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When do kids start using gears? And how many gears and what gearing system is best?

There comes a time when kids, who have learnt to ride and become confident on their bikes, are ready for a kids bike with gears. We've talked before about the benefits of internal gears for kids bikes, but there's a few things that parents need to consider when choosing a geared bike. From comparing x2i to x3i internal gears, to deciding on external derailleur gears - and if so, do you go with x8, x16 or x24?

We group our bikes into age and height ranges but when it comes to gears, confidence and ability really are the important factors to consider.

Our E-450 range of bikes has the biggest choice in gear options, and this age group, from 5 to 9, is also the most diverse in kids' abilities to ride. Some kids have been on a balance bike since they were two years old. Some kids have only just progressed from a bike with training wheels. So understanding when to choose a bike with gears, and which gear type to go with is key to kids continuing to enjoy riding their bikes.

e350x2i-rtc--alpine-cycling-club-junior-development-day-oct15-ramp-900x650-webA young E-350x2i rider at the Alpine Cycling Club Junior Development Day

Level 1. Learning Rider

Single Speed or x2i Speed Senstive Gears

For a kid who is on their first bike, or has spent a considerable time on a balance bike, generally they will be on a single speed bike or a bike with speed sensitive gears (x2i).

These bikes require no skill and still have the footbrakes on so the highest safety and no rider controls required - just pedal, steer and brake... and have fun of course!

We know that x2i bikes are often bought for kids who are proficient riders but still too young to manage rider-controlled gears - they just want some help on longer journeys or when they are riding around areas that have small inclines.

Common Questions about the x2i speed sensitive gears on kids bikes:

At what bike speed is the higher speed gear selected automatically?
2nd gear is 136% so potentially the rider would be doing 8-10kph

What braking system do they have?
Both handbrakes and footbrakes for maximum safety

e-450x3i-wk-byk-boys-bike-jensen-900x650-webAn E-450x3i rider getting up some speed on a local track

Level 2. Established Rider Ready for First Level Gears

x3i Rider Controlled Gears

Internal 3 speed gears (x3i ) requires only basic skills for changing the gears and with a practically zero chance of damage factor (note our premium SRAM system has no clumsy external parts exposed to be damaged).

So these gears are perfect for the first step up or just simply having gears with super low maintenance and great convenience.

The footbrake still remains and we always use the grip shift style of gear changers on these for the simplicity of operation.

Of course you can leave it in the same gear and not have to worry about the gears at all. And for kids who are still young and don't always remember the rules, they can even change gears while stationary (something you can't do on derailleur geared bikes).

Common Questions about the x3i rider controlled gears on kids bikes:

Can the gears be changed when moving or stationary?
The SRAM x3i hub is controlled by the handlebar mounted shifter. Gears can be changed at anytime, stationary or under load. Great for kids who are not always going to remember strict rules on looking after their bike.

How does the system work?
The 1st gear is direct drive, then 36% to 2nd and then another 36% to 3rd.

What braking system do they have?
Both handbrakes and footbrakes for maximum safety

Why would I choose the x3i gears over the x8 gears, say in the 450 range?
When most kids have learnt to ride, they will move onto the E-450 range of bikes - commonly compared to the standard 20" kids bikes on the market, our E-450 range comes in 5 different models to suit a whole range of different rider capabilities. 4 of the models have gears and they are the most compared bikes in our ranges. The x2i and x3i, as noted above, both have handbrakes and footbrakes. The internal geared system also has no external parts you can damage so kids can treat it rough. The x8 bikes have only handbrakes so it is for a more skilled and confident rider.The wheel sizes are the same but the E450x8 has a slightly longer reach along with greater knee clearance for the slightly bigger kid. The difference between the models is marginally about height (of the kid) and length (of the wheelbase )but mostly about skills developed and the child's responsibility - in braking and in looking after their bike with external gears which can be damaged.

450mtb-baf-kids-mountain-bike-riding-hollybank-tasmania-2-900x650-webA 450MTB, with x8 External Gears, on Hollybank Mountain Bike Trail in Tasmania

Level 3. Young or Low-level Skilled Rider

x8 External Rear Gears with Single Cog at the Front

These gears are for the more understanding rider. The major factors here are

  • External gears does NOT allow for a footbrake, so only handbrakes for stopping.
  • External gears require more responsibility because they can be damaged if treated poorly and require slightly more skill to change, (pedal forward at time of changing). We use the thumb or triggers shifters here for various performance reasons but also it signifies a more mature step like what you see on all the better adult bikes.
  • We use the SRAM derailleur gear system because direct 1:1 leverage ratio, meaning the amount of pressure or distance pushed on the gear lever directly relates to the amount of movement in the rear derailleur. So the advantage is the rider can "feel" the gear move better

Why would I choose the x3i gears over the x8 gears, say in the 450 range?
As noted above, the E-450x3i has handbrakes and footbrakes. The internal geared system also has no external parts you can damage so kids can treat it rough. In contrast, the E-450x8 bikes have only handbrakes so it is for a more skilled and confident rider.The wheel sizes are the same but the E-450x8 has a slightly longer reach along with greater knee clearance for the slightly bigger kid. The difference between the models is marginally about height (of the kid) and length (of the wheelbase )but mostly about skills developed and the child's responsibility - in braking and in looking after their bike with external gears which can be damaged.

e-540x16-gvbr-miles-day3update-1-900x650-web9 year old Miles, riding in the Great Vic Bike Ride on his E-540x16

Level 4. Older, High-level Skilled Rider

x16 and x24 - External Gears with Cogs at the Front

This is the highest level of gear mechanism we use and requires all the skills and responsibilities of level 3 with the added advantages and challenges of a derailleur system on the front cogs.

This added front mechanism works exactly as does the rear but because of the bigger step between front cogs compared to the rear ones, the push is further and a little harder and requires more expertise.

510mtb-jpipino-you-yangs-3-900x650-webA 510MTB rider in the You Yangs National Park, making the most of x24 gears

The Different Types of ByK Kids Bikes with Gears

We only use SRAM gearing systems on ByK Bikes and have customised them to meet the needs of growing kids.

Bike Model

Gears

Recommended For

E-250 Single Speed Kids 3 - 5 Years
250MTB Single Speed Kids 3 - 5 Years
E-350 Single Speed Kids 4 - 6 Years
E-450 Single Speed Kids 5 - 8 Years
E-350x2i x2i Internal Gears Kids 4 - 6 Years
E-450x2i x2i Internal Gears Kids 5 - 8 Years
350MTB x3i Internal Gears Kids 4 - 6 Years
E-450x3i x3i Internal Gears Kids 5 - 8 Years
E-540x3i x3i Internal Gears Kids 7 - 11 Years
E-620x3i x3i Internal Gears Kids 10 - 14 Years
E-450x8 x8 External Gears Kids 6 - 9 Years
450MTB x8 External Gears Kids 6 - 9 Years
E-540x16 x16 External Gears Kids 7 - 11 Years
540R x16 External Gears Kids 7 - 11 Years
540CX x16 External Gears Kids 7 - 11 Years
E-620x16 x16 External Gears Kids 10 - 14 Years
620R x16 External Gears Kids 10 - 14 Years
620CX x16 External Gears Kids 10 - 14 Years
510MTB x24 External Gears Kids 7 - 11 Years
560MTB x24 External Gears Kids 10 - 14 Years

More help on choosing the right size kids bike

If you haven't already done so, check out our article, "10 Things You Need To Know Before Buying a Kids Bike" - it will cover the key considerations such as age and height, confidence and ability, and other things you might not have even thought of yet!