Have you ever wondered how you can bike all year round with your family?
My family has a unique situation. Our son, Owen who is now 8, has ADHD. When he was first born, we were completely ignorant as to what ADHD was and struggled to understand how to best support our son (he may also be on the autism spectrum, but that is another conversation for another article).
When our son was 5, I began my journey into triathlon and did what most triathletes do: I bought a bike trainer and signed up for Zwift. My son saw me biking on our TV with my moving Zwift avatar and desperately wanted to join me.
(To give you a sense of the amount of energy he had and what we had to contend with, he and I climbed 54 flights of stairs for a Lung Cancer fundraiser in Downtown Vancouver 2 weeks after he turned 5 – we did it in about 12 minutes. Owen also completed his first triathlon in October 2022.)
I could not find a single resource dedicated to having younger kids ride on bike trainers unless they were teenagers. I did what most parents probably do, researching every possible solution, YouTube, Google, calling bike shops, and checking the specs on every trainer I could find.
Fast forward to April 2022, when I was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 47. I realized that all my knowledge gained was because I hyper-focused on the research behind ADHD and trying to help my son. I also used the research as an opportunity to include and educate my son in the process of what each component of our journey did; this helped temper some of the impulses he had to do things immediately. It also helped me stress that this is his superpower (and mine).
Your situation may not be our situation. Perhaps your child loves biking so much that they wonder what the “next level” of biking is, or you have your bike trainer or stationary bike set up, and you want some company. If biking isn’t your kid’s thing, I encourage you to discover your child’s strengths and embrace them with them.
I want to share the knowledge I’ve gained so your child can bike even when it’s snowing or pouring rain outside, or if your bike lanes are sketchy and you need a safe alternative.
I’ve split the article into sections; the goal is to have your child riding beside you in the quickest and most affordable way possible, so I will identify what is optional and what is not.
As most cyclists know, getting into biking is expensive, and if you are a parent on a limited budget, you know there are always ways to save. If you have not been searching Facebook Marketplace, you should start now. You will avoid unnecessary spending and save a lot of money, and you can pick up most of the critical components second hand.
One subgoal I had when I started this was to make sure that my kids were riding their bikes beside me, not a stationary bike or something that wasn’t comfortable for them. For the purposes of this article, I will assume that you already have a bike for your child. You do not need gears for the bike – any bike will do.
I also want to stress that you do not need a lot of space! Just the size of your bike and a bit extra and feel free to bring it into your living room (adults do, so why can’t kids?).
Kurt by Kinetic is the only bike trainer company that makes trainers that can fit wheel sizes starting at 16”. The great news is that the Kinetic trainers hold their value extremely well, are built to last, and are some of the best fluid trainers on the market.
You do not need a brand-new trainer, and you don’t need a direct drive trainer. (I have no idea if a direct drive would work with a kid’s bike but even if it did, the price point of such a device is unrealistic for kids and families). But you do need a “small wheel adapter”, which converts your adult-size bike trainer to a kid’s size trainer.
You need to have 1) the correct bike trainer style and 2) a small wheel adapter.
- Bike Trainer Styles: There are 2 kinds of Kinetic bike trainers you’ll see in the marketplace, the older V style, and the newer U style; you will need the U style one. I managed to pick up both the old and new style bike trainers for $80 (I got lucky and am a deal hunter). Don’t worry if you pay more (don’t go more than $150), they are incredibly sturdy and well-built. You just need the basic trainer, don’t worry about all the other fancy models.
- Small Wheel Adapter: Kinetic sells the small wheel adapter kit directly on their website (although it appears to be out of stock currently). The price for the kit runs $60 USD.
Here’s an early video I made when I first set Owen up without any resistance on his wheel. Below that you’ll find an Instagram video showing the small wheel adaptor installed.
At this point, if you purchase just the trainer and adapter kit, your child can be spinning beside you for less than $200.
If your goal is to ride alongside your child in a game like Zwift, you’re going to need to set up bike sensor(s) and a Zwift account for your child:
Bike sensors (required): just 1 sensor you need in order to get moving on Zwift: a speed sensor. These are the sensors that allow your bike to communicate your wheel speed to Zwift so the game knows how hard you are pushing.
A cadence sensor is nice, but optional. This tells Zwift how many pedal strokes per minute your child is riding.
