Buying a Child's Bike

For children under 10, keep it simple. Most kids will be happy with a basic bike.

Choosing a Bike for a Child

Where to buy: Department stores or bike shops?

  • For very basic, single-speed bikes with coaster brakes, many department store models will be similar in quality to offerings at a bike shop, but at a better price.
  • Purchase more complicated bikes with suspension, hand brakes, gear systems, or trick features at a bike shop. Bike shop bikes will have better-quality parts that last longer and work with fewer hassles than comparable department store bikes.
  • Bike shops will have more knowledgeable staff, and the assembly will be more thorough, which is important for more complicated bikes.
  • Most bike shops offer free adjustments for one or more years.

Bikes are like shoes: Get the right size!

  • Kids’ bikes are sold by wheel size, not frame size. Standard wheel sizes for kids’ bikes are 12″, 16″, 20″, and 24″.
  • Don’t buy a bike that is too large for your child, thinking that she will “grow into it.” A bike that’s too big will be awkward and difficult to control, and will compromise your child’s safety.
  • Your child should be able to stand flat-footed while straddling the bike frame, with at least 1″ of stand-over clearance above the frame’s top tube.
  • For surprise gifts, know your child’s inseam length and take a tape measure with you while shopping, to ensure the adequate standover clearance.
  • As your teen outgrows the largest youth size (24″) wheels, adult bicycles come in two main wheel sizes (26″ for mountain bikes and most cruisers, and 700c for road bikes and hybrids). Adult bikes are measured by frame size, not wheel size. Frames are measured from the center of the crank bolt to the top of the seat tube.

Get the right features.

  • For children under 10, keep it simple. Most kids will be happy with a basic single-speed bike with coaster brakes (foot brakes activated by pedaling backward).
  • Hand brakes 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 do not need gear systems or suspension systems on their bike.
  • After size, getting the right color will be the most important feature for your child.
  • Children older than 10 will start to develop their own cycling interest; get the type of bike that fits the type of riding they like to do.
  • Most pre-teens, middle-school kids, and teens love BMX bikes. These 20″- or 24″-wheel bikes are great for cruising around the neighborhood. Some BMX bikes, called “freestyle” or flatland bikes, have special pegs and handlebars for learning tricks and doing stunt riding.
  • Most major manufacturers offer mountain bikes with 24″ wheels; a front shock will be sufficient, while dual-suspension bikes will usually be overkill, heavy, or complicated for this age group.
  • For youngsters who want to hang with you on a long road ride, several manufacturers (Redline, Trek, Specialized) now offer youth-sized road racing bikes.

Adjust it to fit.

  • Loosen the bolt or quick-release at the top of the frame where the seatpost goes into the frame. Adjust the seatpost up or down, until your child can sit on the seat with the balls of both feet resting on the ground. Or 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” marked about 3″ from the bottom of the seatpost.
  • Adjust the angle and height of the handlebar so the child can reach it comfortably.

Give a helmet with the bike. Choose your child’s favorite color, and make sure the helmet has a CPSC certification sticker on the inside. (For fitting tips, click here.) House rules: Always wear a helmet when you ride your bike. Parents should set the example!

If your child doesn’t yet know how to ride without training wheels, give the gift of balance by bringing him or her to the next session of the free Learn to Ride–Kids class.

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