Article at a Glance
• For younger children, bike trailers are safer than rear-mounted bike seats.
• Don’t buy a bike or helmet that your child will eventually grow into; it won’t be safe unless it fits now.
• Head injuries are the leading cause of injury and death when riding a bicycle—wearing a helmet is your best protection.
Utah and summer were practically made for bike riding. And luckily it is something that the whole family can enjoy together—you just need the proper gear.
As your children grow up, they are going to need the proper equipment for their size and maturity. So from toddler to teen, here is what you should be looking for.
Toddlers and Preschoolers
Your children should be older than 24 months before you start biking with them. Babies don’t have the neck strength to safely wear a helmet or sit up in a seat. It is also unsafe to ride with your child in a baby front carrier or backpack.
Once your child is old enough to ride with you, buy a lightweight or Styrofoam infant helmet that is approved by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Make sure that everybody has a helmet even if they aren’t doing the pedaling.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that a trailer is the safest way to transport your child on your bike. In case of an accident, the trailer is low enough to the ground that your child won’t fall very far and the outer frame provides extra protection. Make sure you trailer has a shoulder harness, lap belt, and reflectors. It should also connect to your bike with a flexible joint. This will allow the trailer to stay upright even if the bike falls over.
When using a trailer, be aware of the extra width and length in the back. You will need to watch for curbs and take turns a lot more slowly.
The AAP doesn’t recommend using a rear-mounted bike seat because it can affect your ability to balance, steer, and stop the bike. If you do decide to use a child seat, make sure the back supports your child’s head and neck. Spoke guards can also help keep your child from getting caught in the rear wheel. Like the trailer, it should have a shoulder harness and lap belt. When putting your child in a bike seat, you will need two people—one to hold the bike upright and another to hold the child.
Every child matures at a different rate, so it is hard to say when your child will be ready for a bike with training wheels or to take the training wheels off. But by about 6, most children should have the motor skills needed to ride a bike.
Although it is fun to surprise your child with a bike, it is a good idea to take them shopping with you to make sure the bike is the right fit. Children should be able to put both feet flat on the ground when seated on the bike. The handlebars shouldn’t be higher than their shoulders. When shopping for a bike, don’t be afraid to ask for help from the salesperson.
It might be okay for your child to grow into his shoes, but not his bike. His bike and his helmet should fit him now, not in a couple of years. Luckily most bikes and helmets at this age are adjustable. Make sure you adjust the bike and the helmet as your child grows. Once your child outgrows the bike or helmet, replace it.
|Children’s Bike Sizes
|Bike Wheel Size
|Age 2 – 5
|26 – 34 inches
|Age 4 – 8
|34 – 42 inches
|Age 6 – 9
|42 – 48 inches
|Age 8 – 12
|48 – 56 inches
|56 – 62 inches
Children under 7 should use a bike with foot brakes. Children over 7 should have both so that they can become accustomed to using hand brakes before they transition to a grown-up bike.
If you want to go on longer bike rides and your child is too big for a trailer, but not old enough to ride independently, a trailer-cycle might be a good option. It is a small bike with no front wheel that you can attach to the seat post of your bike.
For most teens a bike is their first glimpse at independence. Since you won’t be there to look over their shoulder, it is important that things like bike safety and wearing a helmet have become a habit.
If your teen is interested in mountain biking, you will need to buy the right kind of bike. A different kind of bike is needed if you are riding on pavement or over mountain trails. They also require a different fit. At this age a road bike should have about 1 to 2 inches of space between your crotch and the crossbar when you are standing and a mountain bike should have 3 to 4 inches.
An Important Note on Helmets
The most important piece of equipment you can buy for your child is the helmet. It can quite literally mean the difference between life and death.
Head injuries are the leading cause of injury and death when riding a bicycle. Wearing a helmet can reduce your risk of sustaining a head injury by 85 percent and the risk of a brain injury by 88 percent.
When shopping for a helmet, look for one that meets Snell, ANSI, or CPSC safety requirements. It should fit snugly—you shouldn’t be able to twist or pull it off. The straps should be adjustable so that they can be tightened under the chin. And make sure you always fasten the straps. If the helmet falls off, it isn’t going to help you in an accident.
Helmets can also lose their ability to absorb a shock if they take a major hit. Replace your helmet immediately if you ever have a bike crash and your helmet is hit hard.
Some children do not want to wear a helmet. It might help if you let them pick out a design they like. Also, insist that if they don’t wear a helmet, they don’t ride their bike. Most children will back down if they realize that wearing a helmet is the only way they will ever get on a bike.