A guide to buying kids’ bikes

With so many kids’ bikes now on the market, it can be tough for parents to make the right choice. It’s an important decision because an unsuitable bike will make riding frustrating, uncomfortable and just not fun, and that risks putting them off altogether. Here are a few pointers to make sure they get the right bike that will open up a lifetime of enjoyable cycling.

Get the right size

IMG_0143The single most important consideration is to get the right sized frame. Just like buying clothes for them it can be tempting to go one size up because they grow out of things so quickly. Don’t do it. A bike that is too large will be heavier, more unwieldy and more difficult to ride, particularly for those starting out.

Bikes for small people are measured by the wheel size. Here’s a guide to sizing based on age and/or height, but more important is to test ride the bike and make sure it’s comfortable.



Probably the next most important factor is weight. Go for the lightest bike you can, as this will make the bike simpler to get started, easier to control, and more fun to ride. Putting a child on a bike that weighs as much as your adult bike just ain’t fair and risks putting them off for life. Avoid suspension and other unnecessary extras.

Small brakes for small hands

The best kids’ bikes have scaled down components to suit the rider. Most importantly, look for brakes with a shallow reach that can be easily operated by small hands. Cranks (the arms connecting each pedal to the chainring) should be also be an appropriate length. BMX style bikes with low saddles and long cranks create a riding position which is inefficient and soon becomes uncomfortable.

Ditch the stabilisers

Stabilisers give kids a false sense of being able to ride a bike whilst preventing them from learning the most important skill – balance.  The best way for pre-schoolers to learn is to start them off on a balance bike. For older children learning to ride for the first time, a regular bike can be converted to a balance bike by removing the pedals, and refitting them once they are confident in balancing and steering. If you want a little help getting them going from a professional instructor, take a look at what training’s available.

Show a little love

Having invested in a decent bike, show it some love by keeping it well maintained. These tips for getting the most from your (grown up) bike apply just as well to smaller ones. A smooth, fast ride is an enjoyable one.

Try before you buy

If at all possible get your child to test a number of bikes. This can be the best way of steering them away from the one with the Batman logo, or the one with stunt pegs, or the one with the basket. Put them on a well-fitting light bike and they’ll work out for themselves that it’ll be a pleasure to ride, and they’ll be more likely to ride it if they feel that it was their choice.
Don’t believe it? Here’s how real kids rated bikes from a number of popular brands.

Tune up your ride

Want to recapture the beautifully smooth, effortless ride of a brand new bike? Here are a few simple tweaks you can make to your existing ride to get that fresh-out-of-the shop feeling back again.

Keep it clean

Little and often is the easiest way to keep your bike in good condition, so try to get into the habit of washing it regularly. Pay particular attention to the drive train – the chainrings, sprockets, and the chain itself – as clearing the gunk away from your transmission is the most effective way to improve the efficiency of your machine. Add this to the psychological boost of having a beautiful clean bike and you’ll be flying along like never before.

Keep it lubricated

Just as important as keeping the chain clean is keeping it lubricated. A well oiled chain will run more efficiently and will also pick up less dirt when riding in the wet. Debate rages as to whether WD40 should ever be allowed near your bike, but most agree that a specific bike lube will keep things running smoothly for longer. Apply a drop to each link and be sure to wipe off any excess.

Check your saddle height

Probably the quickest and most effective way for a majority of cyclists to improve their efficiency is to set the saddle to the correct height. Having a saddle too high, or more commonly too low, makes it impossible to transfer your full power through the pedals, meaning you go more slowly for the same effort. An incorrect position on your bike can also be uncomfortable, and even cause injuries in the long term. Despite being such a fundamental part of getting the right bike fit there is no universally accepted method of determining saddle height. Some of the competing theories are detailed here.

Pump it up

Underinflated tyres have greater rolling resistance, meaning you’ll need to work harder to maintain your speed. Pumping them up properly takes just a minute or two and will reap immediate benefits, shaving time of your journey, or at least allowing you to achieve the same speed for less effort. Different tyres will run at different pressures, so check the sidewall of your particular tyres where you should find the recommended pressure range. Here’s a handy guide to correct inflation.

Learn to love your gears

When considering a relatively flat city like London, there’s a good argument to be made that most bikes you’ll see (notwithstanding the recent popularity of fixed gears and single speeds) have many more gears than are necessary. And whilst it’s true that you’ll probably never need all of the 27 gears which are quite common, a large number of riders underuse their gears and could benefit from expanding their range. Pedalling rates (cadences) vary from one rider to another, so let your legs tell you when a change is needed. Churning too big a gear, or spinning too low a gear are both inefficient, and can also lead to injuries, so don’t be afraid to shift up and down regularly to keep a steady rhythm.

By following these few simple steps, for almost zero cost, you can put a new lease of life into your existing bike, and enjoy that new bike feeling all over again.

Cycling with small children

Kids. Change. Everything.

Once those adorable, exasperating bundles of energy have entered your life nothing will ever be quite the same again. The good news for bike loving parents is that the arrival of little people doesn’t have to mean an end to riding. Just strap the kids in and take them with you.

Why cycle with children?

