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Choosing the Best Bike for YOUR Child

Introduction

Ready Set Pedal proudly carries the largest selection of lightweight kids bike brands in the U.S. This lets us help you find the best bike for YOUR child, based on their specific sizing and riding interests, rather than just offering you a bike that fits. Learning to ride a bike is a huge milestone in your child's life, and we're here to set them up for success!

We've developed an easy 3 step process to help you find the best bike for your child:

    1. SIZING - Determine your child's bike size
    2. BIKE TYPE - Understand your child's riding needs and interests
    3. EVERYTHING ELSE - Define Your budget + Dive into the details

We know shopping for a bike for your child can feel overwhelming. By following our guide below, you'll quickly narrow your best options down to a manageable list of bikes. From there, it's about diving into the details for those specific models and finding one that works in your budget. You'll be surprised at how quickly a winner will emerge!

If you do have any questions (or find yourself stuck), please contact us as we're always happy to help you find the best bike for your Rider!

Step 1: SIZING

Selecting the right size bike for your child is top priority (although it is not the only important factor). The good news is that it's actually very easy to properly size your Rider! By measuring their Inseam and understanding their Riding Experience, you can easily calculate the Minimum Seat Height your child needs on their next bike.

Please see our Kids Bike Sizing Guide for full details on properly sizing your child. Once you know the size you're looking for, you can start seriously shopping for the best bike for your Rider!

Step 2: BIKE TYPE

Next you need to understand your child's riding needs and interests to make sure you select the right type of bike. Bikes are available in a wide variety of types, from small balance bikes to full-suspension mountain bikes.

Take a look at these Bike Types to understand what works best for your Rider:

Balance Bike

Balance bikes are a fantastic choice for kids because they teach fundamental balance and coordination skills. By eliminating pedals and training wheels, children learn to balance naturally using their feet, gradually gaining confidence and stability. This approach promotes a seamless transition to pedal bikes, as they have already mastered the crucial skill of balance. Balance bikes foster early independence, enhance motor skills, and provide a fun and safe introduction to the world of cycling.

First Pedal Bike

A first pedal bike is a beginner-friendly bicycle designed for young riders who are transitioning from balance bikes. It features pedals, allowing children to practice pedaling and further develop their balance and coordination skills. First pedal bikes often have a lightweight frame, low standover height, and training wheels for added stability. With adjustable seat height and handlebars, they provide a comfortable fit as kids grow. These bikes are a perfect introduction to the joy of independent pedaling, fostering confidence, and setting the foundation for a lifelong love of cycling.

First Pedal Bike (Training Wheels Compatible)

Many people grew up learning to ride with training wheels. Times have changed though, and now we highly recommend that kids learn to ride with a Balance Bike. From there it is usually a very easy transition to pedaling if they are on a well-designed bike.

For slightly older kids (4 to 8 years old) who may not have Balance Bike experience, they can always treat their First Pedal Bike as a Balance Bike at first. Just leave the pedals off and allow them to learn the balance feeling.

We recommend avoiding training wheels when your child is learning to ride a bike. In fact, many of the best kids bike brands are incompatible with most training wheels. However, we do carry bikes that are compatible with training wheels (some even come with them), plus we carry other great products that assist with balance (like the Balance Buddy). If your child is struggling to pickup pedaling (or you are just worried about them learning), these can still be great options.

Hybrid Bike

All around bike; overlaps with first pedal

A hybrid, all-around bike is a versatile and adaptable option designed for various terrains and riding styles. It combines features of both road bikes and mountain bikes, offering a comfortable upright riding position, wider tires for stability, and a lightweight frame for efficiency. With a hybrid bike, riders can effortlessly navigate city streets, cruise along bike paths, and tackle light off-road trails. It strikes a balance between speed and durability, making it an excellent choice for commuting, fitness rides, and recreational adventures, providing a reliable and enjoyable cycling experience in diverse environments.

