Learning to ride a bike is one of the most memorable childhood experiences and is a skill that stays with us our whole lives. From taking those initial pedal stokes to mastering the bike and pushing your limits, cycling is a wonderful journey. While you can learn to ride at any age, the earlier you start the easier it is to progress.
Learning to ride a bike has never been easier as there are a wide range of kids bikes to suit every child at every age. Choosing the right bike and setting it up correctly for your child can make all the difference to their cycling experience.
Which bike is best for my child?
The best kids’ bike is one that fits properly - a bike that is too big or too small will be hard to ride and may put your child off cycling. See our Kids' Size Guide for more info on kids’ bike sizing. While it may seem like a good idea to buy a bike that your child will ‘grow into’, if it is too big it may discourage them from riding. Similarly, a heavy bike is hard to ride, especially for young children. Cheaper kids’ bikes tend to be very heavy and are best avoided if you want your child to get the most out of their early cycling years. A correctly sized lightweight bike will give your kids the best start on their cycling journey.
Balance is the most important skill to master when learning to ride a bike. A balance bike is the simplest type of bike. With no pedals, gears or even brakes (on some models) to worry about, balancing skills are easily learned. Balance bikes generally have 10” or 12” wheels and are suitable for children aged one to four years. Some balance bikes have larger 14” wheels for children up to six years old. If your child is too tall or too old for a balance bike then you can turn a normal bike in to a balance bike by taking the pedals (or even the whole drivetrain) off.
Popular Balance Bikes
Many cycling instructors will advise you to avoid using stabilizers. There is good reason for this because, while stabilizers allow your child to learn how to pedal and brake, they make it harder for them to learn how to balance later on.
Once children have learned how to balance, the step up to a pedal bike is easy. As pedals allow them to go further and faster the first thing to learn is braking. Initially it’s a good ideal to stand in front of the bike, hold the handle bars and walk backwards, then get them to practice braking before they set off pedalling. We will look at how to set brakes up for little hands a little later.
To start kids pedalling, choose an open flat area that is clear all around. Some parents prefer a grassy field, for a softer landing if they fall, but grass is much harder to pedal on than tarmac, so they may find it harder to get going. Get your child to apply the brakes as they get on – this is good practice for all cyclists. Then, with one foot on the pedal they can release the brakes and push down on the pedal to get going. This will give them some momentum, so they can get the other foot on and pedal away. They may need a few attempts to get going but, if they have already mastered balance, then this step won’t take long.
Most kids’ bikes follow a simple hardtail mountain bike design, with flat handlebars and high-volume tyres, as this is these are the easiest learn on. Kids bikes with 12” wheels, 14” wheels and 16” wheels are single speed, so they won’t need to worry about changing gear. You will find that some 18” wheel and most 20” wheel kids bikes have a rear derailleur and offer a range of gears to help them up the hills.
Junior Bikes feature 24” wheels and are the step up to a full-size adult bike. Junior bikes are available in a range of styles, including drop bar race bikes and relaxed hybrid style bikes. Junior bikes are suitable for kids from the age of 10 and often feature both front and rear derailleur gears just like full-size bikes.
Popular Kid's & Junior Bikes
How to get the right fit
Choosing the right size bike for your child is easy. Kids bike sizes are based on wheel size. See our Kids Bike Size Guide for more info.
Set the saddle height so that they can put both feet flat on the ground. This will give them the confidence to stop and start whenever they like and reduce the chances of them falling off. As they grow, move the saddle up to maintain the perfect fit. Once they have mastered the skills of balancing, pedalling, braking, and can steer their bike just where they want it to go, you can move the saddle up for a more efficient pedalling position.
It is important that your child can reach the brakes easily without having to stretch their hands or unhook their thumb from the handle bars. It is easy to adjust the reach of the brake levers and move them closer to the handlebars allowing them to brake easily. Most brake levers have a small screw that moves the brake lever closer to the bars, all you need is a small screwdriver or allen key to do this. Some premium kids’ bikes even have a tool free reach adjustment nob. You may need to adjust the brake cable tension with the barrel adjuster, as well as the reach to get the brakes working optimally for your child.
While this is less important than saddle height, you can also adjust the handlebar height on kids’ bikes. This is easily done be repositioning the spacers (on a A-headset) or by loosening the expander bolt and repositioning the stem before retightening (on a quill stem). Start with the stem in its lowest position then move it higher it as they grow to maintain the ideal riding position.
Cycling with Children
The best way to get your kids into cycling is to ride with them as often as possible. Have a look at our guide to Cycling with Children for tips about riding with kids.