Gear Guide: Choosing bikes for cycling with kids

Gear Guide Choosing Bikes for Cycling with Kids Gear Guide Choosing Bikes for Cycling with Kids
Child in bike seat Child in bike seat
Two kids in a trailer Two kids in a trailer
Autumn riding in Grizedale forest Autumn riding in Grizedale forest
Girl on balance bike Girl on balance bike
Raleigh DBR bike Raleigh DBR bike
Boy on bike in Dutch Tulip Field Holland Boy on bike in Dutch Tulip Field Holland
Tandem in the Tulips in Holland Tandem in the Tulips in Holland
Riding a tag along Riding a tag along
Having fun on a tag along Having fun on a tag along
Baby asleep on bike seat Baby asleep on bike seat
Baby in Trailer Baby in Trailer
Toddler on Tandem Toddler on Tandem
Raleigh Diamond Back DBR Bike Raleigh Diamond Back DBR Bike
Baby in bike trailer Baby in bike trailer
Boy with new bike Boy with new bike
Child in a bike seat Child in a bike seat
Keeping Dry in a Trailer Keeping Dry in a Trailer
Girl and Brakes on Bike Girl and Brakes on Bike
Girl and Disney Princess Bike Girl and Disney Princess Bike

camonbike Gear Guide: Choosing bikes for cycling with kids

Kids love the freedom of biking… but what should you be looking for at different ages to get them out biking with you, to inspire a love of cycling and to help them progress onto cycling safely on their own?

Gear Guide: Choosing bikes for cycling with kids

Stuart Profile Small Gear Guide: Choosing bikes for cycling with kidsWe’ve been cycling with kids since they could first hold their heads up and pretty much been through every possible configuration of trailer, bike seat, tag along, balance bike, solo bike and tandem you can imagine as we’ve figured out how to bike with one, two and then three babies, toddlers, tweens and now teens.

If you’re wondering what the options are, what works best at what age or what you need to get out biking as a family, check out this ultimate gear guide to cycling with kids. While this post is brought to you thanks to support from Argos, the experience, opinions and tips are entirely our own, based on our 10 years experience of everyday and long distance cycling with our kids.

Cycling is a skill for life

Choosing the right gear at each stage of your child’s development will not only help you introduce your kids to cycling safely but teach them skills for life and help them develop a life-long love of biking.

There are lots of options to choose from and we don’t set out to tell you what to do, rather to share what worked for us. We believe you know your child, their temperament and ability and your own riding style best and are best placed to decide what will work for you.  And we hope the information we provide here will help with that.

New or second hand?

Children’s needs change from year to year as they grow and their skills, experience and capabilities develop, and some cycling gear may only be of use to you for a season or two. This can make family cycling a potentially expensive business if you prefer to buy everything new and shiny. But it also means there’s a good second hand market where you can find previously owned gear and save yourself a fortune. If you do buy second hand do ask about the equipment before purchase – its age, previous use, any accidents – and check it over thoroughly to ensure it is fit for purpose, or if you are unsure how to do that yourself, get it checked by a bike mechanic.

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This may be where we want to get to… independent riding. But where do you start? What are the steps and stages along the way? And what bikes work best at what age?

Finding something age appropriate

This is a LONG article and covers a lot of territory so to help you navigate we’ve split it up according to the age of your kids. Use these links to find the bits most relevant to your circumstances.

The baby years: from 0 – 2

So now you’ve got a baby, you’re itching to get out on your bike and want baby to come too. But when can you start and what’s the safest way to carry and protect your precious cargo? Well for babies and toddlers there are two main options: trailers or baby seats. And trailers usually come first.

Trailers for babies

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In our experience babies and toddlers love trailers. They are a great way to introduce them to biking, although we obviously strap them in when we’re on the move!

These days there are lots of cycle trailers available enabling you to pull young kids behind you while cycling. They‘re also great for doing the shopping, taking the dog for a ride or touring with a family sized load of camping gear. Trailers are like mini caravans for bikes; you hitch them onto the back of your bike, strap your child in and pull them along behind you until you run out of energy or your child tells you they’ve had enough.

While the internet seems to be awash with controversy about the earliest age you can safely put a baby in a trailer, it’s pretty widely accepted that once a child is strong enough to hold their own neck up they will probably be fine in a trailer.  This usually means somewhere between 6-12 months, depending upon the child. That’s not to say you have to wait that long; there are some bike trailers that have special slings, carriers and neck supports to help with carrying young babies, and some are even large enough to strap a car baby seat into for added protection.

Of course support within the trailer is not the only consideration when it comes to your child’s safety, you also need to consider protection from the elements, your riding style, route choice and the behavior of traffic where you plan to ride.

