Buying a Bike
Buying your child a bike is exciting for you and them, the better the bike you can afford the more your child will enjoy cycling and the safer they will be. Cheap bikes are supplied with poor quality brakes and bearings which make it harder for your child to brake, pedal and steer.
If possible buy a bike that has been pre-assembled and safety checked by the supplier. When I was a teenager my parents bought me a bike for Christmas, I attached my pedals on Christmas morning went out for a ride where one came off leaving me cut and bruised in the middle of the road - luckily there were no cars coming otherwise the accident could have been considerably worse.
Bikes are available in all shapes and sizes and it is a good idea to try your children on a bike to ensure you know the correct size before buying. Young children should be able to reach the floor with the majority of their feet on the ground whilst sitting on the saddle, this will encourage more confidence when riding. Put the saddle at it's lowest point and sit your child on the bike, if they can put almost all their foot on the ground then this is the right size. This will allow around 12" of growth in your child before they need their next bike depending on the length of the seat post.
Young children's bikes are measured in wheel size by inches. The sizes available are 12", 14", 16", 18" and 20" generally for children of 3-5, 4-6, 5-8, 6-9 and 7-10 years respectively.
Things to look for in a good bike
- Buy a bike with metal wheels and pneumatic tyres
- The headset (where the handlebars sit) should be metal and contain ball bearings
- The crankset (where the pedals are) should be metal and contain ball bearings
- Ensure you have a full chain guard to protect little fingers (12" - 16" bikes)
Brakes are an important part of learning to ride and toddlers can find the conventional brake difficult to pull as their hands are small. An alternative to a standard pull brake is the "coaster brake", this brake is applied by the child peddling backwards. Unfortunately this braking system is quite rare in the UK and will seriously limit the bike options available to you if you choose this type.
If possible buy a bike with 'V' style brakes (cable in the centre of the brake pull) which are more efficient than the older 'Caliper' style (cable to one side of the brakes). Having said this I am not sure this is important or available on the smaller 12" and 14" bikes as children will not be riding that fast.
If buying a bike with stabilisers ensure they are firmly fixed to the bike as one of these coming off can cause serious injury to your toddler.
Gears are not normally available until an 18" wheel bike, again try and buy a bike with the best quality gears possible.
Once you have decided to get your child a bike the next thing to do is ensure they are safely equipped. Buy a helmet that fits them correctly and ensure they wear it all the time and it is strapped on and not just sitting on their head. I have found that forcing my 3 year old to wear his helmet at all times now means he forces me whenever we are on the bikes so it is a good thing all around, he will never know any different so will grow up wearing a helmet as a matter of routine which cannot be a bad thing.
If your children will be riding on the roads then ensure they are lit up. For more information on road safety see our cycling safely article. Safe Cycling