Cycling with kids: everything you need to get started

Whether you’re a keen cyclist yourself, or simply looking for a way to leave the car at home, cycling as a family can be a real joy. However if you’re brand new to the idea, then figuring out where to get started can be quite daunting. Having written about the subject for 12 years, we’re here to take you through absolutely everything you need to know about cycling with kids.

Since we started Cycle Sprog in 2012, we’ve written extensively on the ins and outs of family cycling, from practical advice to buyers’ guides to help parents make the right choices for their needs.

In this comprehensive guide to cycling with children — both in terms of carrying them, and cycling alongside them — we’ve collated all our best advice and broken everything down by subject, so you can work your way through from top to bottom if you wish, or skip the most relevant sections.

This guide is aimed at parents looking to cycle with children aged between 3 and 9. For younger passengers, check out our guide to cycling with babies and toddlers, and stay tuned for an upcoming guide to cycling with teenagers.

Karen Gee with her youngest son in a front bike seat, and her eldest on his own bike, by the coast

How to get started

So let’s begin with the absolute basics: HOW do you cycle with children? How do you physically carry them, or pull them along with your bike?

If you’ve been curious about cycling with kids for a while, no doubt you’ve noticed all the parents in your local area who are already doing it, and taken mental notes on how they go about it. There are lots of ways to transport your children by bike, so here’s a breakdown of the most common methods:

Carrying kids by bike

Whether or not you choose to physically carry your child(ren) on your bike will depend on many factors, but predominantly their age and size, and your physical strength.

Front seat

While the majority of front-mounted child seats are designed for toddlers, there are others out there aimed at carrying older children too. So if you prefer the idea of having your child up front and centre, with the best view of the road, then consider getting one of the best front mounted bike seats for older children.

Small toddler on front bike seat keeping his little hands warm in the pogies. He has a big smile on his face, and is mum is behind him steering the bike,
Rear Seat

Rear seat

Similarly, a rear-mounted bike seat is a great option if you want to carry them along behind you. Front-mounted seats can be difficult to use if you’re short, riding a small-framed bike, or have mobility issues (particularly relating to knees). Furthermore, they don’t work if your bike has drop handlebars, and they have a lower weight limit than a rear seat.

So if this sounds more suitable for you, then we’ve got a guide to the best rear bike seats for older kids.

Cargo bike

Cargo bikes are growing in popularity for a reason. They’re arguably the best way to carry children on your bike, because they’re built for that exact purpose, rather than adding an accessory onto a regular bike frame. They come in all guises and at a variety of price points, and often have electric assist to make the ride much easier. 

If you think this might be the way to go for your family, first decide which type of cargo bike is best for your family, and then check out our guide to the best cargo bikes for families.

Pulling and towing kids by bike

Mounting a seat to a bike isn’t going to appeal to everyone, and not everyone is ready to invest in a cargo bike. Thankfully there’s another option, which is towing your child(ren) behind you. There are multiple ways of doing this, and we’ve got an informative guide about how to pull a child’s bike behind your bike to get you started.

If you’re still not sure, check out our handy carrying kids by bike questionnaire, which will help you narrow down your options.

Tagalong bike

Tagalongs

Tagalongs are a great option if you have one child who’s old enough to balance and pedal, but not ready to ride their own bike yet. It attaches to the rear of your bike and offers them a way of riding along behind you, but they don’t need to pedal to keep you both moving.

For more on these, we’ve rounded up our pick of the best tagalong bikes currently available.

Trailers

A trailer can be a great way to tow one or two children along behind you, from a fairly young age. They also double up as extra storage so you can do the grocery shopping by bike, as well as the school run.

Start by choosing one of the best kids’ bike trailers, and then take a look at our guide to how to hitch a bike trailer. You can even get ones that convert into strollers and joggers for when you’re not pedalling.

Climbing Hills With The Shotgun MTB Tow Rope

Tow bars & tow ropes

A tow bar or tow rope works in much the same way as a tagalong, however the difference is that you’ll be attaching your child’s bike to yours, as opposed to them pedalling along on a new device. This is a good option if they’re already cycling their own bike, but don’t quite have the stamina to do a full journey yet. They’re also best for use off-road and mountain biking, and only safe to use on the flat or uphill. 

Never use a tow rope while descending!

Take a look at our list of the best tow bars for kids’ bikes for more on this.

Another option in this category is the FollowMe Tandem, which comes with a higher price tag but is a better option in our opinion. It’s a hitch that attaches your child’s front wheel to the rear of your bike, creating a solid and stable connection.

Buying the right bike for your child

Before you start looking at the best kids’ bikes, there are several things you need to consider first. That’s why we’ve written a myriad of guides to equip you with the knowledge you need to choose the right thing for your family.

A group of adults with a small child, all dressed in waterproofs, waiting with their bikes and a trailer at a ferry port

Price

Your budget is important, and unique to you. Kids’ bikes come with a variety of price tags attached to them, from extremely cheap to pretty expensive.

