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I have young children (5 - 7 years old), and having taught them to cycle on some really cheap bikes, I am looking to get them something more road worthy with a view to cycling to school with them. (~1 mile).

I looked briefly at a chain store (Not my regular local bike shop but closer to home), but was disappointed by build quality - The bikes were about twice as heavy as my own racer, the bearings seemed a bit rough, and the final assembly seemed to have been performed by chimpanzees. Even if I bought these, I think they would require a lot of tweaking after purchase and a lot of maintainance.

What should I look for when buying children's bikes? Are there any check lists that anybody can recommend? With regard to weight, is it normal for them to be so heavy? Why are the tyres on children's bikes all so wide? (~2 inches across) - I would imagine that the lower weight of a child would make thinner tyres a better option?

Thank you.

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Trek makes a line of bikes for kids, but you'll pay for it. They cost $200 and up. That's 2-4 times the price of something you'd find at Walmart. Whether it's worth it or not probably depends on whether you have other kids you can pass it down to, likelyhood of resale, and your budget. For some people $200 is nothing. (trekbikes.com/us/en/collections/kids) –  Kibbee Dec 27 '12 at 15:45
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Ditto Specialized - my kids are working their way up the HotRocks range and while they're not cheap, they are very solidly made. –  Unsliced Dec 27 '12 at 17:13
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3 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

To answer your specific questions first:

  • wrt weight: you are paying less for the children's bikes than for your own I hope? (they'll only fit on it for a few years after all) so kids' bikes use cheaper materials, cheaper usually means heavier in cycling gear. Don't expect to match your racer, but twice as much is a bit much even for a cheap model. Shop around a bit more.
  • Tires: Wider tires are more stable because of the wider surface and because the higher tire weight that comes with width increases gyroscopic stability of the tires. Width, and the thickness that comes with it means the tires can take more of a beating going over bumps, ridges, ledges and sidewalk edges. So actually wide/heavy tires save you time in money in patches both for your kids and for the tires.

As for things to look for:

  • Make sure the bike just barely fits your kid now (i.e buy maximum workable size), that way you can use the bike for a few years with just some adjustment to handlebar/saddle height.
  • Make sure you can add something like a flag on a long (high) pole to the bike. That way your kid is still visible from the other side of parked cars etc.
  • Brake quality is a big issue, especially if you are going out on the road with your kids, more so if the route is slightly hilly.
  • avoid bikes with gears unless you like spending your weekends cleaning and fixing bikes. Less gears=less maintenance.
  • Regarding the tire issue, and my point about bike size: when considering multiple bikes: get the bike with the largest tires. Larger tires=higher gyroscopic force=more stable and all at the same weight.
  • Don't overspend. Your kid is not going to be as careful with his/her bike as you are. You shouldn't be wincing every time they just let the bike fall to the ground where they stopped.
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My daughter is 13 and it is only this year have we started looking at more "up-market" bikes for her - a hardtail (still pretty cheap by hardtail standards) and for christmas, a good-quality BMX. I am still unconvinced that she is old/responsible enough to take care of them, but we'll see...

Up until then I have always gone down the "chain store" route. There are two main reasons for this: first, you have to be prepared for them to treat the bike like crap. And this is not just letting the bike drop without thinking, as Jilles says (although certainly this is true), but also things like leaving it out in the front garden, unlocked, on rainy nights to gradually rust or be nicked.

Second, kids will grow out of bikes, and probably a lot sooner than it will take the bike to fall apart, even if made by a chimp. So you're not necessarily looking for a "well made" bike, you're looking for a "well-enough made" bike. Sure, the better its condition the easier it would be to sell on, but you'll never get big bucks for a second-hand bike now that people have eBay and Craigslist available to them.

In the 5 - 7 age range I'd have thought the most important thing will be teaching them road sense and safety, so would have thought getting them used to peripherals such as hi-viz gear, a helmet and lights would be more critical than the bike itself. Bikewise maybe introducing them to a derailleur setup (we got a noddy 5-speed for my daughter at one point but she may have been older than 7) - obviously it is useful going forward for them to be familiar with this but also from my experience a kid will see a mountain where you or I would see flat road!

But certainly I wouldn't rule out "chain-store-quality" bikes because, like I say, you'll probably end up throwing it away eventually. Though of course you may prefer to shop at your lbs if you have an existing relationship with them (and you want them to stay in business).

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possibly also worth mentioning that there will be things that are abslutely trivial, but which are hugely important to kids. Thinking particularly of colour here. Even for the BMX before christmas, I'm trying to satisfy myself as to the build quality of the frame, rims etc. and the most important thing to my daughter is how cool it looks. And that's been the case from ever since. I guess I'm saying that you exclude them from the purchasing process at your peril. –  PeteH Dec 28 '12 at 9:23
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I'd suggest a visit to your local bike shop to get some recommendations from them concerning either new bicycles or possibly a used bike that's on the shop floor. Safety and reliability would be top priorities at this point. You don't want the children to have any mechanical problems going to or returning home from school. A good used bike may be a good choice since at their ages they are growing and developing rapidly. You may even get lucky and find a bike for the 7 year old that the 5 year old also likes and can grow into when the 7 year old gets a larger bike in a few years. Be sure that you use a bike shop you trust, not a shop just trying to clear bikes off of the floor because they've sat there for awhile. Just make sure that the children like and are happy with the bikes suggested, or they won't care to ride very much. You are obviously concerned with quality and reliability while they may be more concerned with colors and accessories. Since you are familiar with bicycles, looking at the "for sale" ads or garage sales for possible bicycles is also a possibility.

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