IMG 3446 Gear Guide: Choosing bikes for cycling with kids

You can get fixings to enable you to carry young babies in trailers but it’s worth getting advice to ensure it’s safe, legal and complies with manufacturers and medical practitioners recommendations as regards both the child and suitability of the trailer.

Trailers: Pros and cons

  • A trailer can be like a little playroom for kids. They can play, read, eat, sleep, listen to stories or look out of the window. You can decorate them, or install a sound system or video player if so inclined. As a result ours loved being trailered around in their trailers.
  • Kids can sleep comfortably in a trailer without lolling around. This gives more flexibility when you go out riding. On tours we covered some great distances in peace and quiet during nap times or by riding after bedtime with the kids in the trailer in their sleeping bags.
  • Children can be well protected from the elements in a trailer, especially useful if you want to get out in colder months or poor weather. They can have blankets, waterproofs, hot drinks and with a rain cover or sun screen will stay warm, dry and pale skinned while you ride and get cold, wet or sunburnt.
  • Some trailers can take more than one child which can help you get out biking with a growing young family, although the aftermath of sibling rivalry in such constrained spaces can be unpalatable.

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Two kids in a trailer can be fun. But it’s hard work. And don’t forget fighting in a confined space can get ugly!

  • Remember, while the kids rest and play you will be working hard pulling them along. And the older they get the harder you will have to work. Going uphill can be a serious cardio workout. And then, when you stop for a rest, they’ll be all refreshed and wanting to run around and play with you.
  • Some cycle trails are not trailer friendly. They can have barriers to stop traffic which also stop trailers. You may have to get off, get the kids out and lift the whole thing over. All without cursing.
  • When riding on the road you need to be aware you are a wider vehicle now and it may take a little time to become familiar with how far out from the kerb you need to ride and to judge how close any passing traffic is to the trailer. We generally found traffic pretty courteous but use flags, lights and bright colours to make sure we are seen and to encourage wide passing. We also try to set things up so the outer edge of bike and trailer on the side traffic passes are lined up to make it easier to  judge passing distances.
  • The kids sit low down compared to you and some distance behind you.  It’s not easy to see what they are up to nor hold a conversation. Conversation is further stunted by the fact you won’t be seeing the same things; while you look over hedgerow to the horizon, they’ll be looking out at hedges or your rear.  In traffic they may also get to breathe more exhaust fumes than you would like, although route choice may help alleviate that.
  • Sooner or later you won’t have the strength to pull your growing kids, especially if you’ve got two or more. Typically we gave up trying once the kids reached about 4 years.

IMG 4285 edited Gear Guide: Choosing bikes for cycling with kids

Trailers are great for keeping babies and toddlers dry and warm in wet weather or protected from the sun if it shines. They are much less exposed to the elements than when in a bike seat.

Trailers: What to look for

  • For maximum protection for your child look for models with a roll bar, approved safety harnesses (seat belts) and good neck support or sling options, especially if you want to carry younger babies. If you want your child to wear a helmet in the trailer (and it may be a legal requirement in some countries) then look for designs with head rests that accommodate this.
  • Look for something with materials that are easy to clean goo (or worse) off. Some models use canvas or fabric panels while others are solid in design. This can affect not just clean-ability but durability, waterproofing, storage and transportation too. Oh and if spills are an issue, don’t forget to choose something with a little drainage hole or plug.
  • If storage and transportation are a concern for you, look for designs that fold flat and where the wheels are simple to release.
  • Storage space is handy too, especially if you like to carry baby paraphernalia, shopping or other gear with you while out. Two kinds of storage are handy; something within reach of the child for toys, drinks and things you want them to get; and something out of reach for stuff you don’t!
  • If you’re a fair-weather cyclist, then look for trailers with a sunscreen and some way to adjust ventilation. If you’re more the kind to venture out in the rain then make sure there’s good protection from wind and rain.
  • Different trailers have different ways of hitching to bikes so check the hitching mechanism will work with the main bike you intend to use for towing. If you want to tow on several different bikes, check it will fit them all or buy adapters or additional hitches to enable you to switch it around.
  • Typically trailers kept in good condition hold their value pretty well so don’t be shy about investing; you can often sell them on and recoup the money later. And there’s usually a good supply available second hand, many of which have had relatively little use.

Cycle toddling: bike seats

DSC00316 Gear Guide: Choosing bikes for cycling with kids

Kids on rear mounted bike seats don’t necessarily get the best view but they’re close enough to chat to, keep an eye on and to bug you when they’ve had enough.

Bike seats are a great way to get toddlers out on a bike, especially if the weather is fine. We carried ours this way from about age 1-4. Bike seats are more exposed and offer a bit less support than trailers so the rule of thumb here is whether or not the child can sit comfortably unsupported, without lolling around.