The most popular sensor brands are Wahoo and Garmin. You can buy them individually or in a pack. They appear on Facebook marketplace quite frequently as well. Personally, I am in the Wahoo ecosystem and have had zero issues with them.
Wahoo Speed and Cadence Sensors >
Garmin Speed and Cadence Sensors >
Heart Rate Monitor: This is one of those items that is neat but not needed. The heart rate monitor would allow you to observe your child’s heart rate in the game. It has zero effect on your in-game experience.
In my experience, I have not found a chest strap monitor that fits around a child’s chest (I’ve asked Wahoo about this and the TICKR and TICKRX are as small as they come for chest straps). I’ve found the same problem with the Garmin ones.
You do have the option of using Wahoo’s TICKR Fit, which is a monitor small enough to fit around a child’s arm. If you go this route, pair it with Zwift for in-game heart rate.
Trainer Tires: A trainer tire is a type of tire made just for indoor trainer use. I have not found a trainer tire that fits small enough for a kid’s bike.
As nice as it would be to prolong your child’s back tire, it isn’t critical. It’s easy to go to any bike shop and replace the tire altogether. It takes a long time to wear down that noisy tread (depending on how much you ride). Also, as our kids grow, the bike is going to get replaced with a bigger bike anyway, so it’s optional.
One word of caution. If you are cycling upstairs in your room, the rubber from the tire will wear off and fly behind the trainer. Find a way to protect your carpet or your area by placing something to catch that flying rubber.
Riser Block: this block goes under your child’s front wheel to level out the bike so it’s not tilted downward, which can be quite uncomfortable. You can improvise a block with a piece of wood or a thick book, or purchase a block like this one from KOM Cycling.
Getting Signed Up for Zwift
Now that you have your bike, the trainer, and sensors… it’s time to sign up for Zwift.
Adult accounts for Zwift have 2 choices, 25km per month for free or $14.99USD per month for unlimited riding.
Zwift offers free accounts to children until they turn 16. You email them through the website requesting access, fill out a form and once you send them back the parent-signed PDF, your access for your child is granted. Here’s the link for complete details >
Zwift can be run via Apple TV, iPad, or PC.
In game challenges: I’m not going to go through how to set up Zwift but I do want to offer some practical advice for in-game settings that I learned along the way.
Weight: For your child’s weight, I get as close as possible to the options offered in the game. It has an effect (the lighter the rider, the faster you go and there has even been reports of adult riders cheating the system).
Tire size: The smallest tire size that the game offers is 20” wheels. That will do just fine.
Virtual Trainer Selection: Trying to find the right virtual bike trainer is a bit of a challenge. Whatever you do, do not use the unlisted trainers. The one that has best worked for me was the Blackburn Tech Fluid trainer. Yours may be different – try different ones. If it seems like your avatar is moving appropriately in the game compared to how you would on the street, that is the right setting for you.
Heart Rate: In the settings, you don’t need to set a max heart rate or FTP, this would only apply if you had a heart rate monitor hooked up and were using their training plans. It won’t affect your game either.
Chat: in-game chat is automatically disabled for child accounts on Zwift.
A final word of caution: There is a lot of choice in Zwift for route types. Some of the courses have nice forests that have dinosaurs and other cool things, but there are some very challenging courses with huge climbs that will take your child forever to climb – this could be very demotivating. Try to stick to courses your child (and you) will enjoy!
A Few More Tips
If Zwift isn’t for you but you enjoy the bonding time, swap Zwift out for playing Nintendo, Xbox, or watch a TV show while you both pedal.
If you are in the Wahoo or Garmin ecosystem for your attachments, you can record your child’s workout on the apps they provide. Your child may think it’s cool to see their metrics.
If you don’t have a regular bike but your child likes stationary bikes, just attach the speed and cadence sensors to the stationary bike and you are good to go.
Questions or Comments?
Great tips. My 6hr old daughter was loving Zwift as a PE replacement during lockdown. 20”’Frog 55 bike worked great on my direct drive turbo (elite suito) with a diy riser block. Her 7sp gears were surprisingly ok on my 9sp cassette too. Zwift have been great sorting kids account out. Ride on kids 🙂
JonW, thank you for that – awesome to see someone else trying this route. Did your daughter already fit 20″ wheels at that age or did she have to adjust?
