Hello Dear Reader and thanks for being here. You’ve caught me feeling completely nostalgic having just watched back a bunch of old videos of the kids riding on and learning to ride their bikes. Well, it’s better than mindlessly surfing Youtube, right? 🙂 As I delved further back into the archive I got to searching for all the images of them on their little bikes, many of which I’d forgot. And it got me wondering how did I ever know what bikes to get back then, probably start of the 00’s. I think it was completely trial and error. But I’d be interested to share my experiences and what I learned with our toddlers at that time and compare to any of you parents of toddlers and youngsters now. And what kinds of ages do you encourage your little ones to sit on a bike and have a ride?
Kids take to bikes when they’re good and ready. There’s no sound metric for when little ones take to riding bicycles and tricycles. So this is just how it worked out for our nippers at that time and what I remember of it 🙂 In order to organize my memory, I’ll split this into what I guess are fairly arbitrary stages. I’ll start at 12 months of age because that’s what corresponds to my first screen grab, but wasn’t really my little ones riding a bike as such, or anything like it as you’ll see. And I’ll move to 12-18 months of age which counts as probably holding the handlebars. Then 18-24 months which I think is the first of what might tentatively constitute riding. Lastly there’s the actual riding at 24-36 months of age.
Q: So you’re saying those are the right ages for toddlers to be taking these steps into cycling?
A: They may be. Or they may not. Is there a right age for little ones riding a bike? Isn’t the right age is when – or if – your little one decides is right? 🙂 I like that idea better. That’s my take on this at least. I mean, it’s riding a bike, it’s something for their own pleasure that’ll hopefully last beyond their childhood, or at least that they’ll return to when they’re older. In the scheme of their little lives, it’s just a bike. It’s not a grave matter, true? I do imagine though that bike riding (or at least sitting on!) all happens more quickly with your help and enthusiasm. But then I guess doesn’t everything? 🙂
Q: 12 months is a bit young for being on a bike isn’t it?
A: I can’t say definitively, children never cease to surprise us, but it certainly was in our case. As you can see from the pic below, we were just having a bit of fun. The little man was just too young to even reach the pedals. We had had that tricycle that his older bro rode on. So I’d sat him on it and held his hands over the handlebars and we chased his bro around the garden. Not riding, nope. But fun nonetheless.
Oh excuse the poor quality screen grabs from old vids! Not a trike designed for children of that age, I’m not too sure if he was even walking at that point. But riding’s better than walking given the choice anyway 😛 we all know that! I was checking around for pictures to use in this article before I decided to try to grab some from old vids of ours and I noticed there are some good solutions now for toddlers at that age…
Q: What about riding the trike independently? When’s that happen?
A: Again, when your little one decides, but for us probably some time around 18 months. That tiny, and fairly cheap trike lasted us ages from the time they could hold onto the handlebars themselves and learn to steer, until they were far too big for the thing, and were using it as a scooter. What was good about it was the parent push-along handle that could be attached to the back like the one pictured above. Why, when we’re trying to encourage them to turn the pedals? Well, because they can get tired so the handle allows us to either push them along. But also, the handle functions as backup for wayward steering so we can just lever up the front wheel in case handlebar control is still in the learning stages 🙂 I like the idea too in the pic above that some of these have storage in the handle for the trip’s sundries. Good thinking!
Q: So what’s the next place that toddling intersects with cycling?
A: Well for us, the same stage continued from around 18-24 months. These are all approximate as my ol’ memory fades haha. Thank goodness for first generation low-res digital videos – hey they were a big thing in the day! #oldguy. So yeah for us the little push-along tricycle was all there really was to it. I don’t know if our kids when they were toddlers could’ve progressed more quickly. I think this age was just allowing them to find their walking and pedalling feet.
So I’m a fan of the little push along tricycles like the ones pictured
… Yes, they’re cheap (or there’s really no reason why they ought not to be!) and they’re fun. They get the nippers used to pedals and to the action of pedalling which is naturally one of the key skills going forward, literally.
