By Andy Tucker
When buying a bike for your child, their natural priority will be what it looks like. They’ll be drawn to the style, colour and accessories, while you will be more concerned with safety and durability.
"For a child, a bike can mean adventure, freedom and exploration, just make sure you buy the right one so they can get the best out of it." Michael Grogan
Where to buy?
To purchase your child’s first set of wheels, I would recommend visiting your local independent cycle shop. With your child present, they will be able to offer informed advice on the right size and fit, so you’re guaranteed to end up with a suitable steed. If you’re not already, becoming an established customer of an LBS (Local Bike Shop) will mean the shop will look after your family’s bikes on a long-term basis.
A chain store or supermarket may offer bikes that are cheap, but with the range of products on offer in store, the time and skill necessary to make a bike fit as is necessary is sometimes impossible. In one instance I encountered, a supermarket bought bike had been hastily assembled by the store with the front forks the wrong way round!
Children’s bikes aren’t handled quite as gently as adults’ bikes, so make sure you get one that will withstand the rough and tumble. For your child’s ongoing enjoyment and safety, if possible save up that bit more to ensure you’re getting them a bicycle that will last more than just a few months after their birthday.
The chances are your child’s bike is going to receive some rough treatment, so it needs to be able to withstand a bit of hammering. Seb, BikeRight!s mechanic advises: “If you can afford it, buy a really nice bike; you’ll have no problem selling it once your child has outgrown it. Frog bikes and Islabikes are both top of the range options, because they’re much lighter than other models and grow with your child. Otherwise, follow the advice of the shop. They will be the local dealer for the brand you buy, so they’ll always have parts if you need them.”
BikeRight!’s Cycling Development Officer, Juliet says; "Buy a bike with the seat at its lowest point so that it can be raised as your child grows; imagine how tall your little one will be in a year’s time. Get the shop to allow your child to sit on the saddle with it right down, and don’t forget their feet should be on tip toes. If you’re doing some research on the Internet, take a look at Frog Bikes’ sizing guide for help.
What to look out for
When it comes to safety, make sure you check the tyres, brakes, and wheels rigorously. Pay particular attention to these components if you buy a second hand bike as some of the wear and tear may not be immediately obvious. Many children have trouble reaching and operating the brake levers, so ensure your child has an opportunity to test ride the bike, watch carefully for whether they struggle to reach.
Pre-purchase safety checks
During Bikeability training at BikeRight! we teach children to do an M-check, a basic safety check of all the main working parts of a bike. This is something we would recommend you familiarise yourself with and conduct before you purchase a bike and allow your child to ride away on it.
The M-check is named as such because it involves following an M shape to check five crucial points on your child’s bike. Start at the front wheel, ensure it’s not wobbling or loose, go up to the handlebars, check they’re straight and test the brakes. Make sure the brakes are firm when engaged and when not, the wheels spin freely.
Follow down the front tube to the pedals, check they’re not loose, and the chain is tight and clean. Then up to the saddle and back down to the back wheel, making sure the brake pads are aligned with the wheel rim, mudguards not rubbing and again the wheel is not wobbling or loose.
To bling or not to bling?
Our mechanics view is the more bling the better. Ribbons streaming out from handlebars, bells, horns, stickers, the works. It’s your child’s first form of freedom of movement, so as long as it’s safe to do so, let their imagination run with it. If they’re enthusiastic about their bike, they’ll be champing at the bit to get out on it at every opportunity.
If possible, you should buy a helmet at the same time as the bike. There is bound to be one for your child to choose that fits their personality, just make sure they wear it correctly and don’t let it loll back on their heads.
Taking your child through the rite of passage of acquiring their first bicycle is one of the true joys of parenting. You can pat yourself on the back – they’ve got their bike. You’ve set them on the path to freedom. It’s now just a small matter of teaching them to ride it! Don’t panic, we’ve got hints and tips on how to help your child learn to cycle.