Why You Should Never Buy a 12″ Bike! (with a few exceptions)

Specialized Hotrock 12″ vs. Huffy Rock It vs. Islabikes CNOC 14

Thanks to balance bikes, kids as early as two are ready and often able to ride a pedal bike without training wheels. Now while I am all for kids transitioning to pedal bikes as soon as they are ready (and willing!), in most cases, I usually tell parents to hold off. Why? Quite simply because the bike industry isn’t prepared for them (with a couple exceptions explained later) and the toy companies (the people behind any 12″ bike at a big box store and Amazon) are more worried about the look and price point of the bike, rather than its functionality.


 


The problem lies in the fact that building an efficient, small bicycle is challenging. For starters, toddlers legs simply aren’t long enough to provide enough clearance for the crank arms (metal bar that attaches the pedals to the bike).  For example, the Huffy Rock It 12″, Walmart’s smallest pedal bike, has a minimum seat height of 17″.  Kids with 17″ inseams, however, are often wearing 4T or 5T clothes and are too tall for the Huffy Rock It as it does not provide enough horizontal space (their knees can hit the handlebars when turning). As a result, most 12″ bikes are generally only ridden with training wheels or by older kids who are simply too big for the bike.

12 bike too small2

For those amazing two and three-year-olds who can pedal a bike without training wheels, the frame of the bike is usually the right size, but the seat is too high as they can’t reach the ground when sitting on the seat.  As shown in the video below, two-year-old Luca does an amazing job riding a Huffy Rock It without training wheels, but he cannot reach the ground to stop, so his parents have to run beside him the entire time he is riding.

So what’s a parent to do?

Option One: Buy a Balance Bike

If your child has not yet mastered a balance bike, start there.  Not only are they safer than bikes with training wheels, they are much more fun, allow kids to easily travel over uneven surfaces as well as travel up and down hills. The first part of this ad from FirstBIKE does a good job showing the differences between the two.  Related Post: What to Look for When Purchasing a Balance Bike

Another benefit of the balance bike route is by the time they outgrow their balance bike, they should be tall enough for a 14″ or 16″ bike.  While many of these larger bikes are just as poorly designed as 12″ bikes, their larger wheels size and corresponding longer wheelbase can make them more stable and easier to ride than 12″ bikes.  Related Post: What to Look for When Buying a Pedal Bike

Option Two: Buy a 12″ Bike (High-end vs. Low-end)

If your little cruiser is truly ready to move on to a pedal bike and has an inseam of at least 15″, there are a couple good options for them.  If however, your child’s inseam is less than 15″, then you are better off leaving them on a balance bike until they grow taller. Even though they would be able to fit on a 12″ bike with training wheels, introducing them to training wheels at this point could cause them to unlearn how to balance a bike and further delay transition to riding without training wheels. For the smallest of kids who are eager to ride, the Cleary Gecko is the smallest 12″ pedal bike on the market with a seat height that ranges from 15″ to 21″.  The ByK E-250 is also a great choice it’s seat height ranges from 15.7″ to 18.1″ and has 14″ tires, providing more room for growth.   For those kids with an inseam greater than 17″, my top choices are the Specialized Hotrock 12″, the Islabikes Cnoc 14″ and the WOOM2 (which are 14″ bikes, but is sized like a 12″ bikes).

12:14 compare2

To understand how good our top choices are, you have to first understand just how bad the Huffy Rock It and other cheap 12″ bikes are. To demonstrate the difference, we had several riders, aged 4 to 6, each ride three different bikes and then compared hundreds of pictures of them riding the bikes. Upon compiling the pictures, it was quite clear why all of the kids favored the higher-end bikes, they were simply easy and more comfortable to ride. Why? Because, they are better designed and have the specs to prove it.

14 and 12 comparison

What do all these specs mean and how does each affect the usability of a bike?  Luckily, finding a good bike for your child does not require memorizing formulas or various specs on bikes, but knowing what to look for and what to compare, can mean the difference between a well-loved bike and a bike that collects dust.

1. Seat Height vs. Inseam Length

Measuring a child for a pedal bike is different than measuring them for balance bike. While the inseam measurement is still taken the same way (crotch to ground without shoes), unlike a balance bike, a child can technically ride a bike whose minimum seat height is taller than their inseam. Since a child’s feet only need to touch the pedals as they ride, versus the ground like on a balance bike, they can technically fit on a bike that has a minimum seat height about 3.5″ taller than their inseam. For this reason, Islabikes lists the minimum and maximum inseams for their bikes on their website rather than the minimum and maximum seat height. That being said, as shown in Luca’s video above, even if a child can ride a bike without touching the ground, they can’t stop themselves or get on and off safety. As a result, we recommend buying a bike in which your child’s inseam is at a least equal to a bike minimum seat height.

2. Geometry & Center of Gravity

The physics behind how and why it is possible to ride a bike have been debated over for years.  There are many factors at play, which scientists are still debating, but the simple truth is that bicycles are quite easy to ride.  In fact, having a high center of balance (created by the rider on top of the bike) actually makes the bike easier to balance. This is all due to the same factors at play that make a broomstick easier to balance on your hand than a pencil. When at rest or at slow speeds, however, a bike is very challenging to balance.  As a result, for kids who are first learning to ride and who do not ride at fast speeds, a bike with a lower-center-of-gravity is actually more beneficial to them.

To create a lower center-of-gravity for the rider, a bike needs a longer wheelbase (the distance between where the two tires touch the ground), which allows the rider to sit lower on the frame and closer to the tires. Although these three bikes shown below have similar seat heights (listed above), the position of the rider on the bike is vastly different due to the difference between the wheelbases of the bikes. The Islabikes’ wheelbase is six inches longer than the Huffy, yet the minimum seat heights on the two bikes only differ by 0.5″.

12 bike geometry2

Not all bikes are created equal.  Although these bikes are essentially marketed to the same age group, they provided a vastly different riding experience. The Specialized’s wheel base is 2″ shorter than the Islabikes, yet is still able to maintain a similar body position to the Islabikes.

Along with a longer wheelbase, the position of the rider on the bike is also very important. An upright body position has several benefits over a more aggressive (leaned forward) body position. Younger kids naturally prefer their body weight being centered over their hips (like when standing or sitting). The same applies when riding a bike.  An upright body position allows a child’s weight to be centered over the seat of the bike, which allows kids to more easily and more naturally balance their bikes. To compensate for the higher center-of-gravity of the ride this creatses, a longer wheelbase and a lower center-of-gravity of the bike itself is necessary.  This unique combination can be found on WOOM bikes, as shown below.  Islabikes and ByK have similar geometries.

WOOM3 compare2

For taller kids who may be ready for 16″ bikes, the same principles apply.  A bike with a longer wheelbase and a lower center-of-gravity is always easier to start to ride as shown below by our five-year-old tester on two 16″ bikes with very similar weights but very different geometries.

For older, more experienced 16″ riders, the low-center-of-gravity may not benefit them as they typically don’t ride at lower speeds, BUT the other benefits that come along with these bikes do. Bike with lower center-of-gravity designs allows more experienced kids who typically would ride a 16″ (even the nicer ones at a local bike shop) to ride a 20″ instead. A larger wheel size greatly increases maneuverability as well as the ability to tackle obstacles.  Due to the inability to use standard bike components on these bike, they tend to be more expensive, but they are also lighter and much better quality than the standard child’s bike. WOOM, Islabikes, ByK and Guardian Bikes all manufacture well-made, lower center-of-gravity bikes.

3. Handlebars & Manuverability

The shape of the handlebars can also affect the body position of a rider.  Handlebars that are placed higher up on a rider’s body provides for a more upright body position. The lack of arm extension for the rider can also lead to twitchy steering.  Handlebars placed lower on the body help to lower the center-of-gravity as well as provide for the proper arm extension, leading to better overall control of the bike.

12 inch handlebar3

4. Wheelbase Length & Stability

Like cars, the longer the wheel base of a bike (within reason), the more stable the bike is. As a result, a kids bike with a longer wheelbase is going to be easier to maneuver and handle.

Pedal bikes wheelbase

5. Weight

Can you imagine attempting to ride a bike that is over half of your body weight? Not only would it be hard to pick up, keeping it steady long enough to mount it and then balance it, would be extremely difficult. Sadly, kids bike often weight close to 50% of a child’s weight. One reason why higher-end bikes are more expensive is that they are made with lightweight aluminum frames vs. steel. As shown below, the larger and longer aluminum Islabikes is several pounds lighter than the others and the Specialized, although larger than the Huffy, only weighs slightly more.

12 14 bikes weight

6. Bottom Bracket Height, Placement and Knee Angles

The ease at which a child can pedal a bike helps to determine how easy a bike is to ride as well as how long a child is able to ride without getting tired. The amount of leverage a child has on a pedal can make a huge difference in the ease of pedaling. According to BikeDynamics.uk.co, when the knee is bent between 72 and 144 degrees, the most leverage can be obtained for adults on a bike and the more efficient pedaling is.

knee bend anglesSince kids need to be able to easily get on and off their bikes, their seats cannot be set hight enough to achieve the ideal angles, but getting close as possible will certainly help in pedaling. To see the various levels of knee bend, we set all three bikes to the same seat height and had our four-year-old tester ride each one. While slight, the Specialized provided the most optimum minimum knee bend while the Islabikes provided the most optimum maximum knee bend.

12 bike legs 3

These are a result of two different methods these companies used to alter the child’s position on their bikes. Specialized pushed the bottom bracket on their Hotrock 12″ forward on the frame (a bottom bracket is usually inline with the seat tube, the tube of the frame that comes down from the seat, of the bike), which prevents a higher knee bends at the top of each pedal stroke.  Islabikes improved their bikes by lowering the bottom bracket of the bike, where the pedals attach to the frame. By doing so, the child has additional room for leg extension while pedaling.  This method also allows the frame to sit lower on the wheels, thereby allowing a 14″ bike to be sized like a 12″ bike. As far as we know other higher-end bikes, like the GT Mach One, Trek Mystic and Jet and Haro z12, have not implemented changes to their frames to alter the riders positions, which is why we prefer the Specialized over the others.

Due to a combination of several things, most cheap bikes provide less than ideal knee bend angles for kids.  To remedy this, kids often stand up to ride as it allows them to achieve more ideal angles. As a result, kids who ride poorly designed bikes tend to stand up a lot more than kids with properly designed bikes. Standing up can also simply be a sign that a bike does not provide enough room for proper leg extension and is too small for the child.

12 inch stand up

7. Q-Factor

The q-factor, or the width of a bike, can additionally play a role in how easy a bike is to ride. A wider bike is going to require a child to splay their legs out to pedal, thereby making the bike less comfortable and their pedaling less efficient. When building kids bikes, most bike companies simply use adult components to build their bikes because they are cheap and readily available. Sized for adults, these components are too wide for kids and require kids to widen their stance to pedal. Islabikes, however, only uses child specific parts (that they redesigned themselves) which do not require kids to splay their legs in order to pedal.

12 inc bike q factor2

12 inch width2

8. Side-by-side Comparisons

Last, but not least, while remembering all the technical terms of bike geometry can be a challenge, simply doing a side-by-side comparison of two bikes can be very informative. By doing so, any large variation in the wheel base, top tube length and handlebar shape are clearly apparent. Between these three bikes the similar geometries in the Islabikes and Specialized can be seen while the poor design of the Huffy is impossible to miss.

three 12 bikes compare

byk_comparison_with_text

ByK’s kids bikes side-by-side comparison

Who knew there was so much to learn about one little bike? In the end, however, any bike is usually better than no bike.  Even if the only bike in your budget is found at your local big box store (although be sure to check for a better designed used bike first), your child will eventually be able to learn to ride it.

Bottom Line

If your child is on the petite side, a master on a balance bike, has inseam less than 18.5″ AND is anxious to move up to a pedal bike, buy the Specialized Hotrock, the WOOM2, the ByK E-250 or another well made 12″ bike that fulfills the requirements above.  If your child has an inseam greater than 18.5″, then buy the Islabikes 14″, otherwise, stay clear of all 12″ bikes and either buy a balance bike or wait until they are old enough to move up to a 16″ or a 14″.

To see a comparison of a high-end vs. a lower-end 16″, read Early Rider Belter review and for a comparison of a 20″, read Islabikes Beinn 20″.

FTC Disclosure:

All opinons in this review are that of Two Wheeling Tots LLC.  Please do not reuse any of the pictures without linking back to this page.  In order to help facilitate this review, Islabikes provided their Beinn 14″ and Canyon Bicycles (an awesome shop in the greater Salt Lake City, Utah area with three locations) provided a loaner Specialized Hotrock 12″ (THANK YOU!).  We purchased the Huffy Rock It at Walmart. Two Wheeling Tots is not an affiliate of Islabikes, Specialized, Canyon Bikes or Huffy, but is an affiliate of Walmart.

canyon bicycles logo


 


  • Thanh

    Excellent article and spot on. There is no better 1st bike than the
    Specialized 12″ Hotrock. With that bike, my son was able to ride
    extremely well, with no training wheels, at 3 years old (this was 3 years ago, he’s now 6). Before he got
    this bike, he had a lower end 12″ and I could see that he was not at all
    comfortable on it; he did *not* like riding that bike..at all. With the
    Hotrock, he wanted to and did ride all the time. It was a lot easier to balance, he could go FAST and stop on a dime with the Hotrock. If I couldn’t have gotten my son the 12″ Hotrock (it is a very expensive first bike), I wouldn’t have made him ride the other 12″;it would’ve made him hate riding.

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      Thanks for sharing and I couldn’t agree with you more. You pointed out what many parents miss. It’s not that kids cannot ride cheap 12″ bike, it’s that they are not comfortable or confident on them as compared to other bikes. I’m glad to hear your son got off to an awesome start.

  • Jason Donnellan

    I found this thread and happy I did as I just chose a Specialized Hotrock for our 2 1/2 yo son, I had already measured the geometry compared to a strider and only the bar height is a inch higher. I am a bike mechanic so will take off the running gear and cranks and re-fit after we think he is ready. You mention all the checks that i did in my head to consider this a good idea – Hotrock is super light so similar to a strider, the bars are lower than most other 12 inch bikes, also i see why you don’t recommend it for other bikes models and if you cannot competently do the work yourself.
    Thanks!

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      Wow, I didn’t realize that the Hotrock’s top bar is only an inch higher than the Strider. Good to know and thanks for sharing!

      • Jason Donnellan

        Hi Natalie, Today I did the conversion, my boy gets the Hotrock balance bike tomorrow. I did actually modify the frame slightly – I trimmed the seatpost tube down by about 9mm (or 3/8″), very simple with a hacksaw – recommend for those who are competent with tools. No more than 9mm though and you need to measure carefully to make sure your seat tube post has that amount spare. You’ll see in the photo on your webpage than the stock Hotrock has a little more tube under the seatclamp.

        This is not for the masses though, definitely wouldn’t recommend everyone go this way. But for some it will be ideal.

        • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

          Awesome! Thanks for sharing the pictures. One thing I just noticed from your pictures is that by converting the Hotrock, you get a brake, which is not available on the Hotwalk. As for shortening the seat tube, I’m assuming that is because you needed the extra standover height? If so, what is the minimum seat height now? Thanks again, I’m sure your pictures will be a great resource for others!

  • Florian

    I don’t agree with your explanation. The fulcrum in this case is the axis around which the cranks turn (bottom bracket), which you show correctly in your graphs. However, the leverage simply depends on the length of the crank. Even if I sit directly on top of the fulcrum and “A” (seat tube angle) is zero, the leverage is still the same, as it is determined by the length of the crank. (http://www.cyclescheme.co.uk/community/how-to/how-to-understand-bike-geometry)

    Or what am I missing here? The only explanation I can come up with, if it is actually more difficult for them to ride a bike with small “A” would be that their only leverage comes from their weight (which is small), whereas in the case of the tricycle (or larger “A”) they can hold and pull on the handle bar and push with their legs. If they are right on top of the bottom bracket they may just lift off the seat. I don’t know if that’s whats happening.

    And some more details (note that seat tube angle is defined differently here):
    http://www.jssm.org/vol5/n1/3/v5n1-3pdf.pdf’ defer=’defer
    “Based upon these findings, it appears that
    increasing the seat tube angle improves the
    efficiency of cycling.”

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      You are absolutely right that the length of the crank arm plays a huge part in the leverage a rider has on bike. The problem is that here is the states (unlike in the UK, according to the Essential Guide to Kids Cycling, http://www.myfavouritemagazines.co.uk/sport/essential-guide-to-kids-cycling/), parents don’t have options as to what size crank arm they would prefer on their child’s bike. As a result, I chose not to mention the length of the crank arm as they are essentially standard on all bikes. Frame geometry, however, is not. Therefore if a parent wants to find a bike with the proper amount of leverage, focusing on frame geometry is their best bet.

      In regards to your explanation about leverage, I simply can’t agree with you that setting the seat angle to 90 degrees (or making angle “A” zero), would have no affect on the leverage kids have when pedaling a bike. Your argument may work for adults, but for kids with shorter legs, I don’t believe getting the proper “hip angle” to allow for maximum leverage (as bikers and triathletes strive for), is possible by merely swapping out the crank arm.

      Finally, the study you linked to was completed with “twelve experienced (having at least 1 year of racing experience or competing in 1 triathlon) triathletes”. The professionals used is this study are a far cry from preschooler who are simply learning to ride a bike. Furthermore, the study was designed specifically to determine at which seat tube angle the riders will experience the least amount of wear on the muscles they use to run and was not designed to test seat tube angles on the total amount of wear on the body. “The results of this study suggested that utilizing a bike with a steeper seat tube angle might reduce the deleterious effects of cycling upon running.”

      So in the end, I admit that I am not an expert in physics or bicycle mechanics, so I have no problem conceding that my explanation may not be 100% accurate. Regardless of the mechanics involved, however, I do believe that a child will have much more success on a bike with a greater “angle A”.

  • Kim

    I know this is an old conversation but what is your opinion on the Giant Jr. Animator? The store by my house sells this one and before searching for the model you recommend b/c of where i live, I want to check this one out. Thanks and so appreciate your article!

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      I haven’t seen the bike in person, but knowing that it made by an established bike company versus a toy company and that you have a chance to look and try it out in person, you are off to a great start. From what I can tell, it looks as if the crank arm is slightly moved forward, like the Hotwalk, but with the chain guard on it is hard to tell. If you go for a 12″ bike, I would highly recommend taking off the training wheels and never allow you child to use them. If they don’t have previous experience on a balance bike, then I would ask the shop about removing the crank and/or pedals so that it could be used as a balance bike is needs be. Hope that helps!

      • Kim

        Thanks, we will go check it out. He is 3 but has mastered his Strider for almost 2 years now and has been begging me for a pedal bike. I am glad I read this b/c I was considering buying him a “big box” store one but was reluctant. I would rather spend the money for quality and use this for my younger son as well than buy one that is not quality. Thanks again!