From 18-24 months was the time for us – and toddlers are all different, I keep reiterating! – that really the core of that steep learning phase that toddlers progress through at their own rate. Our kids progressed from mostly being pushed around on the tricycle to quickly learning that maximum fun was to be had around the garden if they were able to be self-propelling, albeit at no particular speed no matter how fast they pedalled 🙂
Q: When do toddlers move onto proper bikes?
A: For us it started – judging by my old photos and videos – between 24 and 36 months. The first bicycle was our eldest’s third-birthday present. It was naturally handed down the family line lol, so it was subsequently ridden when younger bro was somewhere between 24 and 36 months.
Q: What kind of bike was it for a 3-year old toddler?
A: The most suitable bikes will likely be those with 12-inch wheels. The wheel size isn’t a factor, it’s just that bikes with 12-inch wheels will have about the right height of frame for our toddler to sit on the saddle and reach the ground with their feet and therefore the pedals too. Of course judging by the pic below, I’m sure I got the saddle height just right to ensure no little legs were over-stressed on long endurance rides lol 🙂
For us, the third birthday present was a little 12-inch wheeled bike with stabilisers / training wheels. I don’t have any issue with training wheels. They allow a degree of tilt on the bike. In fact if pushed they can allow a sufficient degree of tilt into corners they can tip over, as I’m sure we discovered! Be mindful with your enthusiastic little ones too 🙂
The other option we chose, or rather, re-engineered, was another little 12″ wheel bike. I remember it was bought at the time that balance bikes were just en vogue. Nothing wrong with stabilisers; nothing at all. But thinking balance bikes sounded like a good idea to help with acquiring the tricky two-wheeled balancing skills, I decided to convert the little thing by removing the cranks, yay! Then again, once the balancing on two wheels was a go, I was able to re-install the cranks and the bike regained its pedalling credentials, so see? Not all Heath Robinson craziness haha #methodtothemadness.
If I’m being objective as my foggy index of memories permits I do believe the “balance bike” encouraged faster learning to ride two-wheeled. I remember that because our little one was the first kid in nursery riding two-wheeled, unassisted #prouddad 🙂
This was the bike with the warped wheels though (see below)! But things have progressed loads since then. While checking out what’s available now, I came across this little cutie. In the scheme of the old 1980s Raleigh Team Burners, definitely a purchase aimed at parents! Fun nevertheless 🙂 Go on, indulge me!!
Q: How much should we spend on our toddler’s first bike?
A: As with anything, there’s always a balance through compromise to be found. At one end of the scale, I’ve been looking around and it seems 12-inch wheeled bikes really start at next to nothing (GBP20, USD25, EUR25, AUD35) on eBay.
At the other end of the spectrum, more and more of the main global bike brands are realizing there’s a market in offering bikes for the very young along with their adult lines. These bikes I’ve seen up to GBP180 (USD230, EUR210, AUD320) which is quite a jump.
Q: What’s the difference and why does it matter?
A: I think the branded bikes are just that. They’re bikes in miniature. The cheap offerings are more akin to toys and that shows not only in their design which isn’t a bad thing, having a playful, inviting look, but can also show in their specification and assembly. I think bike brands make little bikes, most likely for cycling parents, or at least parents who might shop for their little ones at a proper local bike shop as opposed to a toy store.
Q: The more expensive branded toddler’s bike is better all round, right?
A: The branded bikes tend to be better put together using parts that have been quality checked. Or at least that tends to be the case, that’s what we’d hope. But branded bikes are more often specified with components that are specifically made for little bodies, little hands and legs, rather than taking for example, brake levers off a standard junior mountain bike. There’s often more thought gone into the design. Not that unbranded bikes won’t just copy those branded designs, but it doesn’t always happen like that.
I guess the question is: is it worth the extra money at this stage in our toddler’s development buying a branded bike? I think there are a few little things to consider. While it’s a matter of taste and opinion, it’s possibly also a matter of assessing value, convenience and potentially inconvenience. I know the third birthday bike we bought was fine, no real problems – or if there was, I had no trouble fixing them. And I think that’s the key. I have some proficiency with bike maintenance so had anything gone wrong, I’d have a solution. I’d guess that for non-cycling parents this could be a real test of patience and end up costing cash to fix at a bike shop.