Mountain Bike

A mountain bike is a rugged and versatile off-road bicycle specifically designed to handle challenging terrains and trails. It features a sturdy frame, wide knobby tires for traction, and a suspension system to absorb shocks. With a mountain bike, riders can conquer steep inclines, navigate through rocky paths, and enjoy thrilling descents. It typically has multiple gears to tackle various gradients and a responsive braking system for enhanced control. Whether it's cross-country exploration or adrenaline-pumping downhill rides, a mountain bike is the perfect choice for off-road adventures and exploring nature's trails.

Road/Gravel Bike

A road or gravel bike is a lightweight and fast-paced bicycle designed for smooth and efficient riding on paved roads or rough gravel surfaces. It features a sleek frame geometry, narrow tires with low rolling resistance, and drop handlebars for an aerodynamic riding position. Road bikes excel in speed and agility, ideal for long-distance rides or racing on paved surfaces. Gravel bikes, on the other hand, have slightly wider tires and added clearance for off-road capabilities, allowing riders to explore unpaved or gravel paths while still maintaining road-biking efficiency. Both provide thrilling rides for fitness, endurance, or adventurous exploration.

City Bike

A city bike, also known as a commuter bike or urban bike, is designed for comfortable and practical riding in an urban environment. It typically features a sturdy frame, an upright riding position, and a range of useful accessories such as fenders, racks, and lights. City bikes prioritize comfort and convenience with features like a relaxed geometry, wide and puncture-resistant tires, and often include features like internal hub gears or belt drives for low maintenance. They are perfect for commuting, running errands, and leisurely rides around the city, providing a smooth and enjoyable urban cycling experience.

Electric Bike

An electronic bike, commonly known as an e-bike, is a bicycle equipped with an electric motor and a rechargeable battery. The motor assists the rider's pedaling, providing extra power and reducing the effort required to ride. E-bikes offer various levels of pedal-assist, allowing riders to choose their desired level of assistance. They are an eco-friendly and efficient mode of transportation, ideal for commuting and recreational rides. E-bikes provide a boost to speed and ease, making cycling more accessible to a wider range of individuals and offering an enjoyable and convenient alternative to traditional bicycles.

After reviewing these descriptions, you should have a good idea of what Bike Type is best for your child!

Step 3: EVERYTHING ELSE

Once you know what type and size of bike you're looking for, you'll find that your universe of possible "Best Bikes" has become much more manageable. It's now time to dive into the details on specific bike models.

We've highlighted below some of the most important factors to consider:

Budget

Of course budget is one of the most important and practical aspects of shopping for your child's bike. We've saved it for Step 3 because it can be helpful to browse models based on size and Bike Type to best understand realistic price points.

As with most things in life, you get what you pay for with kids bikes. There are higher end options and more economical options across all Bike Types. Once you are considering bikes of similar size and type, you'll find that most of the price difference comes from the "details" described below.

We carry a wide variety of bikes, so we're confident that you can find a great bike within your budget (whatever that may be)!

Bike Weight

Making sure your child has a lightweight bike is one of the most important things you can do to set them up for success! Keeping the bike lightweight is particularly important when a child is first learning how to pedal.

We recommend finding a bike that weighs less than 1/3 of your child's weight.

Generally speaking, the lighter the better when it comes to picking a bike. However, when you are directly comparing bike models, weight doesn't necessarily need to be the determining factor (so long as they are relatively similar in weight). You're already on the right track by shopping with Ready Set Pedal, as we strive to carry the lightest weight kids bikes available today.

Many kids bikes sold by large retailers weigh 30+ lbs. Imagine riding a bike that weighs as much (if not more) than you! The lighter the bike, the easier it will be for your child to maneuver, and the more they'll enjoy riding!

