Purchasing Your Child's First Pedal Bike
A huge milestone in any child's life is learning to ride a pedal bike. Perhaps your child has been buzzing around on his or her strider. Perhaps they have never set their feet over 2 wheels before. When shopping for a pedal bike for your child, there are things you can look for than make the first ride easier, eliminate potential frustation and thus hopefully increase the chance for success and excitement.
Weight of the Bike
First thing to consider is the weight of the bike. Many bikes sold at big chain retailers, for instance, weigh 30-40 lbs. Imagine riding a bike that weighs as much or more than you do. It would be so much more challenging maneuvering the bike. Ideally, you should look for a bike that is no more than 30% of the weight of your child. The Woom 2 bike is our favorite first pedal bike. With the coaster brake, the Woom 2 comes in at a feathery light 12.6 lbs and with the freewheel, it's even lighter at 11.3 lbs. Our advice: purchase the lightest bike you can afford. Compare bike weights in our 1st Pedal Bike Comparison Chart.
Standover Height (over the frame AND over the seat)
The second thing to evaluate is the stand over height. Measure your child's inseam and compare with the height of the bike's frame and lowest seat position. At a minimum they need to be able to stand over the top of the middle section of the frame with at least 1" of room. If your child is just learning to pedal, we also recommend finding a bike where your child can touch the ground (even if it's just tippy toes) when sitting on the seat. If your child can't touch the ground when they're on the seat, learning will be more intimidating. Starting will take much more coordination if they have to get speed, balance, and move their body up onto the seat all at once. Compare minimum seat heights on all our beginner bikes at our Pedal Bike Comparison Chart.
Reach and Wheel Base
The third thing to look at is how long the bike is (top tube length). Your child needs to be able to reach the handlebars easily while seated. However, a shorter wheelbase means less stability. Imagine if the bike is longer, it ensures the child's center of gravity is lower. Lower center of gravity means more stable.
Coaster vs Hand Brakes
Kids bikes come with a coaster brake (operated by pushing the pedal backwards) and/or a handbrake (operated by squeezing a lever). The Consumer Safety Product Commission in the US requires beginner pedal bikes to be sold with a coaster brake. However, we recommend finding a bike with hand brakes as well, so kids will get used to using them. Once they are large enough for a bike with gears (and a derailleur), a coaster brake will no longer be an option. If the bike has hand brakes, ensure your child can reach the brake and squeeze it easily while holding the handlebars.
The bottom line is to look at the details. Compare the weight, the height and the length of the bikes within your budget and before long, a winner will emerge.
You may also be interested in looking at our Pedal Bike Comparison Chart to see how the 12" - 16" bikes stack up against each other.