Cycling is simply a great way to get around, and even with kids in tow it can still be the cheapest, healthiest and most convenient

way to do the nursery run, get to the shops, or just go exploring. Cycling with kids from an early age is also a good way to introduce them to the joys of riding a bike: the fresh air, the sensation of being self-propelled, the feeling of freedom and independence.

So what are the options?

There are a bewildering number of different options for transporting children by bicycle, each with their own pros and cons. For simplicity let’s boil them down to 3 main categories: seats, trailers, and cargo bikes.

Bike seats

The most commonly seen bike seat in the UK is the rear mounted type where the child is seated behind the saddle. The seat may be attached to a rack, or else cantilevered from a bracket on the frame.  They will have high backs to support a child’s head (particularly important if little one dozes off) and a harness to strap them in. More common elsewhere in Europe and in the US is the front mounted seat which attaches to the top tube, positioning the child between adult and handlebars.

Ordinarily bike seats would only be used to carry one child at a time, but as this Dutch “supermum” demonstrates, carrying three children plus shopping is possible.

•    Pros: Child is close to you so simple to talk to, and is high up so easy to see and be seen. Quick and easy to attach and detach, and relatively simple to store away when not in use. Inexpensive.
•    Cons: Top heavy so it can take a while to adjust to the way the bike handles. Risk of bike toppling over if left unattended.


Bike trailers are like little buggies for either one or two kids which attach to the frame of your bike via a towbar. They will commonly have a cover to keep out the elements when necessary and pockets to store snacks and drinks within easy reach. Most will double up as strollers when detached from the bike.
•    Pros: Lots of room for extra luggage, great for spending the whole day out and about. Trailer is very stable and will remain upright even if the bike falls over.
•    Cons: Two children are within easy squabbling distance of each other. On busy roads some parents may feel uneasy about pulling their offspring behind them and low down to the road. Detaching and storing away can be a little long winded.

Cargo bikes

A popular option in cities such as Amsterdam but still relatively rare in the UK, Cargo bikes are purpose built for transporting two or more kids (or other precious cargo). The most famous is the Christiania bike, named for the Copenhagen hippie enclave where they were first made, but there are lots of different configurations out there, including this ingenious design which converts to a stroller. Availability in London is improving, with specialist shops like London Green Cycles offering a wide range, and some councils (Waltham Forest for example) offering free trials.

•    Pros: Sturdy, stable and durable. Positions the kids in front of you where you can see them. Loads of room and flexible seating options for two or more kids.
•    Cons: Not cheap. Needs a lot of room to store. Doesn’t provide the flexibility of converting back to a regular bike once you’ve dropped the kids off.

Give them the cycling bug

Some of these options involve a considerable investment, but the good news is that quality bike trailers and cargo bikes hold their resale value extremely well. Of course the real benefit to all of this is that before too long they’ll want their own set of wheels, so you can get them off your bike and onto theirs, opening up a lifetime’s enjoyment of cycling as a family.

Is cycle training for me?

Who is cycle training for? The simple answer is that it’s for everyone. By which I mean that pretty much anybody who rides a bike, or would like to ride a bike, will gain something from a lesson with a qualified cycling instructor.

It’s for the kids though isn’t it?

Many people’s standard conception of cycle training will be what used to be known as the cycling proficiency test, and the training of school-age children remains a big part of our work today. Thankfully the rather ad hoc approach to cycling proficiency was replaced with the launch of the National Standard for cycle training in 2003, and it is this structure which guides training in schools under the banner of Bikeability.

IMG_5997Training is also available to adults, and whilst all training will be underpinned by the same National Standard, there is a large amount of flexibility that allows for training to be tailored to the individual needs of each trainee.


What if I never learned to ride a bike?

If you never learned to cycle as a child, don’t worry, it’s never too late.  Also, you’re not alone.  You might be surprised to find out that, according to some estimates, around one in ten adults don’t know how to ride a bike. The good news is that one or two sessions with a qualified instructor are usually enough to get a complete beginner pedalling along.

I already ride on the roads so I guess training’s not for me?

Cycling safely and confidently, particularly on the roads of a major city like London, involves much more than mastering the control of your bicycle and learning the rules of the highway code.  Although those two things do clearly make for a good starting point!

Unlike driving a car there’s no test to be taken before you start cycling on the roads (and I’m not proposing that there should be) which means that often even experienced cyclists have never actually stopped to think about the finer details of how they cycle. Like most activities, habits (good and bad) are quickly and easily established. As an example, a very common habit of urban cyclists is to only ever ride in a narrow strip of road within 50cm or so of the kerb. A little time with a cycling instructor spent thinking about how to increase your safety and visibility can modify this behaviour for the better.

Bespoke adviceIMG_6040

The great thing about 1-2-1 cycle training is that each session can be designed bespoke for the individual trainee. If you want to tackle a certain journey your instructor can sit down with you to plan a route before riding it together to provide advice on specific roads and junctions. Perhaps you are unsure of a certain turn or manoeuvre? If so then these can be looked at in detail. You can also spend time considering the existing cycling infrastructure in your area and discuss when’s best (and best not) to use it.

So whether you’re a complete beginner, someone returning to cycling wanting the confidence to use the roads, or an experienced cyclist wanting to make sure that you’re riding as well as you possibly can, take a look at what training’s available near you.