In the saddle from the cradle. Choosing the right bicycle for a child
A few spins and you feel like you are floating above the ground. The wind is lightly blowing on your hair, the sun is shining, and the long road in front of you stretches out to the horizon, which makes it feel like such a bright metaphor to your life. For the sake of these feelings, it was certainly worth inventing the bicycle.
In fact, we are surely not planning to reinvent the wheel. However, this article will help to choose a bike that will be beneficial for the child’s health and well-being and will protect them from potential disappointments and injuries.
- The criteria for selecting a bicycle for a child
- The algorithm of choosing a bicycle
- Mistakes that are made when choosing a bicycle
- Assessing different bicycle brands and models
The criteria for selecting a bicycle for a child
Let’s start with the simple truth. A kids’ bicycle is like an adult’s one, but smaller. However, there are also some details about their degree of control, safety, and functionality. Let’s have a look at city bicycles, not the mountain ones or the ones for extreme sports – the simplest ones.
Bicycles for children from 4 to 12 years old look almost the same, the only thing that changes is the size which is increased as if it was done with a magnifying glass.
Thus, this means that a clear correlation may be found between the size of the bicycle and the height of the child.
The algorithm of choosing a bicycle
- Defining the size of the wheels.
- Controlling the seating.
- Choosing the right construction in terms of the following:
- bicycle frame;
- gear changes;
- shock absorbers;
- safety equipment.
Selecting the wheel size
The most important part of a bicycle is the wheel. Wheels dictate the size of the frame, and, therefore, all of the ergonomic characteristics. The size of a bicycle wheel is measured as its diameter in inches. Please note that for automobile wheels, the radius is measured instead. Therefore, do not be surprised at sizes of 26 inches or more.
The bicycle is always selected based on the height of the child and not their age. Children can be tall or more petite, hence, there is no size that fits all. An approximate correlation between the height of the child and the size of the bicycle wheels is outlined in the table below. The age parameters are located in the third column deliberately as they are not the decision-makers. By the way, a child can start cycling at about the same time as walking, hence from the age of just over 12 months.
|The diameter of the wheel ( in inches)||The height of the child (in feet)||Age|
|12||From 3” to 3.1’’||2 – 4|
|14||3.1” – 3.4”||3 – 5|
|16||3.4’’ – 3.6”||4 – 6|
|18||3.6” – 3.9”||4 – 7|
|20||4.1” – 4.6”||6 – 11|
|22||4.6” – 4.9”||10 – 12|
|24||4.6’’ – 5”||10 – 14|
Controlling the ergonomics of seating in the saddle
Having a table with measurements is great, however, even little practice is worth the knowledge of a large chunk of theory. In order for the child to ride the bike comfortably, and not to ruin their posture, we need to make sure that the bicycle is fit for the height of the person. We came up with an algorithm, which would allow you not to make a mistake when selecting the correct one for your child.
The first step is to evaluate the height of the seat. The young cyclist needs to be able to reach the pedal at the lowest position of their sole with their straight leg. In addition, their toes need to be able to pick the pedals up at their lower point. There also needs to be a small margin left for the saddle to be readjusted and placed higher — kids grow up very quickly and it is surely not possible to be buying two bicycles per year.
Step Two — selecting the height of the top part. The child needs to be able to reach the handlebars whilst sitting with an almost fully straight back (this position may be seen on the first sketch on the left). Bending the torso forward during the ride is mainly the prerogative of professional cyclists. It is important to note that the bicycle should have an appropriate saddle and should have options to adjust the height of the handlebar both in terms of the height and the incline – this way, it would allow to maintain a correct posture with a straight back and almost fully straightened legs and for the knees not to touch the handlebar.
Do not hesitate to ask the sales assistant to make all the necessary personalized adjustments for your child — it is much better to spend an extra thirty minutes in the store and to buy one right bicycle for the next 2-4 years, rather than purchasing an uncomfortable one.
We will now address the parts of the bicycle, the special features of which will need to be taken into account.
Go for a lighter version, this would not only be easier for carrying the bicycle into a building or an elevator. Most importantly, this would suggest a better control of the bicycle and increased safety. It is easier to stop a light bicycle than a heavy one – in this case, the basic rules of physics are surely not to be neglected.