6yr even, not 6hr 🙂 that would be some Zwift dedication! yes, on 20s at 6 though, tall girl.
Funny how that is, our daughter (5) is as tall as our son (8) and weighs the same (Partly my Dutch genes at play ha!)
One thing I should mention, you brought up a PE replacement, I went to my son’s school one day once I had all this figured out (pre pandemic) and they happen to have a stationary bike in the hallway, something for students to use when they need an outlet. Anyway, I hooked up the sensors to it and showed the school staff that they could easily bring this into the school environment. It never actually went anywhere but I didn’t have time to advocate for it either.
This is a great article. Just signed by 10 yr old up to Zwift and he did his first ride yesterday and loved it. Only thing is, the Wahoo speed sensor keeps dropping out with the laptop, doesn’t matter how close the laptop is to the bike, just cuts out and I found this with the Garmin speed sensor too. If anyone else has come across this and knows of a way to overcoming it, pls let me know.
Hi Laura, I found that I had a similar issue; I had actually had to do with bluetooth, for example if I had my iPhone with me, I’d have to turn the bluetooth on my iPhone off so my PC or iPad would pick up the connection.
Give that a try, I came across that tip through a random google search one day. I almost put it in the article but didn’t want to dive too much into the problem solving/tech/glitch side of things (which is probably its own article!)
Thanks for this Mark it is really useful. Will look into second hand kinetic trainers.
Thanks Luke, much appreciated.
You don’t need to go new, the kids bikes cannot really take advantage of all the fancy toys anyway (automatically adjusting to grade), save that money.
Good article. My son started riding on zwift a year after I started and we’ve shared a bike for a couple of years; just adjusting the seat between us. Whilst we can’t ride on zwift together we have competitions for fastest through segment and always comparing times and power.
One minor annoyance is zwift requiring you to reactivate their account every
year to say that they are still U16. If the age is entered, couldn’t zwift just recognise when they turn 16?
I wondered about that very same thing C (the age thing), I’m thinking that it is either (A) some sort of international law requiring a sign up once a year type thing (B) a policy the company has or (C) it’s a manual process and someone has to run a report and check on these things every so often – the reason I bring up (C) is that I know when I signed my son up, I swear I didn’t hear anything for 2 years, then I got a reminder to submit a new document. Maybe someone from Zwift can… Read more »
And I love the interaction you have with your son, pretty cool comparison to do.
My kids started when they could use a 24” bike, which was able to fit on my 1 Gen Elite Direto. I’ve gone down to as low as an 8 gear (Claris or MTB equivalent), though I’d guess you could even do Tourney. You need a spacer for most trainers. The one included with the 105 11-34 cassettes has worked the best. Also realize that more flywheel weight is an advantage for adults as far as road feel, it’s a disadvantage for kids. They can’t get the heavier ones going and it’s less realistic. The larger flywheels are meant to… Read more »
Hi Andy, Interesting comments about the flywheel – my son is about the same weight as yours (when he started, he’s about 60lbs now) but he never had any difficulty working on the kinetic (and you can see that in some of the videos) but he doesn’t have any gears on his bike either, just a single speed. The other comment you made is something that I wanted to write about, direct drive, as you said, you had it laying around but as great as direct drive is (I have no idea if that works for a small kids bike)… Read more »
I have spent a lot of money of indoor gear but I try (sometimes unsuccessfully) to justify this by having spent a bit less on my outdoor bikes – I still ride 105 mechanical and none of my friends do that. The flywheel thing is real. When my now 12 year old daughter switched from the Direto to a Kickr Core it was definitely harder to get going and harder at low cadence on climbs because the flywheel is heavier and harder to get moving. A adult can just throw some weight and power into it but a kid has… Read more »
That’s one thing I haven’t done with the kids is introduced them to the pace partners, they just wanted to ride with me or on their own – which is great, I have a hard time keeping up with some of the pace partners. but I’m curious to see how my son would handle a core based on your comments. Based on what you wrote though, would I be wrong in saying that you like the idea of a more kid adjusted set of power requirements so they can ride more as a group? Not so much for training but… Read more »
I’m fine with the normal setup. It’s just something I’ve noticed and a way I have to manage their expectations as a parent. They want new bikes and jerseys – much more than I do – and the way to get those is completing Tours and riding with pace partners for the drops. The Tours are great because it gets them to ride a couple times a week and there are usually shorter and flatter options. I have started recommending my son do those kinds of rides with a TT bike because he’s likely to end up mostly alone anyway.… Read more »
When I have room in my garage again and we’re set up, I’ll have to give those tours a try with the kids – thanks for the tip.
