Do you remember the first bicycle you ever got? I was five years old and mine was a powder blue Monark Silver King Sting Ray with banana seat. My sister got the exact same bike so my mom wrote each of our initials in permanent marker on a little spot right by the kickstand so we’d know whose was whose.
I tried to find some photos of it, but this was the best that I could do. It’s in the background there with me (in the maroon Duran Duran Rio shirt – so it’s early 80s), my sister (crouching in front with the headband, apparently the fashion rage of the time) and some of the kids from our neighborhood that we used to play and hang out with. I had that bike for years and it took me everywhere I wanted to go.
That first day that we got our bikes my sister and I must have rode up and down our dead-end street until well after the sun went down and the streetlights came on.
It wasn’t too long before I got brave enough to ask my dad to take the training wheels off my bike. It was sheer terror that first time I rode on two wheels, but I quickly got the hang of it and was competing with the other kids in daily bike races down our bike. Back then no one wore helmets and I once flipped over the handlebars when chain came off my bike. I got and banged up pretty bad – in fact I still have a scar on my elbow that you can see 30+ years later –but my mom bandaged me up and I was back on my bike later that afternoon.
It had been quite while since I was on a bike when the entire family got bikes last year. The Hubs and I got mountain bikes, while each of the kidlets got bikes with training wheels – and we ALL got helmets! I still love that feeling of the wind in my face when riding and have been looking forward to being outside and riding all winter.
Imagine my surprise when my son got on his bike and I discovered that he’s already outgrown his year-old bike. He had a growth spurt over the winter and is now all arms and legs. The poor kid looks like one of those circus performers who ride around on tiny bikes. He’s all cramped up on the bike and it’s not safe for him to learn to ride a two-wheeler like that.
So I guess it’s back to the bike store to get him a new bike. But if you’re like me, how do you choose a bike for a child. Here are some bike buying tips from various biking experts and the National Bicycle Dealers Association:
- Give some thought to what kind of riding you want to do – What is your level of experience? Why do you want to ride? For fitness? Just for fun? Casually, or seriously? Where do you want to ride? Street, bike trail or off-road? How often do you plan to ride? The more you know what you want, the easier to know what type of bike to get. Here are the most common types of bikes:
Mountain bikes – These are rugged bikes for off-road use, but many people ride them on pavement as well. Mountain bikes feature fat knobby tires for comfort and traction, flat bars for great control, and low gears for easier hill climbing. Some mountain bikes have suspension for increased shock absorption.
Road bikes –These are meant for pavement riding, and are built for speed. They have narrower tires and drop bars for a more aerodynamic position.
Hybrid bikes – These are a cross between mountain bikes and road bikes, for the rider who wants to do a little of everything. Hybrids generally have treaded tires which are narrower than mountain bike tires, flat bars, and higher gearing than mountain bikes. They’re not quite as fast as road bikes on pavement, and not quite as rugged as mountain bikes on the road.
Cruisers – One-speed or multi-speed, cruisers are for the casual rider who wants to, well, cruise.
Juvenile bikes – These come in many varieties, from one-speed cruisers, to performance BMX bikes, to multi-speed mountain and road bikes.
Comfort bikes – These are specialized mountain bikes or hybrids with more upright riding positions, softer saddles and lower gearing.
Recumbents/tandems – There are many “niche” bicycles available today. Recumbents allow people to ride in a “recliner-chair” position with feet forward. Tandems allow two riders on a bike.
- The size of the bicycle is critical for safe and comfortable riding – Find a good professional servicing bicycle dealer in your area and work with a bike professional to decide the proper size for you. Some bicycle models can have eight or more sizes. The length of your inseam (trouser leg that runs from the crotch down to the bottom of the leg) determines the correct frame size, in terms of stand-over height. Arms should always easily reach the handlebars with a relaxed and comfortable posture. Kids should always be able to step down on a bike with their feet flat on the ground, usually sliding off the seat to do so. Crossbars should clear a child’s inseam by two or three inches standing over the bar. Ask your bicycle dealer to recommend a proper fit for you based on the kind of riding you’ll be doing. What’s comfortable for one style of rider may not be for another. Like a shirt, fit is very important for comfort and security.
- Buy what you like – Feel good about what you’re buying, how it looks, how it rides. Ask to take a test ride to compare bikes. It’s also advised that if you’re in doubt over two bikes, buy the slightly better bike. There’s a lot of value in bicycles these days, and a little more money spent can equal significantly improved performance and resale value.
- Ask the bike store to explain or for advice on things you may not understand – Terms such as such as quick-release operation, shifting, braking, maintenance, etc. Also, be sure to receive an owner’s manual with the bicycle, and read it. Owner’s manuals contain valuable information to help make your experience safer and more fun.
- Buy a good helmet – It goes without saying that kids or even adults for that matter, should never be allowed to ride a bike without wearing a safety helmet. A proper fitting helmet should fit tight on the back of the head, and the front of the helmet should be parallel to the child’s eyes. Experts recommend helmets sit only one to two finger widths above the eyebrow. Foam pads inside the helmet also make sure for a snug fit.
Now it’s your turn to share. What kind of bike does your child have? What kind of bike do you have?
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