How To Choose the Best Bike for Kids
When it comes to selecting a kids’ bike, parents have more options than ever these days. That’s a good thing—after all, more choices means more opportunities to pick one that fits your child’s individual needs—but it can also be overwhelming and stressful, particularly when shopping for the bike your child will learn to ride on.
As with many other activities and sports, the right equipment can make a big difference in a child’s ability to pick up a new skill, not to mention their ability to enjoy it. Here, we’ll review the main options available to parents who are in the market for a new kids’ bike, the best bike to learn to ride on, and tips for picking out one that fits.
Balance Bikes vs. Training Wheels
For kids who are learning to ride for the first time, choosing a bike really comes down to two main options: balance bikes or training wheel bikes.
Traditionally, bikes with training wheels (also known as stabilizers) were how most people learned to ride. (If you’re now a parent, odds are you learned to ride on a training wheel bike.) These bikes are basically miniature versions of adult bikes, including a chain, pedals, and hand/pedal brakes, but with the addition of two smaller wheels attached to the bike’s rear wheel. These serve to help children maintain their balance as they learn to pedal, steer, and stop. Once children have become sufficiently familiar with operating their bike, the training wheels are removed and they learn to balance while riding.
On the other hand, balance bikes are newer, but have quickly become the favored method for teaching children to ride among parents and experts. Balance bikes are much simpler in design: they have no pedals, chain, or brakes; instead, children use their feet to propel, stabilize, and stop the bike.Children run or walk astride the bike to propel it, then lift their feet to glide.
Why Balance Bikes Are the Best Bike for Kids
The crucial difference between balance bikes and bikes with training wheels/stabilizers is that when using a balance bike, kids learn to balance and steer first, before pedaling is incorporated. Since balancing is by far the hardest of the skills that kids need to learn to ride successfully, learning it first makes the eventual transition to pedaling much easier.
The design of balance bikes also afford a handful of other advantages. For example:
- Balance bikes are usually lower to the ground, since kids need to be able to push with their feet. This allows them added stability and safety while learning balance and coordination, and also means that balance bikes are friendlier to younger kids, or even toddlers.
- Balance bikes also make steering easier. On training wheel bikes, the presence of the stabilizer wheels means that kids can’t lean too far in either direction. This impedes their ability to lean into turns (which is a natural part of steering) and also puts them at greater risk of falling over if they try to turn too sharply.
- Balance bikes are much easier to use and maneuver on rough terrain, such as dirt, grass, or rocky ground. Training wheels often get mired in soft surfaces, creating drag that makes the bike harder to propel. On the other hand, balance bikes are lighter, and kids have much more leverage when using their feet.
Tips for Choosing the Best Kids’ Bike
Choosing a bike for kids is a bit different from picking out an adult bike. For one, kids’ bike sizes are determined by the size of the wheel, rather than the size of the frame, as is the case for adult bikes. And, even within the realm of balance bikes, there are some important distinctions and factors to consider, such as:
- Weight. The lighter the bike, the easier it will be for kids to propel and maneuver it.
- Seat height. As mentioned earlier, the low seat of balance bikes are what allow kids to stop, stabilize, and move forward. However, seats that are too low can make moving awkward and ungainly. Look for bikes with adjustable seats so that you can tailor the seat height to your kid’s proportions and make changes as they grow.
- Convertibility. Some balance bikes can be easily converted to pedal bikes to better facilitate the transition to pedaling.
When it comes to balance bikes, Strider Bikes have emerged as the best option for kids of all ages. In 2022, the New York Times rated the Strider 12 Sport Balance Bike as the Best Balance Bike for Most Kids, based on its easy assembly and lightweight, kid-friendly design. In addition to the 12 Sport Balance, Strider offers a series of options for riders of different ages, from babies to preschoolers.
All Kids Bike is a national movement dedicated to bringing the mental and physical benefits of bike riding to every kid in America. Led by the Strider Education Foundation, our mission is to make bicycling skills an integral part of kids’ elementary school education. Our Kindergarten PE Program provides the curriculum, bikes, and safety equipment needed to teach every kindergartner how to ride at no cost to the school itself.
All Kids Bike and the Strider Education Foundation depend on generous contributions from the community to do the important work that we do. Consider donating to a school in your area to support our vision of making this milestone skill accessible to children across the country. Contact us to learn more!