Biking Gear Tips

Choosing Bikes for Cycling with Kids Part 2 The Toddler Years

Choosing Bikes for Cycling with Kids Part 2 Toddler Years Age 3-6
Written by Stuart Wickes

Ultimate Gear Guide
Choosing bikes for cycling with kids

Part 2: The Toddler Years – from 3-6

This post is one of a series in our Ultimate Gear Guide looking at options for cycling with kids at different ages. The series 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 toddler years: from 3 – 6

Autumn riding in Grizedale forest

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.

Girl on balance bike

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

Disney Princess Bike

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.
Girl and Disney Princess Bike

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.
Girl and Brakes on Bike

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. 

Up Next: Part 3 Tandems and TagAlongsChoosing Bikes for Cycling with Kids Part 3 Tandems and TagAlongs

Or navigate to other parts of the guide, according to the age of your kids using these links.

About the author

Stuart Wickes

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. He is our chief photographer and videographer. With training as a professional learning and development consultant. an engineer and musician, his contribution is eclectic and unpredictable!

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