Bike seats these days come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Some clamp to the seat tube, others to a rear rack while others still attach to the top tube or even handlebar stems. The systems vary in the position of the child, intimacy and sense of stability.

The most popular child seat designs put the child behind the rider, in a seat that sits over the back wheel attached to the rack or down tube. While this arrangement is pretty stable and leaves you free to concentrate on riding, it can be difficult to communicate and the child’s view is mostly of your back.

For smaller tots popular options include seats that sit over the front handlebars or directly in front of the rider on the top tube. These gives a more intimate riding experience and make communication easier, although having an active toddler wriggling around in front of you can be something of a challenge.

IMG 4010 Gear Guide: Choosing bikes for cycling with kids

Bike seats can be tricky for parents to load. You have to hold or balance the bike, while lifting your toddler in and then get them all strapped in, all without the bike falling over. Get a friend to help if you can. 

Bike Seats: Pros and cons

  • With a bike seat your child is up high with you; it’s a more sociable experience riding together, you can talk, chat and play together and they get to see much more too.
  • Compared to a trailer, a child in a bike seat is more exposed both to the elements and in the event of you falling over. But being closer together, it’s easier to keep an eye on their mood, comfort and temperature.
  • Getting on and off can be tricky, especially if you are on your own. It’s a bit of a balancing act juggling the bike and the child, doing up straps and then getting on yourself.
  • Rear mounted bike seats can interfere with your ability to carry panniers, luggage or even to wear a rucksack which can make carrying gear, shopping or bits and bobs more difficult.
  • Carrying a child on a bike seat changes the handling of your bike. The heavier the child, the more they jiggle or the further to the front or back of the bike the seat is, the more unsteady things can become. Centrally mounted models tend to be most stable although not necessarily most convenient.  To keep the bike stable you need to learn to counteract your child’s movements, even the unpredictable ones.
  • While the intimacy of a child seat can be appealing, the close-up wailing of a hungry little one, unwanted back slapping of an angry toddler or persistent questions of a curious pre-schooler are hard to ignore compared to putting them in a trailer.

IMG 5454 Gear Guide: Choosing bikes for cycling with kids

It’s not uncommon for kids to fall asleep on a bike seat so it can be worth looking for models that recline and make it a more comfortable experience. And of course less lolling for them means a more stable ride for you.

Bike Seats: What to look for

  • If you want to be able to swap the seat between bikes easily look for models where you can buy spare adapters easily to save the hassle of uninstalling and reinstalling each time you want to change bikes.
  • Look for models that are easy to fit and remove, both for initial installation and for getting on and off the bike when you want to go solo or swap the seat between bikes.
  • Look for seat designs that accommodate helmets easily, otherwise things can get uncomfortable for your passenger. And if wearing a helmet becomes uncomfortable they are not going to want to put it on.
  • Look for secure harnesses and childproof buckles, even if it makes it a bit harder to do up. There’s nothing worse than a child trying to escape mid-ride.
  • Some cushioning can make for a more comfortable ride but look for removable cushions for cleaning or drying. Waterproof seat cushions can prevent soggy bottoms and are easier to clean in the event of an accident.
  • Foot rests are useful, and particularly important on rear seats to stop kicking or legs dangling into moving parts. Look for foot rests that can be adjusted as the child grows and with straps to secure feet in place.
  • Some ‘luxury’ models can recline the seat which reduces lolling if your child likes to sleep while out on the ride. There must be something about the motion which encourages this as many do.
  • Some front facing models have fun features like mini handlebars so kids can play steering as you ride along, or have windscreens to protect little ones from wind, rain or flies!

The toddler years: from 3 – 6

DSC00574 Gear Guide: Choosing bikes for cycling with kids

The toddler years are a golden time for getting kids biking. Help them develop their love of biking now and it will pay dividends in years to come. 

So your baby’s growing up, they’re getting too heavy for your trailer or bike seat and want to go solo. Where to begin this journey of a lifetime from passenger to independent cyclist? Well, you’re looking for a balance bike or your kid’s first ‘training’ bike.

Balance Bikes

We’ve seen children as young as 2 having a go on balance bikes so if you’re keen for your toddler to become a cyclist you might consider having one of these around the house or garden from an early age.

Balance bikes are a great first step to helping kids learn to ride their own bike. A bike with no gears, no pedals and no brakes may sound like a recipe for disaster but is in fact a great recipe for learning. Riding a balance bike is a bit like scootering; it keep things simple for your budding cyclist as all they have to concentrate on is steering and balancing. And once they’ve mastered these two critical skills they will find it much easier to progress to learning how to control a ‘proper’ bike with pedals and brakes.

