If you already have a pedal bike that you want to use to teach your child, read this post for my Step-by-Step Guide on How to Get Them Pedaling. As tested and tried on my own two boys!
When is My Child Ready for Their First Pedal Bike?
In general, you know your child is ready to transition to a pedal bike when they are developmentally ready to handle spinning, steering, and balancing at the same time. Ultimately, however, your child has to be motivated and interested in learning to pedal. Keep reading to learn what you should look for and how to ultimately find the best first pedal bike for your toddler or preschooler.
Normally children with good control of a balance bike will be ready to transition to a pedal bike by around 4 years of age. However, with a well-coordinated child who started on a balance bike early, this can occur even at 3. In fact, our own three-year-old was pedaling shortly after his birthday (pictured below).
What is the Best First Pedal Bike for a Toddler?
What is the best first bike after a balance bicycle? Will any bike do? In my opinion, and experts will agree, the answer is a resounding no.
An average four-year-old weighs around 40 lbs. And a three-year-old weighs even less. Do you know how much a starter pedal bike weighs at your local store? You might be surprised to find out that they are easily over 20 lbs. Imagine trying to bike on a bicycle that weighs at least half as much as you. Doesn’t seem so easy, does it?
In the last decade or so, there have been leaps and bounds of improvements in the biking industry. You can find properly-fitting first pedal kids bikes for a pre-schooler weighing just 11 lbs. At this age, even a half a pound can make a world of difference in how much your child enjoys their bicycle.
How to Find the Best First Pedal Bike for a Toddler?
So what should you look for to find the best first pedal bicycle for your own child? That really depends on a few factors. You need to think through and answer the following questions for yourself as you consider your options. And there are many. Keep reading for some suggestions that might fit your needs.
This is a measurement of how much clearance your child has over the bike seat and frame. Every bike is built to accommodate a slightly different rider, so it is important to measure correctly to ensure your child can reach the ground comfortably when in the seat with room to grow. At the very least, they should be able to reach the ground with their tippy toes.
For a very young toddler, you might not be able to go above a 14-inch wheel size. The lowest seat post height will also be critical (also called the minimum seat height). In this scenario, you may not have a ton of options, just because a 14″ bike is not the most commonly made size. Your child needs to reach the ground comfortably and clear the top tube in order to get on and off the bicycle.
If your child can only fit a 12-inch bike, it may be to your advantage to just wait it out until they are a bit older before purchasing a pedal bicycle. The primary reason for this is they will likely to outgrow it very soon.
If your child is on the lighter side, picking the lightest bike in the category may be your second most critical factor.
There are several bike manufacturers that focus on the weight more than others. Islabikes have long been known to be the lightest bikes on the market, however, they have recently decided to exit the US. If you are lucky to find a used one somewhere, grab it quickly.
The next super lightweight bike is hands down the Woom 2, which is their 14″ pedal bike. It also boasts a fairly low inseam height of right under 16″, making it an ideal first pedal bike for even the youngest riders. I recently did a whole post on why we love woom bikes and a review of woom 5 in particular!
Temperament of the Child
Do you have a confident or a timid rider? While not something that is obvious, every bike will cater to a slightly different style. For the majority of young riders, an upright sitting position, like in all Woom bikes, will feel most natural. It provides a lower center of gravity due to a slightly more square frame and easy-to-reach handlebars.
A more adventurous or experienced child, however, might prefer the style that encourages faster acceleration, a more forward-leaning frame, so they can perform various tricks and impress their friends. Perhaps you have a future BMX biker who loves jumping on sidewalks and mini ramps. Consider a Cleary Gecko 12″ bike or Cleary Hedgehog 16″ bike for your child, depending on their inseam and height.
Coster Brakes or Hand Brakes
There are several schools of thought on this. A coaster brake allows a child to brake by stopping the rotation of the pedals and thus the rear wheel. While this does not seem to be a problem, at first sight, there are several downsides to this. First of all, your child will not be able to coast without spinning pedals. This could be problematic when riding downhill or maintaining a faster speed. Coaster brakes can also cause a child to come to a stop too quickly, causing them to fly over the handlebars. All children will eventually have to learn to ride with hand brakes, so coaster brakes just seem like another impediment in the learning process.
Hand brakes, on the other hand, allow kids to gauge the speed of stopping. They provide for easy coasting. If you have a bike with two hand brakes, this can provide extra safety if one suddenly fails.
Experts argue that any child over the age of 3 can easily master a hand brake. We witnessed this with both our boys who easily mastered the hand brake right around that age. You just have to make sure that the brake levers are comfortable enough for your child to reach and operate.
Personally, I find that coaster brakes inhibit learning. For all the reasons above, we only buy bikes where a freewheel is an option.
Overall Height of the Child
Overall height is important for how well and how comfortably they can reach the handlebars on different bike frames. Here, also pay attention to the type of handlebar the bike provides. Flat handlebars do not allow as much room for growth, for instance. While a U-shaped bar gives a bit more room and provides a more upright position, which most kids find more comfortable when learning to ride.
