The right bike gives your kids the best riding start

Small girl on a bike. If kids can’t get off a bike unassisted, it’s too big.Look in any toy store or department store this time of year and you’ll know bicycles feature highly on Christmas shopping lists. The same consideration applies when buying children’s bikes as shopping for adults – safety.

It’s important the bike is the right size for the child. You can’t buy something bigger for the child to “grow into”. Just as with an adult, if the bike is too big, it’s uncomfortable to ride and difficult to handle. A child should be able to get on the bike unassisted, otherwise they’ll have trouble getting off. And falling off isn’t attractive!

Children’s bikes are often marketed in age brackets. Unfortunately, children rarely fit into these sort of average sizes, so it’s best to take them with you to help choose the bike.

If you think that will just spoil the surprise too much, your next option is to measure your kids: height charts and measuring the inside leg of trousers will give you a good idea.

The right sized bike will let a child straddle the top bar (or where the bar would be if it had one) with a 3-5cm clearance. They should be able to reach the handle bars easily and pedal comfortably. Check they can touch the ground with both feet pointed while sitting comfortably on the seat, that’s the advantage in taking them with you!

The Australian standard says that children’s bicycles should have at least two braking systems. Small hands may not have enough strength to operate lever brakes properly, so the bike should have back-pedal brakes as well.

The best quality bike you can afford will survive all the treatment kids dish out and give them a safer ride. You can often get a better quality bike second-hand for the same money you’d spend on a new one. Of course, you may need to be able to spruce it up or make it special somehow to compensate for its lack of newness.

If you buy from a department store, you’ll generally have to assemble the bike yourself. You do need some level of mechanical skill to make sure it’s all operating safely. If you buy from a bike shop, you can be confident that an experienced bike mechanic has assembled it. There’s usually a free service thrown in as well.

Make sure your budget includes a good helmet. It’s such an important piece of gear, we’ll talk about it separately next week.

See you on the road soon, God willing. Eddie Barkla

First published in the Bendigo Weekly Friday 24 November 2006. Image courtesy www.pedbikeimages.org/Dan Burden)

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