DSC00487 Gear Guide: Choosing bikes for cycling with kids

When kids start learning to ride, balancing is enough to concentrate on and provides enough excitement for parent and child. Balance bikes are a great way to start learning. 

Balance Bikes: Pros and cons

  • When you give your little one a balance bike you are ceding control to an inexperienced toddler and need to begin teaching them how to ride safely, with awareness of other people, vehicles and risks.
  • Balance bikes are small and light so you can always pick them up and carry them if the child gets bored or if you take the trailer you could let them scoot at times and put the balance bike and child in the trailer at others.
  • While you know what might happen when they go downhill without brakes, they won’t, so you need to think about controlling the environments they ride in, and match them to their developing skills and capabilities.
  • With a little practice kids can scoot off quickly on these and you’re no longer in control of what happens. It helps to agree rules about where and when to scoot and when to walk or wait. You won’t want to go on roads and probably won’t be able to ride your own bike with them while they are on a balance bike, unless you’re in quiet and controlled environments.
  • Remember these bikes have no brakes so watch out for hills, drives or slopes, especially those that might lead into traffic. Shoes will get used as brakes so make them wear a pair you don’t mind them scuffing.

Balance Bikes: What to look for

  • Balance bikes are simple affairs. The most important thing to look for is something light, easy to get on and off and durable. If your kids are like ours, it will probably get thrown around.
  • The weight of the bike affects handling and the whole experience of cycling. Lighter bikes are easier for little people to push and handle and less weight for you to carry when they get bored.
  • Choose a size of frame and wheel that makes it easy for your child to get on and off. When first starting out they will appreciate being able to sit on the seat and touch the ground with their feet at the same time.
  • Look for a model with adjustable seat height and you can adjust it as they grow. You can also raise the seat to increase the level of challenge and help them develop their balancing ability as they develop skills and confidence.
  • Look for models with air filled rather than solid tyres. They give a more comfortable ride.  And the opportunity to learn how to repair punctures!

First ‘training’ bikes

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First ‘training’ bikes are simple affairs usually with just one gear. This Disney Princess branded bike was a good first bike buy; it’s light, has easy to reach brakes, plenty of adjustment on the saddle, a chain guard to protect little fingers. And, most importantly for the child, lots of Princess stickers.

Of course kids mature at different rates and parents vary in their judgment of when their kids are ready to learn about pedaling, braking and falling off. But if you’ve been trailering growing toddlers around for a few years or are getting tired of chasing after balance bikes you’ll probably be looking forward to them mastering their own first bike.

A kid’s first training bike is a big milestone and one that’s easy to get wrong. A first bike needs to be a positive experience; it should appeal to the child, be easy to handle, safe and fun to ride. Like the balance bike, it’s probably going to be used in controlled environments, in the garden, down the park, at campsites, on traffic free trails, but maybe also on the pavements or under close supervision on some quiet roads. So you want pedals, steering and brakes that your child can control.

Your child’s early experiences of learning to ride solo will shape their relationship with cycling so it’s important to try and choose something that won’t make it feel like it’s all about wobbling, hard work and falling off but about fun, freedom and excitement.

Training Bikes: Pros and cons

  • There are so many different makes, models, brands and designs to choose from that the whole business of choosing a first bike can become incredibly confusing. It’s easy to end up buying something solely on the basis of price or the fact it’s branded with Ben 10 stickers.
  • Your child learns skills and develops a sense of independence. This will feel great for them, and you too if you’ve been dragging them behind you for years. The flip side to this is that you lose control. Your child is on their own now and their road sense and their pace might not be what you expected.
  • It’s harder to get them home if they don’t want to pedal. On a tagalong or in a trailer they can go to sleep if they get tired or cruise if they get bored. Independence brings choice and they can down tools, leaving you with a problem of how to get them and the bike home.
  • Getting your own bike is an exciting experience and their delight may renew the whole family’s interest in biking.

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Sometimes it’s the branding that sells the bike to the kid. But good branding doesn’t mean a good ride. Look beyond the stickers to check the bike is light and the right size and easy for a young child to operate, especially safety features like the brakes. 

