What makes a good kids bike?

User avatar
Posts: 2436
Joined: Fri Oct 01, 2010 1:07 pm
Location: Melbourne

What makes a good kids bike?

Postby MattyK » Thu Nov 29, 2012 2:11 pm

What are the features that make for a "better" bike? (I use the term loosely because there will be numerous interpretations, and it will depend very largely on where and how you and your children ride)

There are a few bike makers who identify themselves as making something different from the big brands, implying the big brands are doing something wrong. But are the big brands wrong? Has the market painted itself into a corner, where buyers assume that what is on offer is good? Do they offer what they do because that is what customers demand? or is what they offer actually a mature product that suits the needs of the target market?

Here are my thoughts as dad of a 4 year old; she has a balance bike but not yet a pedal bike, so I will use this post as a thought/filter process for any upcoming purchase. Feel free to add or criticise.

You're not the one riding it, they are. Unless you're able to shelter them from the decision-making process, they are likely to want something that they like the look/colour/shape of. This seems to be why almost every girls bike has pink and tassels and doll seats and other junk all over it, and boys BMXs have seats that look like medieval torture devices.

But it seems most important that they love it and want to ride it, regardless of what you think.

The makers of more upmarket/expensive kids bikes push light weight as a major virtue. But is it really that important? kids don't (or shouldn't at a young age) care about split-second acceleration performance differences, just about having fun. So the only times I see it as beneficial is when:
* going up hills
* a child needs to pick up the bike
* A parent needs to carry it home

Making a bike lighter costs money, and feasibly makes it less durable (though cheap heavy steel bikes won't necessarily be strong). It will almost certainly get dropped at some point (you remember riding as a kid don't you?) so some robustness is required.

So if you're in a flat area, it probably doesn't matter that much to save 1 or 2 kg, as long as your child can get it upright.

Young kids typically won't be cranking the pedals as hard, or going as fast as you. So a more upright position / higher bars will be more comfortable.

Younger kids will want to put their feet down without hopping off the saddle, so (in order to maintain reasonable pedal motion and leg extension) a low bottom bracket and short cranks are necessary. But the lower the BB, the more chance of pedal strike. Catch-22.

Crank lengths on nearly everything seems longer than it should be. I'm 185cm and use 175mm cranks - less than 1/10th my height, and I have proportionately much longer legs than a child. A 4 year old is 100cm, and a suitable bike will commonly have ~130mm cranks. I don't get it, but I'm not a pediatric bio-mechanics expert either.

"Q" (width between the pedals) universally seems way too wide - wider than the hips of a young child. I don't get this either. Typically it seems cheap 1-piece cranks are to blame, but getting a chainline past a typical tyre is also somewhat immovable.

Wheel size
Wheel size is the basic measurement that kids bikes are rated on, as opposed to frame size. The exception seems to be BMX, where top-tube length is typically used, because they usually stop at 20" wheels.
But some bikes have larger-than-average wheels for their frame size. Proponents argue that they make the bike more stable, and they should roll faster.
On the downside, all else being equal (but it usually isn't), larger wheels will be heaver, and have more inertia (though to contradict myself, see Weight above). They will also require a longer frame to avoid toe clearance issues, which then adds reach to the handlebars, so your child will need long arms or the bars should be adjustable backwards.

A shorter frame will be more maneuverable but possibly more twitchy.
A longer frame should be more stable/slower to react to inputs.
The jury in my head is out, but more stable seems better for most use.

Not much to argue here, more money gets you better components. They should be sized appropriately (eg grips and levers). Components should be tough enough to withstand abuse/crashes, but long term durability doesn't seem so critical on something that will be outgrown in two or three years - unless you will be handing down or trying to resell.

Gears - less is better I think. Keep it Simple, especially for the younger ones.
I'm surprised more kids bikes don't use internal hub gears, they're simple and robust.

Suspension - typically pointless I think; it isn't any cheaper to make just because it's smaller, so to meet the typical cost of a kids bike it will be low quality and heavy. Better to just have fatter/lower pressure tyres, and tell them to stand up over bumps.

Tread or no tread? Depends on your terrain really. Grass and dirt will (where they exist) likely get ridden on at some point, so a slick tyre may not be the best unless you are in a very urban area. Depends on the child I guess, and whether you can convince them to stay on paved surfaces. If so, smooth tyres should make life easier.

Build Quality / where to buy
If you're a competent bike mechanic, you might get away with a toy store / department store bike, which will probably require some rebuilding/greasing before it ever gets ridden. Otherwise, best cough up to let a bike shop do it.

User avatar
Posts: 2436
Joined: Fri Oct 01, 2010 1:07 pm
Location: Melbourne

Re: What makes a good kids bike?

Postby MattyK » Fri Nov 30, 2012 12:57 pm

Interesting reading here about Islabikes' design updates:
http://www.bikeradar.com/beginners/news ... ted-35857/

User avatar
Posts: 5738
Joined: Sat Jan 14, 2012 1:10 pm
Location: Lake Macquarie

Re: What makes a good kids bike?

Postby bychosis » Fri Nov 30, 2012 4:54 pm

Weight is important, for the reasons you mentioned. I see my 5yo struggle to lift/manhandle (boy handle?) his bike around. Agree it's not the riding, but the other stuff where weight is important.

We were given some 16" bikes by friends, they had a wierd geometry that made the bike sort of long and the rider in a strangely upright position. They were quickly forgotten because I found a more traditional BMX ink the same size that must have been easier to ride, it got heaps more use.

Style: I wish that manufacturers would not make all bikes style for girls or boys, but some that suited both. Streamers and stupid doll seats can be removed but the paint is harder to fix. Girls bikes don't have to be pink do they, although in am suspecting there is an obscure law somewhere that says all girls stuff sold must be pink or purple.
bychosis (bahy-koh-sis): A mental disorder of delusions indicating impaired contact with a reality of no bicycles.

User avatar
Posts: 2436
Joined: Fri Oct 01, 2010 1:07 pm
Location: Melbourne

Re: What makes a good kids bike?

Postby MattyK » Fri Nov 30, 2012 5:07 pm

...and white tyres. I need something that survives my girl and can be a hand-me-down to my boy.

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users