    • Wendy

      Kim, sorry if this is old news, but we are borrowing a 12″ Giant Animator from a neighbor – my 3.5 year old was pedaling within 1 house of ours! My daughter is a very slim girl who has spent the past year (not counting this crazy winter) on her Kazam balance bike. I would recommend it, especially if you have more kids who will be using it (our neighbor has 3 boys and my daughter happens to fall between them in age! Score!)

      • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

        Thanks for your insights! Glad to hear that the bike worked out great for you and for free :) That’s on of my top selling points of higher-end bike, they last forever and can be passed down from child to child without any issues.

      • Kim

        Thanks Wendy! We did purchase it and I was lucky to find a “slightly used” one for half the price that was like new. He was riding it within the first day and pedaling by day 3. He is now over 3 1/2 and has done rides over 6 miles! We love the bike and would recommend it to anyone that has a child ready for a pedal bike!

      • Wendy

        To further add to this discussion (not for you, Kim, but for anyone else reading!), our neighbors needed the bike back as it belonged to their grandchildren. It was sudden and the Giant Animator bike had taken over our days so we needed a replacement fast! Given that it is almost fall and my little one is growing fast, I opted for the Craig’s List route – we scored a 12” Dora bike within the hour. While my daughter was fine on the “toy” bike, I can honestly say that it was thanks to the Giant bike that she can ride. I don’t think she could have learned as easily on the toy bike. It’s a tad tall and handling it doesn’t seem as easy to her – frustration could have easily ended our biking joy (all things this article points out!). However, since she had the confidence it all worked out for us. Our hope is to see how much she grows over the winter and get her a real bike next spring. Happy biking!

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      Kim, looks like I missed your comment months ago, sorry! I haven’t seen the bike in person, but knowing that it comes from a well established name in bikes, you know you are going to get a good quality bike. Compared to the Hotrock, the bottom bracket isn’t pushed forward as much, but the overall geometry looks good.

  • Tamara

    I nearly panicked when I saw this article as I was googling for a new bike for my 4 soon to be 5 year old. We got him a bike for his 3rd b-day he borrowed a cousins bike before that and was pedaling just shy of his 3rd bday, he had no trouble with the 12″, but we got him a Specialized so I guess we did alright ! :) Now we are looking for a 16″ but my husband wants hand brakes, any suggestions there?

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      Sorry to give you a panic, but I’m glad you to hear that you purchased a great bike. That being said, I know many kids have happily and successfully ridden other 12″ bikes besides the Specialized, so even if you hadn’t, as long as your child is easily and happily riding their bike, no need to worry. I wrote this article to really target parents who are shopping for a 12″, not to create remorse for those whom have already purchased them (so sorry to any readers who felt that way!).

      As far as 16″ bikes, I agree that a hand brake is a great feature to look. In fact, our two older kids have both experienced the negative affects of riding a 16″ bike with only a coaster brake. Having both graduated from balance bikes with hand brakes, when we were shopping around for a 16″ bike, we decided on an old $30 Specialized we found on Craigslist. My husband fixed it up a bit and my two older kids both successfully transitioned from their balance bikes to the Specialized without a problem. A problem arose, however, once they outgrew their 16″ bike. 20″ bikes, the next size up, do not have coaster brakes, only hand brakes. So although my kids certainly had enough hand/eye coordination to use the hand brake, they had to adjust back to using a hand brake, like they had used on their balance bike. Of course, with time my daughter (my tall five-year-old is still having troubles adjusting) made the adjusted without any major injure. If their 16″ bike had a handbrake, however, we could have avoided a lot of crashes, bumps and bruises during the adjustment period. That being said, for most families, the additional cost of getting a bike 16″ bike with a handbrake probably isn’t worth the additional expense. However, I do believe buying a lightweight weight bike is.

      After some searching, I did find some 16″ bikes on the market that have a handbrake as well as a coaster brake, but there are slim pickings. My top pick would be the Islabike Cnoc 16+ ( http://www.islabikes.com/us/bike_pages/cnoc16.html) as it is very lightweight and has a rear brake (which is very important!) versus a front, however, it is pricey at $269. Another option is the Marin (http://www.marinbikes.com/us/bikes/kids-bikes/sixteen-inch), but I am not sure of the price. This British bike also looks like is has potential and is priced at $209 (http://www.chainreactioncycles.com/us/en/dawes-blowfish-boys-16-bike/rp-prod91265).
      The Ferrari bike as sold on Amazon is listed for $210 (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0019ZP73K/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B0019ZP73K&linkCode=as2&tag=aperpla-20), but it only has a front brake, which is dangerous as it can cause kids (and adults!) to fly over the handlebars when used as a high speed. Of course, with kids this is generally not a problem, but the danger is still there. The Schwinn Scorcher 16″ and the Jeep 16″ on Amazon also have a handbrake, but they are front brakes.

      Out of all of those, I would buy the best bike that fits in your budget. If none of bikes seem appealing, then you could ask a local bike shop if they would be able to add a handbrake to one of their 16″ bikes.

  • Julie Patton

    I think the best way to explain the issue with 12 inch bikes is to put your child on it and see how close to their butt their feet come when the pedal is in the fully raised position. Horribly close!
    Most cheap 12″ bikes are intended to be ridden solely with the training wheels on. The seat is put up until the child’s toes are all that can touch the ground and the child can then pedal and the handle bars are in a better location. Look at neighbourhood kids with trainer bikes and you’ll see it too.
    When a child is learning to actually ride the seat needs to be low enough that they can comfortably flat foot it for the first learning sessions.
    I have a son that learned on a strider and we had a 12″ from a garage sale. His older brother for whom striders were not available hated riding it, even with the trainers on. The rocking bumping trainers were slow felt tippy and scary. When strider boy couldn’t and wouldn’t have anything to do with it either, I took a good look at it and realized the bike was unridable without the trainers. Strider boy loved his strider and was happy with it so we did nothing. What’s the rush for pedals when they’re speedy and happy. At 4 (he was still wearing size 3) he could finally just barely touch on his brother’s old 16″ bike. He was able to ride it on his first try despite it being too heavy and frankly too big. I couldn’t get it away from him.

    He still takes the strider to the skate park though. :) Those things are fun and nimble!

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      Great explanation! Thanks for sharing and I couldn’t agree with you more. Most 12″ bikes are quite simply too small and too heavy to be ridden without training wheels. Your explanation about the position of the seat is also spot on and honestly, a much easier explanation than mine! Hopefully with time more parents will understand this concept and, like you, let them happily ride their balance bike until they are ready to move onto a 16″ bike.

  • Lisa Senerchia

    Can I ask a question? I am considering buying an Early Rider Belter bike ( http://liferbikes.myshopify.com/products/belter-16 ) for my very tall 4 year old. The bike has a very high price tag ($400CDN) but the bike shop does offer the buy-back option and a bike of this quality would be worth over half of what I would pay for it, even two years down the road. The bike is super lightweight (about half the weight of a big box store bike), and has rear hand brake. The coolest feature is the belt…the bike does not have a chain, but rather a belt, like a motorcycle would. HOWEVER, this is all amazing and great but would I want to spend that kind of money??

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      I have not seen the Belter in person, but everything I had read about it has been very positive. In addition to its lightweight aluminum frame (which is worth the additional money itself), the belt greatly decreases the risk of pants and ankles from getting snagged. My only concern with the Belter would be its 16″ wheels, as your tall four-year-old may outgrow the bike sooner than you would like. If he has tried the bike out and it is clear that he has room to grow on it, then I think it would be a great purchase. If he already needs to seat post to be raised near the maximum height, then I would take a look a the Islabike Beinn 20 Small, which is a 20″ bike designed for five-year-olds (or tall-four-year-olds). The one downside of the Islabike however, is that it is heavier at 7.84 kg. and they do not offer a buy-back program. On the upside, it does come with gearing (7-speed).

  • E.

    Ummm… this analysis starts off OK, but goes off into uncharted waters fairly quickly. It’s not the “seat-to pedal” distance that gives you mechanical advantage, it’s the gear-inch ratio (crank-arm length x gear ratio x tire size == equivalent size of a “hot-wheels” trike, like the one shown).

    The distance of the seat from the pedals is irrelevant, unless the author is trying to argue some sort of biomechanics of how the body’s musculature works. From a biomechanical standpoint, you want the knee at about a 90-degree bend when you are applying maximum force, so a longer seat/pedal distance may (or may not) be good, depending on the size of your child. This is why bicycles have adjustable seats. A hotwheels has a really long seat to try and do the same thing.

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      First off, thanks! I know my explanations are most likely not 100% accurate and appreciate your feedback in helping me fine tune my theory. After not getting anywhere with the major bike brands in determining why so many kids struggle on 12″ bikes (trust me I asked!), I came to my conclusions based on my own observations and posted it hoping that it would open up some discussion on the matter. Hopefully with more feedback, my explanations can improve.

      In regards to your feedback, I agree with you that the seat to pedal distance isn’t the main issue. As you mentioned, the 90-degree-angle bend is essential to achieve maximum force on the pedal, however due to the poor designs of child’s bike, this is often a challenge. With adult bikes, the crank arm can be swapped out, but not on a child’s bike. Therefore, while the equation you mentioned is correct, on a child’s bike without gears and a changeable crank arm, the only variable left is tire size. So then, why does one 12″ bike perform substantially better than another? Based on my observations, the only true variable I came up with was not the length between the pedal and the seat, like you suggested, but rather the amount of leverage a child sitting on a seat has on the pedals (which I determined based on the angle between the seat and the crank). While moving the seat up and down will increase and decrease this angle, the overall geometry of the bike plays a much larger role. In addition, the height of a child’s seat must be set at the height were both of their heels can be placed on the ground, not at the height at which they achieve they achieve the desirable 90-degree bend. As a result, for the most part, kids (unlike adults) cannot rely on the seat height to help achieve a desirable geometry.

      So what can they rely on? As you have read, the only real variable “changeable” variable I have come up with is frame geometry, which is the main reason why I believe the Specialized Hotwalk performs better than the others.

      • E

        The variable you are missing is a simple one, but easily overlooked… weight. Most children’s bikes are EXTREMELY heavy for their size. Not only that, but they are made from cheap, inefficient parts (read: lots of friction makes harder work) Interestingly, the Hotrock which you like is also one of the lightest children’s bikes out there, made by a company who cares about the quality of its parts. I’m not sure how you are equating seat/pedal angle with leverage… they get the same leverage either way. In fact, they probably can pedal easier when directly over the pedals because their bodyweight keeps them from sliding backwards away from the pedals and wasting energy.

        For full disclosure, both my daughters started off on balance bikes, and the oldest one was off and pedaling a 14″ pedal bike as soon as she was big enough. With the seat down as far as it could go, the tips of her toes could /just/ touch the ground. This bike has larger wheels, longer crank arms, and a LOWER saddle position, than most 12″ bikes. It’s also one of the lightest children’s bikes around at about 14 pounds. (Spawn Cycle’s Gremlin, now called the Furi). The hotrock is usually weighted closer to 17, and the 12″ department-store bike my parents got her (which she STILL Can’t pedal) is about 30 lbs.

        • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

          I couldn’t agree with you more about the issue of weight, it is HUGE, but I promise you I didn’t overlook it. First off, I am pretty clear throughout most of my site that weight is a major factor in kids bikes. Whether it be balance bikes or pedal bikes, pointing out the major flaws and cheap engineering of big box bikes was one of the main reasons why I started this site (as shown here: http://www.twowheelingtots.com/what-to-look-for-when-purchasing-a-childs-pedal-bike/). For this article, however, I wanted to determine what makes a bike easier to pedal for a child (not an adult). Interestingly, I found that even if you lessen the overall impact of the weight of the bike by using training wheels (which I of course would never recommend), the Hotrock 12″ was still a lot easier to pedal than the cheap bikes. In fact, kids on the cheap bikes often pedaled backwards, but rarely did so on the Hotrock. Why? When I did have the opportunity to ask Specialized at the Sea Otter a couple years back, in addition to building a more responsive bike due to its improved engineering, they pointed out to me the placement of the crankset. They intentionally pushed it forward to prevent kids from pedaling backwards and thereby make it easier for them to pedal. So then why does moving it forward make it easier to pedal? Maybe you are right in that using the term “leverage” isn’t the best, but considering I am no expert in physics (even after 5 classes of college physics…ugh, not fun), it was the best I could come with at the time. So how them would you describe why is works better? (No really, I’m not trying to be snarky, I’m just generally in interested in finding a better explanation!).

          As for the Spawn Cycles, those look like some amazing bikes! I too have seen the difference a well made, lightweight bike can do for a child. Our experience, however, is with Islabikes, which also makes very lightweight bikes. In addition to weight, they decreased the length of the crank arm, which provides for a lower crank set on the bike, which in turn allows the seat to sit lower on the frame of the bike. Sitting lower on the seat not only is safer (allows for heels to touch the ground) it also decreases the center of gravity and allows the kids to ride a larger wheel frame at a younger age. The Spawn Cycles Furi also seems to follow this method as the crank arm actually looks shorter as compared to standard 16″ bikes.

          • E

            Oh, I’m not arguing that the Hotrock is not a much better bike than the department store bikes! I agree with you 100% there. And it’s certainly possible that there is a bio-mechanical reason that a slack seat angle helps when learning… but it’s certainly not because of lever-arm (torque) issues between the seat and the bottom bracket.

          • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

            Glad we agree and you’re right, I need to rephrase my wording as “torque” and “leverage” are certainly not the main culprits here. Thanks again for your feedback, I greatly appreciate it!

  • E.

    Ummm… this analysis starts off OK, but goes off into uncharted waters fairly quickly. It’s not the “seat-to pedal” distance that gives you mechanical advantage, it’s the gear-inch ratio (crank-arm length x gear ratio x tire size == equivalent size of a “hot-wheels” trike, like the one shown).

    The distance of the seat from the pedals is irrelevant, unless the author is trying to argue some sort of biomechanics of how the body’s musculature works. From a biomechanical standpoint, you want the knee at about a 90-degree bend when you are applying maximum force, so a longer seat/pedal distance may (or may not) be good, depending on the size of your child. This is why bicycles have adjustable seats. A hotwheels has a really long seat to try and do the same thing.

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      First off, thanks! I know my explanations are most likely not 100% accurate and appreciate your feedback in helping me fine tune my theory. After not getting anywhere with the major bike brands in determining why so many kids struggle on 12″ bikes (trust me I asked!), I came to my conclusions based on my own observations and posted it hoping that it would open up some discussion on the matter. Hopefully with more feedback, my explanations can improve.

      In regards to your feedback, I agree with you that the seat to pedal distance isn’t the main issue. As you mentioned, the 90-degree-angle bend is essential to achieve maximum force on the pedal, however due to the poor designs of child’s bike, this is often a challenge. With adult bikes, the crank arm can be swapped out, but not on a child’s bike. Therefore, while the equation you mentioned is correct, on a child’s bike without gears and a changeable crank arm, the only variable left is tire size. So then, why does one 12″ bike perform substantially better than another? Based on my observations, the only true variable I came up with was not the length between the pedal and the seat, like you suggested, but rather the amount of leverage a child sitting on a seat has on the pedals (which I determined based on the angle between the seat and the crank). While moving the seat up and down will increase and decrease this angle, the overall geometry of the bike plays a much larger role. In addition, the height of a child’s seat must be set at the height were both of their heels can be placed on the ground, not at the height at which they achieve they achieve the desirable 90-degree bend. As a result, for the most part, kids (unlike adults) cannot rely on the seat height to help achieve a desirable geometry.

      So what can they rely on? As you have read, the only real variable “changeable” variable I have come up with is frame geometry, which is the main reason why I believe the Specialized Hotwalk performs better than the others.

      • E

        The variable you are missing is a simple one, but easily overlooked… weight. Most children’s bikes are EXTREMELY heavy for their size. Not only that, but they are made from cheap, inefficient parts (read: lots of friction makes harder work) Interestingly, the Hotrock which you like is also one of the lightest children’s bikes out there, made by a company who cares about the quality of its parts. I’m not sure how you are equating seat/pedal angle with leverage… they get the same leverage either way. In fact, they probably can pedal easier when directly over the pedals because their bodyweight keeps them from sliding backwards away from the pedals and wasting energy.

        For full disclosure, both my daughters started off on balance bikes, and the oldest one was off and pedaling a 14″ pedal bike as soon as she was big enough. With the seat down as far as it could go, the tips of her toes could /just/ touch the ground. This bike has larger wheels, longer crank arms, and a LOWER saddle position, than most 12″ bikes. It’s also one of the lightest children’s bikes around at about 14 pounds. (Spawn Cycle’s Gremlin, now called the Furi). The hotrock is usually weighted closer to 17, and the 12″ department-store bike my parents got her (which she STILL Can’t pedal) is about 30 lbs.

        • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

          I couldn’t agree with you more about the issue of weight, it is HUGE, but I promise you I didn’t overlook it. First off, I am pretty clear throughout most of my site that weight is a major factor in kids bikes. Whether it be balance bikes or pedal bikes, pointing out the major flaws and cheap engineering of big box bikes was one of the main reasons why I started this site (as shown here: http://www.twowheelingtots.com/what-to-look-for-when-purchasing-a-childs-pedal-bike/). For this article, however, I wanted to determine what makes a bike easier to pedal for a child (not an adult). Interestingly, I found that even if you lessen the overall impact of the weight of the bike by using training wheels (which I of course would never recommend), the Hotrock 12″ was still a lot easier to pedal than the cheap bikes. In fact, kids on the cheap bikes often pedaled backwards, but rarely did so on the Hotrock. Why? When I did have the opportunity to ask Specialized at the Sea Otter a couple years back, in addition to building a more responsive bike due to its improved engineering, they pointed out to me the placement of the crankset. They intentionally pushed it forward to prevent kids from pedaling backwards and thereby make it easier for them to pedal. So then why does moving it forward make it easier to pedal? Maybe you are right in that using the term “leverage” isn’t the best, but considering I am no expert in physics (even after 5 classes of college physics…ugh, not fun), it was the best I could come with at the time. So how them would you describe why is works better? (No really, I’m not trying to be snarky, I’m just generally in interested in finding a better explanation!).

          As for the Spawn Cycles, those look like some amazing bikes! I too have seen the difference a well made, lightweight bike can do for a child. Our experience, however, is with Islabikes, which also makes very lightweight bikes. In addition to weight, they decreased the length of the crank arm, which provides for a lower crank set on the bike, which in turn allows the seat to sit lower on the frame of the bike. Sitting lower on the seat not only is safer (allows for heels to touch the ground) it also decreases the center of gravity and allows the kids to ride a larger wheel frame at a younger age. The Spawn Cycles Furi also seems to follow this method as the crank arm actually looks shorter as compared to standard 16″ bikes.

          • E

            Oh, I’m not arguing that the Hotrock is not a much better bike than the department store bikes! I agree with you 100% there. And it’s certainly possible that there is a bio-mechanical reason that a slack seat angle helps when learning… but it’s certainly not because of lever-arm (torque) issues between the seat and the bottom bracket.

          • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

            Glad we agree and you’re right, I need to rephrase my wording as “torque” and “leverage” are certainly not the main culprits here. Thanks again for your feedback, I greatly appreciate it!

  • http://www.eversongmusic.com Brandi C

    We had a Hotwalk. My son now rides a 12 inch Giant pedal bike and still occasionally forgets to use the coaster or single hand brake he has and opts to use his feet, which is how he controlled speed on the Hotwalk. The heavier pedal bike was a big hindrance to my son moving to the pedal bike because it was, well, SO HEAVY. So I’d really consider the walk bike first. Maybe you could add a hand brake? Or just find a youtube video of some kids slowing down with their feet. I’m amazed at the comfort and control my son had with using his feet to control speed. I honestly can’t imagine putting my feet down to slow down, but he just does it and it’s pretty awesome the level of comfort he has with his bike.

    • Oscar

      I have just come across this discussion and the subject of good quality, functional 12″ bikes has been something i have been investigating during the past few months.
      A few months ago I purchased a 12″ bike from toysrus which my 3 yr old son never managed to ride. He would only pedal backwards! It was the best model they had and most expensive too! The sole purpose of this bike was to teach me about all the problems you all point out!
      I looked for better bikes and nothing seemed good enough so i decided to build my own wood pedal bike. It cost a fortune but it works surprisingly well and my son started pedalling immediately. He does have a past of balance bikes.
      I am quite proud of it so am sharing a picture. Its not totally finished, im still making the mud guards but its already being used on a daily basis.
      Now im stuck with a bad quality bike from toysrus and my wife was thinking of selling it…..but i will not sell something, especially for a child to use that i know does not work! I wonder why retailers are allowed to do this?

      • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

        Wow, I would love to see pictures of your bike when it it done (did you mean to include one??)! Making and designing a bike is not an easy task, so I commend you for try and succeeding!! Plus, I totally agree with you that these “bikes” really shouldn’t be sold as bikes but rather as “quad-cycles” since they are rarely used as bicycles.

  • Oscar

    I have just come across this discussion and the subject of good quality, functional 12″ bikes has been something i have been investigating during the past few months.
    A few months ago I purchased a 12″ bike from toysrus which my 3 yr old son never managed to ride. He would only pedal backwards! It was the best model they had and most expensive too! The sole purpose of this bike was to teach me about all the problems you all point out!
    I looked for better bikes and nothing seemed good enough so i decided to build my own wood pedal bike. It cost a fortune but it works surprisingly well and my son started pedalling immediately. He does have a past of balance bikes.
    I am quite proud of it so am sharing a picture. Its not totally finished, im still making the mud guards but its already being used on a daily basis.
    Now im stuck with a bad quality bike from toysrus and my wife was thinking of selling it…..but i will not sell something, especially for a child to use that i know does not work! I wonder why retailers are allowed to do this?

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      Wow, I would love to see pictures of your bike when it it done (did you mean to include one??)! Making and designing a bike is not an easy task, so I commend you for try and succeeding!! Plus, I totally agree with you that these “bikes” really shouldn’t be sold as bikes but rather as “quad-cycles” since they are rarely used as bicycles.

  • http://jadenomadtravelwear.com/ Karen Chow

    We also had the Specialized 12″ bike, and my son was able to ride it successfully when he turned 3. He did have a Strider balance bike before that, and I think that helped him out a lot. All in all we loved this bike. Now at 4.5 yrs old he’s ready for a bigger bike.

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      Glad to hear the Hotrock 12″ was a great bike for your son! After hearing so many horror stories about 12″ bikes, it’s always great to hear a success story. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://jadenomadtravelwear.com/ Karen Chow

    We also had the Specialized 12″ bike, and my son was able to ride it successfully when he turned 3. He did have a Strider balance bike before that, and I think that helped him out a lot. All in all we loved this bike. Now at 4.5 yrs old he’s ready for a bigger bike.

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      Glad to hear the Hotrock 12″ was a great bike for your son! After hearing so many horror stories about 12″ bikes, it’s always great to hear a success story. Thanks for sharing.

  • Ibjed

    The geometry you are talking about doesn’t increase leverage, but it does put their body in a better position. As the seat goes higher, the pedaling position gets better, but if the seat is above the bottom bracket, the kid is really high in the air. By moving the seat rearward of the cranks, you can get more leg extension without the excessive height. As kids proportions even out traditional geometry becomes a better fit.

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      Thank you! Clearly put and right to the point. As mentioned, a re-write of this article is in the works and in a few sentences you pretty much summed the whole thing up. Thanks again for taking the time to help clarify the benefits of better geometry!

  • Ibjed

    The geometry you are talking about doesn’t increase leverage, but it does put their body in a better position. As the seat goes higher, the pedaling position gets better, but if the seat is above the bottom bracket, the kid is really high in the air. By moving the seat rearward of the cranks, you can get more leg extension without the excessive height. As kids proportions even out traditional geometry becomes a better fit.

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      Thank you! Clearly put and right to the point. As mentioned, a re-write of this article is in the works and in a few sentences you pretty much summed the whole thing up. Thanks again for taking the time to help clarify the benefits of better geometry!

  • http://www.thesowhatmom.com Briana – The So What!? Mom

    Thanks for this post! We have a Redline Raid 16 for our 4.5 yr old who’s been pedaling w/o trainers for over a year. It was so hard to find a bike that would work for him at 3.5yrs – since we’d gone through a few crap bikes before we finally just made an investment in a “real” bike. Now, his little bro (2.5yrs) has mastered the Strider/Kazam’s and is insisting on the pedal bikes with gusto. We had kept the smallest of the junk bikes, a big box store 12″, but it’s not cutting it – after reading your post and some of the comments, it all makes sense now. Maybe we’ll just bite the bullet for the Specialized Hotrock 12… He’s a long way off being near tall enough for his brothers Raid 16. Thanks for taking the time to put this info out there! Great to see we’re not the only ones with these challenges finding good options for our little rippers. :-)

  • Alex

    Thanks a lot!!! All this work and opinions helped a lot about buy a bike for my 3 y.o. son (and later for the 1 y.o. one). I’ve been looking about the Hotrock 12 and something don’t like me: the brakes!! This bike have a front caliper brake that’s ok but have a rear coaster brake !?!?! My son have a balance bike and ride it standing on the frame, and brake the rear wheel fine. He’s learning to ride a little trial bike too, and he’s learning with both hand brakes and throttle with no problems. Is possible to dismantle the coaster brake and install a caliper one on the rear wheel? If some of you have one of this bikes, you will be so kind to tell me if there’s a hole on the rear side where I can install a caliper? I’t easy to dismantle a coaster brake? Thanks in advance.

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      Ha, ha no worries! I am always down for various opinions as it certainly helps me understand the concerns of parents and what they are looking for in a bike. As for the coaster brake, I couldn’t agree with you more that a graduate of balance bike who is confident with a hand brake has no need for coaster brake, however, CSPC rules require small pedal bike to have a coaster brake, so there is no way around it. You can, dismantle the coaster brake, but it does take a lot of work and often requires specialized tools. A rear brake can also be installed on the Specialized 12″, however, having not seen the current model, I would highly recommend confirming this with the bike shop before purchasing the bike. As a word of caution, if you do dismantle the coaster brake, I would do so with caution as it any other kids attempt to ride it, then could potentially be putting themselves in danger. In your prefer a 12″ bike with a rear hand brake, Cleary Bikes (http://clearybikes.com/collections/bikes/products/gecko-super-cream-12-singlespeed-bike), is releasing one in August. Hope that helps and sorry for the delay in getting back to you!

      • Alex

        Thanks a lot again. This Cleary Bikes look very nice, but I don’t now if they are available in europe in the next months. Have some bike tools and probably I will try to dismantle the coaster brake, until now I have not seen a bike with this type of brakes, are not usual in my region, and all the kids bikes have hand brakes.
        Thanks again for your work and help.

      • Alden Dale

        Does the clearly bikes one have a good angle as you describe in this article? I’d rather have my daughter just go from balance bike to a hand braking. I remember when I was a kid it was tough to transition from coaster to hand brakes, and I’d rather she never have to go through that.

        • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

          It’s hard to say as I have yet to see a real good profile image of the bike, however seeing as they are very lightweight and have high quality brakes, I image the geometry of the bike is pretty good. If you child is old enough, another great bike that I am currently testing right now is the Early Rider Belter. It is 16″ bikes, that only weighs 12 lb., has front and rear hand brakes and no coaster brake, but does have a minimum seat height of 18.5″. It is an amazing bike that I recently had a 4 yo, who has had trouble with his bike for months, hop on the bike and go. He LOVES the bike and is now riding for multiple-mile bike rides, while on his other 16″ bike he couldn’t even make it down the driveway. Finally, if your child is has an inseam less than 18.5″, two other bikes I would look into are the Islabike CNOC 14″, which requires a minimum inseam of 15″ as well as the byKBikes 250 (http://www.bykbikes.com/kids-bike-range/e250-kids-bike.html), but without the training wheels.

  • Esther

    What do you recommend for a 2.5 who can pedal on the 16in bike? She’s 37in tall without shoes, but has no problem pedaling the 16in one. It does look a little big, so for all intents and purposes, she shouldn’t be able to ride it, but she can. And she’s been begging for a bike for the past couple months or so. I also don’t want to waste $$ on a 12in bike! Help!

  • Kathryn

    Hi, I am on the hunt for a great bike for my 4 year old daughter who is now 40.5″ tall. We are in Canada and are considering the Spawn Cycles Furi 14″ or Banshee 16″. Have you seen these bikes, can you tell me what you think about them? They do have a high price and I have yet to find an alternative so far.

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      While I have not seen the Spawn Cycles in person, I have heard very good things about them and their lightweight really makes them worth the money. I know of a few other brands that make a lightweight 16″ bike, such as Islabikes or the Early Rider Belter, but I don’t believe they are available in Canada. If you are looking for something more affordable than the Spawn Cycles, the Specialized 16″ weight about 17.5 lbs. without training wheels and costs around $240 USD. The Banshee 16″ is a certainly lighter at 15 lbs. but whether it is worth the additional $100 is really up to you.

    • Melissa

      One of the families in our neighborhood has the Banshee for their almost 4-year old son. I’ve only seen him ride it around the park, but he tears up the pavement and is able to handle it very well. Based on what his dad says, he’s handling single track well with Banshee as well. The advantage of Spawn Cycles over the Specialized Hot Rock is the hand brakes in lieu of the coaster brake. We’re waiting on delivery of our Cleary Bikes 16″ Hedgehog for my son (41″ tall and will turn 4 in September), which is significantly less expensive than the Banshee, but I’m not sure how much it would be to ship to Canada. While the Hedgehog will be heavier than the Banshee, it should not be appreciably heavier than the 12″ Hot Rock, which my son is handling just fine.

      • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

        Good point on the coaster brake, I forgot to mention that. As long as a child is familiar and able to use a hand brake, a bike without a coaster brake is certainly the way to go. Plus, having experience with the Hotrock as well as some with the Banshee, I would love any feedback on the Hedgehog when it arrives. I won’t be able to get my hands on one for a while, so if you were willing to share your experiences and/or pictures of the Hedgehog, it would be greatly appreciated!

  • Janti

    What about Puky 12″? Im considering to by one for my 3 years old son.

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      From what I have read on the Puky bikes, they are very good quality, but heavy. If your son is lighter weight or has not yet mastered a balance bike, they I would look for a lighter weight bike or get him a balance bike.

      • Janti

        He is ok on his balance bike, he is very small but not skinny or fat. But because he is very short I want to buy him only 12″. I dond think he could cope with 14″ for learning…

        • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

          Gotcha. Since you mentioned the Puky brand, I am going to assume that you live in Europe. If that is correct, the Frog line of bikes as well as the Islabike Cnoc 14 (which is actually sized like a 12) are both great, but are pricey. For a more affordably option, I would look the Dawes line of bikes over at Evans Cycles, http://www.evanscycles.com/products/dawes/blowfish-12-wheel-2013-kids-bike-ec043283.

          • Janti

            Yes I live in Scotland. Thank you for tips!!!

  • Chelle Roman

    Do you have any recommendations for a 14″ bike? They are hard to find. Would the dimensions be better since they are a larger bike, or will I run into the same issues as the 12″ bikes? Thanks!

    • Liz

      The best 14 ” bike imho is the BMW Kid’s Bike. It is both a balance bike and a pedal bike and the seat goes lower than any of the 12″ bikes that I was able to find. My then just 4 year old was struggling with 2 different 12 ” bikes even after riding a balance bike since she was 20 months old. She borrowed the BMW from a neighbor, hopped on and road away on it and I WAS SOLD. My now about to be 3 year old has been peddling on the BMW since April.
      The only draw back is that in order to keep the seat so low, the vertical tube is quite short and therefore the seat cant be raised very high. I solved this by buying a new seat with a longer post and my oldest was able to ride it until her little sister pushed her into a 20″ Islabike. The seat post diameter is 27.2mm so you can readily find a stock post and cut it down to the length you need.
      It’s kinda pricey, but the resale value isn’t bad and they’ve been out long enough you might even be able to find a used one.

      As far as geometry, its definitely better. The seat is quite long and not so pointy at the front, so the rider can slide forward or backward to where its comfortable. The cranks are just under 100mm which is a bit longer than any half way decent 12″ bike but both of my short legged kids found it ok. With the seat all the way down, I found that the bottom bracket was just plain too high, which is a common problem with almost all small bikes, but the nice thing about this bike is the bottom bracket is removable, and is held in place with 2 bolts. I just lowered it down till the inner top hole lined up with the outer lower hole and used a single bolt. The bolts are hefty and its held in place quite well until now, and she can still ride off a 5 inch curb without banging her lower pedal on the ground. The gear ratio seems reasonable. Any but the shallowest of hills are a no go, but on level ground my little one can ride 6 to 8 mph without spinning like a hamster, so if you want to ride anywhere together, you’ll appreciate the gear ratio over most 12 inch bikes.

      The weight is about 8kg. Not super light but the handling and geometry make up for it in my opinion. The other ‘good’ option would be Islabike Cnoc 14 which if nothing else is definitely lighter, however I am pretty sure the seat will not go as low on the Cnoc as it does on the BMW.

      I tried to add a picture. If it doesn’t show up reasonably well, just google BMW kidsbike to have a better look at the geometry.

      • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

        Thanks Liz! I really appreciate your thoroughness and attention to details. Would you possibly considering writing up a complete review of the BMW bike for this site? I highly doubt I will have the chance to come across the bike and if it is as good as you say, I would love to inform others about it as well. Pictures of how you were able to lower the bottom bracket would be very helpful as well.

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      Thanks to Liz, the BMW looks like a good option, but I have not seen it in person, so I can add any insights to her review. I did, however, just receive an Islabikes Cnoc 14″ for review and like their other bikes, it does not disappoint. Weighing only 12.4 lbs. it is lighter than some balance bikes and responsive child-sized handbrakes. The minimum inseam on the bike is 15″, which is comparable to most 12″ bikes (http://www.islabikes.com/us/bike_pages/cnoc14.html). The crankset is also set lower on the bike to help decrease the center of gravity and allow younger kids to ride a larger wheel size. I am actually planning on using the CNOC 14″, as well as a few other bikes, to rewrite this post. Another 14″ bike I have heard great things about is the Spawn Furi (http://spawncycles.com/shop/spawn-cycles-furi/). They are actually pricer and heavier than Islabikes, but I do believe the Furi does not have a coaster brake, which are often a pain for balance bike graduates to use. Islabikes does have a coaster brake (in fact, any pedal bike with a minimum seat height less than 16″ is required by law to have one), but it also has hand brakes. The last line of bikes I would look into would be the Ridgebacks (http://weebikeshop.com/store/pedal-bikes/by-size/14inch/ridgeback-honey-bicycle.html). I have not seen them in person, but considering how well they made their balance bike and the fact that the frame is aluminum and has good geometry bodes well for their 14″.

    • Chelle Roman

      Thanks both of you!! I still can’t decide what to get, but those options look awesome!

  • Junai

    Another problem with these small cheap bikes is how high the center of gravity is. The wheels are close together and the seat is high off the ground. I ran into this with a really cheap balance bike we found and tried out at a store. My 3 year old was already great with a Ezee Glider, and he could manage it, but just barely. If they just spread the tires apart further, there would be more room to move the bottom bracket forward.

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      Couldn’t agree with you more. A high center of gravity is a real disadvantage for kids as it make a big harder to balance and easier to tip. Bikes with a wider wheel base do provide more room to move the bracket forward (such as with the Specialized), or another option used by Islabikes, is to actually lower the bottom bracket altogether (and shorter the crank arms to compensate). Either way, once you know what to look for, it’s amazing how poorly some of the cheap bikes are designed.

      • Junai

        It is! I go around all the time now rolling my eyes at the kid’s bikes from Walmart. I feel so bad when their parent’s think they got a really good deal!

        • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

          I know! Especially during the holiday season. I completely understand that a lot of parent’s can’t afford a more expensive bike, but I know many who could, but simply believe that a bike is a bike.

  • Rochelle

    I haven’t seen this mentioned, so I thought I’d give a shout-out to Opus bikes. We have owned the 12-inch Opus Dash and 16-inch Opus Scout for our boys, and they are fantastic. We never put the training wheels on and my 3 year old hopped on and started riding it without a problem at all (he’d had a balance bike for about a year at that point). We liked it so much we got him the 16 inch one when he outgrew it. They have both a coaster and a rear hand break. About the same price point as the Specialized. I looked at the Spawn bikes and they were lovely, but I couldn’t bring myself to spend quite that much.

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      Yes, they are great bikes! I was able to see them at a bike show last year, but due to their limited sales in the US (the are big in Canada), there were not yet releasing any of their bikes for reviews, but hopefully that will change soon. Like Specialized, all their kids bikes are made with aluminum frames, versus steel, which makes them much lighter and easier to manage as compared to the standard kids bike. For those in Canada, here the link to their line of kids bikes: http://opusbike.com/en/bikes/kids.

  • Chelle Roman

    Has anyone had/heard of/tried a GT DYNO Vertigo 12″?? It looks to be a much longer, more proportional frame. Or the GT Mach one mini?? They are t cheapy bikes (Mach one is still about $200, vertigo is priced a little less expensive), but still looks to be similarly framed. Found it from a local bike shop and have received such awesome feedback here that I thought I would ask! By the way, I think we decided the 14″ bikes are just too tall for my petite (almost) four year old. I really want him to have a great experience with his first “pedal bike” as he calls it, without totally breaking the bank. But, we have definitely ruled out cheap bikes thanks to this post!

  • Jess

    We are late in the game for our 3.5 yr old and were considering buying a pedal bike but just removing the pedals. She has a 15″ inseam and I’m just trying to avoid buying a bunch of different bikes for different stages. Any words of advice? Oh, and we really appreciated your help on our trailer purchase last fall. We went with the Cougar and have LOVED it! :)

    • Jess

      We’re considering the HaroZ12 if we do a balance bike. The local shop has a trade in option we could use to get her a pedal bike later or we may just hold onto it and let her younger sister (newborn) use it. Considering the Specialized 12″ if we do the regular bike but take off the pedals option.

      • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

        Yeah, glad you loved the Cougar and I’m more than happy to help you out again. There are a couple pros and cons about converting a pedal bike to a balance bike, which I have listed here: http://www.twowheelingtots.com/pros-and-cons-of-converting-a-12-bike-into-a-balance-bike/. Because your daughter is on the taller side, I think she may be a good candidate for converting the Specialized 12″, but I would worry about her outgrowing it too soon. That being said, it might be a better choice in the long run as even if you have to upgrade her to a 16″ after only a year or so, the Specialized will come in handy for your younger sister as younger siblings tend to ride pedal bikes sooner than older siblings as they try to keep up with them. When that time does come however, I would recommend getting a small balance bike (such as a Strider or KinderBike Mini) for your younger daughter around 18 months, as the 12″ bike (even with the pedals removed) is most likely going to be way to big for her when she begins showing interest in bikes. If you prefer to start your 3.5 year old on a balance bike, the Haro Z12 is a great choice, but once again it is a taller bike, which will work out great for your older daughter, but will delay your younger daughter being able to ride. If prefer to buy just one balance bike, then I would go with a Strider Sport (or an ST-4 with an extended seat post) for your 3.5 year old now (unless you plan on loose dirt) and then wait until she is fully confident on it and then move her up to a 16″ bike, which she is less likely to outgrow as quickly. Once she has moved on, the Strider can then be used with the mini saddle for your youngest. Hope that helps!

      • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

        Yeah, glad you loved the Cougar and I’m more than happy to help you out again. There are a couple pros and cons about converting a pedal bike to a balance bike, which I have listed here: http://www.twowheelingtots.com/pros-and-cons-of-converting-a-12-bike-into-a-balance-bike/. Because your daughter is on the taller side, I think she may be a good candidate for converting the Specialized 12″, but I would worry about her outgrowing it too soon. That being said, it might be a better choice in the long run as even if you have to upgrade her to a 16″ after only a year or so, the Specialized will come in handy for your younger sister as younger siblings tend to ride pedal bikes sooner than older siblings as they try to keep up with them. When that time does come however, I would recommend getting a small balance bike (such as a Strider or KinderBike Mini) for your younger daughter around 18 months, as the 12″ bike (even with the pedals removed) is most likely going to be way to big for her when she begins showing interest in bikes. If you prefer to start your 3.5 year old on a balance bike, the Haro Z12 is a great choice, but once again it is a taller bike, which will work out great for your older daughter, but will delay your younger daughter being able to ride. If prefer to buy just one balance bike, then I would go with a Strider Sport (or an ST-4 with an extended seat post) for your 3.5 year old now (unless you plan on loose dirt) and then wait until she is fully confident on it and then move her up to a 16″ bike, which she is less likely to outgrow as quickly. Once she has moved on, the Strider can then be used with the mini saddle for your youngest. Hope that helps!

  • Jess

    We are late in the game for our 3.5 yr old and were considering buying a pedal bike but just removing the pedals. She has a 15″ inseam and I’m just trying to avoid buying a bunch of different bikes for different stages. Any words of advice? Oh, and we really appreciated your help on our trailer purchase last fall. We went with the Cougar and have LOVED it! :)

  • Michelle

    My son turns three in a couple of weeks. He loves his balance bike and is super eager to ride a pedal bike. We have a hand-me-down in the garage for when he’s ready. He begged us to let him try it this week, but he’s too short to get on or off. But he was so persistent and so we put him on it and let him try and he can ride it. We can’t let him go out of reach because he can’t get off and on without falling. I think he’s ready for a pedal bike and I don’t think I can handle the strain on my back from chasing him bent over on this one that’s too big. Any suggestions? He rides his balance bike to preschool and it’s over two miles. The kid just loves to bike and he’s really small for his age, so I am worried it will be awhile before a pedal bike fits. Any suggestions?

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      Wow, that is amazing! Very few two years old can ride a pedal bike!! Congrats! As for a smaller pedal bike, if the hand-me down is a lower-end bike, then you may be in luck as they tend to be taller than the higher-end bikes. Based on my measurements, the cheap Huffy Rock It has a minimum seat height of 18″, while the Specialized Hotrock is 17″. So, if the bike he was able to ride has a minimum set height greater than 17″, then the Hotrock might work. If the Hotrock is going to be too big (your son’s inseam would have to be around 17.5″), then you sadly don’t have a lot of options. One choice would be this new convertible balance bike from Schwiin, http://www.target.com/p/schwinn-balance-2-in-1-bike-12-red/-/A-15305158?ref=tgt_adv_XSG10001&AFID=google_pla_df&LNM=15305158&CPNG=Sports&kpid=15305158&LID=14pgs&ci_src=17588969&ci_sku=15305158&gclid=Cj0KEQjwmayfBRDo25CR9un4hvEBEiQAv9fBbQpywtY7itx-mOBfVtFAh0aTmt-3fxF0i5qrJPFuccMaAplr8P8HAQ. I’m don’t know the minimum seat height on it, but it looks to be in the 15″ range.

      • Michelle

        I think it is a Huffy Rock that he is riding now (it’s a small Huffy). He can really just barely reach the pedals (he’s just fitting 2T). My husband made him pads with duct tape and towels so that he can practice stopping. Ahh! Thank you so much for the link to the Schwin convertible. I was cringing at the $$$ for some of the other options. But, this Schwin is pretty reasonable. He watches his dad leave for work every day on his bike and I think he is just so motivated to ride too, I just want it to be safe! Any tips for teaching kids this young bike safety? I also have a six-month-old, so my hands are full!

        • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

          Wow, if your two-year-old can ride a Huffy Rock It, he is truly rocking it! The Rock It’s are actually one of the hardest bikes to ride as it has a really short wheelbase and top tube, which essentially means that it is harder to balance and maneuver as compared to other bikes. The minimum seat heat of a Rock It is 18″, which is certainly to big for a 2T kid, but I believe the minimum seat height of the Schwinn is around 15″ or 16″, so it should be a better fit for him. I haven’t seen it in person (although I did just order one to review), so hopefully it is a good match for your son. If you did want to look at other bikes, the Hot Rock has a minimum seat height of 17″ and a longer wheelbase, but it also cost $200. Aa for tips, honestly I could use some of my own as my two-year-old flies on his balance bike and I am running to keep up with him everywhere. Luckily, he was learned to stop when he sees a car moving. To help drill in the fact, we stopped whenever we saw a moving car, even when I was pushing him in the stroller. I can’t say that it’s full proof, but it helped with him. For our older kids, the best teaching methods we found was simply getting out there and riding. Often times it’s hard to point out situations from home, but when they see it in real life, it tends to stick better (like when we say two huge moose while riding, no joke!). I have also heard that cones can be a good learning tool they help lay out boundaries for kids. Hope that helps and if you get the Schwinn, I’d love to hear how you like it!

          • Michelle

            Yeah, it’s a Huffy “Rock it.” It does seem pretty amazing. I don’t know whether to attribute it to the practice on the balance bike or his determination, but he was riding it on his first try (and he is a very small for his age). We made some new friends today talking about bikes at our local bakery and it turns out they likely will have a used Specialized Hotrock that we can try/buy. For only an inch difference, it sure seems like a smaller/better fit than the Huffy Rock, which is really a beast of a bike. They are upgrading to an Islabike for their three-year-old and they had an older daughter on an Islabike, cool family (http://www.thefamilyride.com/). We’re planning to meet up at a park to test the Hotrock. Hopefully it works! I’d also love to give the Schwinn you suggested a try, we’ll see if we can find it in a local bike shop, or maybe Target. Thanks for all the tips! We’re lucky to live in a small Montana town and we have seen moose out on walks too! I can’t seem to upload a video here, do you have an email where I can send it?

          • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

            Wow, they are an awesome family!! If they have any interest in doing a guest post/review for my site, I would LOVE to have them and would happily link back to them. Plus, yes, the Hotrock is going to be so much better for your son. The differences in wheelbase’s make a huge difference. Below are some pictures comparing the Hotrock 12″, the Huffy Rock It and the Islabikes 14″ (and a preview to the update of this post). Which reminds me, all my kids now ride Islabikes and they are amazing and made a huge difference in my kids riding abilities. BUT, I admit I did get a discount (which I only got because of this site) and wouldn’t have purchased them without out it due to the sticker shock. Anyway, I also wanted to let you know that I received the convertible Schwinn today and it is seriously one of the worst bikes I have ever seen! DO NOT ORDER IT! My 2.5 year old, when pedaling (we have to help him), hits his knees on the handlebars!! Then as a balance bike, it is too big and WAY to heavy for him. Even the Huffy Rock It is better than this Schwinn.

            And yes, I would love to see you video and can email it me me at Natalie@twowheelingtots.com. Here is the link to our video taken at Targhee in Idaho: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v-_aomwLUSE

          • Michelle

            Cool, I’ll pass your site and email along and let them know! Thanks again for all the great info. It’s been so helpful! We’ll steer clear of the Schwin and when the time is right we’ll splurge on an Islabike, they seem well worth the extra $. I uploaded a clip of Luca riding the Huffy (It’s to bad I don’t have one with the duct taped towel pads, that didn’t really work).
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DgDsC4lpZyI&feature=youtu.be, feel free to share! Thanks again.

          • Michelle

            The moose video is great!

          • Melissa

            I’d be very interested to see a similar comparison between the current 16″ Hot Rock and the Cnoc 16″. My friend has a picture of an older model 16″ Hot Rock as compared to the Cnoc 16″ on her blog (http://www.tinyhelmetsbigbikes.com/blog-we-ride/happy-birthday-big-brother-welcome-isla-bike) and the older 16″ is definitely closer to the Huffy in terms of geometry–short wheelbase, high handle bars, high bottom bracket. Just looking at the pictures of the current 16″ Hot Rock, I think they’ve fixed that to some degree, but a side-to-side comparison would be great. We already decided to go with the Cleary bike, which we should be getting in the next two weeks, but I’d love to be able to better advise other parents whether a Cnoc 16″ is worth the extra money as compared to a used 16″ Hot Rock (which can typically be found for $75 or less on our local Craigslist).

          • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

            You are right, that is a huge difference! (that link is broken by the way, here is the fixed one: http://www.tinyhelmetsbigbikes.com/blog-we-ride/happy-birthday-big-brother-welcome-isla-bike ). I agree that more info in needed on comparing local bike shop brands (new and used) to Islabikes, Cleary and other new brands such as ByKBikes (http://www.bykbikes.com). As I currently rewrite this post, I am trying to figure out a way to do just that. As for now, the only “easy”, generalized method I have come up with is to simply compare the wheelbase and top tube length of the bikes (the longer the better). These numbers, however, are often not available online, but can easily be measured by a bike shop over the phone. Weight is also a huge factor, but unfortunately, they are not readily available as bike manufacturers don’t want to be held to a specific weight. In most cases, a longer and lighter weight bike is going to be better regardless of the brand. As for used bikes, I generally rule I tell families to buy the best bike they can afford. If buying an Isalbikes is out of the question, then go for Specialized, new or used. If a used one isn’t available, go for another bigger name such are Trek, Haro, Giant, etc. If your budget limits you to a big box store, follows the rules outlined above, look for the longest wheelbase and top tube as well as the lightest. Lastly, when buying a used geared bike, there are even more things to look out for as you could possibly be opening up a huge can of worms as replacing andor fixing the component on a geared bike can end up costing a lot of money.

        • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

          I forgot to ask, is there any chance you could take a picture of your son riding the bike? I would love to see him in action. Plus, the duct tape and towels is an awesome fix, love it, but yes, him having the ability to stop himself is probably a good idea :)

  • Sergey

    Thank you for an excellent post. Really useful (I am looking for the first pedal bike for 2.5y.o/ 96cm boy).

    What is really interesting is that you recommend to go with CNOC 14 if inseam is more then 18.5″

    Islabike online chart shows that minimum inseam is 15″ (not 18.5″!), while 19″ is maximum for 14-wheeler.
    ( http://www.islabikes.com/us/bike_pages/pdfs/sizes/Size_Chart-USA_web.pdf )
    Why you mention 18.5″? (It doesn’t look to be a mistake)

    PS: What is your recommendation for 15.75″ inseam child (height is around 38″, 2.5 years old)?
    He feels well on balance bike, so I am thinking of going pedal.

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      Thanks for pointing that out as I realize that I made the clarification on my Cnoc 14″ review (http://www.twowheelingtots.com/islabikes-cnoc-14/), but not here. The difference in the measurements is what is being measured. The minimum seat height of the Cnoc 14″ is 18.5″, but the minimum inseam for a child to ride the bike is 15″. The difference lies in the space between the bottom of the pedal on a down stroke and the ground. In order to ride the bike, a child’s feet technically only needs to reach the pedals, not the ground, so with an inseam of 15″ they can ride the bike, but they will not be able to touch the ground once they stop. This measurement, is therefore, given for parents who plan on adding training wheels to the bike, in which a child’s ability to touch the ground with flat feet isn’t as crucial. Kids who graduate from balance bikes are used to starting and stopping with their feet and, therefore, need to be able to put their whole foot (not just tippy toes) in order to ensure their safety on a pedal bike. The inseam required for them to reach the ground is 18.5″, which is the minimum seat height of the bike.

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      Opps, I realized I didn’t answer all your questions! As for what bike to get for your son, honestly, a pedal bike that will properly fit a child with a 15.75″ doesn’t exist, as 16″ simply doesn’t provide enough room for a seat, crank arms as well as the space between the pedals and the ground (which prevents the pedals from hitting the ground while turning). The best bike I have found with the lowest seat height is the Hotrock 12″ at 17″. So what to do? You could go for the Islabike or the Specialized, BUT you will have to run by his side the entire time to ensure he doesn’t fall over when he wants to stop (which is certainly not ideal or necessarily safe). Having a 2.5 year old myself who is a balance bike whiz as well, I plan on simply waiting until he has a 17″ inseam as running after him on his balance bike tires me out enough that I can’t even image running after him on a pedal bike!

      • Sergey

        Natalie, thanks for the clarification and your answers – it really helps pointing out stuff I have not thought of before.

        What do you think of using training wheels (to let the boy learn how to pedal)?

        • lilbit’s momma

          I wouldn’t. We had a balance bike to learn balance & a tricycle tp learn pedalling & all our kids could pedal before age 3 easily & balance even sooner than that. When we bought the 1st 2 wheeled pedal bike, we were getting ready to “teach” out 1st how to use it. We put on his helmet & told him to hold on while we got the other kids ready to ride…and then heard screaming…”Heyyyyyy – look dad, mom, I’m doing it!!!!” and that was it…every kid has done the same. They don’t need to learn to pedal on a 2 wheeled bike…just learn the coordination to pedal, so save yourself & them any issue & have a trike or big wheel. Variety is fun anyway & you can get by never using training wheels and never running along side them. Plus I think my kids seem to have a sense of pride that they basically taught themselves to ride a bike…and that is exactly what they did.

          I stumbled on this post looking for a recommendation about an extra petite child and what bikes might be available. Our youngest is super tiny & at 10 months & walking yet is only 25″ tall….and wearing 3-6 month clothing. She is about comparable to a mid sized 3 month old. She wants so badly to keep up with the big kids & is doing a bang up job of it so far in every way she can manage. But all the kids are getting new bikes for xmas this year & I thought we’d include a balance bike for her for spring/summer use…but can’t figure out how on earth I’ll find one small enough. All our kids started out before 18 mos and I figured she would too…but none were tiny like her & I can’t find anything she can ride on at all where her feet hit the ground/floor. :/ Maybe we’ll have to see if there is a tutorial on building your own from PVC or something…..

  • S!MON

    Should you ever have any dealings with Islabikes, please could you find out what prompted them to take the suicidal step to stop selling blue bikes? Perhaps they don’t have children themselves, as I would imagine it isn’t just my 3 year old boy that likes the colour blue

    Completely stupid

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      I agree that their new color choices surprised me as well, but considering here is the US we only had red, I can’t complain much about the blue, but I agree that it is a pretty standard go-to color for kids. Over here they are finally bringing the pink, but are replacing the red with an orangey-red, which I am sad to see go.

  • AlisonS

    Thanks for the informative post. There is a lot to consider to ensure a smooth and successful transition from a balance bike (so not to hinder confidence)

    As many others wrote, my 3y.o. son quickly mastered his two balance bikes and is now asking for pedals. We live in Canada and I can’t seem to find anyone that sells the Islasbike. Do you have any recommendations for the toronto area?

    I also saw a BMW balance/pedal bike. Are you familiar with this bike and if yes, how does it compare to the two brands you mentioned and included in your post?

    Thanks!

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      First, sorry for not responded earlier as it looks like I accidentally missed your comment. Islabikes are not available in Canada. Some other options that you can consider is the Frog and ByK line of bikes, both are similar to Islabikes in that they designed specially for kids with kids parts, but they will be pricey as they will have to be shipped from the UK (Frog, https://www.frogbikes.com/lightweight-kids-bikes/first-pedal-bikes/frog43.aspx) or Australia (ByK, http://www.bykbikes.com/). Lastly, I would check out Specialized bikes at a local bike shop are their bikes tend to be lighter weight as compared to other well known brands. If you do happen to be in a shop that carries multiple brands, be sure to ask them to weight the bike, which will help you determine which bike is best for your son. Hope that helps!

    • Silver

      I’m not sure if you’ve already made a purchase, but spawncycles.com has some great options.

  • jo chong wah

    Hi, I’m wanting to buy a balance bike for my almost 4 year old daughter as she’s never had one… What would you recommend for a 4 year old of average height in Australia? I love your blog btw :-) thanks in advance.

    Jo

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      I’m not as familiar with the bikes available in Australia, but I can recommend several, but which one is best will really depend on her inseam. ByKBikes is available in several local bike shop in Australia and get great reviews from my readers, they also make a larger size balance bike that should be a good size for an almost 4yo, http://www.bykbikes.com/kids-bike-range/e-250l-kids-learning-bike.html. The Merida Matts J12 is cheaper, yet still good quality, but does not come with a handbrake and is most likely smaller than the larger ByK, http://2014.merida-bikes.com/en_au/bikes/kids/boys/2015/matts-j12-walk-3510.html. Lastly, the BladeRunna has a great design and is also available with an extended seat post.

  • CMhaybarker

    Thanks so much for this post! After almost 1.5 yrs on a Strider balance bike, it was clear our 3.5 yr old daughter was ready for a pedal bike. We took your advice and found a Specialized Hotrock; she was riding by herself within 15 minutes! It was so awesome to watch. Thanks again!

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      Isn’t it amazing to watch? So much easier and fun for both parent and child than training wheels!

  • CS

    Very informative post, thank you! Do you happen to know anything about the Raleigh MXR 12?

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      Based on the pictures I’ve seen online, the geometry looks a little too upright, but the best way to know is to check it out at a local bike shop. While there, have them weight the bike and measure the wheelbase, as those measurements will really help you compare the bike to others.