Training Bikes: What to look for

  • Look for something durable but light. A heavy bike is hard work for a little person; hard to lift, handle, maneuver and pedal. I’ve seen parents give kids bikes that weigh more than the child themselves and then wonder why they end up not being used. If you doing nothing else search out a model that is at the lighter end of the range.
  • Look for brakes that little hands and fingers can reach. If you are buying online take them to a bike shop first and try out a few brakes and handlebars.
  • Don’t buy something they can ‘grow’ into. A bike that is too big will be harder to learn to ride, uncomfortable and could put them off cycling. Choose something that fits them now. You can always sell it on when you need to trade up to the next size as there’s always someone looking for a second hand kids bike.
  • A bike that fits is one the child can get on by themselves and where they can stand comfortably over the cross bar with their feet flat footed on the ground.  They should be able to get on the saddle by leaning the bike a little to the side and sliding their bottom on. They should be able to reach and turn the handlebars easily and their knees should comfortably clear the bars when pedalling.
  • Consider choosing a single geared bike. Your child will probably have enough to be learning about without having to worry about gears. Fixed, single geared bikes allow your child to focus on learning balance, steering, pedaling and braking. That’s enough to be going on with. OK so you may struggle on hills but at this stage you may be better avoiding them, walking up them or playing ‘let’s see how far we can get’ than confusing things with gear selectors.
  • Last but not least, look for something that looks fun to be on and appeals to your child. If it doesn’t have the stickers, styling or branding tapes into to their interests, then you can always customize it yourself with princess or pirate look.

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When looking at bikes for kids, check for the little but important things like can they reach and operate the handlebars and brakes. And can they get on and off easily themselves. 

The towing and tandem options

So you want to get out on the road, take on longer rides or maybe go touring but your kid’s skills and stamina aren’t up to it. How do you go further for longer without putting the little ones off for life? You need to think about a tag-along, trailgater or tandem.

Many people think you have to wait until the teenage years before trying something as ambitious as a multi day bike tour, but believe me, nothing is further from the truth. We’ve toured long distance with kids since they were babies and while each age has brought its own set of challenges, all our tours have been incredible family experiences for us all.

Coupler or TrailGater

Couplers like the TrailGater allow you to connect a small child’s bike to an adult’s bike so you can give them a tow when tired or control them in tricky situations like heavy traffic or on shared use paths.

Couplers: Pros and cons

  • A reassuring arm connects you and your child’s bike together. It allows your child to ride on their own when full of energy or you judge it to be safe to do so, but to connect together when they are tired or you are concerned for their safety in traffic.
  • A TrailGater may not feel as steady as a tandem or as sturdy and protective as a trailer, but it will probably be cheaper then a tag along and significantly cheaper than a tandem.
  • Some models can be difficult to fit and adjust so that the child’s bike wheels are lifted off the ground. The child’s bike can end up leaning making for an uncomfortable and perhaps unsatisfactory riding experience which could put the child off more than it encourages them. Although some have said it gave them the push they needed to keep riding solo!
  • There are mixed reports of the efficacy of some couplers so do take advice or check out some bike forums before buying.

Couplers: What to look for

  • Amongst connecting bars, the Follow Me gets much better reports. It is well designed and considerably more expensive than simple couplers but will work with bikes up to 20 inch wheels and we have heard reports of some cyclists who have used them on long distance tours.

Tag alongs or trailer bikes

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Tag alongs can be great fun for growing kids, even without a beard. A chance to get out on longer rides, pedal when you want to, take a rest if you’re tired, develop your sense of balance and learn some road skills safely.

Kids as young as 3 or 4 may be able to move onto a tag along. A tag along is a one wheeled bike that attaches to the back of your adult bike, either by clamping onto the seat post or by attaching to a rack fitted to your bike. Tag alongs (also known as trailer bikes or third wheels) are a great way to start doing longer rides or for introducing kids to the experience of riding on a road with traffic. Basic models are usually single speed while higher end models come with gears which can help if you’re going to be tackling any hills.

Geared models are also great for teaching kids about gears and how and when to change them, in an environment where they are not having to concentrate on steering and braking because you’re handling all that on the lead bike. This ability to focus on one skill at a time can help the learning process along.

Most tag-alongs also have a freewheel which means the child can pedal and contribute power when they want to or take a rest, freewheel and let you do the work when they get tired. This is great for tackling longer rides since when they get tired you don’t have to stop, provided you’ve enough energy and strength to pedal for the two of you!

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This six geared tag along gives a child a chance to learn about gears too. And find out for themselves how they can help them get up hills.

Tag-alongs: Pros and cons

  • Kids get a sense of contribution and satisfaction at having helped you get there.
  • You can get a bit of wobble. This is good in that it helps them learn balance. But it may be a bit nervy for you, particularly at first.
  • You lose a lot of energy in the connection so don’t expect an easy ride yourself.
  • Kids are exposed to the elements and traffic. You need to think about protection from rain, and they can get cold, especially if they choose not to pedal.

