I love bikes! You generally don’t start a bike company if you don’t! I also love getting my kids out and about on bikes. It’s almost a rite of passage in Australia for kids to spend their youth getting around by bike in their suburbs or at a caravan park over the christmas holidays.
I get asked from time to time about kid’s bikes. This is certainly not my area of domain expertise but I do know what’s worked for me and have observed my own and my friends’ kids go through that first few years of riding. Here’s my take on what to look out for when buying your first few kids bikes.
Age 2 - Lightweight Balance bike
We found age 2 is a good time to get your child on their first balance bike. It may take them to 2&1/2 to start feeling comfortable, but there’s no harm in getting them on a little earlier.
A bit about Balance Bikes
Balance bikes have revolutionised the bike learning experience. When we learned to ride bikes, we started at a much later age, with training wheels and then went through a painful transition off training wheels.
In the early 2000s balance bikes started becoming popular. If you’re not familiar, these are bikes with no pedals, allowing the child to push the bike with their feet. As they get more confident they will begin to scoot and over time lift their feet and balance as they move.
They’ve almost completely eliminated the need for training wheels and allow kids to learn good cycling techniques at a very young age.
Choosing the right Balance Bike
The popularity of Balance Bikes has seen a huge range of options now available, however we don’t think all of them suit very young children. The things to look out for are:
- Lightweight: Some Balance Bikes are simply too heavy for a 2 year old to hold up. If too heavy, your child will show no interest in persisting with their bike.
- Low Seat: Some Balance Bikes don’t have a low enough seat for small children to touch the ground, meaning they really can’t use them until they are a bit older.
Wooden balance bikes are very popular due to their generally low price and ‘cool’ look. We’ve found in almost all cases the seats are too high for young kids, and they generally don’t stand the test of time, swelling after the first time they are inevitably left out in the rain. I suggest skipping these in favour of a lightweight and strong aluminium frame.
My choice - Cruzee
They’re one of the most popular brands going round and there’s a reason, they are the best! Cruzees are made of lightweight aluminium and have quite a low seat. The wheels are very small and are made out of lightweight foam to further cut down weight and avoid difficulty in pumping up such small tyres.
Cruzee’s have not only got my kids going on balance bikes, but also many friends’ whose kids were not taking to their balance bike. They all jumped straight on the Cruzee and were off! The other great advantage is the handlebars can easily be twisted to make the bike lay flat, allowing you to pack your bike in a suitcase and take it away on holidays.
At $199, they’re definitely not one of the cheaper options going around, but it’s money well spent in my view. As such a popular choice, there’s also a robust second hand market where you can pick up a bike in good condition for $50-$100 on Facebook Marketplace.
Age 3 - Heavier balance bike with rear brakes
This step is optional, but a worthy upgrade in my opinion. By age 3, your child will be comfortable on their first lightweight balance bike. They’ll be scooting around and probably lifting their feet for a few seconds and balancing.
It’s time now to begin preparing them for a pedal bike.
Until now, kids have been stopping by dragging their feet on the ground. You’ve probably gone through a couple of pairs of shoes in the process! It’s important for kids to start learning to use brakes, as this is how we stop once we transition to bigger bikes. Also, once a child transitions to a pedal bike the weight increases dramatically, this can scare some children as the bike feels difficult to manage, as a result moving to a balance bike that is a little heavier at this stage is a good idea.
Our Choice - First Bike
Once you move to a heavier bike, there’s a few more options available. We’re a big fan of the “First Bike” (in this cases it’s the 2nd bike but I’m not about to make them change their name!). The First Bike is made out of a composite plastic sort of material. This adds to their weight and also makes them super durable. It’s also got a rear back brake.
If you thought your child was going fast on their Cruzee, wait till they get on a First Bike. Pneumatic tyres and a design that really encourages big ‘scoots’ means you’ll have trouble keeping up with them by foot!
The first bike also comes with a rear brake to get your child used to braking with a brake lever whilst still having access to their feet to stop like they’ve been used to.
If you decide to make the First Bike your actual first bike (and skip step 1 above), you’ll need a lowering kit, as it will be too big for most 2 year olds. Lowering kits can be purchased as an accessory.
Age 4 - 16" Pedal Bike
With a couple of years of balance biking under their belts, it’s time for a pedal bike! Some of the things to look out for.
- 16″ wheels: There are some 14″ wheel pedal bikes, but these are likely to be too small for most 4 year olds, and the next step up, 20″ are too big at this age.
- Front and rear hand brakes: By Australian law kid’s bikes must be equipped with a back pedal or ‘coaster’ brake. This is an unfortunate and antiquated law designed long before balance bikes were a thing, and was put in place because less coordination is needed to operate a back pedal brake. This is a step backwards in my view when your child has already learned to use a lever brake on their balance bike and can make learning to ride a pedal bike frustrating when kids inadvertently pedal backwards and stop the bike. Many manufacturers are now offering conversion kits allowing you to transform your bike yourself to a lever brake.
- Flat handlebars: Bike manufacturers have a thing about putting BMX handlebars on 16″ bikes. These handlebars are designed for bigger bikes and bigger kids and can often look comical, with kid’s hands up around their shoulders, akin to a 90s rapper on their lowrider bike. We prefer flat mountain bike style bars that put the kids in a better riding position. Your bike shop likely can swap these over for you easy enough.
BMX bars on 16″ bikes can make it look like a low rider bike Snoop Dogg would ride!
The great training wheel debate
In theory after a couple of years on a balance bike, training wheels won’t be required. However it’s a big moment for a child to balance whilst also learning to pedal, some kids might need some training wheels for a short period of time until their are comfortable with the pedalling motion. My 4 year old insisted on training wheels which lasted all of 5 minutes.
On thing is for certain, your child’s first ride unhinged from training wheels on a pedal bike is one of those great childhood and proud parent moments. Most of us remember the first time we rode a bike without training wheels, savour the moment with your child, it’s a special one for all.
My Choice - There's plenty of good options!
There’s so many good 16″ bikes out there, but it can be hard to find one that ticks every box. I’ve mentioned above the Australian Standards that make it difficult to find a rear hand brake so you may have to go with a coaster brake, and too many bikes are out there with riser BMX style bars. At this age your child will probably also have a clear colour preference that can further limit options. Stick to a reputable brand and you won’t go too wrong.
6 and beyond - Bigger bikes, more features
The above will get your child through their first few years of riding. Beyond this, bikes get bigger, rear brake levers become the norm and gears start getting added to bikes. We won’t go into the details here, your child will likely start guiding you on the types of bikes they are wanting based on their interests (and what their friends like!).
Use your cargo bike to transport your kid's bikes
Make your child’s learning to ride part of your cargo biking adventures! With the front bench removed from your Tribe Bike, you can easily fit two small kid’s bikes. Use the cargo bike to get somewhere safe, let your kids ride their own bike, and then ride them home when they are worn out.
It makes for a great day out, where everyone gets some exercise and you can find great new tracks for your kids to explore!