Bike Brakes

Today's kids bikes are offered with a few different brake options. Of course brakes vary greatly by Bike Type, but it is always important to understand this safety feature. Here are some of the most common and important brake options available:

First Pedal Bikes: Freewheel vs. Coaster Brake

When shopping for First Pedal Bikes, you'll often see 3 brake options:

  • Freewheel = Standard hand brake(s) with a free spinning rear wheel
  • Coaster (Backpedal) Brake = Rear wheel brake engaged by pedaling backwards
  • Coaster + Hand Brake = Includes both a rear wheel coaster brake + hand brake(s)

We highly recommend the freewheel (with hand brakes) option over the coaster brake.

When first learning to pedal, many kids accidentally pedal backwards at times, which has a jarring "slam on the brakes" effect with a coaster brake. With a freewheel, there are no negative consequences to accidentally pedaling backwards as your child learns, which simplifies the learning curve to master pedaling. Additionally, hand brakes on kids bikes are now specifically designed to fit tiny hands for easy use by children.

Why do we sell bikes with coaster brakes? U.S. law requires many smaller kids bikes to be offered with a coaster brake option. However, most of today's higher quality kids bikes are also offered with hand brakes, making the coaster brake now unnecessary. (U.S. law only requires that small bikes must offer a coaster brake, not that a bike must have one.)

If you do select a bike with a coaster brake, we strongly recommend finding a bike with a Coaster + Hand Brake setup. Having the option for hand brakes helps young riders learn and become comfortable with the hand brakes they'll use for the rest of their bike riding life, plus it adds braking power to their bike. (Many mountainous areas don't allow bikes without hand brakes, as a coaster brake doesn't generate the necessary stopping power).

Regardless of which brake option you select, remember to make sure your child understands how their brakes work. We recommend only riding on flat ground until they have mastered their bakes. If their bike only has hand brakes, ensure your child can reach the brake and squeeze it easily while holding the handlebars.

Balance Bikes: No Brakes vs. Hand Brake

Most balance bikes do not have a brake, which means your child must rely on their own feet for braking. When balance bikes are offered with a hand brake, it is typically one hand brake for the rear wheel.

Should you buy a balance bike with or without hand brakes? The age of your Rider and the places they'll be riding will help you determine whether or not you feel brakes are necessary. If your child is less than 2 years old, most likely they do not have the coordination to use hand brakes yet. Flat, paved trails require less stopping power than rolling dirt trails. Your child will learn to use their feet to stop but may need the assistance of a hand brake if they are picking up speed on downhill portions. If your child is more aggressive, they tend to go faster, and a hand brake can be helpful in case a quick stop is required.

While hand brakes are becoming more common on balance bikes, kids handle balance bikes without brakes very well (for years balance bikes weren't even available with a hand brake). Kids learn to brake with their feet easily and quickly.

Coaster brakes (see above) are not available as balance bikes do not have pedals.

Rim Brakes vs. Disc Brakes

There are two primary types of hand brakes available on bikes today: rim brakes and disc brakes.

Rim brakes, the most common brake system across our kids bikes, halt the bike by exerting pressure on the rim of the bike wheel using two opposing brake pads, as their name implies. These brake mechanisms are typically mounted on the frame near the upper portion of the wheels. Rim brakes provide plenty of stopping power for most everyday riding that kids do.

Disc brakes are positioned at the center of each wheel and bring the bike to a stop by pressing a brake pad against a rotor fixed around the hub. Disc brakes provide superior stopping power, particularly in adverse conditions. Disc brake availability is primarily limited to higher end kids mountain and road bikes (but disc brakes are becoming more common across all bike types).

Disc Brakes: Mechanical vs. Hydraulic

Disc brakes are available in two styles: mechanical and hydraulic. These styles refer to how the disc brakes control the brake pads and caliper.

At the higher end of the performance spectrum, hydraulic disc brakes use fluid-filled brake lines, while mechanical disc brakes use cables to move the brake pads (similar to rim brakes). Hydraulic brakes deliver a smoother and more responsive performance compared to other brake systems. As the brake pads wear out, the hydraulic system automatically adjusts their position to maintain optimal contact with the rotor when the brakes are engaged. In mechanical systems, you need to manually readjust the pad position periodically as they wear. Consequently, the self-adjusting feature of hydraulic disc brakes ensures more consistent braking performance.

