Thursday, May 30, 2013

Choosing a bike for your child

Image: Washington Post
Todays' Living Local section has a good article entitled "There's a lot riding on that bike" (print) and "Bicycle buying guide: How to choose the right one for your child" (online). Jim Strang of Spokes, Etc. gives good tips to parents looking for a bike for their child.

I especially like the advice to avoid training wheels. Learning to ride a balance bike is the best option in my opinion. The height of training wheels is often set improperly and kids end up riding to one side. Riding with training wheels is basically like riding a big trike and kids don't learn to balance, which is why the process of learning to ride on two wheels becomes difficult.

Here are some of the tips from the article:
1. Think about where your child will be riding. It can be tough to choose between a bike with gears and hand brakes and one with just one speed and coaster brakes. Some bikes are equipped with both. Strang said parents are often concerned that if a child stops suddenly with hand brakes, he will flip over the handle bars. Kids learn quickly, though, and Strang said parents shouldn’t be afraid of hand brakes. “If the goal is to ride on a bike path with the family, with a little practice, gears are going to be helpful,” he said. “But if it’s just for riding around the neighborhood, the better option might be to not get gears, because it makes [riding] simpler.” The same goes for style of tires. If your child will be on hiking trails or other dirt paths, a knobby tire will give better traction. But if it’s mostly neighborhood riding, the standard street tire is fine, Strang said.

2. Find the right fit. Choose the bike based on your child’s size, not age. To check the fit, have her get on the bike. Her knee should be extended about 75 percent of the way when her foot is at the bottom of the pedal stroke, Strang said. “Typically when you have that, the child can’t put their feet on the ground,” he added. If your child is skittish, you can lower the seat until she becomes more comfortable and then gradually raise it to give her the proper pedal stroke.

3. Go lightweight. Whether shopping at a specialty store or a big-box merchant, get the lightest bike you can afford, Strang said. Avoid bikes with dual suspension, which can make them heavier. Inexpensive bikes that are not well made can make riding more difficult and less enjoyable, and turn young riders off from the sport, Strang said. A high-quality used bike is a good alternative if cost is a concern.

4. Consider bypassing the training wheels. Bikes with training wheels teach children to pedal first, then how to balance. But balance bikes, which have become popular in the last three to five years, teach children to balance first and eliminate the reliance on training wheels. A balance bike has no pedals, so children push their feet on the ground to make the bike go, then use a footrest when coasting. Once a child has the balancing down, he can graduate to a bike with pedals. A balance bike at Spokes Etc. costs about $170.

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