Changing Colors: The Blog of Spectrum Pediatrics

March 21, 2017

Bike Riding 101

By Colleen Donley, PT, DPT

Here are a few tips to remember while picking out a bike:

  • Kid’s bike sizes are determined based on the wheel size, not the seat height- wheel sizes include 12, 16, 20, and 24-inches.
  • A child should be able to dismount and straddle the frame while standing flat-footed.
  • When riding, the knees should not be scrunched up under the handlebars or straight out at the lowest position. There should always be a slight bend in the knee.
  • There are different types of brakes- rear-coaster brakes and hand brakes

Before you get into the standard “big kid bike,” there are different styles to help get your child prepared. Here are some explanations of different styles to help you choose where to start and which is right for your child.

  • Pedal and push bikes let your child sit on the seat with their feet on or off the pedals while you push them along. As your child gets accustomed to the feel of movement on the seat and begins to push the pedals on their own, you can gradually fade out how much you push them along. Most of these bikes come with removable handles to convert into a toddler bike.
  • Tricycles have three wheels and serve as great starting points to help your little one develop the coordination to pedal. Moving the pedals requires moving the right and left leg in a reciprocal manner, a skill that many children actually have to learn! Kiddos steer tricycles by using the handlebars only and not by leaning their weight to one side or the other.
  • Balance bikes have no pedals. They let your child develop their sense of movement, momentum, and balance while learning how to steer without the added complexity of a pedal. Many like balance bikes as a first step as they allow the child to keep their feet on or close to the ground for extra stability while they learn to control their body on the bike.
  • Training wheels have become more of a contentious point as the popularity of balance bikes has grown. Training wheels widen the base of support in the back of the bike to eliminate the need for balance while your child masters the coordination of moving the pedals and steering. Many say that training wheels teach the child how to unbalance the bike, as the child will lean their weight against the outer support of the wheels. Then when the training wheels come off, the child has to unlearn to lean against this leverage. So for a child that has already mastered balance on a balance bike, it might be worth skipping the training wheels.

Before beginning to ride, don’t forget the helmet!! Be sure to get the right size by measuring the circumference of your child’s head one inch above the eyebrow. A properly fitting helmet should be placed on top of your child’s head and remain in place as they shake their head yes and no. Head out to an open parking lot or empty tennis court to give your kiddo lots of open space to explore and experiment with speed and steering. Have fun!

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