The key thing to be aware of is that there’s a difference between a purpose-built child’s bike, and a bike-shaped toy. The latter will be very cheap, poorly made with easily breakable components, and likely not very fun to ride.

To help you avoid disappointment, we’ve written a guide to why you shouldn’t buy a REALLY cheap new kids’ bike.

Once you’ve looked through that, here are the cheapest kids’ bikes that we’d actually recommend. For more on this subject, we’ve also got an article called how much do I need to spend on a bike for my child?

Size

It’s so tempting to buy them a big bike that they’ll grow into, but trying to manoeuvre a bike that’s too massive for your body can be very scary and actually put a child off cycling altogether. While it’s an unfortunate fact that children grow out of their bikes fairly quickly, there are lots of buy-back and hire schemes to make it easier to size up when the time comes.

To set them up for success, here’s how to easily measure your child for a new bike, and if they’ve already got one, take a look at our blog that answers the question, is my kid’s bike the right size for them?

If you’re a bit flummoxed by all the different wheel sizes available, start with how to choose the right size bike for your child’s age.

Buying advice

We’ve got a lot of guides to help demystify the process of bike-buying, especially if you’re new to the world of bikes. Start with our guide to buying a kids’ bike, as well as this overview of the best place to buy a kids’ bike.

If you want to save some money, you don’t have to buy brand new. The secondhand bike market is awash with bargains, as long as you can be confident that what you’re buying is in good condition. Check out this guide to buying a secondhand kids’ bike for more information.

You can also lease bikes from the Bike Club for a monthly subscription fee, and when your child outgrows it, you can simply swap for the next size up. We’ve answered a lot of questions about it in our article, is the Bike Club any good?

Useful resources

Don’t forget to make use of our very handy kids’ bike search, which links you to our comprehensive database full of bikes. You can filter by size, type of bike, and even their favourite colour!

Kids’ bike reviews

In addition to our bike search, we’ve also had a lot of hands-on experience with many of the best kids’ bikes on the market, so be sure to check out our bike reviews - we might have one for the one you want to buy.

Guide to kids’ bike helmets

Once you’ve got your child’s bike sorted, the next step is to consider getting them one of the best kids’ bike helmets

For some parents it’s a no-brainer to fit their child out with a bike helmet, but some children will flat-out refuse to wear one. 

So whether it’s an ethical or practical choice for you, consider reading our blog that poses the question, should my child wear a bike helmet?

If you’re going ahead with a helmet, then these are the key things to consider:

Size and fit

A helmet is only effective if it fits properly. If it’s too big and sliding around on the child’s head, it’s not likely to provide the coverage needed to protect their skull in an impact (and could in fact make things much worse). If it’s too small on the other hand, it’ll be far too uncomfortable for them to wear.

To get it right the first time, here’s how to measure your child’s head for a bike helmet. Once you’ve got a helmet, follow this guide to check that your child’s bike helmet is fitted correctly.

Safety and protection

When it comes to bike helmets there are safety standards they have to meet, and as with any commercial market, there are additional benefits you can get if you’re willing to pay more for them. 

Firstly, here are the safety standards to look out for when buying a kids’ bike helmet

And, as you start to explore the helmet market, you’ll notice that some helmets come with MIPS protection. We’ve explored what this is in our blog post, does my child need MIPS in their cycle helmet?

Finally, some parents choose to opt for a full-face helmet for their child, while others don’t. To help you decide on your preference, take a look at our article, does my child need a full face helmet while cycling?

Kids’ bike helmet reviews

Since 2012 we’ve gotten our hands on most kids’ bike helmets to put them to the test and decide if they’re worth the investment.

Be sure to check out our kids’ bike helmet reviews, as we might have written extensively about the one you’re thinking of purchasing.

Kids’ cycling clothing

While you don’t necessarily have to kit them out in lycra, there are certain cycling-specific clothing items that can be very useful when riding with your children. 

Of course, if you plan to only cycle in sunny weather, you’ll be less likely to need some of these, but having some good quality technical gear can make it much easier (and more pleasant) to ride together all year round.

Polaris Mini Trail kids gloves

Cycling gloves

For example, even in the summer it can be a good idea for them to wear the best kids’ cycling gloves, especially if they’re on a tagalong or towed bike. These are great for protecting their palms in the event of a fall. 

Cycling jackets

If you’re planning to ride in all weathers then we’ve got a selection of guides that you’ll find useful. Winter can be the most daunting season to cycle in, so we’ve created a full guide to winter cycling with kids that covers all bases.

For the coldest months, consider investing in one of the best kids’ winter cycling jackets to keep them warm and toasty, along with the best kids’ winter cycling gloves.

In addition to that you can check out our roundup of the best kids’ packable waterproof cycling jackets, which have the added benefit of being small enough to fit into a bag or pocket in changeable weather. 

viz reflective hi viz kids cycling jacket

Useful bike accessories

Once you’ve got your bikes, helmets and method of riding together sorted, there are some useful bike accessories that can make cycling safer and easier, especially if you’re riding year-round and likely to be leaving your bike unattended in public.

