Finding the Right Bike Size for Your Child

Summer is heading to Montana slowly but surely, and with it thoughts of all the activities we enjoy living in The Treasure State like camping, barbecues and biking. Making sure you have the right equipment for the job is necessary for each of these; no one wants to get to their favorite campground and find themselves with a faulty tent. And when it comes to our kiddos, we definitely want the best, and since May is National Bike Month, what better time to figure out how to find the right fit for our young bicyclists?

Times, they’re a-changin’

I talked to Dean Cromwell, owner of The Spoke Shop here in Billings, to get to the bottom of that important question. The first thing he told me is that the game has changed, as new bike types are making it possible for kids to begin riding earlier. Enter the balance bike, a no-pedal model that allows children as young as 18 months to learn the skills necessary to ride. By using their feet to propel themselves along, they learn balance and coordination that prepares them for a traditional bike. Dean's own grandson began on a balance bike and transitioned to a pedal bike, sans training wheels, at just three years old!

Finding the right fit

Once your child is ready to take that next step, training wheels or no, bikes come in four sizes for children. Unlike adult bikes, which use frame size as a determining factor, children’s bikes are classified by tire diameter and come in four increments. On the 12” and 16” bikes, you will find a simple, non-geared approach with a coaster style brake (the kind that are controlled by stepping back on the pedals). Once your child is ready for the bigger 20” bicycles, you can purchase a bike with the same options, or transition to a geared bike with seven or twenty one speeds and handbrakes, which are mounted on the handlebars. The final size, the 24”, will have these slightly more sophisticated options as well.

Dean said when it comes to choosing the right bike for your child, personality and age have a lot to do with your decision. Kids who are more shy and unsure of themselves on bikes will probably prefer the easier, non-geared bikes, while those more daring or mature can handle the gears.

As far as determining which size is right, the folks at The Spoke Shop use this handy chart, which pairs your child based on his/her height. It's a much simpler process than the fitting of an adult bike, which Dean says can sometimes take up to two hours depending on how in depth the person wants to go!

Safety first

Finally, he urges parents to remember caution this biking season. Make sure your children are equipped with helmets and safety gear before riding, and coach them on traffic etiquette and paying close attention to their surroundings. This writer would personally like to add that flip flops are a bad idea; my own son almost lost three toes when he rode too close to a car and the license plate sliced through his uncovered foot! The large scar on his foot from surgery is a constant reminder that even fun activities call for a little precaution.

For further questions, please see Dean or another fitting specialist at The Spoke Shop.

About the author…Tawny McVay is an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer and mother of two who owns The Asylum Gym and occasionally finds time to blog as The Asylum Girl. She's incredibly passionate about helping women lead their best lives and can be reached at 406.696.7925.