How to choose a bicycle for a child?
There are many bikes on offer on the market. Seemingly, they are all the same, and after closer inspection, each one is different… Cycling is said to be a “sport of details”. So what should you pay attention to in order to choose the right bike for your child?
The size of the bike. Manufacturers often specify the child’s height and age appropriate for a given bike. The most important parameter is height, because the dimensions and geometry of the bike are adjusted to the height. Parents tend to buy their children things larger than their children need on the assumption that their children are growing rapidly. We strongly advise against this type of approach when choosing a bike. Too large a bike will have a negative impact on the comfort of riding, and thus on safety. The old cycling rule says that it is better to have a bike that is too small than too big. This rule is especially true for children. It is not worth playing with the safety of your child.
Purpose of the bicycle. Most children have one bicycle at a given time in their live. Therefore, parents often look for a “all-round” bike that will work in all conditions. The position on the bicycle should ensure the child’s comfort. You should also pay attention to the gear ratio. There should be a gear that is soft enough to be able to climb even up a steep hill. Tires should be selected so that they roll well on a hard surface and provide traction in park or forest paths. We will come back to these topics from a more technical perspective later in our advice.
Bike weight. This is an extremely important aspect in choosing a bicycle. The lighter the bike, the better – always, for children of all ages. Weight is the factor that most affects the price of the bike. However, it is worth realizing how important this factor is. The difference in the weight of a bicycle of 1 kg for a child that weighs 20 kg translates into a difference of as much as 4 kg for an adult who weighs 80 kg! In addition, it is worth taking into account that the child does not master the riding technique, muscles and joints are also less developed. The smaller the child, the weight is more important. In the case of small bikes, every gram is counts.
Brakes. They have a fundamental impact on safety. With good brakes, your child has better control of the bike and will quickly learn to ride safely. Braking efficiency is important, the child should easily stop the bike in all conditions. The child must be able to reach the brake levers without changing the hand position on the handlebars. Thus, the brake lever must be close to the handlebars. It is worth choosing a bicycle with brakes specially adapted to small hands with additional brake lever travel adjustment – this is of great importance for safety. We also recommend choosing bikes (20” upwards) with hydraulic brakes. They brake much better than mechanical ones and require less force to stop the bike.
Smaller bikes are always equipped with mechanical brakes with an effectiveness adapted to the weight of the small child. This reduces the risk that the child will “fly over” the handlebar in the event of sudden braking. Even mechanical brakes should work very lightly, without causing additional hand fatigue.
Gear ratios. Smaller bikes (16” and below) do not have gears. The gear ratio in such bikes must be selected properly so that the child is able to start riding easily and also ride at the right speed.
In the case of bikes equipped with derailleurs, the range of gears offered by the bike must allow it to ride on any terrain, and especially to climb a steep hill (there is nothing more demotivating than walking uphill due to the lack of proper gear). A good children’s bike should only have one sprocket on the front. Thanks to this, the child has only one rear shifter to operate, the whole system runs smoother, eliminates errors when changing gears and additionally simplifies the maintenance of the bicycle (no front derailleur and no front shifter). On children’s bikes, the range of gears matters more than the number of gears available.
Importantly – in the case of drives with one gear at the front, the derailleur should be equipped with a special clutch that increases the tension of the chain. As a result, the risk of the chain falling off when riding on uneven surfaces is significantly reduced.
It is also worth paying attention to adjusting the size of the derailleur cage to the size of the wheel, especially on a 20 ”bike. When riding, a cage that is too long may catch on obstacles protruding from the ground, which in extreme cases, may even damage the frame.
Like the brake levers, shifters also have a shorter lever travel for easier shifting. Good shifters are operated with two fingers – use thumb to shift to a larger sprocket, and the index finger to a smaller one. This solution prevents a mistake. We do not recommend rotary shifters – they increase the diameter of the grip and thus the child’s hands get tired much faster.
Wheels and tires. We have already written how important the weight of the bike is. The weight of the wheels has a significant influence here as it is the rotating mass which influences the efficiency of riding. In addition, good wheels are equipped with bearings with minimal rolling resistance.
We recommend “folding” tires. In addition to lower weight, they provide better grip than “wire” tires. If your child is going to ride off-road, it is worth choosing a bicycle with wheels that allow the installation of a tubeless system. Such a system makes riding much easier and additionally reduces the risk of a puncture.
Other important details. It is worth paying attention to the points of contact between the little cyclist and the bicycle. The saddle should be the correct size for the size of the child’s pelvis. Good saddles have reinforced sides to prevent damage in the event of a fall or leaning the bike on the saddle. Grips should be pleasant and provide cushioning.
Another point of contact between the cyclist and the bicycle are the pedals. These, in turn, should provide good grip so that the foot does not slip off.
For smaller bikes, a handlebars with angle lock is very helpful. Thanks to this solution, a child learning to ride can avoid damaging the bicycle during a fall. Smaller bikes also use handlebars with a reduced diameter – it is easier for a child to hold the smaller handlebars with confidence and they get less tired on longer trips.
A universal bike has the option of installing additional accessories depending on your needs. These can be, for example, fenders, a carrier or a stand.
Design and color. It has absolutely no effect on the quality of the ride. But who likes ugly things? It is worth buying a bicycle that your child will like, because it will affect their motivation to ride.
Price. A good, light, and nice bike can seem expensive, especially when compared to the cheapest bikes on the market. But it is definitely worth investing in better equipment. The child will be more eager to ride a good light bike and, above all, less tired during the ride. Thanks to this, they can ride with us on longer trips. It is also worth remembering that a good quality bicycle will last longer, and as a child grows out of it, it will be possible to sell it with little loss of value on the secondary market.