How do you choose the right children’s bike for your son or daughter? Do you go for cheap and cheerful because they grow so fast, or can you see the merits of paying a bit more for your children’s bicycle? With Christmas coming up – and bikes one of the top choices for kids, mum FionaOutdoors gives her lowdown on bike buying for her daughter.
When my daughter first learned to ride a bike aged four the hardest task was persuading her to occasionally leave the tiny, fix-wheeled bicycle at home. Suddenly, as a family, we were enjoying short excursions on two wheels and I quietly delighted in the idea that Little Miss had inherited my “I Love Cycling” gene.
But just months later, and days after being “treated” to a new, sparkly-pink bike resplendent with tassels and dual suspension for her birthday, she inexplicably changed her mind and decided she loathed cycling. It took another six months for us to discover the root of the problem – and to again experience the fun of family cycling.
Havana’s main complaint about the 5th birthday bike was that she couldn’t pull the brake levers. She also struggled to change up or down the numerous grip-shift gears and while hills had never been her forte, on this new bike she stalled at the slightest incline.
I’m afraid I blamed my daughter’s laziness and stubbornness. Then, during a casual chat in our local bike shop I ashamedly realised that it could be my fault.
Thinking that a child’s bike will last only a year, I had bought a cheap-ish model for £70. Although it scored top marks on pretty looks and fancy extras, I was to learn that it didn’t rate highly on any technical component checklist.
In short, my daughter’s bike was heavy, clunky and apparently as non-child-friendly as my mum’s old shopper bike.
And so I took a deep breath, raked about in a savings account, and bought another new bike that was almost twice the price but which the local store recommended for its ease of use.
This Dawes girls’ bike came with an aluminium frame, Shimano grip-shift gears and easy-pull brake levers. Within two minutes of jumping on to the saddle Little Miss was zipping up and down hills, skilfully changing gears – and smiling again.
One own of an independent bike shop in Scotland confirms that I am not the only parent to have made such a costly mistake.
David, of Solid Rock Cycles in Balmore, north of Glasgow, says that while many people can take some convincing, when it comes to bikes “you pretty much do get what you pay for”.
David, who recommends “higher quality” manufacturers such as Merida, Gary Fisher and Claud Butler, as well as Dawes, says: “Because kids are light, small and not particularly strong they find it easier to propel a bike that’s light, well-proportioned and has slicker components.
“But bikes made of lighter alloys and with better components, such as easy-to-use gears, child-size brake levers and cranks and improved quality bearings, really do cost more.”
He also suggests that if parents can afford to do so they might want to look at bikes that have alloy rims for improved braking surface and cranks that can be lengthened as a child grows.
“A higher quality bike may seem like an expensive outlay initially but because of better components it will in fact last longer and can then be passed on to younger siblings, friends or re-sold,” he adds.
Re-sale is a major attraction of another popular brand of children’s bicycle, Islabikes. These bikes, which have been designed from scratch to specifically fit children, can appear second-hand on Ebay at up to two-thirds their original price.
Islabikes was launched some six years ago after founder and bicycle designer Isla Rowntree spotted a gap in the market. She explains: “It was when friends and family started asking for my advice on bikes for their kids that I realised that there was nothing out there that I wanted to recommend.
“I felt that the children’s bikes, even the higher-end models, were too heavy and offered too many gimmicks and glitz at the expense of better quality components. It seemed ludicrous that many children’s bikes were heavier than an adult’s bike and weighed more than the children themselves. So I decided to design my own range.”
In particular Islabikes, for two to 13-year-olds, have super-lightweight aluminum frames, wide-ratio simple gearing and made-to-measure, light-action brakes. Extra child-friendly details include slim handle bar grips for “smaller hands” and junior-sized saddles and pedals.
What Islabikes most definitely do not have is “heavy, ineffective suspension, dozens of baffling gears and tassels,” adds Isla.”
“Of course,” I assure her, “I, ahem, would never be taken in by such things myself.” Not now, anyway.