Learning to ride a bike is an important skill that every child should learn. There may be a few scraped knees and elbows along the way, but once they’ve conquered it, riding a bike is an important skill that will stay with your child for life. But where do you start? Of course they will need a bike. If they have a birthday coming up, it could be a good excuse to get them their first bike. But which bike you get depends largely on where they’re likely to be riding it, and also how old, and how tall they are.

What size bike does my child need?

From balance bikes for the little ones to full-suspension mountain bikes for teens, there are lots of options on the market. Don’t be afraid to try different brands and models of bike in the shop to find the one that your child feels most comfortable on. Get them to sit on the seat, test the brakes, and grip the handlebars to make sure it suits their height. As a general rule, their feet should just be brushing the floor when sitting on the bike.

Unlike adult bikes, kids’ bikes are measured by the size of the wheel, rather than the frame. They usually start at 10” wheels and go up to 24”. After that, older kids can start to use adult-sized bikes, which start at 26” wheels. Below is a rough size guide for kids’ bikes depending on the age of your child, but height is probably the most important factor as children vary in height. Some children might have longer legs, and some a longer torso, so it really is important to try a bike out properly before you buy it. Particularly as sizes vary from brand to brand too.Kids can start learning to ride a tricycle or balance bike from the age of two. And children between the ages of three and six can use bikes with stabilisers (12 and 14 inches).

Is a tricycle, balance bike, or bike with stabilisers best?

Most of us probably had our first experience of riding a bike on a tricycle, or on a small bike with stabilisers. Balance bikes seem to be the new kids on the block. So which is better for a child to learn on? Let’s see how they compare:

  • Tricycles: are quite simply a three-wheeled bike. They come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, and can be used by children as young as 18 months old. However, they don’t teach children how to balance, or the correct technique to steer. And they can easily tip on uneven surfaces.
  • Balance Bikes: are essentially bikes without pedals. They’re typically available in 10", 12" and 14" wheel sizes and are designed to help children learn how to balance and steer a bike before the transition to a bike with pedals. Kids can push themselves along using their feet, and practise taking their feet off the ground and balancing once they gain confidence. Once children have learnt to balance on two wheels, it makes the transition to a pedal bike much easier.
  • Stabilisers: on bikes are great for supporting your child while they learn to pedal. However pedalling is considered the easier part of learning to ride a bike, and it does create dependency on the stabilisers which can make it more difficult to transition to two wheels. Good quality children’s pedal bikes start with a 14” wheel size for kids aged around four years old. Little ones can get going on a balance bike from the age of two (or 12 months on some models, as long as they are walking well and are tall enough).

Stabilisers should be used as a last resort, only if a child is too big for a balance bike or simply hasn't been able to develop balance on two wheels. And although a tricycle could be a good introduction to cycling, your child will still have to learn to balance on a bike at a later stage. Balance bikes are lightweight, making them easy for your little ones to move around, while still being durable to stand up to the rigours of play. Generally, kids who start on a balance bike tend to have an easier time learning to ride a bike than those who start on a tricycle or use stabilisers.

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What other types of children’s bikes are there?

As your kids get older, there are a few other things to consider when shopping for a bike. From the age of six, kids start using their bikes differently, so you’ll need to begin looking at more specific designs like hybrid, mountain or BMX bikes. Which bike you go for will largely depend on where they’re going to be riding it, such as the city or in the countryside. And you’ll come across features like gears, suspension, mudguards, and accessories including a basket or pannier. If they’ll be doing most of their rides on rougher terrain, go for a mountain bike. For messing about in the local park, opt for a BMX. Or Hybrid bikes are a good all-rounder, and perfect for use in the city. Here are some of the features to look out for when buying a bike for bigger kids:

  • Bikes for kids aged 4-8 years: A bike with 14" to 16" wheels will have rubber tyres and inner tubes, and will provide a smoother ride than smaller bikes.
  • Bikes for kids aged 7-9 years: Most kids are ready to move up to 20" wheels by this age. Typically, these models are where kids encounter gears, and that adds a whole new level to their cycling experience. Some models may even include front suspension.
  • Bikes for kids aged 8- 11 years: Many kids tend to have a growth spurt around this age, so may start to feel more comfortable on a 24”. Bikes of this size generally contain all the features of an adult bike, but in a smaller frame size.
  • Bikes for kids aged 12 years and over: By the time they’re teenagers, kids should be ready to move onto full-sized adult wheels (26” to 28”), but in a smaller frame size (13" or 14" generally suit best).

Of course these age ranges are a rough guide, so it’s always best to check your child’s inside leg measurement against the size guide for each brand and model. Get them to try different bikes for size until they find the one that feels right. And don’t be tempted to buy a bigger bike that they’ll ‘grow in to’ as it could be too big and heavy for them. It’s recommended that the bike doesn’t weigh more that 32% of your little one’s weight, as a bike that’s too heavy will be difficult for them to maneuver.

How do I know which kids’ bike helmet to go for?

After the bike, the most important purchase for your child will be a bike helmet. It’s not a legal requirement to wear a helmet, but it will help keep your children safe. Cycling helmets for kids aged one to three are more compact and shorter at the back, which makes them more suitable for child seats. This type of helmet can also be used by children riding a balance bike. From ages three to nine years, kids' helmets are more like adult helmets. It's a good idea to go for a helmet with an adjustment wheel at the back for the best fit. Make sure the helmet fits your child's head correctly and isn't too large or small.

Kids’ cycle helmets sold in the UK go through serious testing, so even the most basic of helmets will provide plenty of coverage and safety. Spending more will get a lighter helmet with greater ventilation, good for those who are interested in cycling regularly, and going further. Get them to try a few different shapes and styles to find the one they like, and which fits them comfortably.