  • pm

    You should check out frog bikes, the lightest most bespoke geometric designed bike for kids from balance bikes (the tadpole) all the way to late teens. http://www.frogbikes.com

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      Totally agree with you! So far only Frog’s balance bike, the Tadpole (http://www.twowheelingtots.com/frog-tadpole/), is available in the states and we love it! Hopefully if it sells well, their bikes will soon become available here.

  • brit

    Hi there – can you please tell me what pedal bikes are available with removable pedals? Thank you!!

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      There are very few bikes out there that are convertible in the sense that the pedals and crank arm are designed to easily come off, and honestly, I wouldn’t recommend any of them. The main problem is that by the time a child is ready to transition to a pedal bike, they are usually too small for a 12″ bike and would be a better fit on a 14″ or 16″ bike. As a result, I highly recommend going with a balance bike first, so that when they are ready to transition, you can be sure to get the right size bike for them. If you believe your child is close to being able to ride a pedal bike, then I would go with a light weight pedal bike, remove the pedals (not the whole crank arm) and have your child ride it around like a balance bike. Once they master balancing, I would throw the pedals back on and them watch them easily ride away!

  • morri85

    american bikes sure looks different to german bikes. I noticed that in kids movies too and wondered about it.. (comparison) http://www.puky.net/en/mod_produkte_produktsuche/alter/4/index.html

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      You’re absolutely right. European bike companies, like Puky, design bike for kids while most American companies design bikes for profit. Luckily, things are getting better over here as many European companies, such as Islabikes, WOOM and Ridgeback, are starting to sell their bikes here.

  • Tom82

    What do you think about a Decathlon Woony?
    The pedals are removable so you could use this as a balance bike first.
    http://www.decathlon.co.uk/12-woony-700-kids-bike-red-id_8241483.html

    I’m thinking about this for my 3,5 year old daughter (but she’s only 92cm).
    She already has a balance bike but i think the transition might go smoother if she can first use this one as a balance bike and then at the pedals.

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      If she is already proficient on a balance bike, I wouldn’t bother with a convertible bike as they tend to be heavier and not as well designed as a dedicated pedal bike. Plus, it is really easy to remove just the pedals from any pedal bike, which should help to ease the transition.

  • Christine

    Curious if you’ve ever heard of Opus and what you think if so? I’m Canadian so it’s a little more doable than Islabikes, though we can get to Portland if needed.

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      I was able to see them at a trade show and they seemed like well built bikes, but from what I saw, I don’t believe they are on par with Islabikes. To be sure, however, I would go to a bike store to test one out. A good bike should be lightweight, have a long wheelbase, and not require your child to splay out their legs very far to ride.

    • Rochelle Pauls

      I’m really late to this party, but my son rode an Opus Dash (12″) at age 3, and then graduated to an Opus Scout (16″), and I just bought him a Craigslist Opus Bolt (20″) last weekend. We have loved all of them, and I would highly recommend their kids bikes. Islabikes seem great, but I kind of dislike their business model of not selling through local bike shops. Plus I wasn’t sure it was worth the cost of driving to Portland!

  • disqus_8CaacdHPQF

    How does a kid learn to pedal on a balance bike? I’m interested for my three year old but I’m nervous about her having no practice pedaling if she starts off with a balance bike instead of a regular bike with training wheels.

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      One of the coolest things about balance bike, is that you never have to teach them anything, they learn on their own, even pedaling. Once a child has fully mastered a balance bike, all you have to do is give them a pedal bike and they simply hop on and ride off. Because they already know how to pedal, they can take the time to learn how to pedal. By simply running to gain speed and then putting their feet onto the pedals and pushing, they learn. If they loose their balance, they already know how to use their legs and feet to stabilize themselves. When learning, some kids tend to pedal backwards at first, which is why is it much better for kids to learn on a bike without a coaster brake. In the end, learning to balance is a challenge, but learning to pedal is pretty easy, so it is better to learn balancing first. By teaching a child to learn to pedal bike (with training wheels), it actually delays the whole process as they learn the easy part before the hard part.

  • Dan

    Hi. Read your post with great interest as i am looking at the next bike for my soon to be 4year old son and the dilemmas i have are exactly as you outlined above. He currently has an islabike balance bike which he loves but i now feel he is ready for the next stage up so looking at a 14 inch wheel ride. Islabikes although i love and come very well recommended here in the UK are not currently an option as he wants either a blue or dark coloured bike! This has led me to either the Ridgeback MX14 (blue of course!) or a very new model on the market called Raleigh Performance 14. It seems very lightweight and has the longer wheel base which are the key parts for me. Do you have any thoughts on the above models? Thanks for the advice!

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      Thanks for bringing the Raleigh Performance to my attention. With it’s 6061 aluminum frame, it looks to be lightweight, but they don’t have the weight listed. Plus, they also don’t have the wheelbase listed, do you happen to have those numbers so that I might compare it to the Islabikes? Plus, are the WOOM bikes available there?

      • Dan

        Hi. Thanks for the reply. Their website is http://www.raleigh.co.uk/ProductType/ProductRange/Product/Default.aspx?pc=1&pt=9&pg=12912 and says it weighs 6.32kg which I think is very close to the islabikes. Not sure on the wheelbase but looks again comparable to islabikes. I may need to add stabilisers though initially (hoping to avoid that) so not sure this can handle them. WOOM has not unfortunately although they look great when I searched them. Any comments re the ridgeback mx14? Thanks again

        • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

          The MX14 weights about 5 more lbs. than the Raleigh, so I would probably go with the Raleigh. From looking at the pictures, they appear to have similar geometry, so unless you could get the wheelbase of the Raleigh as a comparison, I would go with the lighter of the two.

  • stacey

    For those with small kids, I want to share my experience. My 3.5 year old daughter is short (just shy of 36″, 14″ inseam), and from that and all the information on dimensions here, I thought she was still too small for all pedal bikes. But when a used specialized hotrock 12″ came up for a really good price, I decided to buy it anyway. It turns out she could reach the ground (not quite flat footed, but not far from it), and was riding it within 5 minutes. She can’t run to get started, but she’s figured out how to get the pedals in the right place to launch most of the time, and because her feet touch she can brake with them and avoid falling over if she gets off balance. Just two days later, she’s already ridden it for 20-30 minutes at a go, and is so psyched after asking for a pedal bike for literally a year (she started seriously riding her balance bike about 1.5 years ago). Anyway, I wanted to encourage anyone with a small but eager and determined kid to try out one of these bikes that might appear to be too big based on the measurements… I’m glad I didn’t wait another year for her to reach a 17″ inseam!

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      Thanks for sharing Stacey, and I totally agree with you. More determined riders can certainly ride the Hotrock 12″ without a problems. Hesitant riders, however, will be uncomfortable with not being able to put their feet flat-footed on the ground. As a result, I err on the side of caution, BUT for those with eager kids, I agree that it is certainly worth going for it.

  • cb f

    Hello, is the offset bottom bracket a new feature on the hotrock? I found one pretty cheap on craigslist , but from the picture it doesn’t look like the bike you show, or the image from the mfr website .
    http://orlando.craigslist.org/bik/4912986306.html

    Are you familiar with the 12 inch bike made by Torker. My favorite local bike shop carries them for $119.
    http://torkerbikeco.com/bikes/throttle-12/

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      I know the offset bottom bracket wasn’t original to the Hotrock 12″ design, but it has been around a couple years, so the bike for sale, I assume, is a couple years old. As for the Torker bike, it looks like it is well made and appears to have a longer wheelbase, but like most 12″, it will certainly have it’s limitations.

      • cb f

        Thanks!

  • http://openly.co Bruno Munro-Lafon

    Great post – I also saw this problem when looking for bike for my son. I bought him a Cult Juvi 12 for his 3rd birthday and within a couple of weeks he didn’t want his balance bike any more. Being a BMX means it will last longer as they are supposed to be small and as he is getting older it is encouraging him to ride without sitting down which is where the real skills in riding are, he is almost 4 now and loves hitting the skatepark and BMX track. In the UK you can get a United Recruit 12 which is a bit cheaper but pretty much the same. If BMX is not your thing look at the Earlyrider Belter, this bike is by far and away the best 16 inch out there.

  • Scott Cochrane

    Just wanted to say GREAT SITE…this was a long time in finding and though we got lucky with our balance bike Fugi no longer made. Were ready for the next step in the bike park and this site has confirmed what I was thinking about 12″ an 14″. So thank you.

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      Glad to be of help, happy riding!

  • James

    Nice article!
    We have a Specialized hotrock 16 for our older daughter and are looking for a 12 for our youngest. One really nice feature of the hotrock is the back-pedal coaster rear brake. For smaller kids with little hands, a back-pedal brake is a huge confidence booster.
    Cheers,
    James

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      I’m glad to hear that you’ve had some great success with your bikes. Specialized does make some good kids bikes. I will say, however, that coaster brakes really aren’t my favorite feature and I generally prefer bikes without them. The main reason is that when kids are learning to pedal, they naturally pedal backwards at times, which quickly activates the coaster brake, causing a quick stop and often causes the child to fall. Of course this is not the case with all kids, so if your kids did great with them, then that is awesome. I should also add that this is generally only an issue with kids who are converting from balance bikes, who are often already confident with hand brakes.

  • Amanda

    Just started looking for a bike for my soon to be 3 year old. She is wearing 4T pants. Even after reading this i can’t decide if the balance bike or pedal bike is the way to go. I think I’m so confused.

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      I highly recommend starting with a balance bike, as if he starts with a 12″ bike with training wheels, it will take him a lot longer to master a pedal bike than if he were to use a balance bike first. When transitioning to a pedal bike from a balance bike, you don’t have to use training wheels at all as kids simply get on the bike and ride away!

  • robbie

    Thanks for this article, it has been a great source of information. My son started riding a balance bike at the age of 2 and since then has had an Islabike balance bike and progressed to the Hotrocks 12 pedal bike. He has had to wait till today to ride his Specialized due to his size and not being able to reach the floor. Here is a video I shot of my son’s 1st ride on a pedal bike today. He has never used stabilisers. He has ridden trikes with pedals in nursery so has learnt how to pedal that way. Mixed with the balance bike it has been an easy transition.
    I’m from the UK, sorry if some of the terminology is a little different.

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      Love it, his smile at the end says is all! It amazing how what these little guys can do when given the right opportunities and great bikes.

  • Tina

    Do they make small bikes with only handbrakes? My almost 4yo has an inseam of 15″ and is rocking his run bike but we would love to see him on a pedal bike as he just wants to be like his big brother and keep up. We live in Canada so it needs to be accessible from here. But Hubby doesn’t want to spend a fortune on a bike that he will only out grow in a year or two. Thanks so much in advance!

    • Shelli

      We were just test riding the Cleary Gecko today with my 3 year old today, and it has hand brakes, both front and back. The little guy picked it up immediately.

      • Tina

        Thank you Shelli. Do you know if it was 12″ or 16″? Just looked online and the 16″ will be too big for him, but I’m concerned to buy a 12″ as so many people have told me they just aren’t worth buying as they grow out of them so quickly.

        • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

          The Gecko is their 12″ model. You are right in that kids outgrow 12″ bikes quickly, which is why I usually only recommend them for eager kids who are really ready and wanting to get on a pedal bike. As a point of clarification, the Gecko is sold with a coaster brake, BUT Cleary can swap out the rear wheel for one with a freewheel hub (essentially eliminating the coaster brake). Due to CPSC rules, they cannot sell you a 12″ bike without a coaster brake, so they have to charge you to more to take it off as that would be a modification you made to the bike after you purchase it. The WOOM bikes can also swap out the rear wheel, plus they make a 14″ bike that will allow your son to ride the bike for a longer period of time.

      • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

        Thanks for your input, I greatly appreciate!

  • Stu

    Any view on buying a boys bike for a girl? Reason I ask is where I live i can only get the Specialized Hotrock 16 in the boys version (they don’t import the girls). Is the higher standover height a deal breaker? Opinions much appreciated!

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      As long as she is tall enough to touch the ground (the seat height on the two bikes are the same), the difference in the top tube is mainly cosmetic, so I wouldn’t worry about it.

  • http://www.DesignYourOwnBlog.com/ Marianne

    A better article would have given an alternative to the Walmart Huffy bike that a bit was closer in price. But to compare a $40 bike to $200+ bike is completely ridiculous. It’s like saying, you should buy a Mercedes because it’s much much safer than a Hyundai. Um… really? Is that even a fair comparison? I mean I don’t base all my buying decisions on cost alone, but $40 vs $200, really? Maybe some of us can’t afford to spend upwards of $200 on a bike that their kid will use for a year at most.

    And using kids in your photos that are clearly way too big and too old for the cheap bikes is a cheap shot at trying to make them look like the wrong bike.

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      I completely agree with you Marianne. Expecting a parent to pay $200 for a 12″ bike that is well designed is pretty much crazy. In fact, the beginnings of this post began with our own experience. When our oldest was ready to graduate for a balance bike, we weren’t even about to step foot in a bike shop to find her a bike because we certainly weren’t about to spend even close to $200 on a bike that she wouldn’t only ride for a couple years at most. The problem was, that every new bike we could afford was simply too tall for her and were pieces of junk. In the end, we found an old rusty Specialized for $30. After some elbow grease, some real grease and spray paint, she hopped on an quickly rode off. While we got lucky with the old Specialized, some of our friends did not, and ended up getting the cheap $40 bikes. While our daughter did great on her bike, her friends struggled to master their bikes. So what was the difference? What is the child or the bike? When bikes were switched, our daughter struggled on the cheap bikes, while her friends did fine on hers. After several more years of watching and learning, this article was born and I came to a better understanding to just how much wheelbase, weight and geometry can affect the ability if a child to ride a bike.

      So to address your concern, why in the world am I suggesting parents buy a $200+ bike? Well, quite simply, because those are the only 12″ bikes that I have found, that are properly designed for a child to ride. Does that mean that that cheap $40 bikes can’t be ridden, absolutely not, BUT if you want a bike that is actually built for a kid (not simply thrown together for a quick sale), then sadly, there really isn’t a cheap option. Trust me, I REALLY wish there was a good 12″ bike for around $100 or even $60, but I have yet to find one. So please, don’t shoot the messenger! Plus, if you do find one, PLEASE let me know!!

      As for using kids that are “cleary way too big and too old”, I would have to disagree with you there. All the kids used in the pictures are preschoolers and actually and ride 12″ bikes that their parents bought for them (with exception to the six-year-old, who is in Kindergarten, BUT does ride a 12″ bike). All of their parents purchased the bikes before they even knew me, so I didn’t influence their decision in anyway. I simply just came over and brought some other bikes for them to try. The cheap bikes look too small, because they are poorly designed. They are cheap, because in addition to using lower end components, they use a lot less metal, and hence, have a much shorter frame, thereby making the rider cramped on the bike. The ironic thing about these bikes, is that they still have a really high minimum seat height. So in fact, most cheap bikes have a wheelbase that is much too short for a child tall enough to actually fit on the bike. For this reason, they are more difficult to ride and are often only ridden with training wheels OR finally mastered without training wheels once the rider is too big for the bike. So in the end, I disagree that I used kids are too big, as if I were to use kids any younger (which would have to be a two or three-year-old), they wouldn’t be able to actually get on the bike!

      • Proud parent

        I would like to say that most of the differences are not in the manufacturing of the bike but in the actually geometry or design of the bike… in other words Huffy could make a bike like the others for $40-50 if they chose too, the difference in material lengths are minimal and would add fractions to the cost of the bike. Of course it would need to come with coaster brakes to keep the cost the same. But its not to say the other bikes are over priced but in one case you also get a lighter bike but the other the bike was the same amount. But both of my kids one now 7 and my 5 year old learned to ride on a huffy but my son now 7 was 3 and the bike fit him. My daughter now 5 with the same bike is the same size as my son at 3 so it fits well. So, the point is get out there and do it. I spent about 2 hours last night teaching my daughter to ride the bike. And scooters like the razors are also great at teaching balance and can be used longer than a balance bike so maybe consider that cost is the same or less than the balance bike and my son still uses his… actually I can ride it.

        • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

          Thanks for chiming in on the discussion. Unfortunately, not all parents as as patience as you to spend 2 hours teaching their kids to ride a bike AWESOME job dad!, so very often it gets put off. You do make an excellent point, however, that cheap bikes can be ridden, so parents shouldn’t simply avoid teaching their kids to ride a bike simply because they can’t afford a higher-end bike. My main point here is that higher-end bikes are easier and more fun for kids to ride. I have watched many kids, who ride cheap-bike, eyes light up when they get on a higher-end bike and are easily able to ride over anything and everything. So while I am not saying that everyone needs to buy a high-end bike, I am saying that higher-end bikes, well designed bikes, are worth the investment if you can afford them.

          Lastly, for the most part I agree that most well-known bikes are manufactured in the same manner, speciality brands aren’t which is pretty clear upon comparing the welds of the frames. Plus, in addition to geometry, it is the component of the bikes that make the biggest difference in price, performance and quality of ride.

        • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

          I forgot to talk about scooters! You are right that they can help a child learn to balance, but I’ve seen too many kids get injured on them as compared to balance bikes, so I don’t recommend that method. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/12/01/scooters-toy-injury-study/19550159/

  • Stephanie Sheedy

    I have 2 petite 3.5 yr olds that are doing a great job on their current balance bikes. I am going to be traveling to the other side of the country for the summer and wanted to purchase either a first pedal bike or a convertible bike that they can ride while we are there. They are in no danger of outgrowing their current balance bikes size wise but I think they’ll be ready for pedals very soon(if not now). Because I am flying with them transporting their current bikes would be a huge hassle. What would you recommend? They are 38″ tall with a 15″ inseam.

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      I believe I got you covered with your other comment, but just in case, I would go with the Gecko as it is lighter, slightly smaller and you can remove the coaster brake.

  • Amanda

    Natalie, thanks so much for all the great info. We have found two Specialized HotRock bikes on craigslist in our area and need to figure out if we should get the 12″ or the 16″ for our daughter whose inseam is 18.5 inches. I so appreciate your help!

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      If the minimum seat height on the 16″ is 18.5″ or below, I would go with the 16″, but if it is higher, I would go with the 12″. I actually don’t know the seat height of the 16″, but perhaps the seller could measure it for you? If she is adventurous and eager to learn, you could go for the 16″ if the minimum seat height was only about an inch taller than her inseam, but that would mean that she would only be able to touch the ground with her tippy toes. As a result, for more timid kids, I highly recommend making sure they can touch the ground with their entire foot.

  • meli

    Thoughts on the Louis garneau F-12 bike? Im in Canada and have found a used one for $95. My average height 4 year old is good on his strider now and wants to try peddles. Figured i can hand it down to lil bro who is tall n turns 3 next summer n by then get a 16 for big guy who will then be 5? Thoughts?

