There's a Wired article circulating the internet, warning parents to not put their children on electric bikes. "Yes, they’re fun, fast, and convenient. But motorized vehicles are not for children," the author states, pointing to the tragic death of a 12-year-old girl who sustained fatal injuries after she and her 11-year-old friend crashed while riding a Rad Power Bike e-bike in 2021.
The author is not wrong to be alarmed, but there's more to the story. My son’s e-bike has brought a lot of joy and mobility to our family, and I believe that with the right setup there are a lot of great reasons for your kid and your family to enjoy an e-bike as well.
It's worth mentioning that rules and regulations on age of rider will differ between country and state. For example, in the UK you can only ride an electric bike if you are aged 14 or over. This article was written and produced in the U.S. where rules differ not only per state but also based on the bike's max assist and whether or not it has a throttle.
Why your child should have an e-bike
The number one reason to get your kid an e-bike is because they are fun. Riding bikes is already tons of fun and adding an electric motor only adds to that feeling of joy. This is often cited as the reason why adults should consider an e-bike, kids aren't different. A good e-bike still feels like riding a bike but now hills are easy and you can ride much farther than you might have otherwise gone. Don’t worry though, that doesn’t mean your kid won’t get exercise.
In fact, you should get your kid an e-bike because it's great exercise. This point is one that parents frequently worry about but the belief that e-bikes don't provide quality exercise is unsubstantiated. What studies show is that people who ride e-bikes tend to ride farther than they otherwise would have. The net effect is: “physical activity gains from active travel are similar in e-bikers and cyclists." Again, kids aren't different. Give them an e-bike and they'll be out riding a bike.
For that same reason, e-bikes are also confidence-building. Being a new cyclist, adult or child, is all about understanding what you are capable of. Everyone starts tentatively and takes only short trips. As those trips grow longer, it builds an understanding of, and confidence in, your own capability. E-bikes do the same but it's a faster process with fewer barriers to entry. Building confidence in kids is a great reason to consider putting your child on an e-bike.
I also have to be honest and say there are some very selfish, and personal, reasons that lead me to believe kids should have e-bikes. Simply said, I love spending time with my kid and I hope to share one of the greatest gifts of my life —cycling— with my son. My guess is that a lot of parents out there will share those same desires.
The challenge e-bikes solve for parents
Unfortunately, as I'm sure parents will understand, my son doesn't exactly appreciate my reasons. He loves having fun on the bike but playing video games is a ton of fun also. Given that he has no particular appreciation for exercise, he is often just as happy to play video games as ride a bike. It's not something I generally mind but it doesn't help gift him my love of biking and he gets no exercise. I'd also like the opportunity to connect with him, at least sometimes, without a controller in hand.
What an e-bike does is align parental motivations with children’s motivations. E-bikes lower the barrier of entry to riding a bike, generally resulting in more fun and less work. As a parent, this allows you to build the foundation of riding a bike through fun while also making sure your kid gets exercise. Add in the fact that you'll be riding farther and spending more time together, it's hard to find fault with the idea — as long as considerations are made.
The problem with kids on e-bikes
Not every e-bike is suitable for a child. In fact, most of them are not. You need a quality bike that is sized appropriately for a child. If you want to know what that means, just look to well-known brands such as Islabikes or Woom. Brands like that sell bikes that consider the needs of a child in every detail, including handlebars with a small enough diameter to fit small hands and easy to reach brake levers. Just as important, the bike weight is appropriate for a small body. A good kid's electric bike has to start with a good kid's bike, which is a bike that a kid can comfortably handle.
With that solid base, it's time to consider the electric part of the system. The simplest part of that consideration is that everything stays small. You don't want to start with a lightweight bike and then add overly heavy batteries and motors. Even more importantly though, you don't want your kids zooming around at 28 mph. A max assist of 12 mph is plenty. You are looking for a system that lets the bike continue to feel like a bike, only a little easier to pedal — like riding around with a tail wind.
Bottom line, whatever system you end up with, make sure it's safe and appropriate for the age of your child. It should have quality components and be light enough a child can easily handle it. While there is a legitimate fear around e-bikes for kids, much of it stems from a lack of understanding about e-bikes. The category is vast and you need to know what to look for. Not every e-bike is right for kids but there are choices that can be fun, confidence building and safe.
My own experience with a kids e-bike
In case it's not clear, my son is a happy e-bike user. The bike we chose is an urban cargo bike called the Woom Now. It's the perfect size for him and the design is upright. The front wheel is smaller than the rear and it tucks in close. Not only is the whole design perfectly sized to him but it's an inherently stable and easy to control system. The Woom Now is also not an e-bike from the factory.
Although Woom offers a complete e-bike for sale, it's not right for our family. The Woom Up is a mountain bike that dials in the perfect amount of assistance for a child but it's still a mountain bike. We don't typically drive to ride bikes and my son prefers to ride on paved surfaces anyway. It's also nice that the added stability from the design of the Now helps him feel more confident.
To make it electric I paired it with an e-bike conversion kit. The system puts all the major pieces into a compact package and I mounted that on the Woom's front cargo rack. As with many e-bike conversion kits, the motor is in the front wheel so that's just a matter of getting the right size and swapping it out. The system won't work with a thru-axle so the fact that the Now has a quick release front axle again adds to the reason why it's a good bike for conversion.
Of course, adding a motor to a quick release fork that wasn't designed for it could be dangerous. It could also be dangerous, as discussed, to set up an 11-year old with a high-speed electric bike and no supervision. In this case, the two worries align. This is not a high-powered system. There's no throttle and the max speed is well under 20 mph. Even that's a little faster than ideal though and, to get around that, we've lowered the assistance level. The final product leaves the max assisted speed very similar to the 12 mph found on the Woom Up and torque is very low. When pedalling, there's assistance that slowly ramps up before tapering off. Going the conversation route means it's a little less slick than a complete system but it also means flexibility for our needs.
Since we've had it working, it's been a great opportunity for us to bond. On previous rides I often found it hard to stay upright while moving at a speed that worked for him. He's certainly capable of going faster but he's not always motivated to do so. With that issue off the table, we have a lot more fun. I can slowly pedal, he can keep up, and we can chat. There's no more begging him to go just a bit farther so we can get to an arbitrary place. Instead of focusing on pedaling and distance, the focus is on enjoying time together.
Of course, you'll likely notice my experience is still focused on a shared activity. That's where my kiddo still is but, when he's ready to head out the door on his own, I'm not worried. I mean, I have plenty to worry about but none of it involves his bike. Yes, he has an e-bike but it's nothing like the descriptions you read in other articles. The brakes are good quality, and it's not overly heavy, or fast. His bike still feels like a kids bike, it just takes him a bit farther than his legs might on their own. Right now we ride together and build the skills for the future. My hope is that his bike helps instil a lifelong association between bikes and both happiness and freedom.
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