Baby’s First Bike: Fitting Your Child with their First Bicycle
Cycling with children is a wonderful experience. All at once, children and adults are on the same level when they are both on a bicycle.
Let’s face it: adults act like children when they bike.
I remember when my daughter turned two. My mother-in-law insisted on buying her a bicycle. I was against the idea. I’ve been working with bicycles for almost 30 years. Yet, I was surprised (and discouraged) when my mother-in-law bought the junkiest, ugliest bicycle for her granddaughter.
But it was pink and it had training wheels.
My daughter loved it.
Eventually, I was able to persuade my daughter to ride a balance bike. Passing from a balance bike to her two-wheeled, pedal-bike (no training wheels needed) was seamless. The whole experience made me talk to other dads to figure out what was the best way to raise a child on a bicycle so that they enjoy it.
In the end, it all depends on what you’re looking for:
The bicycle seat for children has come a long way. These days you can get a front-positioned or rear-positioned seat at a decent price. This is how my dad cycled with his kids: he’d plop us on the back of his bike and pedal away. It was a fantastic way to get the wind in our hair. Of course, we never saw the road and never had to apply the breaks.
This bike seat is a great way to get your little one on the bicycle to share in the family fun. Make sure they are able to sit up-right and have strong neck muscles. Most of my friends suggest starting out at one-and-a-half or two years old. Always have them wear a helmet and always make sure the seat is attached properly to the bike. Have a professional bike mechanic install it if you’re unsure how to do so.
Kid Cart / Tag-a-long Bike
Cycling with children takes another dimension with the Tag-a-long Bike or Kid Cart. The Cart is a big trailer that can hold your child (or two) and comes with a rain guard. It is wonderful for smaller kids because they sit and play in it while you’re doing all the work. One problem is that it is significantly wider than the bike the parent is riding. As a result, the psychological stress in pulling this trailer along on busy roads (or, any road with cars, actually) may cause the cyclist to constantly be looking over his shoulder.
The tag-a-long Bike is a rear wheel and pedal-cog set that clamps onto the parent’s seat post. There is only room for one child and in theory, the pedal set allows the child to actively pedal the bike.
The brilliant thing is when you’re going uphill, you can feel your child pushing from behind. This encourages you to not stop pedaling.
The not so brilliant thing is when your kid gets bored and stops pedaling. Not only do they stop pedaling but they begin to fall asleep at the handlebars. I’ve even heard of a few instances where the child has fallen off the bike due to an over-deserved naptime missed somewhere in the afternoon.
The “no fail” training wheels. Stable, secure, and almost certainly your child will pedal a bicycle at a young age. They are still around and they are still very effective.
But when your kid begins to have friends, the training wheels become a point of contention. Training wheels are seen as a crutch and many kids learning to ride an ordinary bicycle tease younger kids with these extra wheels.
In addition, training wheels don’t actually teach balance. Your child can sway from side to side and the training wheels will make sure she stays upright.
The balance bike seems to be the best solution. As a result of its low clearance, it has a low center of gravity and is easier to maneuver. Had my daughter never been exposed to the junky pedal-bike with training wheels, I’m sure we would have had more success with the balance bike. Little kids learn to “walk” with the bike, and then “push” themselves with their feet (in fact, the other name of this bicycle is “push-bike”).
In my daughter’s case, she arrived at the balance bike on her own. She realized her movements were limited by the training wheels and started scooting around on the balance bike. When I saw her take off down the hill without pushing herself – but simply balancing on the seat – I decided to make the investment into a real bike for her.
Pedal bikes for kids
The size of the bike you choose for your child will depend on their height and age. For example, a two-year-old with a 14″ inseam will take a 12″ diameter wheel. My five-year-old with her 17″ inseam has a 14″ diameter wheel (and an awesome orange and black pattern). There is a whole chart online you can use to figure out what size bike is best for your child.
One last word of advice: most bike stores make a killing selling kids bikes. They are expensive and the bike shop knows you’ll need a new bike in about two to three years. If you have a friend who has older kids, ask her if she needs the smaller bikes. Handing down a small bicycle is definitely a more economical way to afford your kid’s budding passion for the two-wheeler.
Save your money for when she asks you for Di2, in ten years….
In the meantime, get your kids out on one of our family cycling tour series. It’s a great way to have fun together.