In the event of reflecting on the complexity of the procedure of repairing aluminum or titanium frames, you will be surely driving yourself into choosing the third and the only option left, which is steel. Nevertheless, you should be informed that it is a heavy, highly corrosive and a very dense metal for a modern bicycle frame.
In addition to that, we should surely not forget about the price. The simpler it is, the cheaper it would be. A steel frame in this case would be the most budget-friendly option.
The configuration of the frame is not highly important for a city bike – choose the one that is more convenient.
For children below the age of 12 years old, it is suggested to have a coaster brake which will allow them to stop the bicycle with their feet. This is due to the fact that firstly, it is always handy and easy to access, and secondly – because it is more effective as the legs are stronger than the arms. Thirdly, it is safer to perform an emergency braking on the rear wheel rather than the front one as it reduces the risk of the bicycle losing its stability and the child falling over to the front.
For children who are just switching to a two-wheel bicycle, it would unnecessary to have a gear changer, especially on the rear part, installed on their bicycle:
- This is first of all, due to the fact that this may scare the child off as it would be distracting them from looking at the road in front of them.
- Secondly, any complex mechanism is less reliable than a basic one. A clean and well-oiled rear shock part will allow for a smoother ride in contrast to a badly adjusted or simply dirty gear changing system. And the repair of a complex part like such is unlikely to be performed by the 12-year old on their own. On the other hand, a shock part can be repaired fairly easily.
- Thirdly, a rear gear changer is not compatible with a safer foot brake.
For older children of 9-12 years old, it is recommended to have epicyclic gearing as it is safer and it is always fully hidden in the rear part. The 3-speed mechanisms have most often been considered to be the safest and the best adjusted. However, the brand Shimano has recently made an announcement that their 8-speed epicyclic gearing mechanism has been fully re-engineered and it is now not only easier to manipulate but also it is more reliable than the standard 3-speed models. The mentioned epicyclic gearing system does not prevent the foot brake from being used and this is considered to be one of its main advantages. In addition to that, it is more protected than the regular one.
City bikes simply do not need frontal shock absorbers. The simpler they are built, the easier and the better they would be. The absence of the need for a frame with a rear suspension goes even without saying.
The most important safety elements of the bike are the fenders. They must always be present, or otherwise, the trousers of the rider will inevitably get trapped in the rear derailleur of the bicycle, and their arms and knees will end up on the ground.
Fenders shield the wheels and protect the person from dirt, or from the pebbles that may be lifted into the air by the wheels. Fenders do not have any special requirements – but on city bicycles, there is no need to focus on having super lightweight fenders, regular deep ones would work perfectly fine.
For children up to 4-5 years old who have not yet learned to maintain balance, side wheels would act as an additional helping and safety equipment. You would need to adjust their height so that the child is not shaken when shifting the bodyweight slightly from left to right as this may frighten them.
Lastly, having a special soft pad on the steering wheel will act as a shock absorber for the child’s chest during the sudden braking of the bicycle. However, it is not a mandatory element, if the bicycle does not have it, it is not a very big deal.
The most important parts of safety equipment should be on the rider and not on the bicycle. Wearing a helmet is mandatory!
Modern helmets are lightweight, allow the head to breathe, and are highly reliable for protecting it. Gloves, elbow pieces, and knee pads are highly recommended for children who are just about to switch into a two-wheel bicycle from a three or four-wheel one. Falls in the future cannot be avoided, and the protective equipment will help to avoid injuries related to hitting the ground, which may result in scars on the elbows and the knees. These parts of the body are the first to suffer in the event of various kinds of incidents and mini accidents on bicycles.
General summer safety measures
During summertime, the child wants to have time for all of their favorite activities – taking walks, riding the bicycle, and playing with their friends. It may occur even to the most cautious and responsible children to forget about basic safety rules.
We recommend to all parents to learn more on Summer safety for children in order to be well-informed and to be able to pass on all the safety rules to their children.
Mistakes that are made when choosing a bicycle
First and foremost, the main mistake lies in not taking the child’s opinion into account. If you did not manage to convince your son or daughter that a bicycle should not be purchased just because it comes with a beautiful backpack, the child will not get positive emotions from the purchase, feeling that something has been forced upon them.
