How to Choose a Lightweight Kids’ Bike

When kids outgrow their trail-a-bikes, they need their own 20-inch bike. If you want your kids’ love for cycling to grow, you need to make sure their bikes aren’t weighing them down.

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Little kids need bikes that are light and fast, just like them!

Somewhere between the ages of six and nine, when kids outgrow their trail-a-bikes, they need their own 20-inch bike. At this age, kids are generally ready for longer family adventures. But if you’d like your young riders to keep up with the pack, you need to make sure their bikes aren’t weighing them down.

If you’re lucky enough to score a lightweight used bike at a garage sale or a secondhand shop, congratulations!

“Every spring, the parking lots of big box stores are full of parents driving up and buying heavy, steel-framed bikes for their kids,” said Brad Kukurudz, an owner at Ottawa’s Tall Tree Cycles. “A lightweight, aluminum-framed bike is an investment in your child’s ongoing love of cycling and, if it has good components, it can be passed through a family and between friends for years.”

A brand new, good-quality, lightweight children’s bike is available at many bike shops and usually costs between $250 and $350, which is quite a bit more than the big box steel version, but will be a much sweeter ride for your sweet little rider. Consider making the bike more affordable by asking grandparents to contribute birthday money to the cause or request that friends add a small amount towards a birthday bike instead of bringing a gift to a party.

Sell lemonade. Give up coffee. But please, parents, spend the money on a decent bike. I have spoken to so many friends who think nothing of spending $800 to $1,000 on a bike of their own, but expect to spend no more than $100 on a bike for their child.

The first 20-inch bike our daughter rode was much heavier than my adult bike. No wonder she wasn’t riding as fast as she used to on her first, aluminum-framed two-wheeler. And it’s no surprise that she stopped suggesting we go on bike rides together: they left her feeling exhausted!

Now that she’s riding a lightweight bike with easy-to-adjust gears, she can effortlessly ride six miles (10 kilometers) and zoom up hills right beside me. She can also lift her bike over curbs when we’re crossing the street, or over logs if we go mountain biking.

Frame and Fork

Think light, light, super-light. Have your child lift the bike to make sure it’s light enough. I prefer a step-through frame for both boys and girls. Your children will be able to ride their bikes sooner if they don’t have to worry about bonking themselves on a cross-bar.

I also prefer a rigid fork over a front shock. Kids aren’t usually heavy enough to really compress a front shock. And most kids are not riding the kind of gnarly single-track that would justify adding the weight of a shock to their bikes. Sometimes it seems like shocks are added to kids’ bikes to impress the parents.

Make sure you’re buying a bike that fits. I know kids grow fast. But if the bike is too big, it’s not going to be comfortable to ride. A child should be able to sit on the seat and have at least half of his or her foot touch the ground.

Brakes – Small Reach for Small Hands

If your child is used to coaster brakes, it’s going to take some practice to be able to apply the right amount of pressure on their brakes. A friend of mine gave his seven-year-old a practice session on his wind trainer stationary bike when she first switched to brakes and gears. After stopping and shifting while stationary, she knew exactly what to do as soon as she took her bike outside.

Make sure your child can comfortably extend his or her hands to the brakes without having to apply a lot of pressure. Children’s hands aren’t as strong as adults’, so their brakes need to be adjusted appropriately.

Gears – Seven Speeds is Enough

Simple right-hand shifting will give your child enough range to make it up steep hills and fly along the flats, even in a headwind. Encourage your child to practice shifting to find a cadence that’s comfortable.

Enjoy the ride!

2 Comments

  • GRF

    We have three kids and because we always chose good quality bikes we have had great luck re-using them as our kids grow older. My daughters rode their older brother’s bikes in succession until the oldest (a teenager) could ride an adult bike. We customized the bikes for each kid, re-spray painting the frame or adding colorful accessories to match their personality. We also were able to extend ride-ability of bike by changing seat post. I really think my kids are expert riders now because we always had them ride the “right size” bike. Light is key and since we live in relatively flat NYC we skipped gears altogether.

  • Paul Bogaert Bike Doctor

    A bike shop will often stock chunkier MTB bikes with knobby tires and shocks that are heavier and less efficient. Make sure you chose a lightweight one without shocks and narrower all purpose street tires if you want to give your child an easier pedaling experience. Knobby chunky looking bikes look cool or safer but their heavier weight and inefficient tires make riding them more work plus the street tire is just as safe. Another big reason to buy at a local bike shop is the ongoing support and service that is included with every new bike. It is professionally set up by a mechanic and then tuned up as part of the ongoing included service which can include adjusting bar and seat as your child grows. It is surprising how much time and cost can come from a poorly assembled new bike from a big box retailer that does not specialize in bicycle service.

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