Bike lights

Firstly if you’re likely to be riding in the dark (which is especially likely if you’re doing the school run all year round), we’d strongly recommend you invest in some good lights. Not only do they illuminate the path ahead, but they also help to keep you visible to other road users.

Whether you’re carrying/towing your kids, or they’re riding independently alongside you, you’re sure to find our guide to the best bike lights for kids helpful.

Knog Pop Lights

Bike locks

Another crucial accessory if you’re leaving your bike outside a shop, or your child is riding their bike to school, is a good quality lock. Bike theft is a real problem in most parts of the UK, especially in cities, so keep your bikes safe!

For children’s bikes, we’ve rounded up the best kids' bike locks, and these will also work for your own bike. However if you ride a cargo bike, you’ll want something particularly robust, so we’ve got a separate guide for the best cargo bike locks

Moreover, if you do ride a cargo bike that you regularly leave unattended in public, we’d also recommend you take a look at our comprehensive guide to cargo bike insurance.

Where you can hire before you buy

If you’re not ready to make the investment in lots of new kit, especially if you’re at the beginning of this journey and not sure if your children will enjoy cycling yet, then there are ways to hire equipment to try before you buy.

We’ve got a great guide to where to try family cycling equipment, which is ideal if you’re struggling to decide what to invest in.

Plus, as we’ve mentioned above, it’s also possible to lease kids’ bikes from the Bike Club if you’re not keen to buy and sell them as they outgrow them.

To help you decide if this is the right option for you, we’ve written a blog post entitled should I subscribe to Bike Club instead of buying a kids bike?

Teaching your child to ride a bike

Even if your youngsters are happy being the passenger, at some point they’re going to want to try pedalling on their own. If you’re looking for guidance on how to teach your child to ride a bike, then we’ve got plenty of resources to help you through the process.

Two parents wearing helmets, glasses and cycling jackets, with each with one of their twin daughters in a front-mounted bike seat, smiling at the camera

Are they ready?

The very first thing to do is to make sure they’re definitely ready! Take our quiz to find out: is your child ready to ride a pedal bike?

If the answer’s definitely yes, then here’s some practical advice. Regardless of their age or size, we’d definitely recommend against using stabilisers unless they have additional learning needs that would benefit from them.

For more on this, read our article that answers the question, does my child need stabilisers?

Learning for older children

If your child is learning to ride from scratch at an older age, there are big balance bikes for taller children available, which are the absolute best way to get them rolling with confidence.

Furthermore, if your child has additional needs, you might find our article on how to teach an autistic or neurodivergent child to ride a bike helpful.

Building and maintaining your kids’ bikes

While not everyone is a born tinkerer, there will be times when you need to think about getting hands on with your child’s bike, as well as your own.

Assembling a bike

If you’ve bought your child’s bike online, the likelihood is it’s arrived in a box and requires a little bit of assembly.

To help you out with this, we’ve got a guide to how to assemble a kids’ bike out of the box.

How to assemble a kids bike out of the box
Boy in a orange jacket cleaning his bike

Maintaining a bike

We plan to provide a lot more useful advice on maintaining bikes to keep them running smoothly for as long as possible. Believe it or not, all bikes have wearable parts that need replacing eventually, and looking after them extends their lifespan and provides more value for money as a result. Stay tuned for maintenance guides.

In the meantime the best thing you can do is to wash it when it gets muddy! Here’s our guide to how to clean a kids’ bike, and get them involved in the process!

Family-friendly cycle routes

We’ve been writing about all the best family-friendly cycling routes we’ve ridden around the UK, and we’re adding more all the time. Take a look at our where to ride archives for some cycling inspiration in your local area, or where you plan to go for a UK-based holiday.

You can also make use of our collection of Komoot family-friendly routes, wherever you are in the country.

Cycling to school

Making the decision to leave the car at home and do the school run by bike can feel pretty big. It's often one of the main ways parents who aren't big cyclists start exploring the world of two wheels with their children. Whether it's to save money, time, or the planet, there are lots of benefits to cycling your children to school.

For everything you need to get started, check out our guide to how to start cycling to school with kids, which includes route-planning advice, alongside a lot of other wisdom.

Troubleshooting

With children, things very rarely go smoothly, so if you’re having some teething problems with getting the whole family cycling, here’s where you might get the help you need.

We hope that there shouldn’t be too much need for ‘troubleshooting’ articles, but we’ll keep this up to date if anything new comes our way. In the meantime the main issue parents experience is getting stubborn children to cooperate! So we’ve got a dedicated article called Help! Why doesn’t my child want to ride their bike?

Do you have any troubleshooting questions that need to be featured here? Be sure to leave a comment so we can answer them for everyone and keep this section as helpful as possible.

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