You are probably aware that bicycles sold in the United States are required to meet certain design requirements set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). But did you know that bicycles which are only intended for use by children have their own safety standards? Due to a variety of reasons, including developmental differences (such as lower hand strength and relative levels of coordination), safety requirements applicable to children’s bicycles may vary.
General Information – Children’s Bicycle Categories: Bikes specifically designed for use by children are typically categorized by their wheel size (12”, 16”, etc.). Bicycles with smaller wheels are targeted the children who will have lower relative strength and coordination and, as such, differing safety requirements under the CPSC guidelines. For example:
Sidewalk Bikes: The CPSC classifies bicycles as “sidewalk bikes” based upon size and features. Typically these include “balance bikes” a/k/a “balance trainers” and bikes with 12-inch wheels. Those with a seat height of less than 22” (in the lowest setting) need not have any brakes, so long as they do not have a “freewheeling feature” and are affixed with a permanent label which stated “no brakes”. Those with a seat height in excess of 22” (in the lowest setting) must have a foot brake. Reflectors are not required on sidewalk bikes, though they may be present on units available for sale.
Balance Bikes: Also known as “balance trainers”, these bicycles have no drive system whatsoever and are propelled with the lower extremities or by the assistance of an adult. The purpose of these bikes is to teach children (typically 18 months – 4 years of age) how to balance and steer. They fall within the scope of the CPSC’s ‘sidewalk bike’ classification, and thus are not required to have many standard bicycle safety features, such as brakes and reflectors.
Bikes with 12-Inch wheels: Bicycles in this classification are intended as entry-level training bikes, and are targeted at children 3-4 years of age. As with balance trainers, the CPSC classifies these bicycles as ‘sidewalk bikes’. Bicycles with this wheel size are typically sold with training wheels and foot-operated coaster brakes. If sold with a chain drive, it must be shielded.
Bikes with 16-Inch wheels: Bicycles in this class are intended for children ranging between 4-6 years. They are required to have a chain guard which covers the top of the chain and 90⁰ of the portion of the front drive sprocket which makes contact with the chain. These are often sold with training wheels, though there is no requirement that they be so equipped. Brakes are required, but they may be found with either caliper brakes or a combination of a rear foot-operated coaster brake and a hand-operated front caliper brake.
Bikes with 20-Inch wheels: Bicycles in this class are intended for children of at least 6 years of age, but may be marketed for use by much older individuals (e.g., BMX or “stunt” bikes). This is typically the smallest format in which multi-speed gearing is available, though many are sold in a single speed BMX-style configurations. Brakes are required, but they may be found with either caliper brakes or a combination of a rear foot-operated coaster brake and a hand-operated front caliper brake. Chain guard requirements apply to single speed models. This is the first bicycle size intended for use upon the roadways and thus, additional requirements are imposed for reflectors to enhance visibility at night.
Considerations for Brake Type
Coaster Brake (a/k/a Foot Brake) vs. Hand Brakes: Coaster braking systems are incorporated into the hub of the bicycle’s rear wheel assembly and are actuated by applying reverse pressure on the front sprocket. These systems are routinely found on bicycles targeted to the youngest individuals, as hand strength may not be sufficiently developed to permit the reliable use of hand brakes. Hand brakes become appropriate as hand strength develops. As a practical matter, a child’s level of coordination should also be considered when choosing braking systems.
More information on the CPSC’s requirements may be found here.
The CPSC may be contacted at (301) 504-7913 or via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.