Hands up if some of your best early memories included all-day bike rides with friends? Whether your hand is up or not, one thing’s for sure – all parents want the best for their children. And that means fun, healthy experiences that get those little feet active and out there.
In addition to giving your child a physically fit foundation, bicycles teach your child hand-eye coordination, independence and maybe even some special talents.
But as much as we want our kids to have a great experience, we also want them as safe as possible; and this means getting the right size bike for their age. The last thing you want is for the wee ones to outgrow their bikes and turn them into amped up, injury-causing unicycles.
But here’s where things start going uphill. There are so many different bike types, kinds and sizes to choose from! And the kids shouting to get the shiniest model really doesn’t help.
Lucky for you, you’ve just scooted right into the ultimate guide to finding the right size bike for your kids that will not only ensure they enjoy their first riding experience, but also set them up for an active lifetime of healthy living.
Understanding the Basics: How Are Kids Bikes Measured
First off, you need to get the silly notion that kids’ bikes are just miniature adult bikes out of your head. Children’s bikes are specially designed for the little ones with smaller but sturdier frames and thicker tyres.
Similarly, they are ideal for slow riding on paved, flat or hard and open surfaces where your child can focus on riding the bike instead of manoeuvring the terrain. They come in a wide range of designs, with the simplest being pedal-less and containing small wheels. From there, the wheels get bigger with more features to accommodate your child’s growing coordination, skill, and confidence.
So to answer your question, kids’ bikes are usually measured according to the wheel size, not frame or seat height. That’s because the wheel sizes directly correlate with the frame size anyway. This guy here explains it all and even includes some more helpful sizing tips that will help make your child as comfortable as possible.
The smallest wheel size is just 12 inches which is a great place to start your 2-year-old, and the largest size is 26 inches few when they become teenagers. Now that you know the basics, shall we dive right into how to get the right bike for your child’s age?
Early Starters (Ages 2 to 4): 12 Inch Wheels
If your young one is just learning to ride for the first time at a tender age, nothing beats a balance bike at introducing them to the joy of two wheels. Since these types of bikes don’t have chains, pedals or cassettes, toddlers can focus on learning how to balance while still keeping their feet strategically positioned for safety.
In addition to being an easy way to start the cycling journey, balance bikes are relatively safe to use indoors so you can control the environment fully. Typically, kids around this age are between 2 to 3.5 feet or 88 to 105 cm in height.
Ready to Free Wheel (Ages 4 to 7): 14/16 Inch Wheels
By this age, your child will have already mastered the balance bike and already grown tired of it. It’s time to get your kids their first, classic proper bike. These typically come in 12, 14 and 16-inch wheels. While some will have simple gear sets and suspension forks, I’d advise you not to bother will all that for now since it will only add unnecessary weight and diversions.
Your child should be able to touch the ground when stopped, reach the bars comfortably, and have a few inches clearance when standing over the top tube. You’ll also want a bike with a light, aluminium frame.
Now that they have pedals and will be going much faster, you can expect the occasional accident which is always safer with a light bike. Children in this age bracket are usually between 3 to 3.8 feet or 105 to 115 cm in height.
Getting into Gear (Ages 7 to 10): 20 Inch Wheels
Now that your child has mastered all the basics of classic bike riding, they’ll no doubt want to raise the bar up a notch (no pun intended). They’ll want to push their skills with gears, suspension and most of the works.
With 20 inch wheels, you’ll want a bike with between 5 to 10 gears designed for off-road pathways and hill climbing as opposed to speed. Make sure the suspension is not overkill and that your child’s small hands can comfortably shift gears.
You’ll also want to show them how the gears are changed and teach them to pedal until the gear shift is seen through. Kids around this age are usually between 3.9 to 4.4 feet tall or 112 to 130 cm in height.
Growing Up Fast (Ages 10 to 13): 24 Inch Wheels
The young ones are not so young anymore, and it’s clear that they’re really getting into the cycling odyssey. Bikes meant for 10 to 13-year-olds are practically adult bikes. They’ll have the same types of gears, brakes, frames and all the bells and whistles that come with.
Most parents choose to skip this stage and buy their kids one final permanent adult bike, but I feel it’s an important step that will set the tone for their riding style.
At this stage, you’ll want an aluminium frame with alloy wheels, more choice for higher gears and rigid fork or full suspension on the 24-inch wheels for more experienced riders. Kids around this age are between 4.5 to 5 feet or 127 to 150 cm in height.
Teenagers (Ages 13 – 15+): 26 Inch Wheels
Yeap, it’s exactly what you feared – your not so little ones are all grown up and practically adults. At this age, the teens need a bike that is not only the right size and fit, but also the right kind of cool. It definitely can’t look embarrassing to them or their friends. In addition to all the bells and whistles we talked about above, the kids will also want to diversify according to their riding style.
Some will want a thin frame road bike for going fast and over long distances while others will want a mountain bike for some serious off-roading adventures. By now, they’re probably the ones telling you what kind of bike to get them and why. So just sit back and enjoy the ride because your job is all done; that’s right, you’ve been an exceptional parent. Your kids no doubt love you for that.
There you have it folks, all the information you need about finding the right size bike for your kids. With this guide, you’ll be able to surprise your kids without getting the sizes wrong. But remember that even with the right bike, you might still have to make a few minor tweaks and adjustments to keep your kids comfortable as they grow.
I’ll leave you with a very entertaining video here to show you how the little things can help you make the most of your child’s riding experience.