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      Based on the picture online, the frame looks a little bulky and the handlebars look a little too high, BUT, for $95, if the bike isn’t too far, I think it is worth a shot if the bike’s minimum seat height isn’t higher than your son’s inseam. If the sizing seems okay, before you purchase the bike, have your son hop on and ride it. Even if it is his first time riding, he should be able to hop on, start running and begin balancing the bike right away. If he really struggles, or if the position of his hands looks uncomfortable, I would pass on the bike.

  • Hale

    I have to say, after reading this article I was very hesitant to buy my son a cheap bike. I couldn’t find any used 12″ bikes in my area and couldn’t spend $200 on a bike at the moment. My son (almost 3) has mastered the balance bike and literally all he has been talking about for the last month is “growing big and strong and riding a pedal bike”. I decided to take a chance on the $40 huffy rock it. He is short to average height and wears 3t pants. While the components are clearly not high quality I think the geometry is actually well suited to smaller riders. The combination of the shorter wheel base and higher handlebar positioning gives him a very comfortable upright riding position. These bikes may just be too different in size and configuration for a meaningful comparison. If he was a little taller I can tell the bike would start to get a little cramped with his knees too close to the bars but for a very short rider I think this bike is an excellent option. See him in action on my Instagram post @hlfields and let me know what you think about the fit.

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      First off, awesome job! I am a firm believe that any bike is better than no bike (well is most cases), so I commend you on buying a bike, even though you new it may not be the best out there. Plus, kudos to your son as well! Riding a pedal bike at three is impressive. As for the bike, you are right in that it is suitable for a three-year-old, but the problem is that they can’t touch the ground, which is usually very intimidating for most kids, making the bike hard for them to ride. As you noticed, if he was taller (and could touch the ground), then the bike would be too small for him. As a result, the Huffy is a bad idea for most kids, but as your son has proven, there are certainly kids out there who happily ride them.

  • LSpooner

    My 2.5 year old has been on a balance bike for 1 year and is very comfortable on it. We just recently rigged a rear handbrake on it and he has mastered that too. We are now looking for a 12′ peddle bike with handbrakes. We are a motorsports family and he will be learning to ride a 50cc dirtbike eventually and we want him to have solid muscle memory with handbrakes first. Do you have any bicycle recommendations?

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      Awesome set up. I assume that brown block was added to get the rear brake some support? I would love some additional pics if you had them. As for the a pedal bike, it really depends on his inseam. The best bike with the lowest inseam is the Clearly Starfish. My favorite 14″ is the WOOM2 and there are several 16″ that I recommend based on a child size, inseam, comfort level on a bike and where they plan on riding (off-road vs. pavement).

  • Rob Gardner

    Can you please tell me why you recommend the Cnoc 14 for inseams over 17″ and not the Cnoc 16? The Islabikes size chart indicates that the minimum inseam for the Cnoc 16 is 42cm which is 16.5″.

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      The minimum inseam given on Islabikes charts provide the measurements needed for a child to reach the pedal, not the ground. For this reason they are listed as minimum inseams and not the minimum seat height. Since beginning riders are much more comfortable being able to put their full foot on the ground, I recommend the 14 so that they can stop and start with their feet and feel comfortable on the bike from the get go.

  • Melissa

    In response to Marianne and Hale’s comments below, I tend to agree that the article’s focus on “cheap” vs. “high-end” is somewhat unfair and misleading. Quite frankly, I think the biggest travesty in the children’s biking realm is the idea that there is some benefit to be derived from purchasing a 12″ or 16″ bike from a major bicycle manufacturer. Many unsuspecting parents walk into their local bike shop with the idea that because Trek, Specialized, Giant, etc. make quality adult bikes, the bike they are buying for their child, for a not insignificant price, will be superior to the big box offerings. Other than the Specialized bikes, I don’t think that’s true. My daughter’s first bike was a 12″ Novara Stinger that weighed over 20 lbs. Her second bike was a Trek Mystic that weighed 22 lbs, had a high bottom bracket and a high center of gravity due to the high-rise handlebars. Sure, you get a metal chainguard instead of a plastic one, but “bike shop” bikes suffer from the same poor geometry, heavy weight, and non-standard componentry (single piece bottom bracket, etc.) as big-box bikes.

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      Completely agree with you. Just because a bike is purchased at a local bike shop, it doesn’t mean that it necessarily worth the extra expense. For the reasons you pointed out, I am also not a fan of Trek’s kids bikes and don’t believe they are worth the added expense. While I do make several comparisons to cheap vs. high-end, the main point is to teach parents who to look for when purchasing a bike, so that if they go into a local bike shop or a big box store, they know what to look for and what to ask to help them get the best bang for their buck. Trust me when I say that I wish I had the time and means to review the plethora of other bikes out there (especially the middle-range bikes), but sadly, that’s not the case. Like you, the first bike I bought for my daughter was a Novara, and while, as biking parents, we were proud of our purchase, with time we learned that it wasn’t worth the added expense as compared to a big-box store bike.

      Lastly, please remember, that I am not an affiliate of any of the higher-end bikes, Trek, Specialized, Islabikes, WOOM etc., and do not make any money off any referrals that come through this review so I have no benefit of reviewing one bike over another. I am, ironically, an affiliate of Target, Walmart and REI, where I could make money off of referrals.

  • Shannon

    My son, currently 3 1/2, learned to ride a balance bike at 2 and on his third birthday was off and running on a decent Raleigh 12 without training wheels. He will be ready for a larger bike by next spring when he is 4. What size bike should he go to next? 16 seems like a huge jump. Is there a style I should look for?

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      It’s hard to say as kids grow at such different rates, but kids generally do tend to out grow 12″ bikes soon. At age four, I certainly wouldn’t rule out a 16″ bike as many models have seat heights similar to 14″ bikes and there are several benefits to riding a larger wheel size. Style really depends on what he is using the bike for. If he is riding single-track mountain bike trails, hitting the skate park, or riding miles along paved trails, there are certain bikes that are best for each scenario. The vast majority of 16″ bikes are “sidewalk” bikes, which are designed to be ridden on paved roads and have a more upright position. For most kids, these bikes are the best, but for more active riders, a bike with a more aggressive geometry (such as the Cleary Gecko) is better.

  • Stephanie Miley

    I am looking for a bike/balance bike for my 2 1/2 year old, she is 38′ tall with an inseam of 15″. I am not sure what to do, she has a big interest in bikes, we looked at tricycles and not sure if that is the way to go. Would a balance bike be the best choice, how many years will she get use out of it? If a balance bike is the way to go, does it matter what brand? I was looking at either the Giant tricycle or the Sun bike Li’l rascal or just moving her into a bicycle. Forgive my naivety on this subject, I am trying to learn as I go.

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      Balance bikes have a lot more to offer kids than tricycles, so I always recommend buying a balance bike instead of a tricycle, not both. As for brand, there are tons of bikes out there and which is best really depends on your budget as well as where she will be riding (mainly pavement or dirt). This chart should help, http://www.twowheelingtots.com/the-best-balance-bike-for-your-dollar-2/. In general, as long as you buy a bike whose minimum seat height is about 1″ to 1.5″ less than your daughter inseam and it has about 6″ of room for the seat to extend, she should have no problems riding it for 1 to 3 years, or until she ready to transition to a pedal bike.

  • Kate

    Recommendation? My son is 3 years old and has been riding his Kinderbike mini for over a year. He is very comfortable on it and loves gliding with his feet up. He only has an inseam of 14″ though. Best pedal bike recommendations? If all else we might just have to wait until his 4th birthday (February)

    • Kate

      Inseam measured without shoes

      • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

        Unless he is really eager to move up to a pedal bike, I would wait until his inseam is closer to 16″ so that he would fit on a 14″ bike. If he is ready to go, the Cleary Gecko is your best bet, or the ByK 250, which should be available in the US shortly. Below is a picture of my 3yo in 3T clothes on the Byk 250, which he can easily stand over.

        • Elizabeth

          What is the minimum inseam needed to ride the byk e250 and the byk e350?

          • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

            Here are the specs I just got for the ByK Bikes. Currently, my site is having issues, so I can’t update anything, but I can post info in the comments! The bikes are also available here: http://cfgfactorystore.com/index.php?route=product/category&path=1_36
            E-250:
            Wheelbase length: 64.5cm

            Bottom bracket height:17.5cm

            Weight: 7+kg

            Standover height: 28 (girls) 31 (boys)

            Minimum seat height: 40cm

            Maximum seat height: 46cm

            E-350:

            Wheelbase length: 80cm

            Bottom bracket height: 21cm

            Weight: 8+kg

            Minimum Standover height: 39 (girls) 42 (boys)

            Minimum seat height: 46cm

            Maximum seat height: 59cm

            E-450:

            Wheelbase length: 88cm

            Bottom bracket height: 24.5cm

            Weight: 9+kg

            Minimum Standover height: 42 (girls) 50cm (boys)

            Minimum seat height: 59cm

            Maximum seat height: 73cm

  • Charley Preston

    Good article, but you don’t seem to mention brakes very much. The big reason I plan to get my 3 year old son a Hotrock over the Cnoc is the fact it has coaster brakes. Most small kids don’t have the hand size or strength to properly operate hand brake levers. Cnoc is missing out by not offering coaster brakes in their geometry.

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      You’re right, I should emphasize brakes more in this post. While every kid is different, I’ve found that by around 3.5, most toddlers have enough hand/eye coordination to master hand brakes. For some kids, it takes a while to master, which is why I always recommend getting a balance bike with a hand brake when possible. As far as the coaster brake, I have actually found them to do much more harm than good. When learning how to pedal, kids often pedal backwards. On a bike with a freewheel hub (no coaster brake) the bike will continue to move forward when it is pedaled backwards and the momentum the child has built up will not be lost. In addition, the bike won’t suddenly stop when the child is not expecting it to, which often leads to a fall. As a result, we have found that it is much easier for kids to learn how to ride a bike if it doesn’t not have a coaster brake. For this reason, we also recommend ensuring that kids are able to touch the ground with their feet while standing over their first pedal bike, to ensure that they can stop the bike with their feet like they are used to with their balance bike. In the end, you are right though, that a child should never be placed on a pedal bike that they don’t have the ability to stop.

  • Amanda Myers

    Hello! You have helped me make decisions about my tiny kiddo on two other occasions over the last couple of years, and it’s worked out well so I’m back again! He was way, way too tiny for any balance bike when I first posted for advice- and a bit timid- so you pointed me in the direction of the the yBike. This was of course short-lived, but did the trick to get him started and eventually he got big enough for the Strider ST4 we got for a steal (though I would have loved to get him a First Bike). He is definitely not timid now and happily cruises for 2+ mile rides around the neighborhood on his Strider (he’d probably go farther, but usually I’m tired of hustling along behind him!). I got the extended seat post for the Strider so that he can keep riding a bit longer, but he keeps talking about how he can’t wait until he’s big enough for a bike like mom and dad.

    The problem is, even though he’ll be 4 in less than two months, he’s still tiny. He has some 3T pants that are still too big for him. He’s 33 lbs. and has an inseam of 15.5″, so I obviously don’t want anything terribly heavy and I need something small. If we do a Cleary Gecko, are we likely to be out of it next summer? Our winters are pretty harsh, so he won’t be able to use it year-round. We’re willing to invest more in his first pedal bike, but it would be great if it could last more than a summer (maybe that’s unrealistic). I’d prefer something where we can have the coaster brakes removed as well, I’ve watched him on a family member’s old tricycle and he pedals backwards, the coaster brakes will be a disaster for him. Do you think we’re better off keeping him on a balance bike for now? I really liked what I read on your site about the Woom2, but he’s nowhere near big enough for that yet. Is the Gecko our best/only option? Do you know how soon the Byk250 will be avail and do they remove the coaster brakes for you?

    Thanks (again and again)!

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      Yeah, glad you came back :). You’re comment is actually very timely as a couple hours ago our 4yo tester in 3T just learned to ride our freewheeled Gecko we just received for testing. Having only ridden on a balance bike for a couple days, with some help and encouragement, he was able to ride the Gecko is less than 30 minutes by himself (picture below). From watching him ride, it is very clear that bike is very well made, but it does have a very aggressive geometry that would be a challenge for timid riders. Plus, in order to get him to fit on it, we actually had to swap out the seat with one of our balance bike seat posts and seat. The seat from your Strider certainly wouldn’t fit on it, so you would have to either buy a new seat post (which can be pricey) or saw off the end of the seat post that is provided for you. The reason why the seat post is so long is that the CPSC requires all bike with a minimum seat height less than 17″ to have a coaster brake, so Cleary has no choice but to send you a longer seat post. Because of the Gecko’s 12″ tires, however, the bike itself is pretty small and I assume your son would outgrow it before next year.

      For the ByK 250, our 3T testers can stand over the bike without modifying the seat, BUT it comes with a coaster brake. I do think, however, that the geometry of the ByK 250 is better suited for beginner riders than the Gecko. Unfortunately, I don’t know when they will be available.

      • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

        4yo in 3T on the Cleary Gecko

  • Elizabeth

    Wow! I just recently found your site, and I have been hooked for the past week. My 4 year old (almost 5) learned to ride a pedal bike last year, and has struggled with almost all of the points that you have made. She started on a used 12″ yard sale bike (from a big box store). She has always been timid on the bike, until now that she is really tall enough to feel comfortable, she really looks silly on the bike because it is too small for her. The same issue with the 16″ bike we found and repaired, she is really too short for, but it fits her body much better, and she is again timid and uncomfortable. Then I stumble across this site, and everything makes sense. I would really love to buy her a Woom3, or an islabike cnoc 16″ after reading all of the reviews and the discussions, but it is just not in our budget, especially since I am looking to buy her much more adventurous younger brother a pedal bike as well. (I was looking at the Cleary Gecko for him, since he is such a little guy). I was wondering if you or anyone passing through this site, would have any of their smaller bikes that they would be wanting to get rid of. We would love to find something secondhand, that we could afford the nicer bike, just at a used price. Thanks so much for all the informative help!

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      Sorry, I don’t! I am hoping that this article will help get more good used bikes available in the future, but for now, they are few and far between. In the coming months, we are hoping to review some mid-range bikes, but that isn’t expected anytime soon.

  • Matt

    I’m in the UK and looking at the Specialized and Islabike but have just stumbled across a Ridgeback MX12, wondered what you thought about it?

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      I reviewed the MX14 (http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ridgeback-scoot-mx14/) and while it was a good bike, in our opinion, it doesn’t compete with the Islabikes. Here in the states, the major benefit of the Ridgeback is that is doesn’t not have a coaster brake, but that shouldn’t be an issue for you in the UK.

      • Matt

        What are the issues with coaster brakes in the US?

        • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

          Simply that they are required on all bikes with a minimum seat height less than 17″. Most balance bike graduates do much better on bikes with a freewheel hub, but without some extra money to spend to remove the coaster brake, most parents don’t have an option not to have it.

  • Julie

    Hello. I have a little boy who loves his balance bike but will be ready for a pedal bike soon. He turns 3 in October. So we were thinking about getting him a pedal bike for his birthday. He is currently 37 1/2 inches tall and his inseam is 15 1/2. What do you think would be the best bike for him?

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      If he is an aggresive rider, I would go for the Cleary Gecko with a freewheel. If he a more casual rider, I would go with the ByK E-250, http://cfgfactorystore.com/index.php?route=product/product&path=1_36&product_id=941. The ByK doesn’t not have a freewheel option, however.

      • Julie

        What do you think about the cnoc 14. Do you think it would be too big? Thanks for your help. He isn’t that aggressive but he might be in the next couple years.

        • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

          The minimum seat height on the CNOC 14 is 18.5″, so it is going to be too big for him right now. While he may be able to touch with one foot while on his tippy toes, it is most likely going to be too intimidating for him to ride now, but he won’t be able to stop with his feet like he is used to.

  • http://www.Bambubatu.com Pacha Hornaday

    Just wanted to share my experience. My little guy got a balance bike for Christmas last year. He was 20 months then and has been riding it daily. We had a 12″ Schwinn hand-me-down bike at home that my daughter learned on when she was 3.5yo. He’s been eying it and asked us to push him around on it every once in a while. About a month ago he finally figured out how to pedal on a tricycle. Then last week he wanted on the bike again. The problem is that, although he can reach the pedals just fine to ride, he can’t reach the ground at all to start or stop by himself. Nonetheless, he surprised us by riding the bike up and down the street after a couple tries (at 2 year and 3 months of age). Needless to say he’s been obsessed with riding the “big bike”. 😉 But my back can’t handle the hunched over running next to him in case he needs to stop anymore. I got busy online and found your super helpful site.
    We’re getting ready to move from the States to Europe and wouldn’t be able to bring our bikes, so I was hesitant to buy him a brand new $200+ bike, but I was lucky to find a Haro bike on Craigslist for $50. With the seat on the lowest setting and after letting some air out of the back tire, he is actually able to ride it by himself. And he’s super stoked! Now he rides his “new bike”, as he calls it, every day.

    I didn’t see Haro bikes mentioned yet, so I just wanted to bring it up as another option. It’s not perfect, the handle bar is pretty high for him, but it’s ten times better than the Schwinn.

    Not sure if this link is going to work, but I’ll try: https://instagram.com/p/4xmm4mRN7I/ It’s a video of him riding.

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      That’s awesome! I can’t believe he is only 2 and is riding like a champ, I love it! Plus, for $50, that Haro was a great deal. It looks like a great fit for him (the video link worked), so yes, I need to track one down to try it out. Online the MSRP is $189, but it does weight 17 lb Your guy, however, rides it like a champ, so for him the weight certainly wasn’t an issue. How much does he weigh? Regardless, good job mom, he’s a pro at two, which is a rare feat indeed!

      • http://www.Bambubatu.com Pacha Hornaday

        He’s only 30lbs, so this is more than half his body weight. He has some trouble picking it up sometimes, but usually can manage somehow. The coaster brake is definitely challenging for him, though. I wonder if hand brakes would work better…

        • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

          Coaster brakes are a pain for kids just learning to ride, but luckily, once they master it, the coaster isn’t as much as a problem. Hand brake work well if kids are familiar with how to use them, but for most kids, especially balance bike grads, they tend to continue to use their feet to stop.

  • Corri

    What do you recommend for a tall 7 year old who loves her scooter but has struggled with a bike? We’ve gone through 3–I thought they were too big (no idea what, but expensive)–and want to go back to like a 12/14 inch now.

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      If they were lower-end bike, that are high-centered, that is most likely the major culprit. I would stick to a lighter weight with a low center-of-gravity, such as the WOOM, Islabikes or ByK. For any of the brands, you will want to make sure you get a bike that isn’t too small for her. I imagine that a 12″ or 14″ wouldn’t fit her and that she would be better off on a 16″. On a properly sized bike, she will be more comfortable and it will be easier for her to ride as it will have a longer wheelbase to better distribute her weight. All three are pricey, but very well made and have helped many kids who are struggling to finally learn to ride. The WOOM is the only one of the three that offers a non-coaster brake version. If your 7yo is already comfortable with pedaling, then I the coaster brake isn’t a huge deal. If you think she just needs a little help, the push bar that comes with the ByK (shown below) may be of help. The ByK’s can be found here: http://cfgfactorystore.com/index.php?route=product/category&path=1_36.

      • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

        I would go with the 350 vs. the 250 shown in this picture.

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      Then again, have you tried a balance bike yet? If not, I would go with the TykesBykes 16″.

  • urge

    My daughter is a petite 4 1/2 year old but very athletic. She rode a balance bike. She was ready for a pedal bike and I Knew the 12″ bikes would be too small. I got her a 16″ Diamondback bike with training wheels. After 4 days, took them off and she rode the bike. Turns took a bit but she’s got them down after day two. The bike is a steel frame and heavy so she gets tired out on long rides and she barely weighs 30 LBS. Plus stopping and starting is still a challenge because the bike is tall. She is just on her soles of her feet when she’s off the seat. I have the seat all the way down and tilted down to help accommodate her getting on and off. First question – can 14″ tires be put on in place of the 16″ tires? I think that’ll help her with getting on and off with comfort and confidence. I wish I had bought an aluminum frame now, since they are lighter but how much lighter are they really? The model Diamondback i bought was 2015 Mini Impression. (in pic shown). Next question: Is there a better seat (thinner) out there, that might allow her to reach the ground easier? Thinking there isn’t anything that much thinner so will have to go with smaller wheels. Thanks!

    • Melissa

      This may not work or help, but you could look into buying a seapost that has a built-in clamp (vs. the clamp on top), which may let you get the seat lower. The Islabike seat and Cleary Bikes seat are both much lower profile, but I don’t know if they would sell the seat separately to a non-owner. Or if you have the seat as far down as it will go, and there is still exposed seatpost, you could have the seatpost cut down. As far as weight, the shipping weight for the Diamondback is listed on Amazon at 29lbs; even assuming some of that is packing material, if the weight is 25lbs, it is 25% heavier than a 16″ Specialized Hotrock, which weighs in around 20lbs.

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      Since the crank arm on a 16″ bike are longer than those on a 14″ bike, you most likely can’t swap out the tires as the pedal would hit the ground, especially when turning. You could also swap out the crank arms, but with the time and money you spend into converting the 16″ to a 14″, you could have bought a 14″.

      As for the seat, it really depends on what type of seat it is and how it is attached to the seat post. As Melissa mentioned, you could try to get a seat from another company, but it may not be able to connect to your seat post. You’re best bet there is to take the seat post to a local bike shop and see if they have anything that would fit.

      • urge

        Thanks for the quick replies from both you and Melissa. Will just let my daughter work her way thru it. If I feel like she is not enjoying it or overworking then I will break down and get a lightweight 14 inch bike. My son could use after she is done with it.

  • Jen Rosenblum

    I just picked up a 12 inch specialized hot rock for my 4.5 year old niece yesterday. She refused the balance bike until a few weeks ago when the 2 year old picked it up. She kept insisting upon pedals, and I wasn’t giving her pedals till she learned to ride the strider. Then she was on it since she wasn’t going to let the little one have it. I don’t think she was on the strider more than a half dozen times. The strider was a bit small but okay. On the hot rock, I think the seat is almost all the way up, and she’ll need a new one next year, but for right now I need to drop it half an inch or so to give her a bit more strength to push off and self start.
    She balked for a good bit that she couldn’t do it, and wanted to get back on the strider. The coaster brakes were causing a problem for a bit, and I’m still debating seeing how much the guy at the shop down the street would charge me to get rid of those and put on a hand brake. I figure I’ll get my money’s worth, since the two year old is also tiny (not tall enough to sit on the seat of the strider and ride it yet) and should get a year or two of use on it. I spent a lap around the outside of the high school track with a light hand on the back, and telling her that she could do it. She’d get going, then back pedal and stop. I finally told her I was giving her a push, counting to 3, and letting go. She was off with no problem. For the first time the longest she kept it upright was about 15 seconds, but we had to stop for the night since it was late. A bit more practice and we’ll be riding in to town for icecream I think. Guess I need to get my bike ready to go.

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      And that is how it’s done :), good job mom! While some kids jump on a go, many kids need that additional reassurance and help from their parents. My youngest took six months to learn how to ride a balance bike, but once he go it, he was off and is now obsessed.

      For the Hotrock, I agree, with a couple days she is probably be off and riding. As you noticed, the coaster brake is a pain, but your daughter learns to ride the bike, it won’t be as much as a problem. Putting on a hand brake would be a great addition, but the cost that it would take to remove the coaster brake probably wouldn’t be worth it.

  • Martin

    Hello, my nearly 4 year old son has had some use of his balance bike (weekly rather than daily), but at 42.5 inches height and nearly 20 inches inside leg, he’s too big for it now (despite my drilling extra holes in the frame to support a higher saddle position!). Given he’s not as confident or practised as others his age, yet very tall, I’m struggling with a choice of first pedal cycle for him. I’m considering a Cnoc 16 (this fits his dimensions) but am unsure as to the best choice. I’d be grateful for any advice – thank you.

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      I would go with either the CNOC 16 or the WOOM3, they are both great bikes, whose lower center-of-gravity designs help kids feel more comfortable and confident. With either bike, I would have him start out on the bike without the pedals and have him use it as a balance bike. Once he gets comfortable riding the bike I would put the pedals on. Between the two, if he is lighter-weight, I would go with the CNOC, if not, then I would go for the WOOM as you could upgrade to the freewheel kit which would eliminate the coaster brake.

  • Jennifer Lundeen

    We’d like a recommendation on a pedal bike with training wheels. My husband isn’t a fan of balance bikes. Our son has a 13″ inseam.

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      There really isn’t a pedal bike small enough for a child with a 13″ inseam (the smallest is the Cleary Gecko with a minimum seat height of 15″). Does he want to skip a balance bike and go straight to a pedal bike or go to training wheels? If he is planning on using training wheels, you could try the ByK E-250 as it your child might be able to reach the pedals since it has a minimum seat height of 15.7″. There are about two inches between the ground and the pedals, so it might work. The ByK also comes with a handlebar, so you could use it without the training wheels, BUT it would be hard. If you plan on simply removing the pedals to have him use it as a balance bike, the ByK won’t work as he won’t be able to touch the ground while on the seat.

  • booklady235@hotmail.com

    I just bought the Schwinn grit bike 12″ for my grandson for Christmas. He will be 3 years old right after Christmas.Should I have bought him a balance bike instead of a pedal bike? He knows how to pedal because he has been riding a “big wheel” style bike that sits low and has very good gross motor skills. Opinion???

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      I have found that most kids have a lot more fun on balance bikes than on 12″ bikes with training wheels. No only can they go faster and over various terrains, even jumps, they learn how to balance first (which is hard) and then later learn to pedal (which is easier). Some kids, however, don’t like balance bikes once they have been on a bike with training wheels, so I would ask to see how he doing on the Schwinn before I would invest in a balance bike. While I certainly believe that a balance bike is the way to go, I would hate to have you spend more money on a bike that your grandson may not be willing to try.

  • Ramya

    Hi, my almost 3.5 year old has an inseam of 16.5″. He has a Strider and I can see that he has mastered balance on it. He is tall for his age. Should I get him a 12″ or 16″ specialized hotrock? Suggestions greatly appreciated!

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      He will probably be much more comfortable on the 12″ as we won’t be able to touch the ground on the 16″. The 12″ is also a lot lighter than the 16″. To be sure, I would try him out on both at the bike shop. Do not, however, let him climb onto the 16″ with training wheels on it as while he will be able to fit on it, he probably won’t be able to touch the ground, and probably won’t be able to ride it without the training wheels.

  • Danielle Brooke

    Hi I have read all of your comprehensive information above but would just like a little clarification. My nearly four year old has an inseam of 17″ and is a whizz on a balance bike. He wears size 4 clothing. He is coordinated and has good balance. We are in Australia……is there a bike you could recommend?

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      Being is Australia, I would highly recommend the ByK line of bikes as not only are they great bikes, they are widely available and shouldn’t cost you a fortune. With a 17″ inseam, I would try out the E-350. It may be slightly too tall for him, as it has a minimum inseam of 18″, but he should be able to touch the ground in order to start and stop. If the 350 is too big for him, then I would go for the 250. I have also heard great things about Torpedo7 bikes, but I haven’t seen any in person.

  • Sally

    Hi I just wanted clarification on whether I should by my child a ByK E350 or E250 (I am in Australia), He will be 4 years old in 3 months his inseam is 16″ he is 101cm tall (39.76″) he has mastered his balance bike and has been riding a pedal bike that was given to us as it was no longer needed (but the pedal bike is too small for him and is horrible). Would he be to small for the E350? I just think he may grow out of the E250 too quickly and we won’t get our money’s worth and then in a years time have to buy a E350.

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      If he can already ride a pedal bike without training wheels, then I would go for the E-350. When learning to pedal, kids need to be able to touch the ground so that they feel more comfortable and so they can stop with their feet if necessary. For a child who is already confident in riding, starting a bike on their tippy-toes generally doesn’t bother them and actually provides for better leg extension (more efficient pedaling) when riding.

      • Sally

        Thanks for your quick response, the pedal bike he was given has training
        wheels, so he rides with the training wheels on and he can put his foot
        down flat while seated, will it matter that he has to ride the E350 with
        training wheels? (hopefully we can teach him to ride without them), does
        this mean he won’t be able to touch the ground at all if training
        wheels are on the E350? if so do we have to buy the E250 instead?

        • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

          If you plan on using training wheels, they I would definitely go with the 350, but if you want him to use the bike as a balance bike first (by not installing the pedals as well as the training wheels when you set it up), then I would go with the 250. If you think he will be hesitant to learn to balance on the 250, then I would get the 350 and first, try it without training wheels and just use the handle to balance him. If he is uncomfortable with that, I would use the training wheels until he can touch the ground and then remove the pedals and training wheels and use it as balance bike.

  • Rebekah Carson

    Hey, first off – thanks for all the info! My daughter is 3.5 and has been a daredevil on her strider bike for quite some time (she got it when she turned 2). We’d like to get her on a pedal bike soon and have heard great things about the hotrock. Her inseam is 17.25″ now… I’m wondering if we should get a hotrock 12, a hotrock 14, or wait a bit until she’s taller. Thoughts?? Thanks! :)

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      I would probably go with the Islabikes CNOC 14 or the WOOM2 as their maximum seat heights on their bikes are higher than the Specialized Hotrock and will last her longer. The max seat of the Hotrock is 19″, which she will quickly outgrow. If you think she is ready to go, then I would go with the Islabikes which has a minimum seat height of 18.5″, which won’t allow her to use her full foot, which for eager kids is fine, but is intimidating for timid kids. The downside of the Isalbikes is it’s coaster brake, which will cause he difficulties when she is learning to pedal. If you think she is going to need more time, then I would go with the WOOM2, which has a minimum seat height of 17.5″, which would allow her to stand with a flat foot and essentially use the bike as a balance bike first. The WOOM2 can also be purchased without a coaster brake. Another option if she is hesitant is the ByK E-350, which has a minimum seat height of 18″, but it does come with a bar that allow you to help her balance as she is learning to pedal. The ByK, however, only comes with a coaster. Hope that helps!

  • Corrin Stevens

    So glad I found this info. I was about to buy your typical Walmart special peddle bike. I’m struggling to figure out what to do. My son will be three in 2 months and is 38″ tall with a 15″ inseam. He wears 3T/4T tops with mostly 2T bottoms. He’s been riding his Strider bike (now upgraded with air tires, etc) since he was 18 months and has mastered it. He puts his feet up on the bike as a zips around. A neighbor “gifted” us a used 12″ huffy bike. It took him three days to learn how to peddle. My husband took the training wheels off and he can ride it all by himself now but has trouble reaching the ground when he wants to stop. I’d prefer to keep him on his Strider for longer, but he loves peddling. I really don’t want to spend $300 on a bike for a growing boy. Do you have any suggestions?

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      Unfortunately, there really aren’t a lot of options for really small bikes that he would be able to touch the ground on. The Cleary Gecko is the smallest bike out there, but it is pricey and he will likely outgrow it within a year or two. I think the best bang for your buck would be the ByK E-250. It has 14″ tires instead of 12″, so he will be able to ride it for longer. It will most likely be too big for him right now, but the lowest seat height is 15.7″ versus 18″ on most Walmart bikes, so he might be able to touch with his tippy toes. The ByK is pricier at $229, but it will most likely have a higher resale value, which will help.

      • Corrin Stevens

        I ended up buying the ByK E-250 and it works well. He can touch the ground with his heels slightly off the ground. He is able to start peddling from a complete stop so that’s a win. Glad I came across your site. I would not have known about the ByK E-250.

        • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

          Awesome! Glad to help. It looks like a perfect fit, which is really hard to come by for this age. Good call on the Strider pads as well :)

  • Dave Simpson

    Great site but I find the info contradicting on separate pages maybe…? This page says if their inseam is less than 18.5″ then get a 12″, the other page says there should be a slight lean when seated. Our 4yo son has 16″ inseam, he sat on a 16″ Ridgeback MX16 and to our surprise he could just touch the ground on both sides. We are completely confused and overwhelmed as to what to get him and on top of that he wants a blue bike which is proving very hard!
    I’m not entirely fond of the Ridgeback but it’s blue! But do we get him the 14″ where his feet are flat on ground when seat down or the 16″?? We wouldn’t even consider a 12″, way too small!

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      You’re right, thanks for pointing that out to me, it needs to be changed. Since I wrote this, several new bikes have come on the market and it’s been a challenge to keep up with everything. Another problem is that most companies don’t publish their minimum seat height (when they do, there is no standard form of measurement in the industry), so I often have to reply on info from third parties. Looking at my charts, it says the Ridgeback 16″ has a minimum seat height of 18.9″, would be able to touch the ground on both sides with his feet, but not with his full foot. Because it is hard for kids to stop the bike with just their tippy toes, we recommend kids being able to touch the ground with their full foot, unless they are competent and comfortable with stopping with a hand brake. If your son is confident stopping without his feet, then I would look at the ByK E-350 a 16″, which comes in white and blue (not sure if that counts), http://cfgfactorystore.com/index.php?route=product/product&path=1_36&product_id=943. The ByK’s seat is a little more than half an inch’s lower than the Ridegbacks. If he needs to be able to stop with his hands, then I would consider the E-250 which is a 14″ (the same blue and white color – minimum seat 15.7″). Lastly, the WOOM2, with a minimum seat height of 17.5″ would probably be my top choice, but it is also pricey at $339, but it is available in blue, http://www.us.woombikes.com/collections/frontpage/products/2. Sorry for the confusion, hope that helps!

      • Dave Simpson

        Hey, thanks for reply. I understand, bikes are changing all the time now!
        For anyone in the UK there’s another contender which we decided to go for! Carrera Cosmos 14″ @ Halfords, they have really upped there game in the last few years, it’s obvious this bike is to contend with the Cnoc etc but it weighs 6.4KG (14.11lbs) !!!! I weighed it myself. Yeah the colour (they do white also) and decals aint the best but our lad wants a blue bike and we were pulling our hair out and if he’s happy and rides it that’s the main thing.

        • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

          Hopefully you find one that works! Thanks for the info about Halfords, a good help to those in the UK. I realized another option would be Frog Bikes, but no blue :( (well just a white, yellow with some sky blue).

  • Kristin Weaver

    Hi, I have been looking at getting a bike for my 3 year old daughter.
    She is still quite small for her age so I have been looking at 12 inch
    bikes. She tried both 12 inch and a 14 inch bike in a bike shop but the
    14 inch was way to big. Based on your reviews I have been looking at the
    woom bike as I prefer her having a more upright sitting position. She
    currently uses a Puky balance bike (the smallest version)
    We are very happy with the puky balance bike so have been looking at
    the pedal bike version of it. Have you got any experience with the 12
    inch puky pedal bike? I have also come across another brand called
    bobbin who make the bobbin gingersnap 12 inch bike which also seems to
    give a more upright riding position. Do you have any experience with
    either the Puky or the Bobbin gingersnap?

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      The bikes available at most bikes shops have very different geometry than many of the bikes available online, such as ByK, WOOM and Islabikes. These brands have the seat much lower in the frame of the bike, so that kids actually can actually ride a larger wheel size, which is why these brands don’t carry a 12″ and have 14″ with minimum seat heights lower than the standard 12″. More than likely, she would fit on a higher-end 14″ just fine, but not a 14″ at a bike shop.

      Sadly, I don’t have any experience with the Puky or the Bobbin Gingersnap, so I can’t be of too much help. They aren’t readily available in the US though, I assume you are in the UK? For the Puky though, it looks like their bikes adhere to the same ideas of having kids sit lower in the frames, so they could be a good option as well. Without having measurements, one way to tell is by their pictures. If the seat comes really close to the back wheel, then the geometry of the bike is usually better for kids. The Bobbin also looks like a great option IF they stock photo shows the seat not in it’s lowest position. Often times, the seat post will not drop lower as they use a longer seat post to gain more height. Sorry I couldn’t be of more help, but hopefully that helps a little.

  • M4rk0

    Hello, I’m curious if the Ghost Powerkid 12 is a good option for our 4.5 year old. It’s made of alloy but I cannot make out the inseam dimensions from the website. http://www.ghost-bikes.com/en/bikes-2012/bike-detail/5456/

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      Sorry for my delay in getting back to you. From what I can tell, the bike you linked appear to have a very high geometry. While seeing a child on the bike is the best way to determine how it fits, by looking how close the seat is to the rear tire can be a good indicator of geometry. With the Ghose bike, the rear seat is pretty far up from the rear tire, which means the child sits high on the frame, which would increase the center of geometry.

  • Gil

    Hi, thanks for this great page, I will appreciate if you can comment about the BMW kid bike, my boy is 95cm high (15’’ inseam), already mastered his Strider but tires have not traction mainly cornering, get air tires cost around $60usd, considering he wants and be ready to pedal, BMW seems to have good geometry at 14″, etc.

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      A BMX bike, that is truly used for BMX riding, are very different from the standard kids bike. The generally have very low saddles, with very little padding (since they are rarely used) and also have shorter cranks to prevent them from being hit on jumps, ramps, etc. If you are interested in a BMX bike, I wouldn’t be a very good resource, but I’m sure there are many other site out there that could better direct you to the best bike.

      • Gil

        sorry Natalie, but the BMW is not a BMX bike, I’m confused with your answer

        • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

          You should be confused because I totally messed that up, sorry!

          I am on the fence about the BMW bike. For the price we pay here ($300+), I don’t believe you get your money’s worth out of the bike as by the time your child is ready to move up to pedals on the bike, they will most likely out grow the bike within a year. The bike does have 14″ tires, which does allow for a better overall fit and more room for growth, but unless your child learn to balance on the bike without having to raise the seat at all, once the pedal are on, the seat height will quickly max out (once kids master pedaling, the seat of the bike is generally raised 1″-1.5″ for better pedaling efficiency). Lastly, the bike comes with a coaster brake, which makes learning to pedal much more complicated for you riders.