Mechanical disc brakes, while inferior to hydraulic disc brakes, still provide increased stopping power over rim brakes.

Bike Geometry

All of the kids bikes we carry have been engineered specifically for children. This means they have been designed with kid-centric geometry in mind (as opposed to other large brands that simply shrink their adult designs and geometry). Of course bike geometry still varies across brands (and even models). Geometry measurements can be overwhelming and hard to interpret without context, so here are some simplified aspects of bike geometry to consider:

Seating Position

Seating position depends on top tube length (the distance from seat to handlebar), wheel base length (the distance from axle to axle) and handlebar height.

Some bike geometries create more upright seating positions, while others move Riders into more forward positions. A more upright seating position will appeal to a first time pedaler or a more timid rider. A more forward leaning position will appeal to a more aggressive or confident rider.

We recommend a more forward seating position than maybe you feel comfortable with (as a parent) at first glance. While upright seating can be helpful when a child is first learning how to ride, that phase doesn't last long. Once they are confidently pedaling, nearly all kids favor bikes with more forward seating positions. Remember, we are not recommending an overly "aggressive" seating position here. Rather, we are recommending a seating position aligned with many adult performance bikes.

Ready Set Pedal Seating Position Comparison

The easiest way to determine a bike's seating position is visually. These pictures compare the seating position of the Frog 44 16" First Pedal Bike vs. a popular 16" bike from another brand. The green triangle is the exact same size on each bike, clearly showing the more forward seating position on the Frog.

You can always add stem risers or riser handlebars in the future to create a more upright seating position, but we find kids rarely need this.

Leg Extension While Pedaling

Leg Extension description here.

Bike Specs & Components

The last factors to consider are the specs and components of a bike (i.e. all the unique parts that make up the bike). It's not worth getting bogged down in specs too early in the shopping process, as they can be very overwhelming. But analyzing these can be quite helpful once you've narrowed the best bikes for your child down to a few options.

Exact specs and components are less important when shopping for Balance, First Pedal and Hybrid Bikes, as these bike types tend to be built with similar quality components (relative to their competition and price point). As your child advances as a rider into higher end Mountain, Road/Gravel or Electric Bikes, it is worth taking the time to analyze the difference in specs and components more thoroughly.

With that said, here a few specs that are relevant and reasonably important to understand across all Bike Types:

Single Speed vs. Gears

Our kids bikes come in a variety of gears, from single speed to 18-speed. The most important consideration here is deciding when your child is ready for gears. Overall, gears make a bike more versatile, improving a bikes speed, efficiency, and climbing ability. But gears also add complexity, increase weight and cost, and require minimal maintenance.

Typically, smaller First Pedal and Hybrid Bikes (12"-18" wheels) are only available in single speed. Gears show up around 20" wheel (and larger) bikes.

Although gears are unnecessary when kids are first learning, we recommend getting your Rider into a bike with gears as soon as possible. Some parents are intimidated by the added complexity, but we find that children learn how to use gears with ease. Also remember that you can always "ignore" the gears when a child is first adjusting to a bike (simply set the gears somewhere in the middle).

Tires

The type of tires on a bike can have a major impact on ride performance and comfort. Most bikes ship with a reasonable tire option, given Bike Type and price point, so you shouldn't need to change/upgrade tires right away (if at all). It's worth considering a couple of aspects of tires when selecting a bike:

