Choosing the right gear at each stage of your child’s development will not only help you to introduce your kids to cycling safely, but will help them build their confidence and skills, and nurture a life-long love of biking. Your choice of bike will depend largely on your child’s age, ability and where they would like to ride.
BALANCE BIKES (for ages 2-4)
Balance bikes are specifically designed to support the development of a child’s natural sense of balance and provide a no-stress method of learning to ride a bike. Children as young as 2 can easily learn to balance on their own without training wheels!
CHOOSING A FIRST BIKE (+4yrs)
Typically between the ages of 5 to 8 kids will have the physical coordination, balance and agility to graduate to their first proper bike and start riding solo. It’s crucial to choose a bike that helps them feel confident and secure and enhances their sense of fun and freedom. For children, still learning to ride, these bikes can be easily modified and used to teach them using the Balance First Method (without training wheels).
BUY A BIKE FOR NOW
When buying a bike for your child don’t make the mistake of buying a bike that they can “grown into”. It is important that the bike you buy fits them now so that they can enjoy the experience of learning to ride and gain confidence. A bike that’s too big or heavy is difficult for your child to control, and can be dangerous.
BUY SECOND HAND
As your child grows and their skills develop, they will probably require new cycling gear. This can make family cycling a potentially very expensive affair. Thankfully, there’s a great second hand market for kids bikes. When buying second hand, check that the bike is in working order, or get it checked by a bike mechanic.
CHECK THE BIKE FITS
Your child should be able to comfortably touch their toes to the ground when they’re sitting on the saddle. They should also be able to reach the handlebars, brakes and gear shifter easily. Ask your local bike shop for advice and take your child along to try out different sizes before buying.
KEEP IT SIMPLE
Avoid bikes with complex gears that are hard to master as they don’t make good first bikes. You want to get your child a bike they won’t want to stop riding. Consider choosing a fixed, single geared bike so that they won’t have to worry about gears and can just focus on learning balance, steering, pedaling and braking. For more advanced kids choose a bike with a few click gears, as twist gears can sometimes be stiff and hard for little hands to change.
DURABLE & LIGHT
A heavy bike is hard work for a little person; hard to lift, handle, maneuver and pedal. I’ve seen parents give kids bikes that weigh more than the child themselves and then wonder why they end up not being used. If you doing nothing else search out a model that is at the lighter end of the range.
ADAPTED BIKES AND TRIKES
Children with disabilities and special needs may need an adapted bike or trikes these can be found at specialty bike shops.
CHOOSING A HELMET
Wearing a helmet is a must for young children. In South Africa both adults and kids are legally obliged to wear them, so it’s best to introduce them to helmets when they are young.
There are lots of cool, colorful kids helmets on the market that turn shopping for a helmet into a real treat for kids. Go shopping together and let them choose their favorite color and pattern! Always remember to buy a new helmet and if theirs ever takes a bash, replace it as it won’t offer the same protection.
GET THE CORRECT FIT
Make sure the helmet is the correct size and is fitted properly. It should fit snugly and sit level across the middle of the forehead (no more than 2cm above the eyebrows). When putting a helmet on your child, be careful not to pinch their skin; just place your forefinger between the clip and the chin. The chin strap should be tightened enough to allow you to slide only two fingers underneath.
PUMP & REPAIR KIT
It’s a good idea for kids to have their own pump so that you can teach them how to fix a flat tyre. Find out more about basic maintenance and bicycle maintenance learning for kids!
Keeping the bikes chain well oiled ensures less wear on the parts and a smoother ride. This is another maintenance skill that can be learned by older kids.
BELLS, LIGHTS AND BLING
BELLS & HORNS
A must for any considerate cyclist, especially when cycling on paths shared by pedestrians. There are lots of fun designs that appeal to kids. Make sure your child understands that using a bell doesn’t always mean that people have heard you.
When cycling at night, you’re required by law to have a white light on the front and a red light on the rear, so make sure your child’s bike has these fitted.
If you are planning to leave your bikes unattended or park it at school or in the city, this is a must.
BAGS & RACKS
When your child is a bit older they may want to carry their own things. Rucksacks are good for short journeys and lighter loads, but can make you hot. For longer journeys, panniers or baskets are a good idea.
GLOVES & CLOTHES
Fingerless cycling gloves are also a good idea because grazing hands is a common injury for beginners. Ensure your kids have the right clothes for the weather and activity. For rainy weather choose a breathable, waterproof jacket (check out our tips on seasonal riding).
BRING ON THE BLING
Kids love personalising their bikes, and there are loads of fun stickers and accessories they can use to do this.