Kids bicycle buying guide
How to decide what bicycle to buy: Read our guide to find out which bicycle will be the right choice for you.
In our current financial climate even cycling parents may consider budgeting/bargain hunting when it comes to buying a bicycle for their child; after all, they will outgrow it in a few years!?
But here is the thing….. you do not get all that time to sell cycling to your children. They grow up very fast and if you want to enjoy riding together, now and in future, your child needs a bicycle that fits correctly and that is light enough to control it easily.
Most children will have just one bicycle for everything, so with 20inch and 24inch wheel bicycles, in particular, it pays to look for something for varied riding and will last their abuse along with time. Will it go off-road and be suitable for riding to school or friends’ houses? What about its appearance? The colour is a big thing for children of any age it is much bigger, for them than the make of the brakes or gears.
As prices do not scale down with size, you can expect to pay the same for a new children bike as you would for an adult bike; £130+ (that is at full RRP, look out for bargains in sales, online and the secondhand market/online sites).
Spending more than £250+ should get you a reasonable road bike or hardtail mountain bike that will not weigh like a small family car – and that last bit is so important.
If you do nothing else when buying a children bicycle, make sure it is the correct size. It is better to go in stages than to fit your child onto the biggest bike they can pedal; you can always hand down or sell secondhand.
Riding a bicycle that they cannot control because their feet do not touch the ground and their hands cannot reach the brakes correctly is no fun, It is also dangerous also crashing puts people off (even children).
We have placed our bicycles into 4 stages: Pre-school (12/14inch wheel), Ages 4 to 6 (16/18inch wheel), Ages 6 to 10 (20inch wheel) and ages 9 to 12 (24inch wheel). After 24inch wheel, children will be on small adult bikes (smaller frames ie: 13inch frame and 26inch wheel).
But whatever the age of the child you are buying for, here are some other things you should always take note of so that your child gets the new bicycle that they deserve.
Weight makes a bigger difference to the fun and manoeuvrability of a child’s bicycle than yours because children are smaller, lighter and weaker.
Children, like adults, need cranks that are about 20% their inside leg length. One-tenth of overall height is another often-quoted rule of thumb, and though it calculates a longer measurement (few of us have inside leg measurements that are half our height) it is close enough.
Wheels and brakes
Do not buy big wheels for small riders, they need scaling down too. While a larger wheel will roll over bumps and kerbs easier, it will also be heavier, and the steering will be less responsive. It is likely that the reach to the bars will be longer too, because the bottom bracket to front axle distance will be larger, and the bottom bracket itself will be higher. All these factors make for a bicycle being that bit too big and that bit more difficult to control than one that would fit correctly.
Brake levers do not need to be smaller, because you/they can use 2 fingers (adult) levers. They must be within easy reach of the bars though (is there any reach adjustment screw as this will help to move the lever closer to the bar especially for smaller hands (click/see lower picture for illustration), and easy to operate. Check that you can operate the brakes with only the little finger of each hand.
One measurement that does not scale down well to children’s bicycle, particularly those of younger children, is reached (how far away you are from the handlebars). Most children are happier in a position that is more upright than your riding style, so they need the handlebars higher and closer. BMX style handlebars are excellent on bicycles with 20inch wheel or smaller for that reason.
For children, air sprung forks are best but expensive. They weigh less and can be easily adjusted to suit a growing rider’s weight. Coil forks require lighter-weight springs although getting the necessary movement is a common problem on children’s forks; children may lack the necessary weight/force to get a fork moving on anything but big hits. Ideally rigid forks are better and easier to control than most suspension forks.
Bicycles for Pre-school
A child’s first set of wheels usually comes in the form of a 3 wheeler/trike or balance bicycle. Look for, wide-set rear wheels for stability, and a durable front wheel axle also proper ball bearings are a bonus.
Children can learn to ride on two wheels at 3 years old, and almost always by the time they are 5 (well with time, patience and plenty of encouragement). It is much easier for them if they can balance and steer already. There are two ways to learn this, on a traditional two-wheel scooter, or on a balance bicycle (Stabilisers help mobility to children who cannot balance, but they prevent a child from learning to ride).
First bicycles will have 12inch or 14inch wheels. The bicycle should have, a low stand-over height, ball bearings in hubs, bottom bracket and headset and at least one working brake.
“When your legs scream stop and your lungs are bursting, that’s when it starts. That’s the hurt locker. Winners love it in there” – Chris McCormack
Bicycles for 4 to 6 Years
Bicycles with 16inch wheels still sometimes come with stabilisers. All 16inch wheel bicycles come with a single-speed gear, the chainstays are way too short for derailleur gears, and they would only confuse. A 3-speed hub gear would be ideal, but they are expensive so you would not see them. Children of this age would not be riding far, so a single gear is good.
The lower the weight will give an easier ride and better control. Avoid suspension and fat steel frames, thin steel tubes are good.
A low bottom bracket will help your child to get a foot down from the saddle A chainguard of some sort will keep clothing or wandering fingers out of the chainset.
By this age, children can hurtle along so easily operable brakes are a must. A light action V-brake or sidepull is fine up front, but less effective at the rear: the longer cable run means more friction so the lever is harder for the child to pull.
Bicycle for 6 to 10 Years
Gears are the added extra with 20inch wheel bicycles. A 3-speed hub gear would be great: it is easy to understand and hard to break, as mentioned above they are more expensive, so 5 and 6-speed derailleurs are what you will usually get.
Some 20inch wheel bicycles come with suspension forks. They will be very basic, unadjustable springs that nevertheless seem popular with children. Although there are two disadvantages, they carry extra weight and less money to go round elsewhere giving cheaper finishing kits. If the bike costs £120+, front suspension may be okay, avoid rear suspension (as it does not work efficiently and adds un-necessary weight) unless you spend a lot more.
If the bicycle has a rear derailleur, then get a derailleur guard for when the bike is dropped on its side. A kickstand is useful, as children this age are not good at propping their bicycles up.
Bicycles for 9 to 12 Years
Spend £190+ and you will get a light (well almost) weight aluminium mountain bike that can be passed on. You will get a 7 speed, screw-on freewheel hub and most likely a triple chainset.
Bike specification will be similar to an adult’s bicycle at the same price. So expect a micro-adjust alloy Seatpost, a cartridge bottom bracket, an alloy flat or riser bar, a threadless stem, brand name v brakes and a semi-decent set of wheels. They will have nobbly tyres, usually popular with children, but a set of semi-slicks would be better suited for all-round usage.
Go with v brakes rather than disc brakes as they will be cheaper and easier to maintain(unless looking at cable operated disc brakes)
Big Childrens Bicycles
Children aged 12 and 13 – along with some taller younger ones are ready for a small framed adult bicycle. The majority of manufacturers make frames down to a 14inch or 15inch and some do a 13inch.
Do not be tempted to put your 9 or 10-year-old on a 13inch adult frame just because they happen to be able to reach the pedals. They will be much better off on a 24inch wheel bicycle with a 12inch or 13inch frame. A 24inch wheel bicycle might be lighter and it will be easier to control.
Teenagers are aware of peer pressure and will want a bicycle that is regarded as cool. Although styles change from time to time along with the style of bicycle yet this seems to mean simple paint jobs (such as black, white, matt grey/brown or camo green, silver, or maybe red) and a BMX or mountain bike.