Tag-alongs: What to look for

  • Look for one with mudguards, safety flag, adjustable seat and adjustable bar reach.
  • Check out the hitching mechanism and ensure it will work with your bike and any baggage you carry.
  • Try out a few and see which seems the most stable for you and your child.
  • Consider getting a tag along with gears as it’s a great way for kids to learn about using them.
  • The Burley Piccolo is one of the best that we know; they are no longer in production but you may be able to find one second hand.

Tandems

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A tandem is a great way to go long distance touring with kids. The kiddy cranks on this adapted tandem allow young kids an adult experience of biking. Your child  joins the pedalling team as a stoker (in the rear position) using special pedals mounted high on the down tube but connected to the drive train. The Captain (at the front) handles the steering, braking and road safety. We’ve had kids as young as three get up and ride on tour with us using this kind of set up.

In our opinion, (and we’ve been using them for some time) tandems are one of the best ways to safely cover long distances with younger kids. Tandems are bicycles made for two, but don’t worry, you don’t need to sing ‘Daisy Daisy’ as you go.

Tandems: Pros and cons

  • On a tandem you have companionship, fun and lots of opportunities for I-spy, if the traffic noise beside you isn’t too loud.
  • Your child can ride on a tandem fairly early on. We got ours stoking (riding on the rear position) from about age three. Tandems are more rigid and efficient than tag alongs and you can teach the child about cadence and traffic safety, and get them involved in signaling. You might spend a lot of time with them on the tandem, and this can be quality time for educating them about cycling, as well as having fun.
  • Riding stoker is less pressure for a child than riding their own bike. They can help out with the power and the pedals will always go round, but the onus isn’t all on them. Your child is part of a team. And you know they are safe in your hands, as long as you have confidence in your steering!
  • They sit up high with you, even if all they ever see is your backside.
  • Tandems are great for long distances and multi day tours as it doesn’t matter if the child gets tired. Their feet will still go round, but they can relax and take in the scenery.
  • If you are an attention seeker you will love people’s reactions to your tandem, particularly if your child is young or small or in countries where bicycles for two are an unusual sight.
  • Tandems are expensive to buy and can be a bit more complex to maintain. On the plus side they keep their resale value if you don’t get on with yours and decide to sell on.
  • They can be difficult to travel with. Very few planes, buses or trains will accept them. You can get hydraulic roof racks for your car, but these are more expense. You can get S&S couplers to dismantle but this also adds cost.
  • You need to watch out for the child falling asleep as this could be dangerous and it’s not always easy to spot the signs when they are behind you.
  • A drag brake (a special third brake that can be fitted to a tandem) can help with braking and stop your rims getting hot on steep downhills, but in the rain, the weight of the bike, luggage and people on it can make it harder to stop. You may need nerves of steel, at least at first until you get used to the handling.

IMG 4688 Gear Guide: Choosing bikes for cycling with kids

You can fit a bike seat to a tandem if you want and carry a passenger too. Watch out for fighting on the back though!

Tandems: What to look for

  • Buying a tandem is a specialist purchase. It can be a big investment and you’ll want to get it right. It’s worth doing some research, visiting a good bike shop and trying a few different models and makes before you buy. Or take advice from others on one of the biking forums.
  • You can get kiddy back tandems where the frame is built for an adult at the front and a child at the back. These are great fun, kids can step onto and off them easily themselves and the reach of handlebars and geometry is all set up with kids in mind. Their life can be limited through by the fact that sooner or later your child will grow out of it. They are quite specialist and can be difficult to find and expensive to buy.
  • We think a better solution is to fit a regular tandem with kiddy cranks. Kiddy cranks are an adaption you fit to the stoker position to provide a set of pedals a child can reach, enabling kids to act as a stoker on a full size tandem. This can work out a cheaper option as there are more adult sized tandems on the market and you can often pick them up cheaply second hand.  If you don’t feel comfortable adding on the kiddy cranks yourself you always can get a mechanic to do it. A kiddy crank set up is a little more difficult for a child to get on and off but we found ours quickly got used to it and loved being high up like a grown up. As they grow you can adjust the reach of the pedals so they can continue riding stoker until they get too embarrassed to be seen out with you. You can also quickly remove kiddy crank and pedals to turn the bike back into a normal adult tandem which you and your wife, partner or friend can ride, making for a much more flexible machine.

IMG 0400 edited Gear Guide: Choosing bikes for cycling with kids

On a tandem the stoker doesn’t always contribute power! If you attach a trailer you can bring babies and toddlers along too for a family day out or even a fully fledged family cycle tour.

Beyond tandems

Beyond tandems you can get triplets and more for family cycling with two, three or more kids. We know of one family that rode a quint (yes, a bike for five) across America. That really is a family on a bike. We’ve only got as far as a triplet, using a Thorn Me’nU2, a kiddy back triplet designed for an adult captain and two kids of varying sizes in the stoker positions. It’s a lot of fun to ride and very fast when everyone puts the power in. And very very slow when it’s left to the captain. Add a trailer for two and you can get a family of four out all on your own, if you dare.

