NW Kids: Choosing a Bike for a Child

By Amy Whitley

Photo at right: While mountain biking, kids need to have a helmet with face protection. Photo by Amy Whitley


The first time our then-7-year-old tried gravity-based mountain biking, he was placed on the smallest bike in the rental shop…which was at least two inches too tall for his height.

While everyone else focused on getting their bikes up the chairlift and getting used to the feel of their tires under the single-track dirt, he concentrated all of his energy on simply staying upright.

In hindsight, this improper sizing was not only a disservice to him, but downright unsafe. Here’s how to choose a bike for your child—before you’re on the trail or road.

Hybrid Heroes

Unless they’re heavily into a particular type of cycling, and therefore ready to specialize, most parents will want to buy their child a bike that can perform well on both roads and dirt.

Hybrid bikes are ideal for families who may like to take excursions on local bike paths and city streets, but also enjoy mountain biking (either on single-track or via chairlifts at mountain resorts). Plus, hybrids make for great day-to-day bikes for those trips around the block.

Start your hybrid bike search at your local cycle shop. Your child’s bike will not be used as a toy, so avoid buying a bike at a toy store. Bring your child with you, so the experts at the cycle shop can correctly size him or her to a bike.

Look for a hybrid model with gears (but not too many, six is enough for most kids under age 12) and shocks. Buy for quality, but there’s no need to spring for the most expensive model: our favorite hybrid bikes for kids are Trek and Diamondback, in the $200-$300 price range. Once outgrown, these quality bikes can easily be resold.

Tires and Tubes

Once you’ve selected a bike, ask the salesperson for the correct psi (tire pressure) for the tires, so you can ensure they’re always inflated to that pressure. On most hybrids, you’ll want the tires inflated more for road biking, and less for mountain biking. Usually the correct psi can be found on the outside of the tire walls.

We find it helpful to get our tires treated with a tube sealant, which can be done at home or right at the shop. Tube sealants help prevent flats by coating the inner tube, quickly sealing small leaks that may occur.

Bike Rentals

If you’re renting a bike, learn from our mistake and call the cycle shop or on-mountain bike center before arriving with kids under age 12. Many carry models suitable for young kids, but if yours does not (as was the case with our gravity-based mountain biking excursion), you’ll have time to find a bike rental for your child elsewhere.

Ask about protective gear as well. While mountain biking, kids need a helmet with face protection, plus shin guards. (Chest guard is optional.) If road biking, bring your child’s usual helmet to ensure correct sizing.

Cycling with kids is an affordable, easy family activity once everyone is properly geared up and outfitted. Now the biggest challenge is loading all the bikes in the car or on the bike rack!

Amy Whitley of Medford, Ore., writes about her family adventures in NW Kids every edition in OutdoorsNW. Miss a column? Log onto www.OutdoorsNW.com and search NW Kids. You can follow more of Amy’s adventures at www.PitStopsforKids.com

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