Choosing a bike for children can be a bit confusing - mainly because children are still growing and the fact that they grow at different rates. With bikes as well, it's not just a person's height that comes into play either, inside leg is important too. It's usual for second hand kids’ bikes to be categorised into sizes which are based on the size of the wheels. Typically, this goes up from anywhere between 12 inches (the first step up from balance bikes) to 24 inches. As a guide, the conventional size of wheel for a standard adult mountain bike is 26 inches.
For safety and comfort, it's important that you choose a size that is just right for your child. However, at some point in childhood you will probably find that kids are 'in between sizes'. If that happens, it is always sensible to pick the larger option and the one that they will 'grow into', but there is a balance to be struck here as a bike that is too big for a child is a bike that could be dangerous for them to ride because they can't quite handle the ride comfortably, and a bike that they won't enjoy riding anyway.
Because, just as it is with buying clothes for kids, it can be expensive 'sizing up' all the time, the smaller sized bikes tend to be fairly simple and basic in terms of the features that are on offer. This makes them relatively inexpensive which offsets the likelihood that smaller bikes will be grown out of fairly quickly. Having to replace periodically and buy a larger size means that the market for second hand kids’ bikes is buoyant. After all, other parents are going through the same issues as you!
As a general rule of thumb, a used kid’s bike should allow the child to stand up over the tube of the bike with some clearance and they should be able to place their toes on the floor when sat on the saddle. Most children ride in a fairly upright position and if they are squashed onto a bike that is too small, it makes the bike both uncomfortable and unstable.
Although, it doesn't take into account how quickly a child might grow, the following sizes should give you an indication of what size wheel to go for.
A child with an inside leg of between 45-55cm and a height of up to around 112cm would be best served by a used kid’s bike with a wheel size of 12". A 14" bike should be fine for those who are between 105cm and 117cm tall or with an inside leg of 50-60cm.
16" and 18" bikes would be suitable for those up to 127cm tall with an inside leg of 66cm. For children up to 136cm tall and an inside leg up to around 81cm, a 20" wheel size is probably the best. Taller than that, and a 24" bike is probably the most appropriate.
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