Children’s Bike buying guide

As it’s coming up to Christmas, I thought I’d post this buying guide for children’s bikes, courtesy of Andrew Abbess of Stirling Bike Training.
[edit]- additional: Andrew is @stirlingbiketr on twitter.

Having done bike safety checks on hundreds of kids bikes I know what is important to look for. Here are the 5 most important questions you need to answer when buying that new bike.

1. How heavy is the bike?
Cheap kids bikes are often so heavy that the child struggles to pick the bike up when it falls over or is laid down. Or the children cannot lift the front wheel off the ground to lift it over a kerb. This means that riding is very hard work. As a result its not fun and can put the child off cycling. The bike will hardly get used – eventually you will find it at the back of the shed still looking brand new and your children will have outgrown it. A bike that hardly gets used is not a bargain.

2. Does the bike fit the child?
Can your child get a foot on the ground when sitting on the saddle (both feet if they are learners)? Can they stand in front of the saddle with both feet on the floor and straddle the top tube? If they can’t do both of these the bike is too big so get a smaller one which does fit.

3. Are the brake handles scaled for children’s hands?
Many cheap bikes for children aged over 10 use adult size components (because they are cheaper) but children often can’t get more than the ends of their finger tips onto the brake handles. This means they are not able to put enough pressure on the brakes to stop the bike in an emergency. Mum or dad might be able to put the brakes on but it’s the child who will be riding it. It is best if the child who is going to be riding the bike does a brake check before purchase, or have an adult try the brakes only using their little finger – that is the equivalent of a child’s grip strength.

4. How many gears do you need?
Few children at primary school will manage bikes with gears on the rear wheel and on the chain rings by the pedals properly. Get a bike with a wide range rear block of about 8 gears and single chain ring at the front. They will more quickly understand how to use gears and have fewer mechanical problems.

5. Do you need really need suspension?
All your mates have a bike with suspension and full suspension “must” be better. But it is fashion and peer pressure that is driving the move to have suspension on most kids bikes. Be suspicious of suspension on cheap bikes, especially rear suspension. Cheap suspension is often of such poor quality that the only thing it does is add weight to the bike. You do not need a suspension to ride on around town on off road Sustrans type paths or forestry tracks. Look at what cycle cross rides do on a suspension free cyclo cross bike.

I went for Isla Bikes for my kids. They were not cheap but are excellent quality and good value. They hold their value and I have a waiting list of people wanting to buy them second-hand when my kids have out grow out of them. Most importantly the kids love them, and when their mates who have cheap, heavy, suspension laden bikes have a go their eyes light up and they shout “this is great, it’s so fast, it’s so light….”

You will find lots of detailed advice about buying bikes for children and cycling with children in the CTC Guide to Family Cycling.