  • tom

    this is dumb. . my 4 year old girl rides a 16″ hotrock bike down trails at mammoth mountain with out training wheels. she rode her 12 inch hotrock without training wheels when she was 2 years old. everyone should have a 12 inch. they usually just dont get the bike in time or are scared to pedal at that age. a 12 inch is perfect for a 2-3 year old. a “strider bike” is great from 1-3 years old but dont hold your kids off the peddles after that!!

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      Humm, by your comment, I am going to assume that you didn’t read the entire post as your comment agree with the main message of this post. At the end of the post it clearly states, “If your child is on the petite side, a master on a balance bike, has inseam less than 18.5″ AND is anxious to move up to a pedal bike, buy the Specialized Hotrock or the ByK E-250 or another well made 12″ bike that fulfills the requirements above. If your child has an inseam greater than 18.5″, then buy the Islabikes 14″, otherwise, stay clear of all 12″ bikes and either buy a balance bike or wait until they are old enough to move up to a 16″ or a 14″.

      In other news, awesome job at getting your daughter out riding with out. I hear Mammoth is amazing.

  • Patricia Favero

    Can you take the pedals off any of these taller recommended bikes to use as a balance bike until they’re ready for pedals? My 2yo is tall for his age.

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      Yes, you can, but I wouldn’t recommend it for a two-year-old. The main issue is that the seat height on all of these bikes is likely going to be too tall. Secondly, pedal bikes are a lot heavier than balance bikes, so they will be harder to learn to balance on. For older kids (age 5 and up), the difference in weight isn’t that big of a deal, but for toddlers, it is huge. Lastly, if he is tall for his age, by the time he is ready to transition to a pedal bike, he is most likely going to be too tall for a 12″ pedal and will be ready for a 14″ or 16″, so he won’t actually use the 12″ bike as a pedal bike for very long, if at all.

  • SuperDad

    I have a 4.5 year old girl. She has never been on a bike. I am interested in purchasing a pedal bike that she can grow into. She has a 17″ inseam. What do you recommend?

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      What about a balance bike? Any experience there? If not, then I would consider getting a balance bike first, any pedal bike you get her now (that will allow her to comfortably ride it now), will most likely be too small for her once the training wheels are removed. If you were to get a balance bike, I would wait until she has mastered a balance bike and then get her a pedal bike. If she grows a couple inches during the time she is learning, she could easily fit a 14″ or 16″ bike, rather than a 12″, which she is likely to quickly outgrow. So in other words, I wouldn’t buy a bike for a child to grow into until they have mastered balancing, as when learning to balance, a larger bike is going to be harder to learn on and may delay their progress significantly.

      • SuperDad

        Sorry for the delay in responding. We’ve been under the weather. I had never heard of balance bikes until visiting this site. We were considering the Byk E-250 but I was concerned that she would outgrow it too fast for the price. I also figured the E-350 would be too big. I will have to research balance bikes and go from there. Thanks for the suggestion.

        • SuperDad

          I just realized that we should’ve measured my daughters in seam with shoes on. Her inseam is actually 18.25″. I’m not sure if that makes a difference in regards to purchasing a balance or pedal bike. Currently, I’m researching Tyke Bykes and leaning towards that.

          • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

            With an 18.25″ inseam, the ByK E-350 would certainly fit. If you expect her to learn to balance relatively quickly, then I would go with the 350, but have her use it as a balance bike first by not installing the pedals. This method works great for eager, athletic kids, but since pedal bikes are a lot heavier than balance bike, it is more challenging. If you are thinking about a balance bike, then I would go with the TykesBykes Charger 16″.

  • Kasey

    My 4 year old is 38″ tall and has an inseam of 15.5″. I am trying to decide between the Specialized Hot Rock 12″ or the Commencal Ramones 14″ as his first bike. Any recommendations? He has not used a balance bike.

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      Do you plan on using it with training wheels or by taking off the pedals? If you plan on using training wheels, then I would go with the Hotrock as coaster brakes are easy way to stop. If you plan on taking off the pedals, then I would go with the Commencal as lack of coaster brakes will make it easier for him to learn how to pedal without training wheels.

  • Barbra Salas

    I would dearly love some help. I have an almost 6 yo who wears 4T clothing and weighs 34 lbs. He has historically struggled with athletic stuff. I had no idea about bike issues until I stumbled on this post. We originally bought him a Huffy character 12″ bike because he wanted it, and now I see how terribly made it was for him. He had a very hard time getting good at pedaling it with training wheels, and it never fit him properly (we bought it when he was 4.) Now he’s asked for the Huffy Spiderman bike for Christmas. He REALLY wants that bike as his gift. I’m struggling because I want to know how difficult you think it would be for him if we got it for him. And if we did, would we go with the 14″ or 16″? He is turning and pedaling very well now but he hasn’t balanced without the training wheels and isn’t always great with the pedal breaks. Please any thoughts you have. Also please note that this is our only child, and we are on an extremely tight budget. He always says he only wants one or two presents for Christmas (more overwhelms him), so we obviously want to get something he’d really like. Thank you!

    • Barbra Salas

      I’m sorry. Not so much 4T clothing anymore. Usually more like 4 slim. Occasionally a 5 slim.

      • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

        Any bike is better than no bike, but the Spiderman bike is going to be challenging for him to ride without training wheels. That being said, unless he is really distraught about not being able to ride without training wheels, then perhaps the happiness the Spiderman bikes gives him will make the delay in riding worth it. I’ll fully admit that the Spiderman bike is pretty bad, BUT bikes aren’t everything. If he really wants to ride without training wheels, I would try to shop around for a better used bike first and then see if you could accessorize it at all, with perhaps a Spiderman bell or decals? We were in the same position with my oldest years ago and ended up finding an old rusted Specialized for $40 that my husband cleaned up for my daughter and then we she outgrew it, he sprayed painted in another color for my son. Of course, that is not always an option, but something to consider. If you go with the Spiderman bike, then I believe he would fit better on the 14″.

  • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

    Glad to help and sorry for the delay in getting back to you. With a 14″ inseam, finding a good pedal bike for him is going to be tricky. For the Fern, finding the specs are going to be a challenge as Schwinn rarely provides them for their bikes in any store. Their 12″ bikes, however, do tend to be tall with a short wheelbase. I assume the bike has training wheels on it as he most likely cannot standover the bike without them on, even when the seat is in it’s lowest position. The only real pedal bike that will allow him to touch the ground is the Cleary Gecko, but the bike is tiny and kids outgrow it very quickly. Another more affordable option is the ByK E-250, but it’s minimum seat height is 15.7″, which will allow him to touch the ground barely with his tippy toes, but not with his entire foot. While touching with their tippy toes is generally a sign of a well fitted bike, for first bike (especially those coming from balance bikes), it often turns them off of bikes as they can no longer start and stop the feet with their bike like they are used to. If he is eager to ride, which is sounds like he is, them he may do just fine on his tippy toes versus his whole feet. A tippy toe start, however, does require him to be able to stop with a hand brake or be completely comfortable with a coaster brake. Most kids who graduate from balance bikes really struggle with coaster brakes, so that is going to be a challenge as well. So what to do? If he can handle the tippy toe, I would look into the ByK or even the Islabikes CNOC 14″ (which is actually taller with a minimum inseam of 18.5″ and does not have training wheels). If he can’t, then I would try to keep him on the balance bike for the next couple months until he fits the CNOC or the ByK. By then the WOOM (which is a very small company), will also have their bikes back in stock, which will be great as you have the option to remove the coaster brake. As for the Fern, that’s hard. Honestly, I don’t think it is a good fit for him, but if he is attached to it, them it may be worth keeping in the meantime as he could practice pedaling and learning how to use a coaster brake on it. Just be sure he doesn’t use it exclusively and still uses the balance bike so that he doesn’t learn to feel of balancing a bike.

  • Shirah Sternfield

    My son is almost 4 with an inseam between 15-16 inches. He does a great job balancing on his strider, but seems to be outgrowing it size-wise. I don’t want to purchase the kit to make it bigger because my 2 1/2 year old daughter is just big enough to fit the strider at its lowest setting so I would rather pass it on to her. I think he could handle a pedal bike, but I don’t think he will fit a 14″ and I’m reluctant to spend money on a 12″ because he may outgrow it very quickly. He is expressing interest in specifically having a “pedal two-wheeler”. I like the concept of the hybrid because he is generally cautious and I’m not sure he will take to the pedaling so quickly so I would like to have the option to go back to a balance bike if he is unsuccessful or unhappy. What would you recommend?

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      I would consider looking at the ByK 250. It minimum seat height in 15.7″ so it will fit him just fine and has a 14″ wheel versus a 12″. It also has a handlebar to help stabilize her in the beginning if he needs the extra help. Here’s our review: http://www.twowheelingtots.com/byk-e-250/.

      • Shirah Sternfield

        This bike looks great and I would love to get it for him, but the price is stopping me. What about the specialized hotrock 12 which seems to be more commonly available used? Also, would you recommend getting him a bigger balance bike for now and holding off until he fits a 16″ bike (if he can be convinced out of the pedals)? If so, which balance bikes would you recommend? Are there an other budget bikes that might work for him? Thanks!

        • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

          The Hotrock is a great bike, especially if you can snag a used one for a good price. With a 17″ minimum seat height, it is going to be slightly too big for him now. He will be able to touch the ground with his tippy toes, but not with his whole foot, which can be unnerving for some kids. The Hotrock also has a coaster brake, which makes learning to pedal a challenge for some kids as they naturally pedal backwards when learning, which stops the bike when they are not anticipating it. If he is adventurous, he might be fine on it, or it could scare him off. It really depends on him. If you prefer to go for a larger balance bike, the TykesBykes Charger 12″ is great bike for $109 (http://amzn.to/1Kc216i).

  • Christine

    I’m looking into a bike for my daughter for her 4th birthday. She wears 4t clothes and spent this past year riding the Radio Flyer balance bike (larger bike). She hasn’t fully mastered it, but is begging for a pedal bike, and I don’t think she’s going to transfer from a balance bike to bike without training wheels anyway, as learning to pedal is just too much distraction for her. She’s a good fit height-wise on the big box 14″ bikes, but I can’t find quality 14″ bikes in our price range (under $150). I’ve checked used locally, and bike shops, and I think the main issue is just that 14″ bikes are hard to come by so not many options. I’m not sure whether to go with a 12″ or a 16″. She does have a younger brother who will have a strider balance bike this spring (I found used and though good to grab as it’s smaller than the Radio Flyer). He will likely be ready for pedals around age 3, so maybe the smaller bike is better to have on hand to use for him in the future? I’m not sure. I’m also wondering if we should keep the larger balance bike and the tricycle (which my daughter still asks to use because she wants pedals – I don’t know if it’s better to let my son start with the tricycle or balance bike, but am leaning towards balance bike). Any suggestions?

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      14″ bikes are rare, so finding a good affordable one is going to be a challenge. The most affordable well-designed 14″ bike that I know of is the ByK 250, but it is $220. My son is also turning four shortly and is in 4t pants but fit on the BYK when he was in 3t pants, so it would fit her now as well as your son later (as it’s seat range is similar to a 12″), but sadly they are never on sale. So what to do? For your daughter, if she is really adamant about a bike now, this (http://amzn.to/1SCCsNx) 12″ for $150 would be on the smaller side for her now, but would still fit and since you could pass it down to your son. If you could hold her off until she fits onto a 16″, I would wait as there are a lot more options in that size. For your son, I would absolutely start him off on a balance bike. Learning to pedal and riding a tricycle generally comes very easy to kids, while learning to balance takes some more time. As a result, some kids who start on tricycles take much longer to master balance bikes as they tend to favor the easier tricycle versus putting the time needed on a balance bike. The Strider would be a great start for him, but I would also hold onto your larger Radio Flyer until you daughter is fully confident on a pedal bike.

      • Christine

        How are the trek bikes rated? We went to a local bike store and my daughter fell in love with a 16″ trek bike they had. I’m concerned about the transition from the balance bike since while she fits that 16″ with room to spare, she won’t be able to have feet on the ground like she does for the balance bike. I know the main reason she liked it was that it had training wheels flush so she got on it and took off (which speaks volumes to the angle and weight issues you mention since she couldn’t do that on the store ones – though those had a wobble with training wheels not being flush to the ground too.) She is adamant that she wants that bike, though I’m hesitant that the larger size will be the best for her transition. She’s fairly risk adverse, and one bad experience can sour her completely.

        • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

          In my experience, Trek designs their base model kids bikes simply for looks and not for performance. They are flashy and cool looking, but are often heavier than they should be. Based on their website though (which is a mess, at least the kids section), they only have the Superfly listed, which is lighter than their previous models, but it is only available orange. Assuming you are looking at a different model, I would also be hesitant to move your daughter directly to the bike, especially since she is likely to be turned off by a bad experience. I would recommend having her try out several bikes without training wheels. They easily come on and off so it should only take the bike store a couple minutes to get them off. I would have to try out a 12″ or preferably a 14″ bike first (without training wheels) and then the 16″. By doing so, she will be how much harder the bike she really wants will be to ride. The bike store will encourage you to buy the 16″, which it sounds like does fit her well, but if she is uncomfortable on it, it could delay her transitioning to a pedal bike. I would also be sure to try out other bike shops. Try to find one that carries Specialized, Giant and/or Cannondale as I prefer their kids lines over Trek’s and perhaps one of those will fit her better. If you can’t seem to find one in the shop she is comfortable with, I would wait a couple months until she is taller and perhaps try again? As I mentioned before, there are several bikes available online as well, but they will be more expensive.

  • JB

    Wow Natalie! What research— and it’s amazing your willingness to help families buy the right bike for their child. We have a “just-turning” 3-yr old who only has a 13.5” inseam. She’s a pro on the balance bike and is well coordinated. She’s excited about getting a bike with pedals (her words) for her birthday and I’m leaning toward the Specialized 12”er (though it’s quite pricey). She may have to grow into it but we expect her to be able to use it for a while because of her short stature— and we hope that younger siblings will make the most out of the bike too. Thoughts??? Thanks!

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      Glad to help! With only a 13.5″ inseam, the Hotrock is going to be pretty big for her as the minimum inseam is 17″. On her balance bike she is used to being able to start and stop with her feet, but on the Hotrock, she won’t be able to touch the ground with her feet at all (well maybe her tippy toes if she has bigger feet. As a result, she will find it hard and uncomfortable to start and stop the bike. As a result, I would look into another bike (although all the other options are pricier) or simply wait until she is taller. If she is persistent and athletic, she might be able to pull it off (she will have to start the bike with one foot over the bike and the other pushing to get started), but until she is comfortable stopping with the coaster brake, not being able to stop on her own will certainly present some safety issues. The best way to know is to have her try out the bike at a bike shop without the training wheels. The shop will have the training wheels on, but they come off in minutes, so they should have no problem taking them off to try the bike out.

  • plasticm

    Hi. This is a great thorough analysis of the bike options for younger kids, so thank you.

    However, you do totally contradict yourself at one point – under “Option Two: Buy a 12″ Bike” you seem to recommend the Islabikes Cnoc 14″ . I’m sorry?

    Basically, I rate Islabikes (like most parents who know bikes – my older daughter now has a Beinn) but they’ve let themselves down by making the Cnoc 14″ their smallest pedal bike and trying to market it as a 3+ bike. It isn’t. Some larger boys may be large enough at that age, but for a company started by a woman this is marginalising girls and smaller boys. I emailed them in 2012 to tell them their “3+” bike was far too large for my (almost 4yo) daughter who was keen to progress from her balance bike. They said well, she’ll just have to wait 12 months (and completely ignored my suggestion that they consider making smaller bikes). We bought a Specialized followed by a Ridgeback. Rather than letting Islabikes set my daughter’s progress back a year they just lost my custom.

    So you’re absolutely right that “the bike industry isn’t prepared for (parents of younger kids)”, but you should stop presenting Islabikes as a solution when, despite making great bikes for bigger kids, they’re part of the problem you’re talking about.

    • plasticm

      Also, I notice that elsewhere you say this “seeing a child on the bike is the best way to determine how it fits”. I would agree, but Islabikes make this hard by only selling bikes direct – mainly by mail order. Admittedly they do turn up at the odd kids’ festival here in the UK, and their quality can be relied on, but this policy makes it hard to test them for fitting.

      • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

        Thanks for your feedback. I admit that this post does need some updating, but I wouldn’t quite agree completely with your statement about the CNOC 14 as my son, who just turned 4 this month and who is in the 50% percentile for height, just learned to ride on the CNOC 14 last week (when he was technically three). It fits him just fine and has plenty of room for him to grow. That being said, I do agree with you that the CNOC 14 is WAY to big for many 3-year-olds. About six months ago, my son was too small for the CNOC 14, but fit just fine on the ByK E-250, the Cleary Gecko and even the WOOM2. These bikes are a much better choice for most 3-year-olds. Because most kids are not able to try out these bikes, I created a comparison charts for parents to help parents see the difference between the sizes of these bikes found here: http://www.twowheelingtots.com/pedal-bikes-comparison-charts/. By referencing this chart along with their child’s inseam, my hope is that parents will be better able to select a bike that is a proper size for their child. Regardless, I’m glad to hear that you found a great bike for your daughter and that you were able to find the best bike for her (which I agree, was not the CNOC). Here’s my little dude on the CNOC:

        • plasticm

          Nice pic, and well done him! But as you say that’s a medium-sized boy who was almost 4, and with room to grow. So probably too big for a medium-sized girl turning 4.

          I guess that around 4 is a reasonable time to be learning to ride a pedal bike on two wheels, but again, the CNOC was still rather too large for my daughter at that age. As I say, it was fine because there are other bikes out there (although not many at that size) but it put us off Islabikes which are otherwise great bikes.

          • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

            Yep, I totally agree with you there. Plus, your feedback got me thinking that perhaps I need to include a comparison chart of the smaller bikes available on this page so that parents can see (without having to search around on the site) how different in size these bikes are. Thanks again!

  • Base

    Here in Australia Islabike doesn’t seem to be available (my ideal choice for our 4yo) so I am comparing the Giant Animator 16 and the E350. He is very well versed on a 12″ balance bike and rides well with training wheels on an old steel 12″ rim bike (weighing in at slightly less than my car). The Giant is priced at $230 (much better for our budget) vs $300-$330 for the E350. From what i can see the specs for each are favourable – do you see the E350 as being worth the extra cost? Thx

    • http://www.twowheelingtots.com/ Natalie

      It really depends on your son. If he fits on the Animator and is on the athletic side, then he will probably do just fine on it. Are you able to check one out at a local shop? The ByK is going to lighter, plus the minimum seat height is going to be lower, so it allows kids at a younger age to ride a larger wheel size. The geometry of the frame also has a lower center-of-gravity which will help balance the bike better at lower speeds (when starting and stopping). In the end, I do think the ByK is a better bike, but whether it is worth the extra cost is really up to you. Before you decide, however, I would really try to test the bikes out as that will certainly help you determine which bike is best for your son and your budget.