The 10 Best Kids Bikes
Bonding Over Two Wheels
My family once went on a vacation to Brigantine, NJ, a small community along the coast made up of several very small, tightly packed islands. I couldn't have been more than five, but I remember biking along the flat, sandy roads with my father and sister while my mom cooked breakfast back at the hotel. I had a helmet of hardened Styrofoam with a picture of a snail on it, and I'm pretty sure that if I even lightly bumped my head in that thing I'd have been concussed.
Despite the danger to my cranium, nothing could replace the level of bonding between us, essentially independent travelers sharing a road together. It's the kind of bond that brings motorcyclists together in such tight circles, and it does wonders for a family dynamic (without the bar fights associated with bikers).
The kids bikes on our list are sure to get your tykes involved in your own cycling journeys, offering that kind of bonding experience as well as that almost cliché moment in childhood, when a parent teaching their child to ride a bike finally lets go.
There isn't a lot about the bikes we've evaluated for kids to differentiate them from adult bikes other than their size, the addition of training wheels, and, in one case, the elision of pedals altogether.
They all operate on the principal that a human being should, eventually, be able to balance a long, thin, two-wheeled riding machine while propelling it forward. The propulsion comes from a simple combination of a chain and one or more gears that increase or decrease the distribution of energy between the pedals and the wheels, giving your kid's pedal stroke more power, or making it easier for them to climb hills, depending on the gear.
Framed For Success
By the time you start thinking about getting your kid his or her first bicycle beyond the scope of a tricycle or a big wheel, you ought to have a pretty good idea of their personality and their proficiency. Not all of the bikes on our list are appropriate for the same ages, so the first thing you want to do is dig out your kid's birth certificate, check their birthday, and figure out how old they are.
Significantly younger kids would do well to start on the Strider, which is a balance bike that doesn't have any pedals. It greatly resembles the bicycle's predecessor, a walking, two-wheeled apparatus called a Dandy Horse. A balance bike like this one serves as an intermediary between the effortless balance of the tricycle and the more advanced two-wheelers.
The best thing about them, though, is that they have foot rests where pedals would normally go, so your tyke can actually get the feeling behind the physical fact that it's easier to balance when you're moving with more speed. If he or she gains enough momentum, the balance bike will practically balance itself, which will make the transition to a pedaled bike that much easier.
From there you can grab your kid a bike that comes with training wheels. Even if the little one has become proficient on a balance bike, the introduction of pedals can throw them off, so having the training wheels to start out with will be a further boon to their confidence and capability.
Once they've been riding around on two wheels with little to no trouble, you can start looking at the bikes that will make little Suzie or little Stevie feel like they can ride with the best of them. I'm talking here about the more advanced mountain bikes and kid's road bikes. These have multiple gears and larger frames that your kids can grow into over the years before having to upgrade them to something much bigger.
The Exclusive Domain Of Childhood Adventure
From suburbia to the more rural areas of America, there's always seemed to be something impractical about the amount of space we have. It's not that there's an inherent problem in that impracticality, but it has an uncanny ability to drive forth the spirit of adventure and discovery in us that isn't as deeply ingrained in some other cultures.
Exploration, as it were, is awfully dependent on mobility. In the earliest days of Manifest Destiny, the quality of an explorer's mules and horses was the greatest determining factor in his mobility, along with his navigational skill. The railroads provided the next evolution for our journeyman's spirit, with the automobile and the airplane not far behind.
These were, however, entirely the dominion of the adult. None of these modes of transport made themselves distinctly available to the young explorer, to the curious and adventurous child. The bicycle was a different story.
To be fair, the bicycle was not an American invention, as its origins reach to the late 1830s in Scotland, and to the non-mechanical Dandy Horse of German and French origin in 1818.
But kids on bikes in America, especially in the days after the second world war, imprinted an image of youthful adventure onto the collective mind. Therein you will find endless summer days, forays into dark, forbidden woods, and the incomparable sound of a baseball card fluttering in the spokes of the wheel.