Choosing the Right Bike for Your Child
08/18/2014 02:03PM ● Published by Hood Magazine
Photo courtesy of Giant Bike USA
I am always excited when parents talk about buying their child’s first bike. When I was a child, my bike was the key to opening up a bigger world. I was no longer limited to the block I grew up on.
There are many details to sort through before purchasing the right bike. Some of the tasks include, but are not limited to, the right color, size, number of wheels (training wheels or balance bike), or even whether little Susie or Joey down the street has a cooler or less cool bike.
Let's start with the basics. Keep in mind that your child getting a bike that they like to look at is a bonus. Even as an adult, when I buy a bike, color plays a large part in it. Getting your child a bike similar in style to a friend’s bike will also be a bonus. Kids being able to ride with each other and keep up with each other can make for some very adventurous days.
Let's start with the basics. Bike size for kids is generally measured by wheel size. You can currently find the following wheel sizes: 12", 16", 18", 20", 22" and 24". I recommend staying away from the 18" and the 22". Tires and tubes are hard to come by, and you don't need those sizes. Within those wheel sizes each individual bike company makes their frames longer or shorter and may change the height of the bike. Those measurements are not standard for wheel sizes under 24".
Size of a bike is important in the same way that shoe size is important to children. If you buy shoes that are the wrong size, your child may complain about blisters or have trouble walking. If a bike is too big or too small, it will be hard to maneuver. The first step is to have your child stand over a bike. They should be able to do this without their crotch touching the top tube* of the bike. If there is more than four inches of clearance, move to the next size up.
Secondly, your child should be able to sit on the seat and reach the handlebars. Turn the handlebars and make sure he or she can still reach the handlebar if it is turned 45 degrees. Your child has to be able to stay in control of a turning bike. Conversely, if the handlebar hits your child’s knees, the handlebar may need to be adjusted forward or your child should move up a size.
Lastly, there is the seat height. When seat height is adjusted properly for adults, they won't necessarily be able to touch the ground when they take their feet off the pedals (unless they are on pedal forward designs). The hip, knee, and ankle will make roughly a 145-degree angle. The same is true for children – eventually. When children get on a bike, it can be a scary experience. If the seat is too high and your child crashes a few times, you will have a hard time convincing him or her to ride the bike. For children just learning to ride a bike, I suggest keeping the seat lower so they can get their feet on the ground as quickly as possible if they feel they are going to crash. As they get used to it, slowly raise the seat until it's at the right height.
Some features you may want to pay particular attention to are training wheels and brakes. Training wheels attach to the back of the bike to help keep it upright while someone is learning to balance. However, they do not train a child to ride a bike. If you watch an adult go around a corner on a bike you will see that they lean into the turn. Training wheels keep the bike upright. This is counterproductive. Most children can learn how to ride a bike in a couple of hours. If you would like your child to learn on his or her own, I highly recommend getting Strider Balance Bike. It’s basically a small bike that has no pedals. A child learns to balance on his or her own. Kids have a ton of fun on them. When looking for a first bike, try and find a bike with a pedal brake. It is the most reliable brake for children. Children often don’t have enough hand strength to pull hand brakes.
If you are serious about your child experiencing a life with lots of cycling, buy a bike from a store where someone can help you walk through the process of buying a bike. There are many adjustments that can be made to the bike so it is easier and more fun to ride.
*Top Tube: Tube on a bike that extends from the front of the bike to the back of the bike at the top of the frame. Typically this tube is parallel or close to parallel to the ground.