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Your Position: Home >Transportation > Kids' Bicycles - 9 To 12 Years ... Kids' Bicycles - 9 To 12 Years ...

Dec. 06, 2023
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Wheel Size Age Height Inseam 12 inches 2-3 years old 2'10"-3'4" About 14-17 inches 14 inches 3-4 years old  3’1”-3’7” About 16-20 inches 16 inches 4-5 years old 3’7”-4’0” About 18-22 inches 20 inches 5-8 years old 4’0”-4’5” About 22-25 inches 24 inches 8-11 years old 4’5”-4’9” About 24-28 inches 26 inches 11+ years old 4’9”+ About 26 inches and over

Type of Bicycle

There are actually a wide array of bicycle categories, but we focused on the models you’re most likely to encounter for children: mountain, BMX, balance, freestyle, and cruiser bikes. But many bikes geared for the youngest riders aren’t officially labeled as any of the above categories. 

Mountain bikes are suitable for all terrains, with fatter tires that are compatible with a wider array of surfaces from on- and off-roading. Their design provides stability while also supporting maneuverability. These usually also come with aluminum frames that are fairly lightweight and support multiple speeds to get up and down steep inclines. 

BMX bikes will usually only support one speed, only have rear brakes, and feature a steel frame as they’re intended for tricks and need more durability. This is a bike geared towards a more sophisticated rider. 

By contrast, a balance bike is for the littlest riders, doesn’t come with pedals, and is solely meant for children to learn to maintain positioning and posture while sitting on a moving object. Avery champions this model as the best “starter bike” for children. It allows kids to “learn to balance at their own speed and won’t need their parents running behind them with a hand on the saddle.”

Freestyle bikes look similar to BMX bikes, but have both front and rear brakes. They’re usually equipped with fat tires. 

Cruisers are more for the casual rider as they feature a larger frame, a lower center of gravity, and recessed handlebars to improve stability while you ride. 

And although we didn’t list it as a specific bike type, electric bikes are also available for kids too in many of the above traditional categories. E-bikes are usually significantly more expensive and heavier than a traditional manually-powered bike because of the added motor and battery pack. 

Brakes and Gears

In most cases, you’ll find that kids’ bikes feature two main types of brakes, hand or coaster. Coaster brakes (also known as rear pedal brakes) can’t be triggered until you begin to pedal backward. Although this sounds straightforward, it can be a bit tricky for younger tots who have just graduated from a balance bike. Avery shares that while most kids find hand brakes easier, U.S. regulations currently require that all “sidewalk” bikes (those sized for kids, with a seat height of 25 inches or under) have coaster brakes. 

Hand brakes are easily triggered by squeezing a lever on the handle. Some bikes will have both coaster and single hand brakes, allowing kids to practice the hand brakes before they make the transition to a bigger model. Many models that are 20 inches and larger will come with brakes on both handles.  

Gears dictate how easily your child can pedal and gain momentum (read speed). Poor gearing can leave your little one pedaling furiously, but going nowhere fast, or struggling hard to move the pedals at all while going uphill. While gears are important no matter the terrain, this is especially critical as you focus on bikes that offer multiple speeds or for off-road conditions. Although this is a very technical specification, the experts recommend considering the gain ratio for this factor. A high gain ratio means that initially, your child needs to exert more effort to get moving, but once momentum is gained, they can move farther with each pedal stroke. Meanwhile, a gear with a low gain ratio is easier to get started but requires sustained pedaling to maintain momentum. Even for a single-speed bike, consider whether your child is the type who wants to ride for hours or is only making short trips around the block. If they’re long-haul riders, then a higher gain is technically better for them. 

Adjustability and Assembly

No parent wants to buy an expensive bike that their child is going to outgrow within a year, and growth spurts can make this a real risk. To avoid this heartache, you’ll want to consider the adjustability of a bike. In most cases, this will include the ability to raise or lower the handlebars and seat, hopefully without too much effort or special tools.

