We’ve been a bit lax these couple of years with taking the kids out on their bikes. Actually, in fairness, they have grown out of their Isla Bikes, and are needing bigger ones. They are after something that will be great for the school commute, plus fun off road in the woods. So after much internet searching, I thought I would share my finds in this kids bike buying guide. Sharing all the factors that I think you need to consider before buying a fun kids bike.
If supermarkets can sell you a bike for less than £100 – why spend more? My father in law likes to remind us that “you get what you pay for”, and nowhere does this ring more true than with kids bikes.
Generally speaking, Supermarkets don’t sell bikes. Supermarkets sell Bike-Shaped-Objects. The difference between bike shaped objects and proper bikes is much greater than their persuasive low sales price.
When I say Supermarket – I also mean:
a) any large out of town retailer that specialises in selling everything.
b) catalogue shops.
c) giant toy shops.
d) probably about 80-90% of the range in that shop that sells car accessories.
Of course, most kids bikes will be ridden around a fairly flat park or around the campsite on holiday. A bike-shaped-object will surely provide a lot of fun and be able to roll, steer and do skids. It may even have a paint job and name that fits your child’s gender stereotype. Army Annihilator or Flower Fluff Princess, perhaps?
Riding a bad bike is exhausting, demoralising and a real turn off.
Pro’s of a ‘real’ bike:
- Allows your child to keep up with Mum and Dad on a family cycling adventure. Allowing your child to enjoy the experience.
- It will allow your child to go further, for longer, and have more fun with it.
- When your child out grows the bike, it will still have enough life left in to pass down to a sibling, or sell on. We sold Charlie’s first Islabike for around £40 less than the original purchase price.
- Efficient bikes are more satisfying and enjoyable to ride because they roll with less pedaling effort.
Low rolling resistance and low weight help to make a bike more efficient. Less effort = more fun.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen someone recommend an Islabike or a Frog on Facebook. Around our way, the Islabike is ubiquitous, especially in the bike shed at our kid’s school. In the last few years, Frog has improved the finish and details on their range – their latest models look fantastic. Both these brands offer really great quality bikes for kids and I’d happily recommend one to anyone, but there are many other excellent choices to be had. There is no need to follow the crowd.
Lets get started with 6 options to consider…
Giant XTC JR 20w Lite 2017 Kids Bike – £239
Great no nonsense specification for an adventurous 6 year old.
Keep pace with Mum and Dad and venture in to mountain bike trail centres.
Orbea MX 16 2017 Kids Bike – £209
Super cute little 16″ wheeled bike that will see your 4 year old out-sprint your husband.
(Don’t even fit the stabilisers).
Belter 16″ Urban Belt Drive 16W 2017 Kids Bike £349.99
Early Rider make the most beautiful bikes for kids. With brushed and lacquered aluminium frames, there are no hiding places for imperfections. Lightweight and thoughtfully designed – your child will remember this bike forever. Available in Road or Off road variations. Amazing hand-me-down and resale potential.
HOY Bonaly 16 Inch Kids Bike – £220
Olympic track superhero, Chris Hoy, has a range of inspiring kids bikes.
Pinnacle Aspen 6 Speed 24 Inch Kids Bike – £260
Simple, affordable and versatile – great ingredients for your over 10 year old.
Charge Cooker 24 (2017) Kids Bike – £349.99
Junior version of the Charge Cooker (a popular modern classic in the world of mountain biking). Aluminium frame with disc brakes, and 7 speed. A simple and upgradeable stepping stone in to senior bikes.
If Effort is the enemy of Fun on a bike, how can we ensure we’re buying a fun kids bike?
You can buy a great kids bike, if you consider the following.
Weight – try and keep it low
Supermarket bike frames are made from low grade mild steel. The tubes may look normal on the outside, but internally the tubes are thick to give the frame the required strength. All this extra thickness means extra weight. Good quality bike frames have tubes made from high tensile steel or aluminium. These materials are stronger and can be made thinner – meaning the frame is much lighter. The bike frame is the single largest component of the bike, so saving weight here will significantly improve the ride.
The two second biggest components of the bike are the wheels – a place where huge inefficiencies are often made. Consider spinning your child on a roundabout. It takes much more effort to start spinning your child and all her friends than it does to spin just one child. It also takes much much more effort to keep the whole gang spinning. Now imagine trying to cajole your child to keep pedaling that supermarket bike down the cycle path.
Good quality wheel rims are made of light weight aluminium and have strong alloy spokes. Poor quality wheel rims are made from heavy mild steel, with low grade spokes fitted to steel hubs.
Bearings – keep it smooth
Friction in bearings and rolling resistance from tyres sap the energy from a rolling bike. Good quality bearings require less effort to get them moving and continue to spin for longer, losing less energy. Guess what cheap supermarket bearings do?
Size – it needs to fit now, not in 18 months
Unlike adult bikes, kids bikes are grouped in size by wheel size. Generally wheels are measured in inches, and they come in size 12″, 14″, 16″, 20″ and 24″.
Your child with inevitably grow more quickly than you can imagine. Thankfully a quality bike can be passed down to a younger sibling, or sold on. Its not fun to be riding a bike that doesn’t fit. Accept the fact that you’ll need to replace your child’s bike as they grow – and try to avoid a massive bike that they’ll grow in to. Badly fitting bikes are a turn off, too.
Playground Bragging Rights – lets get objective
There was a kid at my school that used to brag that his Dad’s lawnmower was better than every other Dad’s lawnmower. Kids love a good brag in the playground, and suspension and gears are worthy of a good boast. But lets be objective. If a bike costs less than £100 in a Supermarket just how good are all those components going to be?
Suspension – really cheap is really really bad
For suspension to be effective it needs to move so it can absorb bumps. Yet it needs to remain still on smooth terrain. Suspension on cheap bikes is hopeless because it is so stiff that it doesn’t move when the bike hits a bump. Instead of smoothing out the trail and giving the rider an advantage, it penalises the rider with added weight and sloppy steering.
Cheap bike suspension may seem quite pliable when you test it in the shop – but now consider that your child weighs a small fraction of yourself and is unlikely to be heavy or strong enough to produce the force required to move the suspension. Keep it simple and avoid cheap and bad heavy suspension.
Having said that… Suspension can be brilliant and inspire confidence especially for adults and more experienced children. Just don’t ever buy a bike with suspension from a supermarket. Trusted brands usually offer a suspension version of their older kids bikes. Well tuned suspension is as active as possible, and has adequate weather sealing so things don’t grind to a halt. You can’t avoid the extra weight it adds to the bike, though.
Gears – keep it simple
I think single speed bikes are more enjoyable for inexperienced riders. Fiddling with gears can sometimes get in the way of just pedaling and enjoying the ride. It can be distracting finding the ‘right gear’, while being unable to ride off again after stopping in a high gear can be really aggravating for the rider. I suggest you avoid gears until your child reaches about 8, or until they’ve built up experience on a single speed. Jumping from a single speed bike to a bike with more than 7 or 8 gears can also be a frustration, so I’d recommend upgrading in stages.
Aside from anything else – a single speed bike requires much less maintenance.
Kids Bike Buying Guide – Summary & Recommendations
So hopefully this kids bike buying guide has given you the confidence to choose your child an amazing bike that they’ll love to ride and ride. If you have any feedback or if you think I might be able to help you a little more, please get in touch via the comments.
I’ve also made a pin board of other great kids bikes… pop over to see.