How To Choose The Right Bike For Your Child

by | Dec 13, 2022 | Buyer's Guide, Bike, Gear, Reviews & First Looks

With plenty of children’s bicycles on the market, we take a look at how to find the correct size for your child and what else is worth considering before you purchase.

Learning to ride a bike is a priceless skill to gain as a child. All of us who still ride today can attest to that and any kid with a bike probably more so! The freedom to explore and the feeling of the wind on your face is what makes a childhood worth looking back on.

Now there are plenty of kids’ bicycles to choose from on the market from budget friendly bikes to baller rides with all the bells and whistles. In this article we’re going to first take a look at the most important consideration, size, and then discuss some of the other factors that are worth considering when purchasing a bike for your little one. 

Finding The Right Size Bike For Your Child

Inseam vs Age vs Height

There can be a tendency to just go by age or height when selecting a bike for your child but as we know there is a big variance in body proportions across both age and height for human beings of all ages. It is widely accepted that sizing the bike according to your child’s inseam measurement will provide the best fit for a safe and comfortable ride.

How To Measure Inseam Accurately

To accurately measure your child’s inseam, place a book between their legs (spine facing up) and slide it up until it meets their crotch. Make sure that the spine is level with the ground and then measure from the top of the book down to the ground. This is your child’s inseam measurement.

Correct Sizing For Balance Bikes

When it comes to balance bikes, you ideally want your child to be able to get their foot flat on the ground with a slight bend in their knee while seated on the bike. This allows for a comfortable and efficient running position. To size this accurately, compare the measurement from the seat to the ground with your child’s inseam. The saddle-to-ground measurement should be about 3cm or an inch shorter than the inseam.

How To Choose The Right Bike For Your Child
Children’s balance bikes are very simple and have a low saddle hight for running along the ground. (c) Avalanche bikes

Correct Sizing For Pedal Bikes

For pedal bikes, you still want your child to be able to reach the ground with their feet as this is how they will instinctively want to slow down. It will also help them feel safe and confident.

For an inexperienced child you shouldn’t have a saddle higher than their inseam so that they can get a flat foot on the ground.

As your child becomes more experienced, you can raise their saddle height to 1-3 inches higher than their inseam for a better leg extension while pedaling. They should still be able to get a foot to the ground in an emergency.

Standover Height

This leads onto the topic of standover height. This is the distance from the ground to the middle of the top tube. It is more important on pedal bikes as balance bikes always have a child sitting on the saddle. The standover height of the bicycle should not be higher than your child’s inseam so that if they want to stand over the bike off the saddle they can do so safely and comfortably.

Choosing The Right Wheel Size

When purchasing a bike for your child you may notice that wheel sizes are generally linked to age groups. Generally something like 14” for Ages 3 to 5, 16” for ages 4 to 6, 20” for ages 6 to 8,  24” for ages 8 to 11. These are of course just guidelines. They should get you in the right ballpark. So long as the inseam measurements discussed above work out, the wheel size shouldn’t be an issue.

It is a good idea to go for a bigger wheel size if it will fit your child as this will allow the most room for growth, helping the bike last longer. The bigger wheels should also offer a more stable ride!

How To Choose The Right Bike For Your Child
A children’s bike such as the Early Rider Seeker 20″ comes with gears to make the bike more versatile over a variety of terrain and gradients. (c) Early Rider

To Gears Or Not To Gears

While the smallest childrens’ bikes will seldom come with gears, as sizes go up so often does complexity. Single speed bikes are more robust and easier to maintain. Brands such as Early Rider even make use of a belt drive for extra longevity and ease of use.

Gears are only necessary when riding in areas with hills or if your child is becoming quite advanced / competitive and wanting to ride further and faster. If in doubt, gears will make the bike more versatile but keep in mind that they must be maintained to get a long life out of them.

Other Important Considerations

With that groundwork laid, we asked CEO of WILD AIR Sports and developer of the LITTLE WING children’s bicycle seat, Doug Bird, to comment on some of the more nuanced considerations you’ll face when buying a bike for your child. Doug is a certified dad with two awesome daughters that love spending time on their bikes riding with mom and dad!

How To Choose The Right Bike For Your Child
When we haven’t managed to sneak him away from home to film a gravel tour or what have you, Doug spends time with his adventurous little girls exploring trails and greenbelts on their bikes!

Question: Is it worth spending more on expensive kids’ bikes rather than the cheaper options?

Doug: How much one spends on a bike is subjective. That being said, what I have learned over the years is that (sometimes) you need to spend more to spend less, within reason. If one spends a little more on a kids bike, you are likely to get a better product with better components that last longer and remain smooth and functional over time.

What is key here is that the components don’t deteriorate to the point where it affects your child’s ability to ride – gears, brakes, bearings. If they are having fun and feel in control, they will continue to ride.

In line with that, maintenance is key. We are all guilty of neglecting our kids’ bikes but performing simple maintenance checks regularly will dramatically improve the lifespan of the bike and its components and ultimately, save you money.

Question: Are there different braking systems for kids’ bikes? Which should be avoided and which are best?

Doug: To me, choosing a bike that has a braking system that your child can actually use is one of the most important considerations when buying a kids bike. The more in control they feel, the more they are going to thrive. Nowadays, most kids bikes come with discs or “v” brakes. Both work well.

For me, it comes down to the ergonomics of the brake levers themselves. It is vital that you consider the size of your child’s hands in relation to the bike’s brake levers and whether they can, not only reach the levers, but have the strength to pull them.

Generally speaking, the more entry level kids bikes tend to have larger almost “adult” like levers while the mid to upper end of the kids bike range tend to have more child friendly options.

Question: When should you look at getting your child a full-sus bike (if at all)?

Doug: There is a lot to be said about the value of learning to ride on a fully rigid bike. It automatically teaches you to feel the bike under you and how it responds to the surface that you are riding on which results in a smoother riding style being developed over time.

That being said, it really depends on the terrain being ridden and if your child is starting to take things more seriously. My take is to start fully rigid and let your child’s relationship with riding bikes determine how far down the rabbit hole you want to go.

In Summary

Your first port of call on sizing is your child’s inseam measurement. Once you’ve got that down, along with an appropriate wheel size that will ensure the best longevity of the bike.

When it comes to how fancy to go with brakes and gears etc, the middle-of-the-road options will most likely get you the best value. Make sure the brake levers suit your child’s hand size and that they have the gearing required for the terrain that they enjoy riding. Then it’s just up to them to run wild and have the time of their lives!