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Teach your child to ride a bike in 45 minutes | Cycling Weekly
Quality kids’ bikes: what to look for
Quality kids’ bikes are definitely not simply scaled-down adult bikes, they have specific geometry and components optimised for the proportions of a child. Here are some of the key considerations:
Weight of kids’ bikes
Cheap kids’ bikes will often have several flaws, most notable will be their weight. When cutting costs, brands will have to use heavier components and the frame will often weigh more too – creating an overall mass that often reflects a notable percentage of the child’s weight. Parents sometimes struggle to understand why every incline results in an outbreak of the waterworks – but we’d be crying too if our bikes weighed half as much as us.
One characteristic that is shared with adult bikes is the trade-off between low weight and robustness. Any child’s bike needs to withstand some rough treatment, but a heavy-duty bike which is difficult to get moving will likely put a child off riding.
Do kids’ bikes need suspension forks and lots of gears?
Some children want a bike that looks just like an adult version – and if they’re aspiring after an adult mountain biker, things can get tricky. It’s common to see children’s bikes with suspension forks, but most quality manufacturers don’t provide this until children are at least eight years old.
This is because a young child’s upper body mass is low and they’re rarely able to get the most from even finely tuned, responsive forks – and suspension will always add to the overall weight of the bike.
When it comes to gears – these should be introduced gradually. Most brands opt for single chainrings, with a wide spread at the rear cassette. For learners, this makes the whole process easier – and for older children, even those on racing road bikes, the single chainring allows the brand to keep the weight down.
Kids’ bike geometry
When creating quality a kids’ bike with optimum geometry, reach is the first thing to consider. With longer legs relative to their torso, and musculature that doesn’t allow them to lean forward as an adult would, a shorter reach is a must. As a minimum requirement the bike needs a proportionately shorter top tube, and a short stem.
The better bikes on the market will also come with custom-designed bars with a short reach and drop to maintain a comfortable riding position. Islabikes also use custom-made brake levers with shorter reach and greater leverage for smaller hands with a less powerful grip.
Foot placement is equally important, and getting that right for narrower hips calls for more bespoke components.
“I noticed that the cranks on many children’s bikes forced them to pedal with their legs in an inverted V, which is not efficient or comfortable,” Rowntree explained. “This also creates a turning moment when they pedal, so the bike has a tendency to zig-zag.”
Frog bikes, who commissioned research from Brunel University that involved measuring around 500 kids, found even more conclusive evidence. Narrowing pedal placement resulted in 25 per cent increase in pedalling efficiency and better leg joint alignment.
To create a closer foot placement, both companies designed their own narrow bottom brackets with cranks in multiple lengths. This has the added benefit of improving ground clearance when the bike leans over while also making it easier for the child to put their foot down.
Are boys’ and girls’ bikes different?
Some brands will offer separate models for boys and girls. However, when we spoke to Isla Rowntree she was clear that her anthropometric data showed no notable differences between the measurements of boys’ and girls’ limbs. Though in later life, some women might choose to opt for female specific bikes, at a young age this isn’t deemed necessary by most experts.
Though it’s understandable that any child will want a bike they find aesthetically suited to their own tastes, most brands making quality children’s bikes offer a range of paint jobs to suit the tastes of young racers.
When buying a kids’ bike, do:
Look for a bike with scaled-down components, not just adult ones on a smaller frame
Check the weight of the bike against competitors
Make sure your child can operate the brake and gear levers comfortably
Check for close pedal spacing and a low bottom bracket for comfortable pedalling and safe stopping
Take the bike to a shop if you are unsure of how to set it up and get the fit right.
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