Along the same lines, one of the biggest pain points we noted through real user reviews was the assembly process. In most cases, if you’re buying a bike online, you’re going to have to assemble it. Often this means attaching the wheels, brakes, and pedals. In our guide, the Woom Original 3 16-Inch Bike, and the Royalbaby Freestyle 16 Kids Bike featured easy assembly that took less than half an hour for most reviewers. 

If you’re not particularly handy, we highly recommend paying a visit to your local bike shop for help. Likewise, it’s fairly common that bikes will need additional adjustments after the first few weeks of using it. So, make friends with your local bike purveyor so they can help you adjust the wheels, seat or handle heights, or brakes as needed. Bikes purchased online from REI often come with the option to pick them up assembled in the store.

Cost and Durability

Bikes can be pricey, and the more features they come with, the higher the price tag. Unsurprisingly, electric bikes are the most expensive option on the market thanks to the added expense of a motor and battery pack. Even for kids, these bikes can easily top $1,000. 

It is possible though, to find wallet-friendly manual options for under $100 although these will usually be single-speed or balance bikes, and for much younger, inexperienced riders. Avery also reminds parents that budget bikes can be difficult to repair and “will often be very heavy, making for a more challenging riding experience.” 

In our guide, pricing ranged from just over $100 to around $400. The average price tends to be around $200, and this will still get you a solid bike that should work for a couple of years before you need to upgrade to a larger model. If you’re willing to spend a little more, you can get a bicycle that will last longer than your child will use it, which means you can pass it down to a younger child or resell it, getting more return on your investment.

How to Use Kids' Bikes Safely

Learning to ride a bike is a great way for children to stay active, but it’s not without risks. No parent wants their children to get injured while riding. So, being smart when teaching your child to ride, as well as having the proper accessories is critical. 

Helmets Are Important

“Before a child straddles or sits on a bike, ensure they have a properly sized helmet on their head, it’s adjusted correctly, and it’s buckled,” VanderMause says, echoing the advice of the American Academy of Pediatrics. This includes those short trips around the block. Make sure they’re wearing an actual bicycle helmet, as this is the only headgear truly intended for this type of activity. 

Make helmet-wearing second nature by including your kids in the selection process. Encourage them to decorate it and add reflective stickers to it for added visibility. Also note that if your child does get into an accident while wearing a helmet, you’ll need to replace it. Likewise, second-hand helmets aren’t recommended. 

Always Pick a Safe Environment

Beginner riders should never get their first lessons on the street. Hong reminds parents that a safe, suitable location (away from traffic) is always key. 

Pick the Right Size Bike

Children’s bikes are made with an intended age range. So, even though parents might want to avoid having to size up sooner than intended, resist the urge to get a bike rated for an age or height range ahead of your child’s current dimensions. Having them ride a bigger bike is dangerous, since they might not maneuver it properly and may struggle to pedal effectively or correctly. This can translate into more accidents, difficulty maintaining balance, and reduced control. 

Always Ride to the Right of Traffic

To be clear, if your child is just learning to ride, the street is no place for them. But once they’ve mastered their bike riding skills, experts agree that if they’re riding on the street, then they should be to the right of cars, riding with traffic and not against it. Experts note that the most common bike-car collisions are from oncoming traffic. 

Don’t Forget Hand Signals

Again, if your child is just starting to ride a bike, keep them on the sidewalk. But once they’re more experienced, learning to use hand signals helps when sharing the road with cars. Incidentally, bike riders are also expected to follow the rules of the road—including stopping at stop lights or signs.

Skip the Night Rides

Even with reflective gear, night rides can be dangerous. Motorists won’t always see a bicyclist. Riding at night should be limited to the most experienced of riders. When the sun goes down, put the bike away. 

Using Electric Bikes Safely

Electric bikes can be fun, but they are inherently more risky than a traditional pedal bike. The biggest concern centers around your child losing control because of the motorized speed. To minimize this risk, focus on pedal-assist models and avoid throttle bikes as they increase your child’s chances of an accident. 