Your Child’s Growth Pattern
You might also want to consider how much use a bike will give you. For this, pay attention to the range on the seat post height. Some bikes like the Woom 2 will give you up to 4″ to adjust for the growth of your child, ensuring your child will be able to use it longer. Other bikes, like the Cleary Gecko, will likely not last long at all due to the small size of the bike.
The Prevelo Alpha One is another great option if budget allows. This 14″ bike is very lightweight at 13.45 lbs with the freewheel kit installed. One of the drawbacks is the fairly limited seat post range of just 2″, however.
Type of Terrain Expected
Do you expect to encounter mostly even roads or is your child an adventurous budding mountain biker? Are you likely to just enjoy the neighborhood trails?
As I mentioned previously, an upright ride will suit more even roads, while a frame that’s a bit more aggressive would be more suitable for jumping curbs.
Length of Ride
Do you expect to just take the bike occasionally around the neighborhood, or do you want your child to accompany you on slightly longer excursions? Comfort is key in this instance, so picking a lighter bicycle with a drive train that promotes faster acceleration may be important. Woom 2 hits this point really well. This is a favorite in our family specifically for allowing our 3-year-old to tag along on 4-5 mile rides quite regularly.
I intentionally left this as the last bullet point. This is the process I would follow to select a bicycle for my child. While budget is extremely important, I know that for us we would ultimately be unhappy with a bike that did not fit my child or our expectations first. Once I can detail out the other requirements, I am usually left with considerably fewer options which typically make the selection slightly easier.
Having said that, the best bikes for starting riders are going to be more than $50 or even $100 at your local bike shop. And while many of us started out on bikes like that, they are simply not designed with children in mind. Chances are those bikes will sit collecting dust until your kids are old enough to handle them.
A good bike that will foster a passion for riding and the outdoors in your child early will run you at least $200 and can go up to $500 easily. However, you will simply get far more use out of a bike like that. This is why for our family the investment is worth it.
Some Great Pedal Bikes That Could Fit Even the Youngest Riders
Woom 2 – This bike is a 14″ offering from our family favorite maker. They weigh in at just 11.2 lbs. This bicycle has a square frame and is a great choice for a starting rider. This bike comes with a coaster brake, however, you can purchase a freewheel kit, which we highly recommend. The freewheel kit will need to be professionally installed. The downside is it retails at $339 with the kickstand, bell, and freewheel costing you extra. If budget allows, this is an amazing little bike and our family favorite.
Cleary Gecko is a 12″ bike. It weighs 13 lbs and would be very easy for a toddler to handle. However, since this is a 12″ bike, your child’s time with it might be very limited. This is, nevertheless, a great option. This bike retails at $310. It comes with an inseam range of 14″-18″ and 2 easy to reach hand brakes.
Spawn Yoji 14″ is a 14.25 lb bicycle. Still a very light bike. This bike is special because it caters to young mountain bikers. It can fit the youngest riders with an inseam of 14″ and goes up to 18″. In the US, however, the bike ships with a longer seat post, only allowing for a range of 16″ to 18″. A shorter seat post is available to purchase for an additional charge, though. This bike retails at $385. Expert assembly is recommended with this bike.
Prevelo Alpha One 14″ is also at 14.4 lbs in weight. It would suit a slightly taller toddler with an inseam range of 15.5″ to 16.5″. This bike comes with a coaster brake which can be removed with a freewheel kit available for purchase. This is a great bike, but do keep in mind that there is only a 2-inch range here. The bike retails at $359. This little bike is extra cool because kids can customize the handgrips and get special name lettering as well. Bell and kickstand come at an extra charge as well.
Byk E-250 is the budget option that is readily available from Amazon. The big downside to this bike is the coaster brake that cannot be removed. For $239, it comes with a handle to keep your child stable, and stabilizing training wheels (which we recommend removing). The quality of the components on this bike isn’t quite as good as the others listed above. However, it only weighs 14.4 lbs and offers a seat range of 15.7″ to just over 18″. In contrast to most every bike listed above (save the Spawn), you will likely need expert assembly here as well.
Now that you know everything you need to find the best first pedal bike for your toddler, are you ready to transition them from the balance bike?! In this next post, I’m breaking down the best tips I gathered from all the biking experts on the web. I will also give you my real take, as tested on two of our own boys.
Check Out My Other Posts on Biking with Kids:
- Complete Guide to Toddler Balance Bikes
- How to Teach a Child to Ride a Bike
- Transition Your Toddler From a Balance Bike to a Pedal Bike
- Woom 5 Bike Review – The Best 24 Inch Bike for Kids 2019
This has been our family’s top resource over the past several years as we embarked on the biking journey with our children. I have recommended them to many friends and family alike. They built a very useful comparison chart for each type and size of children’s bike out there.
This is a site started by two mountain biking dads. A funny take on family riding adventures. Lots of great tips for more adventurous rides.
Another useful site full of resources focused on “bikepacking” and biking with your kids. A commuting mom’s take on biking with children.