Finding the Right Bike

In the market for a new bike? When selecting bikes for kids, here are some things to consider.

Bike Basics

  • Make sure to focus on a child's age, maturity level, and the riding environment.
  • Before making any purchase, be sure that the child is in the age range recommended for the cycling gear.

Once you've brought the bike home:

  • Never carry a child younger than 1 year old on a bike, even in a child seat — a baby doesn't have the neck strength to wear a helmet or safely sit up in a seat.
  • Don't ride a bike with a child in a front pack or backpack.
  • When biking with your child, stick to areas you know are safe, like bike paths, parks, and streets with little or no traffic.
  • Avoiding riding in bad weather.
  • Everyone in your family should wear a helmet while riding. Make sure that helmets fit properly, and that any harnesses and belts are fastened securely. A lightweight or styrofoam infant helmet approved by the CPSC should be worn by a child 12 months to 4 years.

Trailers

A trailer is one of the safest ways to take a young child for a bike ride, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

Hitched to the back of the adult bicycle, a trailer is a low, mesh-covered seat that's supported by two wheels for stability. The trailer's sturdy frame provides protection from accidents, and the child is riding far enough behind the rear wheel of the adult bike that the spokes are out of reach of little fingers. Trailers also sit fairly low to the ground, so if the adult bike falls over, the child in the trailer won't tumble very far. Remember: Only adult cyclists should tow young children.

Look for a trailer with a shoulder harness and lap belt to secure your child. The hitch that attaches to the adult bike should have a flexible joint that allows the trailer to stay upright if your bike falls. Make sure the trailer has reflectors, and attach a tall bright warning flag to the trailer for increased visibility.

Caution: The trailer is wider than the adult bike, so one of the trailer's wheels could slip off the road's edge if you're not careful. Also, the trailer could overturn after hitting a bump, if one wheel rides a curb, or if your bicycle turns sharply.

Child Seats

A child seat fastens above the rear wheel of the adult bike. While the AAP considers trailers to be the safest, if a parent uses a child safety seat, these precautions can help reduce the risks of injury:

  • Look for a seat with a back high enough to support the child's neck and spoke guards that prevent the child's feet from touching the rear wheel and getting caught in it.
  • Seats should have a lap belt with a childproof buckle and a shoulder harness.

Caution: The added weight of carrying a child in a child seat compromises the adult rider's ability to balance and handle the bike. It also increases the amount of time the adult needs to press on the brakes to stop the bike.

Trailer-Cycles

When a child outgrows a trailer or child seat but is too young to start riding independently, a trailer-cycle is a good option. A trailer-cycle looks like a small bicycle with no front wheel. It has a single wheel and attaches to the seat post of the adult bicycle. (When attached, it looks like a bicycle built for two!)

Trailer-cycles have working pedals, and some are equipped with gears so kids can practice starting, stopping, and balancing while watching the adult rider.

Caution: If your child turns or pedals erratically, you'll have difficulty maneuvering your bicycle.

Biking Independently

Because kids mature at different rates, there's no magic age to introduce a child to a "big-kid" bike. In general, most 6-year-olds have the motor skills they need to mount and balance a bicycle on their own, even if it's with training wheels.

The first thing to look for when buying a bike for a child is the right fit, so take your child with you when you shop.

A bike is the right size when your child can sit on the seat with feet flat on the ground, with the handlebars no higher than the shoulders. The salesperson at the store should be able to help make sure the bike fits properly.

Other Considerations

  • Don't buy a bike that's too big, assuming that your child will grow into it. An oversized bicycle is dangerous and could lead to injury.
  • Bikes for younger kids (about age 7 or younger) should have coaster (or foot) brakes, not hand brakes.
  • Bikes for kids older than 7 should have foot and hand brakes. That way, kids can get used to using hand brakes before graduating to the bigger bikes that only have hand brakes.
  • If you're buying training wheels, be sure they can be adjusted as riding skills improve.

And make adjustments when your child outgrows a bike. When a bike is too small, kids have to stand up on the pedals, and can't balance as well or get in a position to ride it safely.

Having a bike that's safe — and a good fit — helps kids develop a love of bicycling that can last for life!

Reviewed by: Kate M. Cronan, MD
Date reviewed: August 2010

Kids Health

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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