A «margin for growth»
The second and equally important mistake is to buy a bicycle with a «margin for child’s growth». When a child is left with a heavy, poorly controlled bike, simply because it is too big for them, it is very likely to disappoint them. Of course, as we suggested earlier, it is worth leaving a small margin when making the purchase, for adjusting the saddle, for instance. Nevertheless, it surely should not be a margin of 5 years.
The third is false economies. Having paid less today, to the detriment of the quality of the bicycle, we will be faced with future expenses as a result: we would spend money on repairs, and sometimes would even have to buy a new bicycle, when, for example, poorly joint contract points would suddenly burst. Choose a bicycle from a well-known manufacturer – just type their name into a search engine, and if a decent website comes up – you would most likely end up with a quality bike. In contrast, poor quality extreme mass-production bicycles most often do not have their own website.
Assessing different bicycle brands and models
When choosing the best bicycle, we take into account the best price/quality ratio. We also assess the size of the wheels and, accordingly, as we have already discussed, the height of the child. Each category contains 2 bicycle models. We’ve put the least expensive and more premium bikes under scrutiny. In fact, similarly to a number of other products, a higher price does not always suggest a perfectly proportional increase in special features and better characteristics. Having said that, it is also true that the choice is always in the hands of the buyer.
For the little ones
For children under the age of 3 or 4 years old, a three-wheeled version is probably the best. It may possibly have a long handle for the parent, in order to also allow for the bicycle to be occasionally used as a stroller during walks. Helping dad or mom to go up on some inclined surfaces or in other difficult areas of the road, will be very useful for the young cyclist, as it would encourage them to ride on their own in the future.
The next purchase or alternative may not even be a bicycle with training wheels, but rather a balance bicycle which is without pedals, on which kids can ride by pushing off the ground with their feet.
12-inch ones for the age of 2-4 years old
The bicycles of those dimensions surely feature the brightest and the most fun designs for kids. Boys of the age of 2-4 years old would surely love the Chillafish BMXie2 available in the coolest neon color options at a very budget-friendly $70 price point. The more luxurious bicycle from our selection happens to be exactly twice as expensive as the Chillafish one, and costs $140. It is called the Joystar Whizz series 16 which boasts of a durable frame, a sleek design and a bike saddle with a special parent assisted holder.
This selection for girls would consist of pink and purple lovely princess designs with the $138 Silverfox Pixie bicycle and a cheaper Dynacraft Evererest Stardom $80 bicycle with pretty glitter pom-poms for more impactful design.
16-inch for 4-6-year-olds
Boys of this age would surely enjoy a $95 Nickelodeon PAW Patrol bicycle, adorned with the cartoon channel characters. Apart from being bright and fun, it also has got a very good adjustable saddle. For a more expensive bicycle, we would suggest the Royalbaby Kids Hero, with a specially designed, so-called, «juvenile» saddle and non-slip resin pedals, as well as removable training wheels. The price is $120.
Girls are recommended a Schwinn Starmist $100 bicycle with «kid-specific» proportions as well as both coaster and front/rear handbrakes. A more upmarket version would be a Titan Flower Power Princess bicycle which features a lovely girly design, a handlebar pad, and a limited warranty for the price of 130$.
20 inches for the age of 7-10 years old
With an increase in the diameter of the wheel, we could surely spot an increase in the price of the bicycles in this age group, which is most likely to be explained by the fact that they start being more «adult-like».
A great bicycle with a good price for this category would be a $90 Huffy Decay Black/Neon bicycle. Apart from a nice color combination that does not feature any «childish» patterns, the bicycle has got a steel frame that has a lifetime warranty which is a great option given the issues that may arise with all types of frames as we discussed above.
In the more premium segment, we have selected a Peugeot Cycles JM20 bicycle, made, of course, by the famous car producer that has a hefty price tag of $280. The frame in this one is made from aluminum, the quality is absolutely stunning, hence the bicycle is sure to last for a long time. The bicycle features the famous Shimano gear changer that we have spoken above earlier in this article. The bright orange color makes it suitable for boys and girls which would allow for it to be passed down to the next child with no problem, should this be necessary.
A selection for girls in this 20” size features a more budget-friendly $125 Our generation bicycle, which comes with a special doll seat and a helmet and is presented in beautiful bright fuchsia color. The more premium version is a stunning Gingersnap Bobbin’ vintage looking bicycle with a stylish straw basket, caoutchouc wheels, and a whopping $265 price.
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