Bike riding is an activity the entire family can enjoy. When your child is on the right bike, the experience is even better. Buying that first bicycle is a big deal. Ask your son or daughter for input. What color bike would they like? Would they enjoy doing tricks, or going along for long rides? You want them to like the bike–remember, not every kid thinks streamers in the handlebars is still cool–but your job is to be sure it will be a safe vehicle for the child to use to explore the world. Here’s what you need to know.
Where to buy?
Department store bicycles often cost less than those in a bike shop. However, many department store bicycles are of inferior quality, and may not last a season. They may also be assembled by the same person that puts together the barbeque grills. If your child is in a heavy growth spurt and will outgrow the bicycle quickly (and has no siblings waiting in line for it), you might consider this option.
Most local bicycle shops carry brands of higher quality. They can also take care of seasonal maintenance if that is something you will not be doing on your own. Establishing a relationship with your local shop is likely to save you grief in the end.
Kirk Lightsey of Lightsey Cycles in Gardiner says buying from a bike shop is also a good investment. “It may cost a little more but you’re getting a higher quality bike that will work better and last longer so you can hand it down to someone else.” Most shops offer free adjustments on the bike. Ask. “It’s nice to know that if a problem does arise you have someone knowledgeable you can bring the bike back to for repairs and adjustments,” says Lightsey.
Determine the proper size
Bike shopping is like shoe shopping: It’s all about the right size.
Safety experts at bikenewyork.org say the most important consideration when buying your child a bike is size. Keep in mind that children’s bikes are measured by their wheel size, not frame size. The most common wheel sizes are 12", 16", 20", and 24." The right size is one where the child can comfortably get on the bike and stand with his or her feet on the ground. Go lower if the child still cannot balance confidently.
There should be a slight bend at the knee at the bottom of the pedal stroke. If the knee is straight when the pedal is all the way down, lower the seat (or get a smaller bike if necessary). The thigh should be no higher than horizontal at the top of the pedal stroke. If the thigh angles back toward the child, raise the seat (or get a larger bike). Don’t raise the seat above the limit line. Adjust the angle and height of the handlebar so the child can reach it comfortably.
It is not recommended that you buy a bike that is too large for a child and then have them “grow into it.” Doing so can set the child back in terms of riding skills and confidence. A properly sized bike will be easier for kids to handle, less dangerous, and a lot more fun.
Pick your ride.
For most children under 10, Lightsey says to keep it simple, “Handbrakes are hard for the little guys. They may be too difficult for small hands to pull, or not sufficiently powerful for safe stopping if they are designed for small hands. Most kids will be happy with a basic single-speed bike with coaster brakes (foot brakes).” Also, ask the shop owners if they recommend any brands for young children. Lightsey often recommends Electra Bicycles. “They make a quality bike for kids with lots of colors and style options. You can check out their kids bicycle line online at electrabike.com.”
If your child is very young and new to riding, consider purchasing training wheels. These can give your child the boost needed to start riding on their own. Once the confidence level is up, the training wheels can be removed.
Get the right features.
Children older than 10 will start to develop their own cycling interest, so get a bike that fits the riding they like to do. BMX bikes are popular with tweens and teens. These 20"- or 24"-wheel bikes are great for cruising around the neighborhood streets. Some BMX bikes, called freestyle or flatland bikes, have special pegs and handlebars for stunt riding. Most major manufacturers offer mountain bikes with 24" wheels. Stick with a front shock only—dual-suspension bikes will be overkill for this age group.
Don't forget bike safety! Stay safe here.