Shopping for a kids bike?

Christmas is almost here, and you may have ‘bike’ on your list.  If Santa needs some help from you, then here are some tips to successfully choosing the best bike for your child.

Size Matters

  • Kids bikes are usually categorised by wheel size.  So when a bike is described as a 12 inch bike, it is the wheels that are 12″.
  • Usually the frame size is matched to the wheel size to cater for a particular age/size range.
  • Once you get into adult bikes, there are fewer wheel sizes (depending on the type of bike: road, MTB, etc) and a range of frame sizes from Small to Extra Large to suit the height of the rider.
  • Frame geometry and the type of handlebars (flat vs curved) will also determine how well the bike suits the rider.
  • The height of the rider, rather than their age, is the most important determinant.
  • Seat height and sometimes handlebar height are usually adjustable.

Top Tip: Don’t be tempted to buy a ‘too big’ bike to ‘grow into’ – there is a real risk that your child won’t be able to safely control a bike that is too big for them.  Second hand bikes are a great way to ‘work through’ the size range as your child grows, as is sharing bikes around family and friends.

This great chart from New Zealand’s Bike Barn helps show the heights for each range:


See also: First bikes 


  • Brakes are an important safety consideration.  Small children will find back-pedal brakes easier to manage than hand-squeeze brakes, because they often don’t have a lot of hand strength.
  • Some chainstore bikes are self assembly.  The assembly quality is a big factor in safety, so if in doubt, get a professional to assemble the bike or safety check your efforts.
  • Second hand bikes should be safety checked by someone who knows what they are doing or your local bike shop.
  • Helmets are compulsory and essential safety equipment.
  • A bell is a great idea too: Ding a ling: why I like bells on bikes


  • Not all bikes are created equal.  Generally whether buying new or secondhand, you get what you pay for.
  • Heavier bikes are usually cheaper, but harder for kids to manage
  • Safety is your next most important quality concern – brakes, protrusions, stability, reliability, assembly.
  • Unusual designs, like some retro cruisers or cheap knock-offs of innovative designs require a cautious approach and careful scrutiny.  They may look cool but are they stable, steerable, safe and comfortable to ride?  Will they last?

Its about the bling – Kids and Bike Shops

Taking a child into a bike shop is always an interesting experience.  If asked for their opinion they will mostly likely choose the bike that is their favourite colour or comes with the most exciting accessories (think streamers, bells, doll carriers etc).  Bling, accessories and decorations can be added to any bike.  So choose the right bike for your child and then add the bling!  Stickers, bells, spoke-dokes, streamers, tinsel, nameplates, artificial flowers, hooters, flags…. let your imagination run wild!

Want more?

Check out these great articles and blog posts

Family Adventure Project’s blog post on choosing kids bikes

What to look for when choosing a kids bike from ‘Two Wheeling Tots’ – great guide

A guide to bike helmets from NZ’s Consumer Organisation

Ethical considerations – A UK guide which includes some brands sold here

Kids Bike Buying Guide from Australia’s consumer organisation

A NZ design that converts from Trike to Balance Bike – clever

And a cool idea that would mean you would never need to buy another kids bike again, ever (video)

3 thoughts on “Shopping for a kids bike?

  1. Great tips. Another one for first bikes: for a 3-5 year old who can’t yet ride a pedal bike, you can still buy a 12″ pedal bike but leave/take the pedals off, so they can get used to it as a runner/balance bike. They’ll learn great balance and control, and maybe even how to use the front brake (if it has one). Then when you put the pedals back on you can skip the training wheels 🙂


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