Buying a bike: the whole thing is a balancing act
Zipping about on two wheels is great fun, but it's important to get the right set of wheels. Here's what we considered.
Boy Two gazed out of the window at the slightly bigger boys whizzing up and down the street on their bikes and sighed. I could see what he was thinking.
“Would you like a bike then?”
“I think so. Yes.”
For a long time Boy Two – who doesn’t like to do something he’s not instantly good at – had rejected the notion of a ‘proper’ bike. Instead, he was content to hurtle around the neighbourhood on a scooter causing terror and wrecking the toes of his shoes.
Now I’m not a cyclist, I can do it but I don’t like it much. I’d far rather walk, so I had to seek advice about the best kind of wheels for the Boy. Wise cycling friends were full of warnings.
They told me that firstly the kiddy-style bikes were no use – imagine them scaled up for grown-ups and how hard they’d be to ride -- then they said adult bikes boiled down were rubbish too as the proportions are different. Riding a bike is a hard enough thing to do without the equipment fighting back.
Decent ones are also not cheap, so I didn’t want to buy something that was going to skulk in the back of the shed all summer. This was proving to be a complicated mission.
Here’s what Boy Two and I learned about buying bikes:
- Consider the function. Are you going to want to do long bike rides? Or want to do tricks with a BMX style bike or only off-road with a mountain bike?
- Size. It’s all about the child’s inside leg measurement, apparently. And then you choose the bike according to the wheel diameter – 16”, 18” or 20” depending, for kids from five to 10. Boy Two needs to be able to sit on the saddle with both feet just touching the ground – and he needs to be able to do this while the seat is down so there’s room for growth.
- Gears. Was he going to tackle learning to ride as well as mastering the gears? We thought one thing at a time, was, perhaps, safest, but this might mean getting a new bike sooner rather than later.
- Brakes. Funnily enough I was more interested in them than Boy Two was. Some children’s bikes have coaster brakes, the kind that work when you pedal backwards because hand brakes are difficult for small fingers to operate at first.
- Stabilisers or not. Boy Two observed that they were for babies, but I pointed out that forgetting you couldn’t actually ride a bike without them and falling off was not the most grown-up thing either. Actually the jury’s out on whether stabilisers help or hold up the getting-the-hang-of-balance process.
- Fancy styling. Boy Two is a sucker for bling so we had to have a serious chat when he decided that the loudest and most colourful pair of wheels in the shop was the one for him. It’s quite telling that kids’ bike guru Isla Rowntree uses that fact that her bikes don’t have tassels as a selling point.
It’s always a good idea to go to a proper bike dealer to get advice. Carlton Reid, editor of Bicycle Business, said: "You love your kids, right? Nothing's too good for them, right? So, how come so many parents buy the cheapest kids bikes they can find? It's illogical.
“A good quality bike bought from a specialist outlet pays for itself many times over because it can stand-up to kid-abuse and will need less maintenance than a supermarket special that will have rubbishy bearings, weak components and shoddy welding.”
So, eventually, Boy Two got a new bike – and, of course, the safety gear to go with it. It’s not the end of the story though, but the tale of how to get an impatient boy off and pedalling must wait for another blog. Meantime, do you have any suggestions for bike buying – or at least – buying affordable bike for kids?
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