Children as young as six can ride a dozen miles, and by the age of 10 or 11 most are keen to use their own bikes. Independent cycling offers a sense of freedom and achievement. The snag can be finding a suitable bike.
The right bike: Most children's bikes are fitted with entry level components and a typical weight is around the 15kg mark, which can be half the rider's body-weight. Your child will get more enjoyment out of cycling and more miles with a lighter bike. Aim for 13kg or less for 20 and 24in wheel bikes, especially if they're likely to go off-road.
Don't be tempted to buy a bike your child will grow into. A bike that is too big will be awkward to ride. As a rule of thumb, 14 or 16in-wheel bikes suit ages four to six, 20in ages five to 10, and 24in ages eight to 12. A long seatpost and a steerer with plenty of spacer washers or a quill stem will maximise growing room. Children often prefer a seat height that's lower than optimum, and must be able to stand over the bike and dab a foot when seated. Also, smaller hands need to be able to reach the brakes.
The number of gears is a badge of status among children, but too many gears can cause mechanical complications. One gear is best for starter bikes, a three-speed hub for second bikes, and a 7-speed or 8-speed derailleur for pre-teens. Most children's bikes have Gripshift, which doesn't need much hand-strength to use.
You can view our full range of kids bikes in our primary bicycle category here. Use the navigation panel on the left of the screen to select the size required.
Riding off-road: Such areas are ideal for children to develop bike handling skills. Lack of traffic means you can talk more easily, and the riding can be technically interesting. Sooner or later your child will fall off, but off road falls at this age are rarely serious because there's no traffic or street furniture to hit, and speeds are generally low. (It's worth carrying some plasters for sure!)
A helmet is an obvious necessity, and cycling mitts can help prevent scuffed hands. Long trousers such as tracksuit bottoms and shirts with sleeves are better than bare arms and legs. They offer protection from minor grazes, scratches and nettle stings. Boots or sturdy trainers are better than sandals or plimsoles for the same reason.
As always, plan the ride so you're going places that will interest the children. A cafe stop for some tasty treat, a good place for off-bike activities or whatever interests them and adds more enjoyment to the trip. Stop off and have a game of football, but most of all just have fun! Don't overestimate your speed when planning the route. If they're on their own bikes, you may be averaging only 5mph or so off-road. Above all, relax! If nobody's enjoying it, you're doing it wrong..remember the key to this adventure is fun.