Kids love bicycles, and if you have kids, chances are that at some point you will have to buy them a bike. But buying a children’s bike involves more than just choosing a bike at random. You really have to think about 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 child’s opinion about bicycles before buying one. It can be difficult to figure out which bike you like without saying “what bike do you want?” But it can be done. You know your kid very well, and you should at least have some ideas about what he likes when it comes to colors and the like.

When you first see the great selection of children’s bikes, you might be feeling a bit overwhelmed. There are a lot of them, and they seem to come in many different designs and colors. But you can narrow down your selection pretty quickly. Are you shopping for a boy or a girl? In reality, some girls’ bikes are designed differently. Many of these bikes are pink or have streamers on the handles, a basket on the front, and other girl-oriented additions. Children’s bikes generally don’t include a basket at the front and some have a bar or two in different locations. However, in general, there is no real functional difference between boys and girls bikes. Any girl can ride a bike made 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 bicycles usually include an image or reference to popular television characters. If your child loves a certain show, buying him a bike with the character from that show can be a great move. 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 just a few weeks, that character may have been replaced.

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

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 you are going to ride in the country or on unpaved roads, you will need to select a bike with sturdier, thicker tires with a deeper tread that will withstand a lot of abuse. If, on the other hand, you are going to travel more in the city, you can go on thinner tires. It really depends on where you think your child will travel the most. If you want to err on the side of caution, go for the thicker tires. They will work well on paved streets, but thin tires will not perform as well on dirt or gravel.

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