When I was a little kid I had a plastic ET scooter I rode around the sidewalk in front of our apartment, and that was about the most advanced “bike” a two year old could ride. How things have changed. Toddlers can ride their own strider (aka “kick” or “balance”) bikes, and ride in or on Chariots, Weehoos, and Shotgun seats affixed to their parents’ bikes, allowing them and us to ride everything from paved paths to mountain bike single track. Biking is great exercise for kids, and I’m in for any excuse to get out of the house. Here’s a quick guide to kids’ bike setups.
In the old days, kids started on a tricycle, moved up to a bike with training wheels, then took off the training wheels. Avoid all these steps.
Instead, start them with a strider bike, which is basically a little bike (12 inch wheels generally) with no pedals or brakes...they’ll accelerate and decelerate by kicking/walking or dragging their feet. There is a wide variety of strider bikes out there. Key factors are standover height (lowest standover height means they can start riding earlier), tire type (some have solid tires that are narrower, less grippy, and fine for asphalt but less versatile for snow and dirt), and weight (lighter=better). Kids will move slowly at first, but will learn to coast and balance the bike. Sometime between the ages of 3 and 5, they’ll probably be ready for a pedal bike.
Every bike store and big box store has a heavy kids bike with a coaster brake. It’s worth paying more and buying a quality pedal bike (wheel size ranging from 12-14” depending on age and child size) in order to have hand brakes and lower bike weight. Some local stores like Chain Reaction can order you a bike, or shop around online and make sure to check the bike weight to get a product that is relatively light. Or, buy the 14” wheel Strider 14x Sport, starting out as a strider bike and adding the pedal kid when your child is ready...it’s definitely the most economical strider+first pedal bike combo that is high quality.
When taking kids out to bike, they’ll have more fun if they can explore trails. They love easy single track, specifically not-steep trails like Middle Earth at Kincaid, Chester Creek singletrack near Valley of the Moon, or smooth natural surface paths like the first part of Gull Rock Trail near Hope. If their tires are on the wider side and run at low pressure, they can bike these trails in the snow when the trails are packed...you’ll be surprised at how good they are at snowbiking.
Biking with You:
As kids grow up and get stronger, there are several setups that allow you to get out with kids not just on paved trails, but on larger multi-use trails and single track. This section is organized by kids’ age:
Thule Chariot: The Thule Chariot is an enclosed, double wheel bike trailer with suspension, which connects to the rear axle. There are double and single child versions. Its wheels can be replaced with skis, or with 3” tires for snow biking, and it can be purchased with a tow-behind harness for classic or skate skiing in addition to cycling. The Chariot is pretty incredible for versatility and use in a wide range of temperatures. Throw in a thin foam pad, and either a hot water bottle or hot hands to use it in the winter, or have the plastic open with mesh for ventilation in the summer. It’s waterproof enough to ride through a rainstorm and stable enough to ride on fairly rough trails. The downside is it’s not great for narrow trails, and the child isn’t close enough to talk and engage on the ride...it’s a better nap vehicle. A Chariot plus handlebar and under-the-seat bags (such as those from Revelate or similar companies) is a good bike camping set up for wide trails like Eklutna.
Yepp Mini Seat: As your child gets big enough to hold her head up (1 year +), she may be ready for a Thule Yepp seat, a child’s seat with handle bar and harness that mounts on your bike’s headset. The Yepp is much more social and engaging than a Chariot, but the kids grow out of them fairly quickly and depending on the length of your bike’s top tube they may require slightly splay-legging biking.
WeeHoo: The best tow-behind trailer for younger kids is the WeeHoo, a single wheel trailer with an easy chair type seat that has a three point harness. There are several variations of the WeeHoo: with or without pedals, and in single or two seat models. The single seat WeeHoo models, with or without pedals, have a short enough wheelbase to maneuver on non-technical single track trails, and the rear fork is just long and wide enough to accommodate a three inch wide tire for snow biking. Winter biking with a WeeHoo is a great way for kids to get out on trails such as easier trails at Far North Bicentennial Park, but make sure to bring handwarmers and thick gloves (or retrofit the handles with pogies).
Kids Ride Shotgun: This is a simple bike seat, sized for a child (up to 48 lbs, roughly age 2-4), that mounts on top of your bike’s top tube with vertical stays that secure to the top and down tubes. Foot pegs with rubber straps for the kid’s feet are located at the bottom of the stays. I’m surprised it took so long for this product to come to market, because it is lightweight, simple, and highly effective. Unlike bike trailers, it is highly social, as the parent and kid can easily converse while riding. Since the seat is positioned to put most of the child’s weight over the front wheel, the adult can minimize bumps relatively easily and thus provide a smoother ride compared to a rear child seat, much less a trailer. In addition, the Shotgun works well for bike camping, as children can ride on it with bikes fully outfitted with handlebar and under-the-seat bike packing bags. Unlike just about any other setup, the Shotgun allows families to get out on relatively technical singletrack. It works well on either a full suspension or other type of bike (with the exception of older road bikes, whose top and down tubes are too narrow).
Trail-a-bikes: As kids age out of the WeeHoo and Shotgun seats, they’ll be old enough to sit on and pedal a trail-a-bike (which attaches to your seat post or frame), of which there are many models.
Better technology in kids’ strider bikes, kids’ bikes, and various trailers mean it is much easier, safer, and more fun to get out with your kids. My favorite family outdoor activity is bike camping, which is surprisingly manageable, and which I’ll cover in a subsequent column.