What bike is best for my kid?!

It’s a question we’re frequently asked. And with so many choices in bikes and equipment it’s easy to be confused. For most kids under ten, and especially those who’ve just learned to ride, here’s our advice (also known as the curmudgeon’s guide to bike buying):

First, don’t fall for the gimmicks (also known as “gear envy”). Most manufacturers are finding greater profit in bikes that are equipped far beyond the needs of young riders, with multiple gears and shocks being the most unnecessary features. So keep it simple: avoid bikes with gears and shocks and anything else, other than a nice paint job, that seems to be there to make the bike look cool. Bikes are cool on their own without unnecessary paraphernalia hanging off of them. Superfluous stuff interferes with young riders: they get fixated on what gear they’re in (which usually is the wrong one…!) and lose sight of the fundamentals of riding. Heavier bikes impede learning good bike handling skills. Look for a single speed bike, preferably with a coaster brake and, maybe, one hand break. Most kids in elementary school need a 20″ size bike (that means the wheel/tire assembly is 20″ diameter), but that depends on your kid’s height. Chances are they won’t need anything bigger for quite a while.

Second, find a reputable bike shop you’re comfortable with. If they make you feel stupid because you’re not a bike geek find another shop. If they make you feel like you and bicycling were made for one another give them your credit card and thank them very much. Ask as many questions as necessary in order to know what you’re doing. You may choose to buy a used bike off a friend or Craigslist, but you’ll return to that shop many times for tune ups, gear, energy bars, spandex products and just to hang out. There are a lot of bike shops in the area, and several of them have proven to be good friends of Wheel Kids in both San Francisco and Palo Alto. See our partners list here for a guide to these shops and a few special deals.

Third, be careful of department store or discount store bikes. The frame may be fine (maybe) but the equipment may not be – and you’ll spend more on replacement parts and repairs than you saved in the first place. If you do buy from these stores, take the bike right away to your new favorite bike store where trained mechanics can give it a thorough inspection.

Finally, with the money you save getting your kid a simple but super effective bike that’ll last years you can buy yourself that cool new Pinarello Dogma2 with Campagnolo Super Record EPS. It’s a win-win! Cool, huh?