  • Tread Pattern - The tread pattern on bike tires matters because it directly impacts traction and handling on different surfaces. Aggressive, knobby tread patterns provide excellent grip and control on loose or uneven terrain like dirt or gravel. Smooth or semi-slick tread patterns are better suited for paved surfaces, minimizing rolling resistance and enhancing speed. The tread pattern helps channel water away for improved wet-weather performance. Choosing the appropriate tread pattern based on the intended riding conditions ensures optimal traction, stability, and overall performance while cycling.
  • Tire Width - Tire width matters on bikes because it directly affects the ride quality, traction, and performance. Wider tires offer more stability and comfort, better grip on various surfaces, and improved shock absorption. They are ideal for off-road or rough terrain. Narrower tires, on the other hand, provide less rolling resistance and are better suited for smooth surfaces, offering increased speed and efficiency. The choice of tire width depends on the intended riding conditions and preferences, with wider tires providing more versatility and narrower tires emphasizing speed and efficiency.
  • Tube Valve - Bike tubes come with either Schrader or Presta valves for inflation. Although Presta is generally considered a higher end tube, the differences are largely irrelevant for most young riders. Most Balance, First Pedal and Hybrid Bikes come with Schrader valve tubes, which work just great. Perhaps the most important reason to know the difference is for bike pump compatibility, as some bike pumps are only designed for one type of valve. However, conversion adapters are easy to find, and many newer bike pumps work with either valve type. Bike rims are typically designed to fit only one of these valve types, so be aware of this if you are purchasing replacement tubes.
  • Balance Bike: Standard Tires (Tubes) - We recommend traditional tires (with tubes and air) for balance bikes, as they provide more cushion and comfort for your child. They also provide the best traction. The downside to these tires is that they can flat (as with any tire) or require the occasional pump. Air tires can also add weight and cost to the bike, but we feel the tradeoff is well worth it.
  • Balance Bike: Foam Tires - Another common tire used on balance bikes is the EVA Foam Tire. These foam tires never go flat and are lighter weight. However, they are a solid construction, meaning they are unable to provide any cushion or traction. They can be great for a beginner or more timid rider that isn't moving very fast. A more aggressive rider will benefit from the better traction and cushion of standard tires, which will prevent their body from absorbing the impact of every bump.
Frame Material

Bike frames can be made from a few different materials, the most common being:

  • Aluminum - This is the most common frame material across all of our kids bikes. Aluminum frames are the lightest frames outside of carbon while also providing plenty of frame durability. Another benefit is that aluminum will not rust (even if the outer paint chips).
  • Steel - Steel is becoming less common, but you will still find some steel frames (even from higher end manufacturers). Steel frames are heavier than aluminum frames but can still be designed to be similar enough in weight to not be a determining factor. The major advantages of steel are durability (it is very hard to damage a steel frame) and comfort (as steel frames offer more natural flex than rigid aluminum frames). Steel frames can rust but most come with protective paint coatings. With proper storage rust should not be a concern.
  • Carbon - Carbon frames are the highest end frames available. You will rarely find carbon on Balance, First Pedal or Hybrid Bikes. If you're shopping for higher end Mountain, Road/Gravel or Electric Bikes, it is worth considering the pros/cons of carbon. Carbon frames are tremendously lightweight, but they are also much less durable than aluminum or steel construction.
  • Wood - Although wood isn't a particularly common frame material, we carry a few different balance bikes with wood frames. The advantage of wood is that it is extremely lightweight. Wood is generally more eco-friendly as well, but it is the least durable and can fall apart if a bike is stored out in the weather.

Although there is no "correct" answer for the best frame material, it is worth having a basic understanding of the available options.

Choose the Best Bike for YOUR Child

You now should have a manageable list of "Best Bikes" for your kid. You've done the research and know what your child needs. Now it's just time to make that final decision!

Remember that there's not necessarily a "perfect" bike out there. Choosing the right bike can be very personal, as you know your child best. Will they thrive with a forward, aggressive seating position? Are they timid, meaning a smaller size is extra important for stability while learning? Will they only ride a purple bike? At this point, you're looking at a lot of great options, and we're sure your child will love any of them. The important part is that you get them out on a bike that fits them, meets their riding interests, and stays within your budget.

If you do have any questions (or find yourself stuck), please contact us as we're always happy to help you find the best bike for your Rider!

Any Questions About Choosing the Best Bike?

Please contact us if there's anything we do to help you find the best bike for your Rider!

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