Santa’s Helper: Choosing a Good Kid’s Bike
How many of us have wonderful memories of that special childhood relationship with our bicycles? We remember with affection bikes with banana seats, white baskets with plastic flowers, tassels off the handlebar, a bell with a nice loud tone and the feeling of freedom we felt as we rode down the street with friends or accompanied by just the family dog. Good memories of your childhood bike probably are a part of why you ride today. (A British study actually shows a relationship between adult bike use and happy memories of childhood cycling. ) A pleasant easy-going bike ride is often summed up with the phrase, “I feel like a kid again!”
Now you have a child of your own and you want to get them a bicycle that you hope will be the beginning of a life-long love for their bicycle. There are bikes available for preschool-age children at Big Box stores for as little as $39 (+ extra costs they may add on at the register) and at your local bike shop for a brand-name bike for about 3 times that amount or more. As your child grows, so will the costs of their bicycles. The question is: should we make the decision to buy a child’s bike on price alone? OR are there more things to consider? Do we want to give them a bike well-designed for long years of use and many accumulated miles of riding or a bike that has had as many costs taken out of it as humanly possible?
I have previously discussed the problems with buying a big box-store (Wal-mart, K-mart, or Toys ‘R’ Us) assembled bike. But it is a good idea to consider what the issues may be as you consider buying a bike for your child, grandchild or niece or nephew as the Holidays are here.
Ten Reasons to Buy a Good-Quality Bike for Your Child:
- A good quality kids bike will last for many years so it can be passed down to subsequent siblings, and even some cousins after that. A low-quality bike may break down before the child outgrows it, and may not be repairable. A bike bought from a local bike shop will often have a one year warranty, and if you want that from a Toys ‘R’ Us type bike, you will be charged extra and it will have lots of conditions.
- A bike that is built by a big box store clerk may be assembled incorrectly. At the worst, the bad-assembled- bike will not be easy to ride, at the worst, riding it can actually cause damage to the bike or it may be unsafe, causing possible injury to your child. Another note, the ironic thing is that a store like Toys ‘R’ Us will charge their customers extra for assembling the bike, but a local bike shop charges nothing extra for assembling a bike bought at their store. Guess who does a better job?
- Hand brakes can be so cut-rate as to be worthless on cheap bikes that have both coaster and handbrakes. (And by law now, bikes for young children that have handbrakes should also have coaster brakes, because of this very issue.) This can obviously be a safety issue. A child’s bike from a bike shop will have higher quality brakes.
- To save money, bikes from the Big Box stores are often made out of low quality steel. This means the bike will rust more easily, often starting with the chrome-plated steel wheels.
- Lower-quality bikes are often more heavy (up to 25% heavier than a brand-name bike) than they should be for a young child. This will make it even more work to a young child trying to pedal it up a slope or even to manuever and balance it. The problems with a light-weight child balancing a heavier bike can lead to more falls, sometimes with the bike falling over on the child. (Ouch!)
- A good bike usually has more adjustability in the seat post, which may gain you an extra year of use. Cheap bikes often don’t have a range of more than an inch or two. Seat posts on cheaper bikes may not adjust smoothly either.
- On a very inexpensive bike the clamp that holds the handlebars in place is low-quality and the handlebars may be become loose and wiggly over time. This can be a safety issue.
- The chains will be of lower quality which will make pedaling more difficult. The chain guards are often made of brittle plastic which can crack and break easily, especially if you live in a cold climate.
- When a bike does need a tire change or a repair, an inexpensive bike may have a non-standard size tire and the parts may be very difficult to find. Sometimes such bikes easily break, and you will end up spending enough money to fix it that you might as well have bought a LBS (local bike shop) bike in the first place.
- If you are eco-conscious, you should think about how disposable cheap bikes have become.The next time you visit the local landfill, look into the scrap metal recycling area. It will be full of discarded cheap children’s bikes (it’s a great opportunity to make note of which bikes to never buy!) Alternatively, a good quality brand-name child’s bicycle that has been reasonably well taken care of will actually have re-sale value after your child or children have outgrown it.
Between these two price ranges are bikes for kids priced around $100 made by Schwinn and Diamondback and the like available at sporting goods stores, Wal-Mart or even at Amazon.com. From my limited research of reviews, I’d say the quality fits between the above extremes. It will be better quality than the $40 bike, but not as nearly as good as the bikes you will find at your local bike shop. Pay attention to customer reviews written after the kids have actually ridden it for a few months, not just those who are thrilled with it the day the child gets the bike.
I will note that thanks to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, a lot of the worst problems that were inherent in American kid’s bikes in the ‘80’s and 90’s are not as much of an issue. In one sad case back then, a kid holding the handlebars had them come off in this hands and he was impaled on the handlebar stem as he fell forward. Yes, the CPSC are trying to do their job, but you should still do your homework to save yourself and your child problems down the road.
Here are just two sites where kids’ bikes are reviewed:
Here are the recommendations from Bicycling Magazine’s for kid’s bikes.
Some mid-range priced children’s bikes are reviewed here in a positive light. This is a start, but even some of the recommended bikes on this page get iffy reviews from dissatisfied customers on other sites.
If you note the Mike and the Bike book in the photo above, you can find more information about that book and its sister book, Lucille and the Wheel here.
Thanks to Fishers Cyclery for providing these children’s bikes from Giant.