With pedal-assist e-bikes, your child still has to pedal to not only activate the motor but also maintain that added power. By contrast, a throttle bike doesn’t require that the rider continue pedaling to control the speed, which allows them to go too fast. 

Electric Bikes and Local Regulations

Along the same lines, understanding local regulations is critical as e-bikes are often considered street legal. This means you can ride them on the road with cars. Most municipalities have guidelines for how fast an e-bike can travel within its jurisdiction. Don’t just rely on the maximum speed outlined by the manufacturer, as it’s possible this can be higher than what’s allowed in your region. 

Some children’s e-bikes allow you to further restrict the speed to a lower maximum beyond the manufacturer settings, as an added safeguard. If you’re concerned that your little rider might be a little too daring, this is an option to consider for keeping them safe. 

Be Smart About Electric Bike Batteries

Another concern that tends to be more controllable these days with e-bikes is the battery. When e-bikes first appeared on the market, lithium-ion batteries from various manufacturers with inconsistent safety protocols made headlines for spontaneously combusting. This included causing house fires and even catching on fire while people rode personal electronic mobility devices. 

To curb this risk United Laboratories, an oversight organization that creates safety standards, crafted UL 2849 which is a set of guidelines manufacturers must follow to create lithium-ion batteries that are used in personal e-mobility devices. These guidelines ensure that the detachable batteries on e-bikes are more stable and less likely to spontaneously combust. But there are still things consumers can do to be smart when using lithium-ion batteries. And note that these recommendations apply to any device that uses a lithium-ion battery—like your smartphone—not just e-bikes, e-scooters, or hoverboards.

  • Avoid leaving lithium-ion batteries in garages or other areas that lack climate control. Extreme heat and cold can cause the components to become unstable.
  • Don’t leave your battery plugged in indefinitely after it’s fully charged. Unplug it. 
  • A fully charged battery that’s left unused for extended periods can also become unstable. Discharge (use) the battery to at least 80% to keep it working properly. 
  • Always use approved chargers, cords, and voltage outlets when charging the batteries.

Your Questions, Answered

At what age can you start teaching your kid to ride a bike?

Thanks to the addition of the balance bike category, you can safely begin introducing a bike to your child around 2 years of age. At this stage, you’re just teaching them to maintain posture and form while sitting on a moving object. But note that your child should exhibit readiness before you introduce one. As Lisa VanderMause shared, this means they have “balance, coordination, and physical strength to successfully operate a bicycle.”

How much should a kids’ bike cost?

Ultimately, this is going to depend on whether you’re picking a bike just for your child to cruise around the block or for specific activities, i.e. BMX tricks, or on- and off-road riding. By default, these bikes are going to cost more. 

Beyond solely focusing on price, also consider aspects such as safety features, ease of assembly, and longevity. While you can find bikes that are under $100, these are usually intended for the youngest riders and have very limited functionality and longevity. It’s not uncommon to spend between $200 to $400 for a good single-speed bike. 

When does my child need a bigger bike?

Two factors will dictate whether or not your child is ready to graduate to a bigger bike. Hong advises that along with your child’s age and height, also consider their riding competency. “If the child wants to ride further, faster, or take on more challenging terrain, parents should consider purchasing a bike suited to those riding characteristics.”

Meanwhile visual cues such as the bike being too short even in the tallest seat or handlebar position, difficulty pedaling because there’s not enough clearance for their knees, or simply looking cramped on their bike are all signs it’s time for an upgrade. 

Who We Are

Dorian Smith-Garcia is a commerce, health, and parenting writer at Parents, and a mom of one kindergarten-bound daughter, who has a fun little training bike, complete with a front basket and bell for safety. It came 95% assembled, and she will always champion a mostly or completely assembled bike purchase. Kids' Bicycles - 9 To 12 Years ...

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