Kids' Bike Buyer's Guide
November 28 2017
As parents, we all want the same thing for our kids: a bike that provides safety, comfort, reliability and ease of use without breaking the bank. We want your child’s first riding experience to be as memorable as yours, and that’s why every child’s bike that carries the Trek name is held to the same rigorous standards as all the products that we make. The bottom line is that getting your child on a well-designed machine is more economical for you in the long run, is easier to learn to ride and ultimately more enjoyable for your child from day one.
Bikes are not toys
This may go without saying, but a bicycle is not a toy. While the prices of mass merchandise shops may seem enticing, these bikes are often poorly designed and were not assembled by certified mechanics. A bike that may seem “pretty” or “cool” standing next to the toothpaste aisle will often not retain resale value or remain functional for a younger sibling, and is ultimately a bad investment. Trek bikes are engineered and crafted by people who care about bikes and their riders. In the end, a good rule of thumb is that you should never buy a bike where you buy your cereal.
What is dialed?
Many of us at Trek are parents as well. We get it – you don’t want to buy a new bike every year. That’s why we came up with what we call “Dialed Fit Design” – bikes with saddles, grips, handlebars, pedals, brake levers and cranks all designed to fit the appropriate age rider for that model. Some Trek kids’ bikes come with adjustable crank length to fit a child’s growing legs and extend the bike’s lifespan.
What size bike does my child need?
Kids’ bikes range in wheel size from 12-26". For simplicity’s sake, it’s easy to think about your child’s age when determining which size is best for them. Though the guidelines below are general, they go a long way in zeroing in on where to begin your search.
Kids’ bikes are optimised around these wheel sizes in terms of fit and performance level. As wheel size increases, so do the number of options to accommodate the additional skills and riding preferences of older children. While Trek offers one incredible balance bike for the youngest tots, larger wheel sizes include multiple models optimised for road, mountain or city riding.
Beyond wheel size, the factors driving your decision should be colour/style, training wheel compatibility, brake type, gearing and finally category.
What about stabilisers?
You probably learned to ride a bike with stabilisers. Most professional cyclists probably did, too. Stabilisers are a great way to get kids comfortable on the bike, and to get them hooked on the feeling of freedom that only a bicycle can provide. Trek offers removable stabilisers on all of our 12" and 16" kids’ models, and these options are ideal for children who are too big for a balance bike or who simply need a bit more time to get comfortable.
When teaching your child to ride, remember that the emphasis should be on balance, not pedalling. As soon as your child is comfortable with the thought of removing the stabilisers, it’s time for them to go.
What's with these different brakes?
Most bikes designed for the youngest children feature an easy-to-use braking system where simply pedalling backwards engages the brakes. You’ll hear this system referred to as 'pedal brakes' or 'coaster brakes'. Quite simply, it is easier for the youngest children to use their feet for both acceleration and braking, allowing them to focus on more essential skills like balance as they are first learning to ride.
As with stabilisers, pedal brakes are only best for children who need them to ride confidently. Hand brakes designed for the size of a child’s hand and reach are easy to use, and are far more effective in all riding situations. This means that hand brakes are ultimately the safest choice for children able to grasp their operation. Those who fit on a 20" bike are generally old enough to use them effectively, so we introduce hand brakes at this wheel size.
As your child grows older and begins riding at faster speeds, it may be worth considering a model featuring disc brakes. Disc brakes provide more stopping power than traditional rim brakes, and are more effective in adverse weather conditions. Beginning in the 24" wheel size, Kids’ Neko, Kids’ Dual Sport, Superfly 24 , Farley 24, and Fuel EX Jr are offered with disc brakes. The dedicated mountain models come equipped with hydraulic discs, which offer even more stopping power and variability in braking intensity.
Should my kid's bike have gears?
Gears are great. Gears significantly increase a bike’s versatility, and reduce fatigue so that your child can participate in longer rides with the family. As with hand brakes, some amount of gearing will be beneficial to children who are able to operate them properly. Trek dials in gearing for a child’s age and assumed strength, meaning that the range is optimised for weight and performance at each of our kids’ sizes.
Trek introduces gearing at the 20" wheel size on models designed for children who have already developed solid bike handling skills. These include the Precaliber and Superfly families.
In the end, the ideal gearing for your child depends on the type of riding they will be doing. Longer rides on more variable terrain will require a wider range of gears. Youngsters interested in exploring mountain biking or getting serious on a road bike should have more gears than a kid who will primarily be cruising the neighbourhood with friends.
Does my kid need a mountain bike? Are they ready for a real road bike?
The final consideration in finding the right bike for your child is category. Bikes are generally divided into the categories of mountain, road and hybrid. At the smaller wheel sizes, most kids will probably be riding short distances around the neighbourhood, and will benefit from a simple city-style bike that does not add weight with unnecessary components.
What else do I need?
Remember that it takes more than just a bike for your kid to have a safe and enjoyable riding experience.
A comfortable helmet that fits properly is an absolute necessity. Your child needs to wear one every single time they step on the bike. A light such as Bontrager’s Flare R, the first rear light designed for visibility during all hours of the day and night, is another safety accessory that is just as critical as your child’s helmet.
To keep things rolling smoothly, a pump and some spare tubes are good to have around. Your child may want accessories such as a bell or horn. Once they are going on longer rides, you may want to consider cycling-specific clothing, gloves and a dedicated set of shoes/pedals.
Remember that the most important component to your child enjoying riding their bike is you. A supportive and patient teacher is the key ingredient to creating an experience for a child to develop a lifelong passion for cycling.