have to buy a bigger bike that they can “grow into” — as this could lead to unsafe riding or at least an unpleasant riding experience for both of you.  You can view a good guide to bike sizes for kids here.

Keep it simple: Unless your child is already comfortable riding and has learned road safety, I would advise to keep it simple — a single speed bike with a coaster brake (and perhaps one hand brake), as dealing with gear shifting can take more thought that we really think it does.  Plus, with a simple bike there are less things to break or maintain.

How to Find Cheap Kids Bikes That Are Decent

As I’ve mentioned, I’m a cheapskate.  However, if you research the cheap kids bikes being sold at the big-box department stores, in the reviews you can quickly see a pattern of many bad experiences with bikes that are cheap to buy but break very quickly (sometimes on day 1) and can also injure kids also.

So, I’d really encourage you to avoid overly cheap new bikes and instead shop for good used kids bikes.  Both eBay (see listings below) and Craigslist have plenty of kids bikes for sale, and you can find a lot of good deals on those sites if you know what you’re looking for and are careful before you buy.  There are plenty of other places to buy kids bikes online too.

You want your child to have a fun learning and riding experience, not get discouraged by having a bike that breaks quickly or is too big for them.  So, when it recently came time for me to buy a 20 inch bike for my 5 year old son, I read a lot about the best kids bicycles and in the end I decided to pay a little more and buy from a local bike store.  I’ve been happy with that choice, and in my next post I’ll discuss the kid’s bike that we bought.  Until then, happy riding!

Other relevant articles:


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