12 things you need to know before buying a kids bike

Kids bikes are a major purchase – both in terms of cost, and the amount of excitement that comes with them. But how do you know you’re buying the best bike for your child, that will still be loved once the summer months are here?  Fear not, here’s the Cycle Sprog guide to buying a kids bike.

Islabike Rothan balance bike and Cnoc 14 pedal bike

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1. Bikes can be difficult for a child to manoeuvre

Children’s bikes should be light enough to lift and handle easily. Generally, an aluminium frame will be lighter than a steel one. If you struggle to lift the bike, then think how hard it is going to be for your child to control.

It’s not just the material of the frame, but the design that is important too. A low step-through frame allows a child to get on and off the bike without difficulty. This is particularly important for smaller children who are on balance bikes and first pedal bikes, or for older children who are less confident cyclists.

Kidvelo Rookie 12

Kidvelo balance bikes are one of the lightest balance bikes with air-filled tyres.

Top tube height is worth checking if you’re buying a first road bike or mountain bike – you don’t want a frame that is too high for them to get their leg over easily.

Frog Road 58 drop handlebar kids bike

The Frog Road 58 is one of the smallest kids road bikes available. A road bike has a high top tube and this can cause issues for smaller kids, so make sure your child is ready for the move up to a road bike. You can read the Cycle Sprog review of the Frog Road 58 here.

2. Choose the right type of bike for your kid

I know this sounds obvious, but as your child gets older, the type of cycling they’re doing will influence the type of bike they need. From 20″ wheels and upwards this choice becomes very important. Don’t buy them a mountain bike if they’re going to do most of their cycling on the road. Don’t buy a road bike with skinny road tyres and drop handlebars if they’re going to ride muddy trails or go to the BMX track!

If they’re going to do a mix of different cycling and you’re only in the market for one bike, then a hybrid, such as a B’Twin Riverside, Frog Bike or a Specialized Jett, is your best bet.

Vitus Kids bikes

Alternatively, a mountain bike like the Cube Acid AllRoad can be a great all round choice even if you’re not going to be riding serious downhill routes.

3. Kids bikes need to be sturdy (not heavy)

Kids bikes are bound to get thrown onto the ground when it’s time for dinner, not to mention a few crashes here and there, so the sturdier the better. As mentioned above, sturdy doesn’t mean heavy. It means well made. If not protected steel will rust, so expect steel frames, seat posts, nuts and bolts to corrode quicker than their aluminium counterparts.

Claude Butler Hopper balance bike

You can see the rust starting to form on the steel seat post on this balance bike. Read our blog on why the type of bike you buy for your toddler really makes a difference.

4. Gears and gear shifters can cause problems

The smallest kids bikes don’t need gears as they confuse young riders and just add weight. Our advice would be to avoid gears until they reach at least the 20″ wheel size – and even then consider if they’re really necessary.

Once your child is tackling hillier terrain, then of course gears become important. Start simple – a triple chainset at the front, providing 21 or more gears, will just confuse a 7 year old and add unnecessary weight. By the time they’re riding a 26″ wheel mountain bike, then you do need to think about the best gear ratios to get them up and down the trails and tracks.

It’s surprising how many gear shifters are difficult to operate. Good quality kids bikes will fit child sized components that can be operated more easily by small hands and thumbs. There are various types of shifter available, so make sure you know which type is on the kids bike you’re buying. The alternative is lots of moaning as they have to push up hills.

5. Brakes on kids bikes need to be useable

Again, brake levers come in different sizes. Some kids bikes come fitted with adult levers that are far too big for small hands to reach and operate. Check that the bike you’re buying has child friendly components, or there’ll be tears when they can’t stop the bike.

woom bikes in smaller sizes come with a green rear brake lever so you can tell your child to use the green brake and there’s no chance of them getting their left and rights mixed up.

Green brake lever on the Woom 3

6. Chainguards can save tears

A chainguard will protect little hands and legs from the bike chain, keeping your child from injury and reducing the chance of clothes being ruined.

This Cube Cubie 160 16″ wheel kids bike has a chainguard to protect your child from injury and their clothes from oil stains

7.  Stabilisers aren’t always necessary!

Fewer kids are actually using training wheels (stabilisers) these days, as they move from balance bikes straight to pedal bikes. However, if your child prefers to pedal earlier, but wants the stability that comes with training wheels then these can come as standard on bikes up to 16″ wheels.
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8. Accidents do sometimes happen

Most parents prefer that their children wear a helmet when riding a bike (although in the UK there is no legal obligation). Always ensure that the cycle helmet you’re buying meets a relevant safety standard, or it won’t offer the protection required.

Hornit Head candy

The Hornit cycling helmets meet safety standards and provide some fun too!

For mountain biking, BMX and jump parks it’s especially important that your child wears a helmet as crashes are inevitable. Some kids also wear elbow and knee protection that help minimise cuts, grazes and knocks.

9. Remember little hands and feet get cold

If you’re buying a kids bike during the winter months, it stands to reason they’re going to want to go out and ride it IMMEDIATELY! This time of year it can be really cold, so a pair of kids sized winter cycling gloves can be a useful stocking filler.

The Polaris Hoolie gloves keep small hands warm when cycling during the winter

Check out our post on keeping kids warm when cycling during the winter for more useful ideas on kids sized kit designed for winter.

The rest of the year a pair of fingerless cycling mitts is an excellent way to prevent scraps should they fall off.

10. Be seen, be safe

Remember, if your child is cycling in low light conditions they need to be visible to vehicles and pedestrians. Bike lights don’t need to cost a fortune, neither does a hi-visibility vest.

11. Lock it, don’t lose it

If you’ve spent your hard earned cash on a bike for your child you don’t want it getting stolen. Purchase a bike lock and teach your child how to use it!  The weight and thickness of the lock you need will depend on how much you spent on the bike and crime rates where you’re riding (and locking) it.

12. A good quality kids bike should last for years

If you’ve bought a good quality kids bike then keep it clean and maintained and it should be grown out of and be in a good enough condition to be passed on or sold second hand to recoup some of your costs. Teaching your child how to look after their bike will reap you these rewards.
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Thanks so much for your support
Karen and Chris.


Fergus O’Loughlin

I would add “Remember little feet get cold” too… and when your kids get older a pair of warm waterproof socks are invaluable for winter riding, as you can ride through mud and puddles without freezing your toes.



Good point Fergus – cold feed and cold hands make for a miserable ride

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