EOS 400D DIGITAL0153 Gear Guide: Choosing bikes for cycling with kids

The Thorn Me’nU2 is a kiddy back triplet and a great family adventure machine.

The combined approach

If you have children of varying ages, you may try a combination of approaches. A tandem with a trailer and a child on a single bike up front works well. Some tag alongs have the ability to hook a trailer behind too. With set-ups like these you may find yourself traveling through town like a long train attracting stares, but at least you’ll be out and about on your bike – which is great for the whole family!

IMG 5263 Gear Guide: Choosing bikes for cycling with kids

It is possible to combine tandems, tag alongs and trailers for the ultimate family cycling train. But don’t expect to get very far, especially uphill. And watch out for jack-knifing. Seriously. And remember everyone will stop and stare.

Going Solo: Age 6 +

First ‘proper’ bikes from 6+

When your child is a bit older, a first proper bike becomes an option. Not all children mature at the same rate, so it is difficult to give an age – but typically somewhere between the ages of 6 to 8 most kids have the physical coordination, agility and balance to go solo. This first bike will probably have six or seven gears. As with training bikes the key is to try and find something lightweight that fits well and is fit for purpose.  Be aware though that the limited number of gears will make hills hard work so they won’t get up them as fast as the rest of the family and you’ll need to compensate for this in your planning.

IMG 0489 Gear Guide: Choosing bikes for cycling with kids

The freedom of the first ‘proper’ solo bike. This six geared mountain bike style bike proved a good starter bike for developing skills and confidence, at first on traffic free trails and later on roads too.

First bikes: Pros and cons

  • Your child is fully independent.
  • Your child is fully out of your control. Go with it; and be there for them with help and guidance. It’s a rite of passage we all go through. Remember your first bike and how good it felt?

First bikes: What to look for

  • Pay attention to your child and make the decision about which bike to buy based on their skills and personality. Consider their physical strength, coordination, ability to be aware of surroundings, and maturity.
  • Make sure there is room to adjust the handlebars and saddle as they do grow quickly at this age but as with first bikes don’t buy something for them to grow into, buy something they fit now.
  • Unless your child has very strong fingers, click gears may be better than twist gears that can sometimes be sticky and hard to change.
  • Be sure the frame size is small enough for them to get on and off. You might buy their school uniform bigger so they can grow into it, but it makes for problems with a bike and may put them off cycling.
  • It might be worth looking for a bike with attachments like bottle cages. It’ll save you having to add all these accessories later.
  • Choose a soft and comfy saddle. There’s plenty of time for growing into the hard leather variety.

First full bike for going solo: 21 gears 8 years +

IMG 5390 Gear Guide: Choosing bikes for cycling with kids

This Raleigh DBR Ridge Mountain Bike proved a great ‘big time’ first bike choice for an older child. It’s light, funky and modern with disk brakes, wide gearing and suspension you can adjust for on road or off road use. While advertised as a woman’s frame, the styling is neutral and the small frame size makes it a potential fit for an older child, maybe 10-12. Check out what one of the kids thought of it when they tested it. 

Obviously you won’t be the only one deciding which bike is for them. Unless it’s a birthday or Christmas present they’re bound to have an opinion.  And it’s important that they have some input as they’re going to be riding it. But you might have to steer them away from what is cool, or high tech, towards what is practical for the type of riding they’ll be doing. For example if you plan to use it for long distance touring, then ‘king of the mountain’ dual suspension may be a hindrance and end up sapping their energy.

Full size bike: Pros and cons

  • At this age, a bike means freedom, and who can argue with that? It’ll save you running them about everywhere in the car. It is good for their health, and gets them out of the bedroom.
  • But with freedom comes risk. Make sure they have done some cycle safety training, and go out with them a few times to check they are cycling safely. Check that they are wearing a helmet too.
  • Peer pressure might come into the equation at this age as they may want a bike that fits in with their friends. Resist it where it is inappropriate for your needs. But do pick your battles. Are you really that bothered about their choice of colour?

IMG 5393 Gear Guide: Choosing bikes for cycling with kids

Think about the kind of biking your kids want to do. A full suspension mountain bike is great for mountains, rough trails and downhill but could be inefficient for a long on-road tour.

