Youth Bikes Buyers Guide

 We all remember the days of coming home to a new bike in the driveway.  Maybe it was a bike ride to school that sticks out, maybe it was that first jump your parents built for you in the backyard that is memorable.  Could it be riding a bike down a bike path along the beach on a family vacation?  One thing we can all agree on is that time outside on a bicycle is time well spent.  For parents, the shear availability of makes, models, and sizings can be enough to just go with the Nintendo Wi, but we’re here at Berkshire Bike and Board to make that all much easier.

How do kids bike sizes work?

First and foremost, the sizes of a kids bike are the single most important thing to get right.  Yes, it is important whether or not said bike has hand brakes vs pedal brakes, but we will get to that later.

Kids’ bikes are sized much differently than adult bikes.  Where adult bikes are usually sized based on the frame, kids bikes are sized based on the wheels.  The smallest kids bikes usually start at a 12 inch wheel, and work their way up to 24 inch wheels.  After that, arguably, anything bigger is technically a small adult bike.

When should you buy your child their first bike?

We’ll speak from experience here.  At Berkshire Bike and Board we have taught many, many people how to ride a bike.  That experience has shown us that the earlier somebody gets on a bike, the easier it is to learn.  Not only that, but fancy data by scientists shows that the earlier people start to ride a bike, the more apt they are to continue that habit through life.  Lastly, if you ride yourself, what better way to spend time with a youngster than side by side on bicycles.  In short, the earlier, the better!

Balance Bikes

Back in the day most of us learned to ride bikes on training wheels.  The problem with that though, is that training wheels are a crutch.  Although they do work, they don’t really enforce learning how to balance on a bicycle.  This is why here at the bike shop, we welcome the balance bike.  What is a balance bike?  A balance bike is a very small bicycle, built for young children, that doesn’t include any pedals?  This allows a child to scoot along on a bike, catch themselves if they are going to tip over, but also get the practice of balancing a bike through steering that just isn’t possible with training wheels.  

Balance bikes predominantly come in two sizes, 10 inch wheels, and 12 inch wheels, and will work from a toddler up to about 5 years old.  

Ok, so your child has mastered the balance bike?

What’s next?  After your child has mastered the balance bike, it’s time to throw some pedals on for size.  Although some balance bikes come with pedals, most likely your child is ready to size up into a 16 inch bike.  One thing to make a note of…it is easy to think about trying to buy a bike your child can grow into.  Although sometimes that is ok, at this stage of the game, a properly fit bike will inspire confidence in the child which goes a long way towards really mastering the two wheeler.  


So how do we really know if the bike fits?  Although things are a little different for adults, for a child, if they can get both feet on the ground when stopped, that is usually best.  Some kids may just be able to get their tippy toes on the ground, and if they’re skilled, that will do just fine.  Ideally though, what we are looking for is when the child comes to a stop on the bike, that they are in complete control.

The next part of sizing is making sure that the child can comfortably stand over the bike.  Again, what we are looking for here is to inspire confidence.  Remember that teacher that told you that you were awesome, and could conquer the world?  Yes, that kind of confidence.  When the child is standing over the bike with both feet flat on the ground, there should be room between the bike and the child.  

Lastly, your child has to be able to reach the handlebars of the bike comfortably while they are sitting on the seat.  If they really have to stretch, the bike may be too big.  Ask us at the shop if we can slide the seat forward a bit if this is the case, there’s often a little wiggle room to make the bike fit perfectly.  

When is my child too big for the bike?

As your child grows taller, inevitably you will have to raise the seat.  Ideally, the seat height should allow for a fairly straight leg extension at the bottom of the pedal stroke. Quick note:  On every seatpost, there is a marking showing minimum insertion.  Once you get to this marking, do not raise the seat any higher, it presents a danger to the rider.

Once the seat cannot be raised any higher, it’s time for the next size up for junior.

Youth Bike Sizing Chart

The chart below is meant to act as a quick reference guide to youth bike sizing.  It is a general guide, but nothing beats a fit at the bike shop and a test ride.  

Youth Bike Sizing


< 32 in

32in - 37in

37in - 42in

42in - 47in

47in - 56in


2 - 4 years

3 - 5 years

5 - 6 years

6 - 9 years

9 - 12 years

Wheel Size

Balance Bike

12 inch

16 inch

20 inch

24 inch

Trade in Program

Here at Berkshire Bike and Board we realize that sometimes your child is growing fast enough to need a new bike possibly even every year.  Well, we’re hiring!  All joking aside, we want to make sure that we are doing everything we can to make the transition through the growth spurt as easy as possible, and to make sure that your child is always riding a bike that fits them well.  We will always offer a trade in credit towards a new bike to help lower the cost on parents.  We partner with Bicycle Blue Book to guide our trade in credits, head over to their site to get a quote right away!

Should I opt for a bike with hand brakes, or pedal brakes?

Well, lets just clarify this quickly.  A bike with pedal brakes allow the child to quickly ‘pedal backwards’ and the bike will stop.  This is easier for younger children, as their hands just aren’t usually strong enough to apply both brakes strong enough to stop quickly.  Hand brakes are like the brakes on an adult bike, that stop the bike by pulling the brake levers in towards the handlebars.  

Luckily for you, and for us here at the shop honestly, the bike manufacturers spec the bikes with the correct brakes based on the size of the bike.  Usually, (usually is a relative term, and the standard in the bike industry is that nothing is standard, but here’s the norm) bike manufacturers will spec anything less than a 20 inch wheel kids bike with pedal brakes.  These 12 inch or 16 inch bikes will often also have hand brakes as an option, but the child will more often than not use the pedal brakes.  Often, 20 inch youth bikes is where the manufacturers will start to use just the hand brakes.  Your child is ready if they are able to confidently pull on the brake levers and bring the bike to a stop.

Should I buy a bike for my child that has gears?

This question, much like the brake question, isn’t always so cut and dry.  The deal is this, first thing to figure out is where is your child riding?  Any kid riding mountain bikes in the woods is usually ready for gears.  Your child is also a pretty good judge of whether or not they want gears.  In the beginning, the thought of hand brakes, gears, and just learning how to ride a bike can be overwhelming.  But, once riding a two wheeler has been mastered, kids are usually pretty quick to learn how the gears work.  Again, earlier is usually better, as long as your kid wants to learn, that is the secret.  If your child is taking longer rides with the family, especially where hills are involved, gears are usually necessary.  If your child is still riding around the backyard, and hasn’t shown much confidence yet, a single speed bike is probably best.