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Learning to ride a bike is a childhood rite of passage. For the youngest set, pedal-less balance bikes have taken favor over the training wheels we grew up learning on, creating confident, comfortable riders who are ready for pedal bikes at an impressively young age. If your kiddo is ready to cruise with the big kids, it’s time to start looking for a kids’ bike.
When it comes to what makes the best kids’ bike, there are a few factors to consider. Most important? The fit. Unlike clothes, experts advise against purchasing a bike your child can “grow into.” A too-big bike makes learning to ride all the more difficult and we can all agree, it’s hard enough even with the best equipment.
So, you’re probably wondering—how do you measure a kids’ bike?
Most manufacturers size bikes by wheel diameter, but frames and dimensions vary quite a bit from brand to brand, making it confusing to figure out which is best for your kid. (They may be a 16-inch in one style and 20-inch in another.) Age isn’t a great indicator either. (One glance at your child’s class marching into school can tell you that.) The best way to measure your child for a bike is by their inseam.
Compared with the seat height of the bike, you’ll determine the most accurate fit. Guardian Bikes offers a fantastic visual on how to get that measurement, and most of the other brands we’ve included have super informative size charts as well.
Another factor to consider is weight
Many of the cheapest bikes on the market are disproportionately heavy for the small people they’re accommodating which makes maneuverability challenging. When possible, it is best to purchase a bike no greater than 30% of your child’s weight. (Fun fact: Most adults ride bikes that are around 20% of their weight. No wonder it’s tricky for little ones!)
Like so many of the decisions we make as parents these days, choosing the right bike for your sweet, eager kiddo can be overwhelming. But Iet me remind you that the vast majority of us learned to ride on two-ton, janky department store bikes and surprise! we turned out just fine. This is meant to be a helpful guide to the best of the best, but rest assured that you don’t have to spend a fortune in order for your kid to unlock the joy of expertly riding a bike.
Where should you buy a kids bike?
Currently, new bikes are hard to come by. Many popular companies are struggling with inventory, (for the sake of frustration, we’ve noted wait times where applicable.) But new isn’t always best. In fact, since cheap bikes tend to fall apart and often aren’t the most kid-friendly when it comes to proportions, a used quality bike might be more worthwhile. If it’s bike or bust this summer, we recommend hitting up your local bike shop, community bike swaps or good old-fashioned yard sales. On the bright side, if you have one your child has outgrown, there’s never been a better time to sell it.
Check out the best kids bikes below and don’t forget the bike helmet!
A version of this story was published May 18, 2021. It has been updated.