Kids love bikes, and if you have kids, chances are you’ll need to buy them a bike at some point. But there is more to buying a kids bike than just choosing a bike at random. You really have to put some thought into it or you may end up with the wrong bike and an annoying kid.

You may be tempted to keep your bike purchase a secret, especially if you’re buying a bike for a child’s birthday or other holiday. However, if you plan to do this, you should listen to your children’s opinion on bikes before you buy one. It can be hard to figure out which bike he or she likes without directly saying “which bike do you want?” But it can be done. You know your child very well and you should at least have some ideas about what he likes in terms of colors and such.

When you first see the huge selection of kids’ bikes, you may feel a little overwhelmed. There are many of them, and they seem to come in many different designs and colors. But you can narrow down your selection pretty quickly. Are you buying for a boy or a girl? Some girls’ bikes are actually designed differently. Many of these bikes are pink or have streamers on the handles, a basket on the front, and other girl-oriented additions. Kids’ bikes usually don’t include a basket on the front and some have a bar or two in different places. In general, however, there is no real functional difference between boys’ and girls’ bikes. Any girl can ride a bike built for a boy and vice versa if she wants to.

You also need to know if your child wants some kind of cartoon character on his bike. Today’s bikes often include some image or reference to popular television characters. If your child loves a certain show, buying them a bike with that show’s character on it can be a great decision. However, keep in mind that children’s interests change quickly. You can buy him a bike with his current favorite character on it, but in a few weeks, that character may have been replaced.

Your child’s age and coordination will dictate whether or not the bike needs stabilizers or a trike. Also, children under the age of five generally have difficulty using handlebar-mounted brakes. Unlike adult bikes, kids’ bike sizes are based on wheel diameter and not seat height or frame size. The chart below should help you narrow down your search, but it’s worth trying out a few variations on your child at bike shops or her friend’s before making the purchase. An important factor is the brakes, as coaster brakes tend to be easier for younger kids, but become less common as bikes get older.

Age of childreninside legwheel diameter
2-4 years – 35-42 cm (14-17 inches) – 12 inches
4-6 years – 40-50 cm (16-20 inches) – 14 inches
5-8 years – 45-55 cm (18-22 inches) – 16 inches
6-9 years – 50-60 cm (20-24 inches) – 18 inches
7-10 years – 55-63 cm (22-25 inches) – 20 inches
9+ years – 60-72 cm (24-28 inches) – 24 inches

Once you’ve determined the look and size of the bike, it’s time to think about what kind of bike your child needs. If he or she is going to be riding in the country or on unpaved roads, you will need to select a bike with stronger, fatter tires with a deeper tread that will stand up to a lot of abuse. If, on the other hand, he or she is going to ride more in the city, she can go with thinner tires. It really depends on where you think your child will be traveling the most. If you want to err on the side of caution, go with the thicker tires. They’ll work fine on paved streets, but skinny tires won’t fare as well on dirt or gravel.

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