Full size bike: What to look for

  • If you have a child who is small for their age then you may have problems finding something to fit. You might want to consider a ladies bike. (Yes, even for a boy! – choose a neutral colour and they may not even notice!)
  • If you are touring look for a bike with mudguards. Splashes up the back of your T shirt might be a badge of honour on the mountain but while travelling they can be an unwanted laundry problem.
  • Get something appropriate for their weight and fit- even if it means spending a bit more money. If they’re doing a lot of riding, a badly fitted bike can be uncomfortable, and even worse, damaging. An aluminium or alloy frame might cost more, but it is likely to be more agile and nippy and It’ll make life easier for them on hills.
  • If touring, choose  bike with racks and bottle cages, or choose from a range of bike accessories at Argos and be prepared to fit them yourself.

IMG 5399 Gear Guide: Choosing bikes for cycling with kids

Kids will get a real taste of freedom on their first full size bike.  

So what are you waiting for?

If there’s one thing we have learnt about cycle touring with kids, it’s that as soon as you are all sorted with the bikes or configuration you want, someone will grow out of it. Don’t panic; it just takes a little bit of reshuffling and you’ll all be pedaling again.

Cycling together is one of the most rewarding things a family can do. We know that from 12 years of experience. So get out there and do it. Before it’s too late.

And most of all, have fun.

IMG 0478 Gear Guide: Choosing bikes for cycling with kids

A bike is for life and for living. 

Disclosure Note: This post was brought to you on behalf of Argos. The content, views, experience and opinions remain, as ever, entirely our own.

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Stuart's the adventure addict half of the team, always trying to persuade the family to get out, do more, go further. As co-founder and co-director he handles the business, creative, design, technical and publishing aspects of the project and is our chief photographer. With training as a professional learning and development consultant. an engineer and musician, his contribution is eclectic and unpredictable!

9 Responses to “Gear Guide: Choosing bikes for cycling with kids” Subscribe

  1. Melanie Isett June 2, 2013 at 6:39 pm #

    I absolutely love this guide — I featured this article on our Facebook page today. My baby is 9 months & this will be our family’s go-to guide for years to come. I hope other families will do the same. My love affair with cycling started when I was just a toddler in the bike seat. I thought my Dad was so cool for taking me around town. I can’t wait to share cycling with my child. Thank you so much for helping me understand how to make it happen!!!

    • Stuart June 3, 2013 at 7:26 pm #

      Thanks Melanie. Glad you found it so useful. :-)

  2. Sarah September 21, 2013 at 10:20 pm #

    Great advice. now I have kitted the children out with bikes, I need to get one sorted for me. We enjoyed riding around the new forest this summer- I want to get out more!

    • Stuart October 3, 2013 at 5:12 pm #

      I hear the New Forest is an excellent location for biking with a fantastic range of trails. It can be a challenge to get our more as autumn and winter set in, but with the right gear that can be good fun too. Check out this winter riding video and get your mittens out! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U-W606-4pOs

  3. Lyn October 26, 2013 at 8:40 am #

    HI guys
    Absolutely brilliant article – thanks for this.
    We use a trailer (Croozer2), which our youngest still rides in.
    Our eldest is 5 but has been riding a standard bike without stabilisers since she was 3.5. She can now ride up to 20km on a dayride (depoending on number/gradient of hills involved!)
    Can I ask how you went about making the adjustment for longer rides when your kids were ready to pedal independently?
    When you were touring at this age, did you factor in riding every day or taking day off between stretches? Just wondering how you balanced the little legs with getting from A to B and being able to have a basic plan where you wanted to be each day.
    We don’t have the luxury of being about to commit to long tours at the moment but are keen to extend our day rides into overnighters and weekends (and longer during school holidays).
    Any tips welcome!
    Lyn @freewheelingfrance.com

    • Stuart October 28, 2013 at 5:07 pm #

      Hi Lyn,

      Thanks for stopping by! The transitions are always a bit of a challenge and balancing the desire for them to have independence with a desire to go a little further or faster can be tricky.

      On many of our longer tours and days out we used tandems so the kids were part of the pedalling team yet we could “carry” them if they got tired. However that does not give them the same sense of independence, and while it has many other advantages means investing in another bike.

      I’ve heard very good reports of the Follow Me (http://www.followmetandem.co.uk/followme-tandems/) which allows kids to ride solo and then you to connect them up and haul them if it all gets too much. So I’d look into that as it directly addresses that problem.

      Otherwise for the most part we tried to not focus on distance but focus on creating interest, having places kids wanted to get to, with lots of stops and an overall slower pace. In a sense it’s been less about the cycling and more about getting places, seeing and doing things with the riding being a fun way to get there.

      Hope that helps. A bit. Be interested to hear what you come up with as a solution. Everyone seems to tackle it differently!

      Stuart

  4. AdventureFamilyInMotion December 23, 2013 at 2:14 pm #

    We love this article! Re-blogged about it with credit back to you on our blog! Hope you enjoy!!

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