No childhood is complete without bikes, trikes and ride ons. Whether it is a plastic ride on motorbike, or a trike with a trailer, bikes let kids cut loose and experience their own little piece of adventure.
Bikes, trikes and ride ons are not just toys, they create cherished memories for years to come. Everybody in NZ remembers carting dolls and toys in the back of their tricycle trailer, or ringing the bell on their first two wheeled bike. These toys are vehicles of adventure, and give children a chance to explore their physical limits as they push, pedal, skid and spin.
When choosing a bike or trike for your child, you need to consider their age and stage of development. As parents, we are often in a hurry to progress our children to the ‘next level’, and as a result they miss out on all the fun they can have along the way. Try not to rush the process, and choose bikes, trikes and ride ons which are an honest reflection of your child’s ability.
Your child’s first set of wheels will undoubtedly be a ride on of some description. Usually made of moulded plastic, ride ons are literally that – a toy that your child can ride on. With 3 or 4 wheels, your child simply sits on the back, and pushes the toy forward using their feet.
Your child will enjoy a ride on anytime after they start to walk. As they grow and develop, they will become faster and more skilful, manoeuvring the ride on forward, backward, and around corners with ease. Make sure your child has a safe, flat place to ride, away from steps, slopes and driveways. While they may get very competent, they won’t be able to stop the bike if the wheels suddenly take on a change of pace.
Ride ons are made to look like all sorts of fun grown up vehicles including motorbikes, cars and trucks. Generally they are made from plastic and won’t necessarily last forever, but the price reflects that. You can pick up a basic traditional ride on from $25.
At about 3 years old, your toddler will begin to master the push me pull me mechanism of pedalling and you can introduce their very first trike. Tricycles come in all sorts of sizes, so make sure you choose one which is the appropriate size for your child. They should be able to touch the ground with their flat feet, and easily reach the pedals at their farthest point.
To begin with your child may switch between pedalling and pushing as they get the hang of riding, but if your child simply will not pedal at all, then it is not trike time just yet. Using a tricycle like a ride on can cause serious injury, so if your child is not quite ready, don’t push it – there is plenty of time.
Trikes come in all sorts of designs, styles, sizes and materials, and as a general rule you get what you pay for. Extra features such as trays, trailers, scoot bars and push bars are all worth the money in terms of fun factor, and ease of use. Trays, trailers and scoot bars allow children to extend their play and use their trike for much more than just ‘riding’, where as push bars are purely for parental pleasure. The long push bars attach to the back of the trike, and allow you to push your child without bending down and busting your back. If you have ever pushed a toddler home from the park (or plan to!), then a trike with a push bar is well worth the investment.
In terms of durability and safety, rubber wheels beat plastic wheels hands down, and with a few exceptions, metal trikes will outlast their plastic counterparts. When choosing a sturdy tricycle, commonsense prevails – and it’s easy to tell the stable from the shocking. Check for things like protruding nuts and bolts, and movement in the seat and handle bars. Buying your trike from a specialist bike shop will ensure the bike is safe and suitable for your child.
Having a cycle helmet for your child is a good idea, even at tricycle level. Not only is it obviously safer, it helps set up good practice for when they progress to a 2 wheeler.
Your child’s first bicycle is such an exciting event for both you and your child. It’s a real big kids milestone, and one that your child will remember forever. About 5 years old, around their starting primary school, is the right age to introduce a bike (with training wheels), although you can introduce one a little earlier if you think your child is ready. As with tricycles, don’t hurry the process – there is plenty of time for riding, and leaving it for 6 months or so won’t scar your child for life.
When choosing your child’s first bike, avoid trying to buy one that will ‘last a few years’. At this age your child is growing so fast, and it is important that their first bike fits them properly at every stage. They should be able to touch the ground easily while still seated, and reach the handle bars without having to fully stretch. If you buy a bike with room to grow, it makes it difficult for your child to learn, and chances are they will give up trying until they fit it properly anyway.
First bikes should have pedal brakes only, and no gears. The idea is for your child to learn about balance and safety first. Make sure you get a cycle helmet correctly fitted, and make a no-compromise rule that says it must be worn at all times – even in the backyard.
Training wheels should be attached so that they both touch the ground evenly at first, and they can slowly be lifted over time. As the wheels rise, your child starts to have moments of riding on two wheels before tipping to the side, and it’s a great way for them to develop confidence.
Removing the training wheels altogether is another milestone, and if your child is truly ready, they will be able to master riding on their own in an afternoon. Start by teaching your child how to brake and stop safely, and then set aside a few hours to run backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards…..while holding the back of the bike seat. As a general rule, when your child is pedalling too fast for you to keep up, it’s time to let go.
Once your child masters their first bike, a whole world of adventure and even more bikes opens up.