How to Buy a Kid’s Bike

1 04 2014

A while back, my nephew asked me for some advice on buying a bike for his daughter. They live in Phoenix, where I also spent a decade, and where I returned to cycling back in 2008. Here is what I sent him…

The 1st thing to consider is what type of riding she will be doing. Will she be serious about cycling, or is it just for fun? Will you ride with her, offering a bit of a challenge for her to keep up with Daddy? Will she ride with friends, and what do they ride? Also, which is more important, to look cool or to ride well and have fun? (For kids today, this is a very important question. In fact, it was important when I was a kid too!)

Next, when you see an advertisement for a 20” or 26” bike, this is not the frame size but the wheel size. Generally, a 20” bike is for smaller children, while a 26” bike is for older kids. A 26” wheel is the standard wheel size, even for adults. (The whole 700c and 650c thing was TMI at this point.)

Bike size is actually determined by frame size, measured from the bottom center of the frame, or bottom bracket, to the top tube, the tube that runs from the handlebars to the seat post. She should be able to straddle the bike, and stand with both feet flat on the ground, allowing about 2 inches clearance between top tube and crotch. When mounted, place one of her heels on one of the pedals at the bottom of the pedal stroke. Her knee should lock in this position. Then, when she places the ball of that foot on the pedal, the knee should be slightly bent. This is the most efficient, most comfortable position for pedaling. If you can achieve this position, the height of the saddle is correct.

Here is a link to the REI Bike Fit page. This should be helpful. Bike fit is critical to safe, enjoyable cycling – for anyone, but especially for kids.

Most bike frames today are made by 1 or 2 plants in China and virtually all of them are strong. The key to buying a quality, long-lasting ride is found in the components, the stuff that hangs off the bike’s frame and make it go – and stop!

Wheel strength is very important. Weak rims go “out of true” regularly, making the ride wobbly and unsafe. Wobbly wheels also have trouble when breaking, since the brake pads may not contact the rim properly. Look for strong rims with a large number of spokes. Spin the wheels before buying to ensure they are true from the factory. If they wobble before anyone has ridden the bike, they won’t stay true for you, or her.

Needless to say, brakes are also important. Make sure there is plenty of adjustment available, allowing you to tighten their grip on the wheel rim as the brake pads begin to wear. Make sure the brakes are mounted properly, making contact with the wheel rim, not the tires or spokes. Also, the front of the brake pad should make contact before the rear of the pad (by millimeters at least). If the brakes squeak during a test ride, they are probably not mounted correctly. (Don’t allow them to tell you it’s just because the bike is new.)

If the brake pads make contact with a tire, the bike will stop almost instantly, usually sending your child flying over the handlebars.

A single speed bike is the simplest, easiest bike to maintain, but multi-speed bikes are easier to ride. If you choose a multi-speed bike, make sure the shifters work well and that the derailleurs work properly. Test the shifting thoroughly, moving through all speeds repeatedly. Twist shifters, where the grips are rotated to change speeds, are convenient and easy to use, but they are also the cheapest and least reliable. Thumb shifters tend to be more accurate and reliable. Make sure they are mounted conveniently close to the brake levers and grips.

Avoid bikes with suspension systems or shock absorbers. She will not need them to simply tool around the neighborhood and they make pedaling less efficient, absorbing some of the energy from every pedal stroke and wasting effort. They are only necessary for riding trails.

Tires and tubes will make a huge difference too, especially in the Phoenix area. Knobby tires are good on trails but bad on pavement. They also pick up more junk, which can lead to more punctures and flat tires. The smoother the tires the smoother the ride. Plus, they tend to roll over sharp objects and puncture less often. Cheap bikes have thin tires and tubes, so are more prone to punctures and flats. At a minimum, you should buy some “puncture resistant tubes” to replace the tubes that come with the bike. There are “goat heads” all over the place down there and punctures are very common.

Hope this helps. If you have more questions, don’t hesitate to ask.

Buying a bicycle for a child is a serious task, regardless of age. You want her to be able to enjoy herself, but also to have fun riding. The big box stores offer plenty of choices, but they tend to skimp on the details – like tires, tubes, and wheel strength. Spending a few extra bucks on a bike for your kid makes a great deal of sense, despite the fact that they may outgrow it soon. The market for used bikes is strong in every town and city across the US, so you should be able to sell her used bike easily when it’s time for her to graduate to a larger size.

For more information on buying a kid’s bike, kids and cycling, or buying a bike for yourself, check out one or both of these eBooks from  our cycling website, Mile Hi Cycle Guy…

Rediscover Your Joy with Bicycles and Cycling

Rediscover Your Joy with Bicycles and Cycling #2

Both of these cycling eBooks are packed with valuable information that will help the beginning or returning cyclist with the choice of the right bike, how to save money when buying a bike, making sure the bike fits you or your child, essential equipment and accessories, basic bike maintenance, where to ride safely, how to include the family, and so much more. At just $2.99 each, they are a great value.


A unique experience…

12 07 2011

I had a truly unique experience on Sunday as I met a fellow bike blogger. Kelly Carlisle, who writes the blog Ride Bikes, Drink Coffee, was visiting Colorado with his family.

He wanted to meet before leaving town, so…we got together at Starbucks, of course.

We live a thousand miles from each other and had never met before this but, we sat down and began chatting as if we’d known each other for years. Of course, we’ve been reading each other’s blog for more than a year so, in reality, we did know each other even before we met in person. It constantly amazes me how cycling, the Internet, and blogging can bring folks, who would otherwise be and remain strangers, together.