Why so? Well, because the second little bike we bought had two horribly warped plastic wheels. And looking at some of the reviews of cheaper bikes, it seems that the same problem persists in this market sector. Because the wheels were warped, the little brake calipers were rubbing intermittently which meant the bike could barely be pushed. I ended up having to disengage the brake! The bike was only used in the yard so it was no big deal but I can see something like that (and the reviews I’ve checked corroborate) being an exercise in frustration for parents.
Q: Which is the better option then, spend big for quality brands or spend less on a “good enough” bike?
A: I think prudence is the ideal here. If you have the money for a cool branded and well assembled bike, well why not. But I guess as parents most of us reckon on getting limited use of such a little bike as our toddlers seemingly outgrow everything so quickly at that age. And I think with so much else demanding financial attention, that’s completely understandable. We were exactly the same too. So if you’re not fortunate enough to be in the “money’s no object” school of thinking, then I’d advocate for compromise. I’d suggest steering clear of the bottom of the pile bikes. I’m not saying they’re insufficient. What I’m saying is that there’s a greater chance of mechanical issues. Even despite your mechanical proficiency with bikes, warped plastic wheels aren’t fixable, unlike back in the BMX days when we used to stick them in the freezer #truestory 🙂
So I was looking around to find what I’d go for now myself were I in the market. Unfortunately I’m also noticing what seems like low-end toddler’s 12-inch wheel bikes dressing themselves up as something fancy and slapping a high pricetag on the handlebar. Hmmm. With products and their fake reviews on Amazon now (so much so we even have advice and a dedicated fake review site online) it’s a minefield for even a small purchase like this!
Q: There’s such a choice of toddler’s 12-inch bikes, how do I know what to look for?
A: You’re right, there are a huge array of bikes, most of which can look very similar. If you’re a cyclist you’ll likely know what you’re looking for already. If not, I’d say save yourself the trouble of researching what to look for or trawling through fake reviews on Amazon. My advice were it sought would be to shop in store at your friendly local bike shop as opposed to a supermarket, mart or toy store. You’re more likely to have to pay more here, sure. But not necessarily top buck. You can guarantee quality, you have comeback, but most importantly, you can take your little one to sit on the bike, ensure they can touch the ground, and check they can reach the handlebars and also their little hands will stretch enough to grab and pull the brake levers which is something we might not think of, but yet it can be so important when they might be riding down a sloping driveway out which leads onto the street for example. A decent local bike shop will give you whatever guidance you need.
If you gotta go to a big supermarket, at least do the same checks for fit, for reaching the brake levers. Try spinning the wheels. Do they move freely and are they true and straight, no wobble? Do the brakes work? Do the handlebars turn freely but stop to prevent them turning back on themselves? Does everything feel bolted together well, no rattles or shakes? Reputable stores will at least ensure this much. And if not, walk away.
If your only, or preferred option is to buy online I’d suggest checking out branded bikes such as the Specialized above, or something like the below from Giant. I’m sure there’d be similar offerings from Trek, Raleigh, Dawes, Schwinn etc. Chances are, even if you’re a non-cycling parent you’ll have heard of these 🙂 Yes, the prices are higher. My view is that they’ll be re-saleable after your toddlers have outgrown them. Cheaper bikes unfortunately end up in landfill or recycling. I’m certainly not pitching for you spending more, not at all, but it can actually work out as a similar cost to you overall.
Hope this has shed some light on your toddler’s intro into cycling. I remember as our kids got up between 3 and 4 years old they’d ask to climb up on my bike barely able to sit on the saddle and reach far enough to grab the bars. Of course, that’s all changed now. It’s me who struggles to keep pace with them on the road now. And when it comes to hills! Oh dear, give an old man a break you guys! 😛
As I mentioned, the bike is nothing compared to your encouragement and enthusiasm for bike riding with your little ones and I wish you all the very best playing together. Ride safe, have fun, David.