How to choose the right children’s bike
By Fiona Russell (aka FionaOutdoors)
Price is an important consideration when buying a child’s bike, but so is weight and ease of use. Children need to love riding their bike, otherwise it will end up unused in the garage or shed.
To find out how to choose the right kids’ bike, let’s first think about what factors you would consider when buying an adult’s bike. Most likely, these will include budget, gender, terrain and purpose, weight, gearing, components and looks.
Once you have narrowed the choice down to road, hybrid, mountain bike or cyclocross, and in the right size, the chances are you will then look for a bike that is as lightweight as possible in your price range. Good quality and longer-lasting components, such as the groupset and wheels, will be further important factors.
And, so, the same should be true when choosing a child’s bike.
In fact, the weight of a kids’ bike will be even more important when you consider how light many children are themselves. Ask them to ride a heavy bike uphill and they will quickly fall out with you – and be disinclined to ride their bike again.
Do not assume, either, that kids should have mountain bikes with knobbly tyres. Many children enjoy going fast on smoother surfaces and a hybrid or racer bike with slick tyres will be far more enjoyable. However, if it’s off-road they fancy, then an MTB will do the job perfectly.
Components, such as brake levers and gears, that are designed specifically for children, will also make a huge difference to a child’s ability to ride the bike smoothly, efficiently and with a smile on their face.
Then, of course, there are looks. Kids love bright and colourful bikes so the design will give them more pride in their ownership.
But what about the cost?
Many parents are fixated on price. I know this because I was the same. A bike is a fairly hefty outlay and children grow quickly. I figured that my daughter would need a new bike every year or two and from the age of four to 16 and this would mean some seven or so bikes in her childhood. I grimaced at the thought and set my budget fairly low for a bike for her seventh birthday.
My costly child’s bike mistake
I looked around and spotted a cheap-ish bike (but not the cheapest!) that was in a pretty pink and with sparkly tassels on the ends of the handlebars. I knew my daughter would love it and her first impressions were full of promise.
Sadly, the bike also weighed more than twice my own and came with clunky and difficult to use shifter gears and brakes. My daughter rode it once, then a second time on my insistence and then refused to go on it again. She complained that it was too hard to ride,
A month later I had to buy another bike. This time I took advice and I was recommended a much lighter aluminium bike with brakes for smaller hands, gearing for little legs and a geometry that made it far, far easier to ride. My daughter was delighted and rode her bike for many, many miles.
It was also a pretty light blue, which pleased her, and after two years of use I sold it for a third of its original price, which pleased me.
What I learned from kids’ bike buying
The most important factor when choosing a children’s bike is to find one that is a joy for them to ride. This does mean dismissing many cheaper – and heavier – bikes and spending, most likely, more than you were thinking of.
But there is a balance to be struck. If you want your child to enjoy cycling (and I think this is a vital part of growing up) they need a bike that is perfect for them. A well-designed bike that is made of lighter materials and includes child-friendly components is likely to be pricier.
It’s a good idea to try to see the bike as an investment, in their cycling ability, health and fitness, and also to work out the cost of the bike over the many months of use, less the re-sale price. These days the market in good quality second-hand bikes is very good.
Many people find that they recoup half or more of what they spent on the bike, which means it’s worth thinking of the bike’s cost over the long-term rather than simply as an initial outlay.
How to shop for the right child’s bike
Take your child shopping with you so you can make sure you buy the right bike size, rather than guessing.
You could pretend, if you want to make the bike a surprise, that it’s for a cousin or friend, or take your child on their birthday to buy the bike. If it’s a Christmas gift, why not give them a voucher from Santa so they know the bike is coming after the festivities?
While kids will be attracted to the prettiest or coolest bikes and with all the latest gadgets, try to make it clear that, foremost, a bike should fit and be easy to ride.
What is the right bike size?
A bike that is too big for them – “they’ll grow into it” – could be dangerous to ride. Kids should be able to touch the ground with their forefoot when coming to a stop on a bike.
Also make sure that your child can reach the handlebars easily and pull the brakes while riding in a comfortable position.
Check what bike “growth” there is in terms of seat post and handlebar stem. You’ll find that good quality brands have included a good amount of growing potential in their bikes.
Pick it up
Simply picking up a bike will give you an idea of the weight. Does it feel like a heavy lump or is it pleasantly lightweight?
It’s not unusual for kids bikes to weigh more than a standard adults’ bike so shop around and ask the sales assistant until you find a lighter model.
Lightweight materials will usually be aluminium, some kind of light metal alloy or even carbon (that’s if you have a limitless budget for your child).
Remember, too, that extra details, such as suspension forks and front baskets, will add weight to a bike so you should try to avoid these where possible.
The bike parts
Grips: Bikes designers should have thought about how small children’s hands are and adjusted the size of the handlebars to make them easier to hold on to. Look, in particular, for slim grips such as on a Frog Bike.
Brakes: Check that the brake levers can be easily reached and pulled by your child. Well-designed children’s bikes will have brake levers designed for small hands.
Gears: The same is true of gears. Children should be able to easily move between gears when riding the bike. Check that your child can change both gear shifters if the bike has a front derailleur (the part that operates the front two or three chain rings). The shifter for the front cogs can be stiffer than for the back derailleur.
Most children, especially those aged over seven, will benefit from having gears so that they can ride uphill more easily and cruise along the flats. But too many gears will be too confusing for them.
Cranks: The crank length can make a difference to the rideability of bikes. Cranks that are shorter allow for lower bottom brackets to give a much more stable position on the bike.
Saddles: A saddle that is easily adjustable backwards and forwards can really help with the fit of a bike. Again, a Frog bike, with its fully adjustable saddle scores on this detail.
Protection: Mudguards keep the muck off kids when riding in the wet and mud, while an integral chain guard will protect the gears and chain if kids, without thinking, throw their bike on the ground. It doesn’t matter how many times you tell them not to, there will be a time when they do!
Tyres: Choose knobbles for rough terrain riding and smoother tyres for easier roll on roads and tarmac paths.
Ask for advice: Pop into Edinburgh Bicycle Cooperative and ask for the advice of an expert sales assistant. They will point you in the right direction of a good quality children’s bike.