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I picked up a child's bike from the recycling center - and I was going to give it to a financially strapped worker that I know. The brakes could easily be adjusted to be quite a bit stronger - but I'm wondering if that's a good idea. (It looks to be for someone aged 4-7.)

I don't know how feasible it is for a child to go over the handlebars, or if poor handling skills (well, compared to an adult) could cause them to crash with the "better" adjusted brake. It would be understandable if someone so small wasn't very good at choosing a power on a tightly adjusted piece.

So, what should I do? What do shops/stores usually do?

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    A picture of the bike would be useful. When I was that age, most bikes I saw (I think) had coaster brakes, so you'd skid the rear wheel, not be able to flip it over the handle bars. In any case, just like a sharp knife is safer, well adjusted brakes are safer. – Batman Jul 24 '15 at 16:32
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    I have seen more adults go over the top than children. I would go with proper adjustment. If it is loose they may be more likely to clamp down all the way. – paparazzo Jul 24 '15 at 16:42
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    Even if the kid does go over the handlebars, it's part of growing up and learning. It's much easier learning to deal with lousy brakes after learning on good ones than the other way around. – whatsisname Jul 24 '15 at 16:48
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    Most 4-7 year olds won't get up to sufficient speed whilst learning to go over the top. Better brakes are always safer. – Gordon Copestake Jul 24 '15 at 16:48
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    More important than the braking power (so long as it's in a reasonable range) is the grip range of the brake levers. The cable tension should be adjusted so that a child's hand can grasp the lever and begin squeezing before the lever gets stiff, but not so loose that the lever can bottom out in a child's grasp. – Daniel R Hicks Jul 24 '15 at 18:33
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With young children is very rare for them to have the hand strength to cause a problem with brake strength. Their hands are small and weak, giving small reach hence low level action in the brake handle. Children bikes are built using cheap components (Even the components on the best children bike rate just above BSO adult bike components)

The bikes for my boys (now 11 and 7) were always adjusted with both brakes giving maximum possible braking. I would be very surprised if a front brake being too tight would cause a crash, unless it was grabbing and not braking progressively.

Further - the kind of crash needs to be considered. I would rather my boy went over the handle bars through too much brake force than under a car though not enough.....

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You have to make a distinction between the front and rear brakes.

Strong rear brakes aren't dangerous, but strong front brakes (when in inexperienced hands) can cause a crash.

For a bike that small, I'd go with a weaker front brake. The kid won't be going fast enough to warrant big stopping power.

The rear brake isn't as important. I would leave it however it is. It might be worth noting that with a strong rear brake, most kids will lay down a lot of rubber and wear the rear tire out quickly.

That said, if the brakes really don't bite the wheel at all, then yes, they do need to be tightened. In other words, if it's really easy for you to squeeze the brake lever to the point where the lever hits the handle-grip, the brakes are too loose.

  • Isn't the best part of being a kid on a bike laying down a lot of rubber? – Carl Jul 25 '15 at 14:14
  • @Carel It certainly is, but your parents might not like it :) – BSO rider Jul 25 '15 at 16:58
  • @BSO rider: That was 'Carl' not 'Carel' ! ;-) – Carel Jul 25 '15 at 19:12
  • @carl that's still fun for us adults too! – whatsisname Jul 26 '15 at 2:54
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From firsthand experience I would say weaker front brakes and stronger rear brakes. When I was about 8 years old I was riding very fast and stopped short with the front brake, I went flying over the handlebars headfirst into the pavement (I wasn't a light kid either, I was actually one of the huskier kids), my helmet may have saved my life that day, I still needed stitches on my face though. It gave me a lifetime lesson about always riding with a helmet on and about using the front brakes carefully.

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    Had you not learned that physics lesson as a kid you might have had to learn it as an adult, where you can ride faster and have another hundred pounds of body mass, making it far worse. – whatsisname Jul 26 '15 at 2:49

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