Kelly is an articulate, insightful blogger, with an undisguised love for cycling – and coffee. His writing and photography of Salem and its environs are truly inspiring. He is a family man who cares for people and is willing to share his insights and loves with others. It was a true pleasure meeting someone with whom I’ve only “spoken” through the Internet prior to this moment.

I’ve received some high praise from Kelly in the past, for accomplishing The Ride from Phoenix to Denver, as well as for blogging about it as I did so. I can only return the compliment and thank him for being so generous.

Thank you Kelly, for taking the time from your trip and your family to meet with an old cyclist like me. I surely hope to return the favor one of these days and visit you in Oregon.


Easy Riders Saturday Group Ride

25 06 2011

Just got home from the Easy Rders Group Ride. We had a tough one today. Just 4 miles in one of the kids had a “mechanical.” Mom had to turn back and take her home. Then dad developed a slow leak in a trailer tire, plus a couple of unanticipated pit stops…

Still, we made it out to Cherry Creek Res., did a spin there, and came back. We… did a total of 12.2 miles at a surprising 9.8 mph.

All the kids have geared bikes now, so they did really well and, in spite of some problems, we had a good time.


A good ride gone bad…

7 03 2011

Darryl and I had a decent ride going yesterday, in spite of the 22 mph wind kicking up. Forecast was for low 50’s, with winds of 6-8 mph, so we chose to ride. Ah well, they never seem to get it right, do they?

We even did the “Good Samaritan” thing, stopping to help an in-town Arizonan, driving a car not a bike, find his destination in unfamiliar territory. Gotta’ love smart phones, huh?

Then, after about 12 1/2 miles, and just three miles from home, I threw a spoke on the rear wheel. Heard a loud pop while standing on the cranks and thought I threw a stone into my BB. The bike got a little “wiggly” though, so I stopped to check it out. A spoke on the right side, the drive side, of my rear wheel had broken at the hub. It is now at least an inch out-of-true. Too dangerous to ride, for both me and the rim, so Darryl, such a great friend, took off for home and came back to get me with the truck.

Damn, I wish we knew how to do spokes and wheels. A trip to the LBS is on the books today or tomorrow. We’re definitely gonna’ learn wheels soon.

I guess it’s true what they say, “No good deed goes unpunished.”


Group ride today…

13 02 2011

Really looking forward to riding with a new FB cycling group today, Cycling in Colorado. We’ve never met, or ridden, with them before but we hope to ride with them often.

Darryl and I will be heading for Littleton, on the west side of town, to meet up with them at 11 AM. We’re planning on doing about 25 miles down to Chatfield Reservoir and back to our starting spot. They tell us they average about 14-15 MPH on most rides. Weather should be great; in the high 50’s when we begin, rising to the mid-60’s by the time we finish, with only moderate wind. Compared to all the snow and cold we’ve had for the last two weeks, today will be perfect!

My biggest concern today is that I haven’t ridden – at all – in more than two weeks. It’s been too cold to ride outside, and I just haven’t had the motivation to use the indoor trainer. I figure one of two things will happen; either my legs will be super strong and I’ll have to hold back, or I’ll bonk early and struggle the remainder of the ride. But, whatever happens, it will be soooooo good to get out and into the saddle again.

The rest of the week looks very good for riding, as well. Forecast is for mid-60’s all week, with a new system moving into the state by next weekend. I hope to get in a lot of miles next week, too.

Well, it’s time to begin prepping the bike, and the body, so…

I’ll let you know how it goes today, and I’ll try to get some pictures, too.


Weekend Riding Forecast…

11 02 2011

…er, Weather Forecast.

Even with 4-6 inches of snow still on the ground, the forecast looks promising for riding this weekend.

Friday                           Saturday                         Sunday

  52º                                   59º                                 63º

Darryl and I are planning on riding with a new group on the west side of town on Sunday. (Cycling in Colorado on FB.) Wheels down at 11 AM, with a planned ride of about 25 miles at 14-15 mph. We are really looking forward to meeting some new people and spending a couple of hours on our bikes.

I’ve been unable, and mostly unwilling, to ride for a couple of weeks now, since my last 28 miles. The body is feeling a bit strange. I’ll likely put a few miles in today and tomorrow, just to loosen the legs up for Sunday.

It always amazes me how forgiving the weather in Colorado can be. The first week-and-a-half of February have been cold and snowy, but this weekend will be perfect. I guess we’re paying for the relatively mild weather we were given from November through January. If ten days of bad weather is the price I pay for three months of good…I’l buy that for a dollar!

Let you know how it goes…


You Know You’ve Gone Over The Deep End For Cycling When…

10 01 2011

What are the signs of losing your sense of boundaries with your new-found cycling addiction?

Could it be when you don’t think twice of purchasing a new bicycle for $600-$800 or more, when only a few short months ago anything in the 3 digits would have sent you running?

Could it be when you find yourself watching the 1980’s movie “American Flyers” and you pause the movie on numerous occasions, scouring to see if you can identify the various bicycle brands they are riding? (and the other 50 times of watching this movie over the years you couldn’t have cared less.)

Or maybe when you don’t giggle anymore seeing the guys walking around in spandex with enormous pads in their crotch?

I’m thinking that moving a couch from the living room and replacing it with a 4-bike stand so your bikes don’t have to stay in the garage qualifies, don’t you?

Loaded 4-Bike Rack


We purchased this Racor Pro PLB-4R Gravity Freestanding Bike Stand from Amazon for $88, with no shipping – what a deal!

It is very sturdy, easy to put together, completely adjustable, and easily accommodates my girl-special Trek stagger frame without the need for a top-tube converter.

Racor Bike Stand


Have you gone over the deep end? Oh, do please share!



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