I am so excited to welcome Natalie of Two Wheeling Tots. Here and I have been having some great conversations over the past few months about bikes and kids and just getting kids out. Her website is absolutely incredible. If you are in the market for a kids’ bike, THAT is where you need to look for comparisons. Some of our reviews overlap and some we have done are different, so we think it’s a great partnership. We are working on some bike reviews here too that will spill over to the spring – watch for them! Her bio is at the end of this article linked to her site – be sure to click over and give her some love!
Any bike is better than no bike, BUT not all bikes are created equal. Over the past 10 years or so, adult bikes have transitioned into efficient, lightweight marvels, while children’s bikes have morphed into gaudy, sugary-sweet, super-hero-covered tanks. As toy manufactures now sell more bikes than bike companies, how and where parents buy bikes has drastically changed. Luckily, things are beginning to look up, but many myths are preventing parents from jumping off the big-box store bandwagon and into the world of specialty kids bikes. Here’s are the top five myths parents need to tackle before they purchase a kids bike.
Myth #1: Kids Need to Be Taught How to Ride a Bike
Truth: When provided with the right opportunities, kids quickly and easily teach themselves how to balance and pedal a bike. No need to run by their side or push them around with a pole or argue over whether they are “trying hard enough” or “needing to be brave”. By starting on a balance bike as a toddler, with time they will teach themselves to balance. Once balance is mastered and they are ready to move to a pedal bike, simply give them a pedal bike and watch them ride away. No need to teach them how to pedal or to use training wheels, having already learned how to balance and stop and start a bike, learning to pedal is easy and is generally learned in under 30 minutes.
Amelia’s input: If you haven’t read it, check out our article on “Just Say No to Training Wheels” – there is some great conversation in the comments too!
Myth #2: My Child Will Ride Their Bike More if it Looks Cool
Truth: Generally all bikes with a licensed characters (as well as most bikes in bib-box stores) are for looking at, not riding. Sure, seeing their favorite character on their new bike gets them really excited to ride, but once they realize how hard it is to ride their bike, they quickly get discouraged and their parents assume that their child isn’t quite ready yet and puts the bike in the back of the garage. In reality, these bikes generally weigh up to 50% of a child’s weight, have a very high center-of-balance, and are therefore very hard to ride. Can you imagine riding a bike that weighs half of your body weight? Considering toy manufacturers, not bike companies, make these bikes, their emphasis is on looks and price point, rather than performance (hence the $40 pedal bike!). As a result, it’s not surprising that most of these bikes are actually used much less than higher-end bikes, and when they are used, it is often with training wheels. For kids who do master cheap bikes without training wheels, when given the opportunity to ride a higher-end bike, the pure giddiness they experience as well as the ability to ride longer distances without tiring is priceless.
Myth #3: Bike shops are the best place to buy a bike
Truth: Yes and no. Bike shop are certainly the BEST place in town to get local advice about bikes and are ALWAYS better than a big-box store, BUT they don’t always carry the best bikes. In the US, many big bike brands, put minimal efforts into designing their kid’s line of bikes. Considering they represent a very small portion of their sales and profits, in most cases it isn’t profitable for them to invest a lot of time and money into their kids line. Instead, they build good quality bikes that parents assume are the best because of they bought it at a bike shop and not at a big-box store.
Over the last couple years, however, several companies have entered the US market that only build kids bikes. Often redesigned from the bottom up, these bikes are built for kids using components and frames designed specifically for kids. Most kids bikes in the US are built using components designed for adults, which are often too wide and too heavy for kids, but they are cheap and readily available, so they are used.
Lighter weight and designed specifically to have a lower center of gravity, this new generation of kids bikes are significantly easier and more comfortable for kids to ride. Generally only available online these brands include Cleary Bikes, Islabikes, Spawn Cycles, Ridgeback Bikes and coming soon Woom Bikes.
Myth #4: Coaster brakes are much safer than hand brakes.
Truth: All throughout Europe, where bikes are often a child’s main source of transportation, coaster brakes don’t even exist. Instead, from the moment they learn to pedal a bike, they rely solely on hand brakes. In the US, however, the CPSC believes that kids in the US are not capable of stopping a bike with a hand brake and sadly, in most cases they are right. Unlike in Europe, most kids in the US are not given the opportunity to learn to start and stop a bike with their feet and/or with a hand brake on their pedal bike. Therefore, they don’t have the hand/eye coordination to use a hand brake, while simultaneously learning to balance a bike. As a result, all smaller kids bikes are required to have a coaster brake, yet they often cause more harm than good.
When learning to pedal a bike, kids often mistakenly pedal backwards. Upon doing so the coaster brake quickly activates, which not only surprises and scares the child rider, but also causes them to lose all the momentum they worked so hard to achieve and in some cases, causes them to crash. Without the coaster brake, kids never experience that sudden, unexpected stopping of the bike and therefore tend to progress quicker and with more confidence on a bike without a coaster brake.
Myth #5: My Child Stands Up to Pedal So That They Can Ride Faster
Truth: If you child is standing up to ride their bike, then their bike is either too small or has very poor geometry. While it is common for kids of all skill levels to stand up while riding, it should be done for fun, not out of necessity. Poorly designed bikes often require kids to bend their knees to such extreme angles that pedaling is extremely inefficient for them. Standing up improves the efficiency of their pedaling by requiring less bend in the knee to pedal and thereby making the bike easier to ride. A properly designed kids bike, like adult bikes, should be easier to ride while sitting down vs. standing up.
As mentioned in the beginning, any bike is better than no bike. Even a $40 Black Friday big-box store bike is better than nothing, but if it is in your budget, seeking out a child specific bike will be greatly beneficial to your child’s ability and desire to ride.
Natalie is mountain biking enthusiast, mom of three and the head mastermind over at Two Wheeling Tots, a website dedicated to finding the best in bikes for kids of all ages. From balance bikes, to bike trailers and pedal bikes, she researches, reviews and compares the top products to help parents quickly and confidently find the best bike related products for their family.
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