Fitting a Person to a Bicycle: Keeping Kids Safe on Two Wheels
Apr 18, 2019
Warmer weather is finally here, so now is an ideal time to get the kids outside, be active, enjoy the weather and burn some energy. Bicycles provide a great outdoor activity that the whole family can enjoy.
The benefits of riding bikes include cardiovascular exercise, muscle building, socialization, increased self-confidence and improved mental health. The best bike for your kid is one they will ride and not collect dust in the garage. Considering your child’s skill level, as well as their size when buying or fitting their bike will make cycling less scary and make riding more enjoyable.
Finding the right size bike is important, but is not always straightforward. A tall bike will be scary to get on and off, whereas a bike that is too small will be uncomfortable and inefficient. Both could cause injury due to overusing joints or muscles during the cycling motion. Bikes are not universally-sized. Kids bikes are typically sized by wheel size (i.e., 16 Inch, 20 inch, 26 inch, etc.), whereas some adult or advanced bikes are sized by the size of the metal frame. Understanding this will help in finding the right bike.
All riders should be able to comfortably straddle the top tube of the frame. The distance from the ground to the top tube should be at least 2 inches shorter than the child’s inseam, which is the distance from the floor to the child’s crotch.
Once you know your child’s inseam, you will want to take into account their skill level to best fit them to a bike.
Beginner – The beginner is a child just starting out on bikes, with or without pedals. A beginner level rider will feel most confident when they can place both of their feet flat on the ground while sitting on the saddle, or seat. This position will give them stability, security and confidence knowing that they can put their feet down if they start to lose their balance or need to slow down. This comfort will help them as they learn to ride a bike and gain confidence in their skill.
Intermediate—The intermediate rider is one who is comfortable with pedaling and riding their bike without training wheels, but does not fully grasp how to use the brake. Because they are still learning, the ability to reach the ground is helpful in case they need a little extra help with stopping or an extra push when starting. An intermediate rider should be able to touch toes of both feet on the ground while seated in the saddle of the bike (tiptoe position).
Proficient —The proficient rider is confident with pedaling, braking and getting on and off their bike. At this level, the rider typically has to lean to one side to be able to touch one foot to the ground, or come off the seat to touch the ground when stopped. For best fit, while seated in the saddle, and feet on the pedals, their leg should not be completely straight, but have roughly a 35-degree bend in the knee when the pedal is at its lowest point.
With the right size bike and correctly-positioned seat, your child will be able to enjoy their bike, the freedom of riding and the benefits of physical activity. Be sure to also protect their head with a bike helmet at all times when riding.
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Alaina White, AT, ATC, is an athletic trainer at Nationwide Children's Hospital and an assistant athletic trainer, working with Football and Softball, at Ohio Dominican University.
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