Choosing and buying kids’ bikes

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As the parent of two young kids, introducing them to cycling at a young age has been a priority of mine. My oldest child got his first bike when he was three, a gaudy orange “Tigger” bike with training wheels.

This bike was a bit frustrating for him — balance was an issue. He relied too much on the training wheels, and you could see him riding along at a slant, using the training wheels to keep him upright. After a summer of this, I took the Tigger bike apart, pulling out the bottom bracket and the pedals and of course removing the training wheels. After a few months of pushing the bike around like that, he was an expert. We got him a bigger bike (with pedals) a few months later.

Now, a few years later, the bike with the 14″ tires just isn’t cutting it.  He rides it well enough, but he’s practically eating his knees as he rides along. We were fortunate to win a one-week “bike camp” for him at the MEC BikeFest a few weeks ago, so we decided that it was time to upgrade his bike.

Buying kids bikes turns out to be a much bigger deal than I expected. There are basically three categories of bikes: the department store bikes, the sports store bikes, and the bike store bikes. We were looking for a relatively basic bike with 20″ tires.

Department store bikes are usually heavy, steel frame bikes with a wide range of glitzy features. They can come in anywhere from a few gears to 27 gears, they can have no suspension, front suspension, or full suspension. The price ranges from relatively cheap ($75) to moderately expensive ($300). There’s  a relatively wide range of styles of bikes to choose from.

The sports store bikes tend to be a bit lighter, with a mix of steel and aluminum frame bikes. The components on them tend to be a bit better, but like the department store bikes, you can get lots of gearing and suspension options. The selection that we saw tended to be a bit more limited, with maybe as many as a half-dozen bikes to choose from. These bikes ranged in price from about $150 to $400.

The bike shop bikes were, unsurprisingly, the high-end bikes. The different bike shops tended to have somewhere between one and three different models of the particular brand they carry, if any. These bikes tended to be aluminum frames, with relatively low complexity gearing options, and the full range of suspension options.  There were even some bikes with coaster brakes. The bikes cost, however, ranged from moderately expensive ($200) to quite expensive ($500+).

The other option is the used bike route. There are several used bike stores in the city, including Ride On Again on Broadway in Kits. The selection of bikes at these shops tends to vary widely, as does the pricing. Some of the used, consignment bikes at Sports Junkies were almost as expensive as the sports store bikes. You can also try Craigslist, Kijiji, or even Freecycle Vancouver, but again the availability of bikes ebbs and flows. You might, however, get a good deal.

I was pretty surprised with how expensive and complicated most of these bikes were. We didn’t really want to have our newly-7 year old go right from a small single-speed coaster bike to a 27-gear bike with V-  (or even disc!) brakes. And I didn’t want to pay an arm and a leg for a bike that was going to see only a few years’ use (although kid#2 will get it as a hand-me-down).

In the end we opted for a hard-tail single speed aluminum frame bike from a bike store. It was at the lower end of the price range, and quite a bit better in terms of quality and weight compared to the just slightly less expensive department store and sports store bikes. Perhaps most importantly, though, it fit him best. He’ll be able to ride it for the next few years on family outings, and on his way back and forth to school.

What have your kids’ bike buying experiences been like? Any tips to offer?

Last modified: January 28, 2017

One Response to " Choosing and buying kids’ bikes "

  1. S. Hamilton says:

    Kids and Bikes.

    It is great to see so many kids getting out on bikes around the trails etc. Unfortunately their parents are not aware of the proper way to wear a helmet

    The front of the helmet must be worn close to the child’s eyes, covering the forehead,not cocked up covering the back of his head. Most accidents are in a forward direction leaving the face uncovered with the helmet.

    This info is from a doctor who discovered this fact AFTER he had his face badly damaged.