Everything you need to know about toddler bikes, along with a primer on safety gear.
Like our little kiddos, wheels come in all shapes and sizes: strollers, walkers, trikes, bikes... The list goes on. When my 3-year-old mastered his scooter, I thought he was ready to transition to a bike. But which one should I get him? I called upon my friends at Specialized , Schwinn and Bike Habitat for a little advice, and here’s what I found out.
If, like me, you need a little help figuring out what your child’s next set of wheels should be, here’s your primer to toddler bikes.
Disclaimer: it’s nice to start with a 12” balance bike and move up to 16” pedal bike (12” bike they’ll grow out of too quickly). Go to the bike store to have a helmet fitting and to try a few bikes before making a purchase. Once your little one hits the street with his bike, make sure he always, always wears his helmet.
Age group: From walking toddlers to 3 and 4 years old.
With balance bikes, your toddler can get comfortable with handlebars and can move forward without worrying about pedaling. He or she can also learn to glide without aid and practice balance so he or she can skip training wheels. It’s the perfect gear for your little one to be active and build confidence while doing it.
Specs and Recs: Balance bikes come with 12” to 20” wheels. The most popular size is 12”, and your toddler should be around 36” for this size. To match the size of the bike to the height of your child, measure your child’s inseam. When on the bike, his or her feet should lay flat on the ground, with a slight bend to the knees and a proper seat height (minimum seat height should be 1” -1.5” below child’s inseam). Note that bigger tires allow you to ride on more rugged terrain such as grass or dirt. Be sure there are no sharp points anywhere and there are handle grips
Age group: From 2 to 3 years old to adulthood.
With pedal bikes, your child gets to practice balance. What’s more, your toddler will be working his or her leg muscles, along with upper body coordination and core strengthening. All in all, learning to ride a bike is a rite of passage and is a great way for your child to get to know his or her body. He or she can grow confidence while being active in the great outdoors. It’s also something you can do with the whole family.
Specs and Recs: The bike should be no more than 30% heavier than your child’s weight. Like balance bikes, kids’ bikes are measured by size of wheel. So make sure it fits right for your child – it will make all the difference. You can check out charts that go over wheel sizes. If you can, try not to buy a cheap bike. Cheaper bikes are usually really heavy and use low quality parts that need to be replaced or repaired more frequent than you’d like. Cheaper bikes also have low trade in value. Bike Habitat give 50% off the price you paid when you buy the next size bike.
*Bike in the homepage picture: Specialized Boy’s Hotrock Coaster 16” ($240).
Age Group: From toddlerhood to Adulthood
Training wheels are a great aid for your toddler to keep his or her balance while learning to pedal a bike. Though some people argue that using training wheels don’t help him or her practice balance -- it only gives the illusion to work on balance. In a sense, training wheels only train you to ride a bike with, well, training wheels. Because balance is such an important part to riding a bike, one school of thought is to skip the training wheels altogether.
In New York State, all bicyclists under the age of 13 are required to wear safety-certified bicycle helmets.
Kids who are less than 1 year old cannot be carried on a bike.
How do you know the helmet fits? It should not sit too high on the forehead, nor should it fall into the child’s eyes. Make sure it’s sitting straight on the forehead -- not tilted backwards like a fedora would. The helmet should be snug enough that even if you move your head quickly, it doesn’t wobble or shift. If it gives you or your child a headache though, it’s probably too tight. You should be able to fit about two fingers between your tot’s chin and the strap. Note that it’s not just about being too big or too small -- sometimes, the shape of a helmet just doesn’t fit your child’s head. So make sure the helmet is comfortable to your child.
A little more about helmets: You don’t have to figure it out alone. Call 311 to schedule a fitting with the DOT fits. Plus, the agency gives away the official New York City Bicycle helmet at events throughout the city. In order to be sold in the US, helmets are required to pass CPSC certification. If a helmet is certified to CPSC standards, you will find a sticker on the inside.