I have been looking for a 20” compatible
trainer for over a year now and unable to get my 7yo started. Any other alternative besides the Kinetic? They do not manufacture the small wheel adapter anymore(i reached out to customer service 2 months ago). Cannot find any on Marketplace or other second hand marketplaces.
Hi Jean-Sebastien, have a look at the Elite Qubo. They go down to 20″ without the need for adapters. Their range includes fluid & magneto versions. Good luck.
At 7 you’re getting awfully close to 24” bike territory. My son is 7 and rides a 24”. Once you do that there are more trainer options. You could probably set up a 24” indoors and save the 20” for outdoors if you feel like he couldn’t control the larger frame yet.
Hey Jean-Sebastien, I think you posted the same comment on my LinkedIn – I saw Andy’s reply but I could swear that a lot of trainers start at 20″…TacX or Saris? I was thinking of putting together a chart of bike trainers and what the lowest tire sizes were that each brand offered but haven’t had the time to dedicate to get through that. I never found ANY small wheel adapters on marketplace either This is the thing that gets me the most honestly, the barrier to entry for kids into activities like this shouldn’t be such a big challenge… Read more »
I have an old bkool connect sport, smart trainer, not that accurate but can be used with 20 inch wheels. requires a software mod to use with zwift and ant+ dongle but once done all good.
Thanks for letting us know Nigeous, that may help someone.
Great article! Just a few weeks ago I got the idea to make a stationary bike for my 3 year old. To join me as I Zwift. I made something from wood, where I can fit his bike in. There is no resistance, I tried but he didn’t like it. He looks at my screen and pretends he is one of the riders. We play a game together of staying with the yellow beacon (or robopacer). For now this works well. When he is older I will probably upgrade to a real trainer and his own avatar. by the way,… Read more »
Here a picture of our combined setup
Rob, this is awesome, thank you for sharing this!! LOVE IT!
It’s funny if you check through some of my older videos/instagram, I had my son on his bike similar to your size) but I had this old no name trainer; It was awesome but as much as the bike fit, the flywheel never touched his tire but it got him beside me and he could just spin his tires as fast as he wanted.
(I remember seeing a similar photo but I don’t have the woodworking tools/equipment to pull this off)
Thanks for this guide. I had to figure all this out on my own a few years ago, for much the same reasons as you. One connectivity bug I encountered: my child’s set-up uses an ANT+ connection with a PC, whereas mine uses Bluetooth on an iPad. I found that I need to get my kid’s set-up going first, or else the PC tries to use my KICKR signal for its data, and that mungs up everything. So I get my kid logged in first, and then get my own ride going to keep our respective inputs separate.
Hi David, this is interesting, I’ve never tried the ANT+ connection but glad you posted this because this hopefully will help another parent trying to do a similar set up.
I do go back and forth between my PC and iPad/AppleTV with our sensors but the only issue as I mentioned in another post is if my iPhone bluetooth is on.
Great article, Mark! Loved it. Good for you, and for your son. I have a 5 year old on the autism spectrum, and likely has ADHD too. He loves to ride his bike and team sports don’t really appeal to him (he doesn’t understand the concept), so I’m hoping cycling is in the cards for him – that would be a passion we could share. I’ve been thinking about getting him set up on Zwift, and a resourceful article like this gets me pointed in the right direction, and will no doubt save me a ton of time and money.… Read more »
Hi Dano, you’re welcome and this makes me so happy to hear.
It wasn’t tough to do but reading the above comments about the small wheel adapter being unavailable just suck.
There is the build it yourself route as one person did but I don’t know what access to tools and materials you have.
I’ve never tried a direct drive on a kids bike before either.
If you have any other ideas, feel free to reach out to me. This helps all the other parents out there as well!
Does he have any other passions?
Thanks Mark for this article. I have been looking at different ways to get my 4.5 year old to try zwift as he loves watching me ride. My original plan is to just use a speed sensor and prop up his back wheel using shoes or something to ensure he likes it. But if he does, I now have some great ideas / tips to take into account.