First Bikes for Kids

There’s no doubt about it, we are a biking family. Did you see our recent ride in Rocky Mountain National Park (that was my Mother’s Day treat, and I couldn’t have been happier!)?

Calder’s the intense guy you’ve passed in your car; the one riding up the steepest of mountains and making it look like it’s no effort at all. In my heyday, I biked all of Philly & Boston and was so proud when my car would sit unused for a week at a time.Thanks to the generosity of my mom, we were early adopters of the TAGA. When we moved to Boulder, C added an extra basket so that I could do all of my grocery shopping and errands via the bike. I have such fond memories of getting to know our new city by riding the bike paths with Alex! I would still bike everywhere if I could, but kids and living on the mountain make it a challenge.

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If you know how to ride a bike, you have an activity that’s great for exercise, transportation, and pleasure. With this thought in mind, and our mutual love of biking, we were so excited to get Alex and Luc off to an early (and successful) start. So far we’ve had great success with teaching the boys to bike. I think it’s due to a combination of getting them the right “tools” and our general love and encouragement of biking. But I think the biggest factor may be that our boys are drawn to physical activities. Alex wanted a pedal bike for his 3rd birthday, and within a month he was riding off into the sunset!

I’m excited to share with you what has worked for us. But I know that every child/person is different, so I don’t think that just buying some of the bikes below will immediately get your kid on a bike. It helps tremendously if they (and you!) are excited about it. And if you give them plenty of time to practice.

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Toddler’s First Bike

We are huge proponents of starting with a balance bike. If you aren’t familiar with the term, these are small bikes (sized just right for a kid anywhere from 18 months to 4 years old) that don’t have pedals. A child is supposed to ride it by sitting on the seat, pushing off with their feet, and just balancing as they glide along.
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I think balance bikes are great for a couple of reasons. Without training wheels or the three wheels of a tricycle, these bikes help kids work on balance (could it be any more obvious?). Along a similar vein, while balancing the bike, and especially early on, the rider has to support the weight of the bike; they have to be able to pick it up, and control the bike if it starts to tilt too far to one side of the other. In my opinion, this really helps a kid develop the strength needed to control a larger bike.

  • Our Pick : When it comes to balance bikes, there are many on the market now (this wasn’t the case a few years ago!). We bought a Strider for Alex and loved it. It’s a simple, yet sturdy balance bike with quick release levers on both the seat and handlebar posts that let you easily adjust the size as your kid grows.
  • What to Expect : At first, your kid will likely just hold the balance bike up, sit on the seat, and move it by walking his legs. But with time, they will begin to do more of a pushing motion with their feet that will move the bike at a faster speed, letting them glide along with their feet up. And that’s the moment that they’re balancing! As they build confidence, they will have no trouble going really fast and down hills, and that’s when they will also start to build their steering and control skills.
  • Tips :
    • Now that balance bikes, and particularly Striders, have been on the market for a few years, used ones are starting to pop up on Craigslist. A great option if you don’t want to spend the cash on a new one. AND something to think about if you want to buy new – there’s a market for the used ones, so you should be able to pass it on even after using it for a few years.
    • Let your kiddo be adventurous on their balance bike. Let them experiment with rough roads, hills, different obstacles. The challenges will help them build skills and confidence, preparing them even more for their first pedal bike!

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Of course, it’s also nice to have some practice with pedals. For our kids, we have a tricycle, and they have appreciated having the option to take an easy ride on that when they weren’t on their balance bikes.

  • Our Pick : Alex was given this tricycle as a gift, and it’s worked out so well for us that we never thought of buying something else. The boys really love the bucket in the back where they can store toys while riding. Although, I recently saw this puppy in a shop window, and now I’m having daydreams about two of them on one bike : Alex pedaling wildly, while Luc stands on the shelf and hangs on for dear life. #boymom

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Top to bottom, left to right : 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 8

Kid’s First Pedal Bike

{Since Calder spent a good number of hours researching bikes for Alex, I asked him to write this section of the post for us.}

Now we’re getting into the meat of this post : teaching your kiddo to ride a pedal bike!

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Before you run to a big box store to pick out your kiddos first bike, there are a number of factors that you should take into consideration:

  • Wheel size: 14in for a 3-4 year old, 16in for 5-6. There are bikes with 12in wheels out there but I think if you’re small enough for that, it’s still Strider time. Since we’re experienced with the 14in, we’ll save the 16inch bike discussion for later.
  • Brakes: Ours came with front and rear handle breaks and pedal breaks.  I took off the front brake because kids will just pick one to use anyway. Alex never used the pedal brake, and it is general a hinderance because you can’t spin the pedal backwards to get it into place when starting up. Anyway, pedal brakes seem to be a law for kids bikes, so they all have one. IslaBikes sells a separate rear wheel without the pedal brake for around $35, but we didn’t bother.   
  • Look: Minimal plastic junk such as Batwings and Spiderman flames attached to the bike is likely best. That plastic stuff breaks pretty quickly, it is totally not aero, and it is just one more thing that could tangle them in a crash. But of course, if you can find it go for a bike that is their favorite color!
  • Weight: Here is where the price differences come in.  There are more and more awesome bikes out there for kids these days, and any bike at all is great. If it is lighter it makes it easier for your child to carry it around and ride it up hills.  Weight seems to be the biggest difference between the bikes that are in the $100 range versus the $300 range.  
  • Training Wheels: You’ll see that the first three bikes are pictured with training wheels. That’s the case too for many of the bikes sold in big box stores. We never used training wheels, and we strongly believe that their experience on the balance bike prepared them for riding a pedal bike without the support of training wheels. Our suggestion would be to remove the training wheels before your kiddo even sees them! 
  • Result:  A got his pedal bike for his third birthday.  He was daunted at first and wanted to stick with the Strider for about a month.  But then one day he got on, and within 20 minutes was riding around so fast I thought I would s**t my pants.  He biked laps around a fountain for a solid hour, and has not stopped since.
  • Teaching Tips :
    • When your kid first gets on their bike, adjust the seat height so that they can reach the ground with just their toes when their legs are extended. At this height, their knees won’t be overly bent when their pedals are at the highest point in the rotation. They don’t have to be able to put their feet flat on the ground.
    • In the first few days of riding when Alex needed some support to get started, we found that it was much to balance him by holding onto his torso and gently letting go, rather than holding onto the bike. I can’t exactly explain why, but give it a try!

Anyway, with all this said, pretty much whichever one you choose you can’t go wrong! Your kid will feel so happy, and maybe even remember it forever.  

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Accessories

{back to Katie}

As you probably sensed from Calder’s poo-pooing of “plastic junk” on a kid’s bike, we prefer a minimal bike profile, but you can still have fun with helmets and bike clothes!

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  • Helmet Picks : Our boys have these helmets  (green dragon for Amax, orange for Luc), but I secretly wish that they each had different colored lady bug helmets. Meanwhile, Calder suggests this “sweet mohawk dino helmet!”
  • Bike Suits : Grandma for the win on this one. My mom found these super cute bike jerseys and shorts for the boys. They love wearing them and always receive comments about how stinking cute they look.
  • Basket : When we head to the beach, Alex has a basket on his bike. It’s something similar to this plastic basket, flowers and all! While he doesn’t have much use for the basket at home, it comes in handy on the little island for picking up mail from the post office and hauling home his shells from the beach. Super cute.

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This post is all about what worked for us and what might work for you!

As you can tell from the photos, Alex and Luc love being on bikes, and we’re so happy to support biking in its many forms, even if that includes Calder taking it easy on the adult tricycle! That thing is cush.

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