Your Child's First Bike

A Guide for Parents

by Bonnie McClun

There is no magic age when your child is ready for a two-wheel bicycle. Selecting this vehicle for your child is a lofty responsibility, but will likely lead to a lifetime of memories for both you and your child. But what issues need to be considered? Here is a list to get you thinking.

Cost: Plan ahead and know what you can afford. Keep in mind that children will quickly outgrow bicycles and that this will probably not be the last bicycle you purchase for your child.

Style: There are many options from which to choose; banana bike, beach cruiser, or mountain bike are some examples. Make sure the bicycle is easy to operate. Children who are new drivers of two-wheel vehicles are working hard to develop such basic bicycle skills as balance, starting, stopping, and steering. What ever style you choose make certain that it is as basic as the child's skills. Being out of control while driving their bicycle may lead the child into dangerous situations.

Size: The child should be able to straddle (stand over) the bicycle comfortably with both feet flat on the ground. Purchasing a bicycle that a child can "grow into" is dangerous because it is difficult for the child to control and can lead to injury. Bicycles are replaceable, children are not.

Type of brakes: A child's first bicycle should be equipped with a coaster brake (the kind that brakes when you pedal backwards). Do not consider a bicycle with hand brakes until the child's hands are large and strong enough to securely reach and control the brake levers.

There are several adult style bicycles with frames small enough for children but are equipped with adult sized components. Some children do have large enough hands or fingers to adequately engage brake levers, others do not.

When purchasing a bicycle for your child, make sure he or she can straddle the bicycle with both feet flat on the ground. Buying a bike for a child to "grow into" can lead to injury.

Gearing: Single speed bicycles are best for young children because they are relatively simple to operate. Developing balance and control are foundational skilIs which should be concentrated upon and should not be complicated by also learning to shift gears.

Color: This may seem trivial, however color may be very important to the child. A bicycle is a wonderful way to acquaint children with the grown-up responsibility of caring for one's property. If the child thinks he or she has a beautiful bicycle they may be more inclined to properly maintain and care for it.

Remember learning to ride should be fun. It is, however, a serious responsibility for every parent. Help your child develop confidence and competent bicycle skills.

Reprinted from "Bicycle USA", magazine of the League of American Bicyclists, Sep/Oct 1996. Effective CyclingTM.
For more information about the League of American Bicyclists, visit their web site,, or e-mail them at

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