A Guide to Buying Your Child's First Bike

Buying your child's first bike is an exciting milestone that promises big adventures and newfound independence. Whether it's a birthday gift or a Christmas surprise, every kid remembers the special thrill of unwrapping a new bike. 

Finding the Right Size Bike for Your Child

Bikes, like children, come in all sizes, and the most common mistake is to buy one that's too big so it will last. 

Kids (especially the little ones) tend to have limited patience for learning new and tricky skills, so it's important to get this purchase right the first time. 

Avoid the dramas that will come with learning to ride a bike that's too big or too small, and take some height and inside leg measurements. Most reputable bike manufacturers will have a size chart so you can decide on the best fit for your child.

Consider the bike's frame and invest in a lightweight model that offers a degree of adjustability and room for growth.

Balance Bike or Pedal Bike?

Learning to cycle is tricky, so it's essential to choose the right bike to support them through their very first wobbles to the starting line of the toddler Tour de France and beyond.

When buying your child's first bike, you'll come across the big debate: balance bike vs. pedal bike. It's worth taking on board the pros and cons of balance bikes and traditional pedal bikes, considering your child's unique needs and developmental stage before you buy.

A balance bike can introduce your child to the fundamentals of cycling at a really young age without the fear of tumbles. Learning these skills paves the way for a smoother transition to riding a pedal bike. In fact, on average, they say it takes two years to graduate from a balance bike to a regular bike.

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Choosing Your Child’s First Balance Bike

Balance bikes are ideal for kids aged 18 months to around two to four years old. These pedal-free wonders are pint-sized and ideally suited to tiny hands and bodies. Plus, there are no moving parts to tangle or trap little fingers. Balance bikes will teach your mini cyclists balance and coordination and give them the confidence to get to grips with cycling.

A balance bike should offer adjustment so the saddle height allows your child to place both feet flat on the floor. 

Cycling UK recommends choosing a balance bike with handlebars that turn easily and freely, using ball bearings. Look for bulb-ended handlebar grips to keep little hands in place. Consider a balance bike with a steering damper to prevent or stop jack-knifing. Always opt for pneumatic tyres for an overall better ride, especially over bumpy terrain.

Check the brakes! Some balance bikes rely solely on shoes to stop the motion. Some models will come equipped with a handbrake, a feature that proves handy (excuse the pun) for budding little petrolheads as they zoom about. Great for an extra layer of safety and also for teaching kids the fundamentals of braking from a young age.

Choosing Your Child’s First Pedal Bike

Many young children will have already grasped the fundamentals of pedalling, steering and braking from using a trike. And by around the age of four, they’re more than ready to test their skills on a two-wheeler equipped with stabilisers. 

Opt for a lightweight model that your child can handle easily. Aluminium frames are ideal and are much lighter than steel. (You’ll thank me when you’re lumbered with carrying it.)

Invest in a bike that offers an upright riding position and one that has pneumatic tyres. Getting technical again, you’ll want to check the bike you’re buying is designed using ball bearings rather than plain bearings for reduced friction and improved durability. 

Most bikes for reception-aged kids don’t have gears, and that’s probably a good thing. You don’t need them right now. 

Brakes, you definitely do need. And you can test how good they are by using your little finger.

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Are Stabilisers a Good Idea for Kids?

Let's talk about stabilisers. Yep, those trusty training wheels that promise to keep the bike from wobbling like jelly.

Stabilisers, on the one hand, are great at providing stability, giving young riders a sense of security so they can develop their balance and coordination skills and build confidence at their own pace. 

On the flip side, stabilisers can be flimsy and often kinda wobbly. On uneven terrain, they can throw your child off balance and cause your little one to capsize. Kids tend to lean outward when taking corners, which is the opposite of how you lean when riding a regular bike.

For those graduating from a balance bike, the point is that you skip the stabilisers - depending on your child’s balance, coordination and enthusiasm to learn how to ride. Most kids do sail from balance bike to pedal bike without the need for stabilisers, but somehow, typically, neither of my kids managed it. My four-and-a-half-year-old son embarked on the journey from a trusty balance bike to a shiny pedal-powered one when he celebrated his 4th birthday in April. Despite growing frustrations with his stabilisers, he still refuses to part with them.

Should You Buy a New or Used First Bike?

Trustworthy bike brands like Raleigh, Frog Bikes, Islabikes, and Hoy Bikes are excellent go-to options. When it comes to your child's first bike, investing in a new one ensures their safety and gives you peace of mind. 

However, if budget’s an issue, check out Facebook Marketplace or Gumtree, where you're bound to find a great deal. Take your second-hand bike to Halford’s – they’re pretty good at helping out and will check it over for you.

Protective Gear for Your Child’s First Bike

In all the excitement of choosing and buying your child's first bike, it can be easy to forget about the most essential bike accessory they'll ever need: a helmet. My kids have road-tested a few in their time, and I can't find any helmets better (and funkier) than the ones at Micro. They're high quality, with rear lights and pinch-free buckles in various designs your kiddo will love. 

"Learning to ride a bike is easy after you stop worrying about falling off." Dr Asoka Jinadasa. Amen to that! 

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