This article is all about what you need to know about buying a kids bike, with information provided by kids biking experts YYC MTB.
We gave a basic introduction to this topic in a previous article: Teach Your Child How to Bike.
Here, we’ll go over all the different options available in kids bikes, and provide you with the information to make the best decision when buying a kids bike.
It may seem like a lot to spend on something your kid may outgrow in a few years. But, as you’ll learn about below, sometimes the more expensive options end up being cheaper for you in the long run.
How to Pick a Kids Bike
Should You Get a Hardtail or Rigid Kids Bike?
A hardtail has a front suspension, whereas a rigid bike has a rigid fork. Suspension should not make or break which kids bike you decide to buy.
Get a quality rigid over a cheap, entry-level hardtail with a low end fork. Even front suspension isn’t needed for smaller riders. Front suspensions for wheels 24″ inches and smaller are typically low quality and perform poorly due to low rider weight.
Big brands typically have a full range of quality kids bikes. For top kids bikes from an independent Canadian distributor, check out Kids Bikes Canada.
A quality name brand bike can be expensive, but they make all the difference when you’re trying to convince a child to ride a bike. A lousy bike makes for a lousy experience. Plus, kids’ bikes hold their value.
Your child will grow out of their bike in a couple years. You may have dropped $600+ if you buy a proper kids bike, but you only stand to lose a couple hundred bucks when you sell, assuming you keep it in good shape. Over the long run, it’s less expensive than you think.
Although outside the scope of this article, it is worth making a quick note about high end full suspension bikes. These should be kept in mind for talented young riders. They’re expensive, but they hold their value. So, if your kid is committed to biking, have a look at those kinds of bikes too.
What Kind of Kids Bike Tires?
Get tires designed for dirt if you are going to be mountain biking. Look for a fairly aggressive tread pattern — don’t get a hybrid tire!
The big brands make kids specific tires. Companies like Maxxis, Schwalbe, Specialized and Bontrager know what they’re doing when it comes to making kids bike tires. If you can find a bike equipped with tires from a reputable brand your kid will be good to go.
Plus sized tires on kids bikes are also great. They offer excellent traction and even some suspension when air pressure is correctly set up. Remember, kids need less air pressure than adults. For plus tires, we are looking at 10 to 15 psi for children.
What Kind of Kids Bike Brakes?
Disc brakes are key as kids have less hand strength than adults. A midrange set of cable operated disc brakes are a great option. They have a greater range of lever adjustment to accommodate small hands. Stay away from entry level cable brakes. They often require a lot of pull force and can lead to hand fatigue and poor stopping power. Not great when trying to help a child build confidence.
Cantilever brakes and V brakes should be avoided for kids mountain biking. Suicide brakes should be avoided all the time.
Disc brakes provide more power for small, weak hands. Cable brakes are OK, but look for something mid-range that has moving pistons on both sides of the brake caliper. Brake calipers with only a single moving piston are not that powerful.
If you can get hydraulic brakes, great! They have tons of power and require less pull force. Make sure they are properly adjusted and the calipers are inline with the brake rotor. Rubbing brakes can rob kids of what little power they have. Stick to reputable brands like Shimano, SRAM, and Tektro.
What Kind of Kids Bike Drivetrain?
Kids under 5 absolutely do not need gears. They need a quality bike that is simple to operate. No gears and maybe a rear brake is fine.
Up to age 7, kids don’t really need gears on their bike unless they are really committed to climbing hills.
If you do decide to get a geared kds bike for an older child, get something with a quality derailleur. Bottom of the barrell derailleurs like 7 speed Shimano Acera, Altus, and Tourney will cause more problems than they’re worth.
IF you can get a kids bike with an alivio or deore shifter/derailleur combination, that’s great. If you can’t, it is worth considering an upgrade.
Always go with a thumb operated shit mechanism. Grip shifts are terrible. Most are poor quality, difficult to set up and take a lot of effort to shift.
Also, if you have a choice between a single speed or entry level shifting, choose the single speed. Cheap components do not support children who are learning to shift. They are better served by a single speed until they get a kids bike with decent components.
How to Pick a Kids Bike Final Thoughts
Most quality kids bikes come with child appropriate bars, grips and saddles.
Don’t worry too much about upgrading those. Again, just be aware of what your child is capable of. Younger kids need simplicity. No gears, no suspension. Just proper tires and a kids bike that fits.
When you do need shifting, go for quality. Kids often don’t have the strength to use low-grade components like cheap grip shifts. They also don’t have the coordination to use imprecise and clunky derailleurs.
Thanks again to YYC MTB for their help producing this article!
If you want your kid to receive proper biking instruction, check out YYC MTB’s Youth Programs. Also feel free to reach out to them about any other kids biking questions that weren’t covered here!
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