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What should I consider when choosing a bicycle for a 5-6 year old child?

I'm interested in both safety facets as well as functionality/features.

The child has experience with trikes and a LITTLE experience with 2-wheel bikes (like <5 sample rides).

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3 Answers 3

Depending upon the child's size, they are likely to be on the tall end for a 16" bike or the short end for a 20" bike.

We just got a 20" for our 123cm tall, 6 year old boy.

Aside from wheel size, the other factors we took into account were:

  • Frame size. The bike had a longer frame given that our lad is likely to be tall. The handle bars can be angled forward also, to add a bit more length.

  • Frame style. We live next to a good bike track, so off-road capability was not that important to us. We looked for a lighter frame.

  • Frame constructions. His bike's frame is aluminium but I don't think it makes that much difference. From experience with my daughter's 16" - the frame is not that much lighter and it's the wheels that rust, not the frame.

  • Suspension. He's not going off road and his bike has way fat tyres so suspension was not required.

  • Gears. Our daughter had a bike with gears and never really used them. We saved $50 by not getting gears on the bike- we'll just move him to a 24" sooner.

  • Quality. We once skimped on our daughter's bike and got one from k-mart. It was absolute rubbish so we took it back and got her a quality model; it makes a difference.

  • Colour. After suffering for 2 years on his sister's bright pink hand-me-down bike, he was happy to get "boy" colours.

  • Quick release fittings. This only really applies to the seat. His bike requires an allen key to adjust, it's a bit annoying sometimes.

  • Compatibility with a car bike rack. The shape of the frame affects how easy it is to mount on a car bike rack.

  • Training wheels. We'd invested time in getting him used to a 16" with training wheels then without training wheels. When he moved to the 20", we insisted he'd do so without training wheels.

The bike is working out well. Two months later, he just completed a 14km ride along our bike track without any problems.

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I really like the completeness of dave's answer, but my personal take on it is that for that age child, I just want a free hand-me-down bike. While they are growing, there is no point paying for a high quality bike, or one customised to their size - just get whatever you can, and when they grow out of it, pass it on to another child. –  Rory Alsop Jun 11 at 7:06
    
I'd like to add one more feature to look for: pads. My first bicycle had padding on all the exposed bits of frame that I was likely to hit when falling off, which came in handy the few times I did fall off. –  Mark Jun 11 at 10:09

In my opinion the main thing you should consider is the price you want to pay for this bike. A 6 yo will grow out of it in about two years. After that the bike'll be useless, unless you have more children. But, then again, they might want to have another bike, with different colors, or just a new one.

I think you should take your child to the store, tell him the price limit, and het him choose. Read through dave's great technical answer before shopping and take it into consideration when making a choice with your LO.

The most important thing is that your child likes the bike and that he'll want to ride it. All bikes are similarily (un)safe. Bike's features are likely to be predetermined by gender: girls will like ping city bikes with baskets, boys will like sturdy mountain bikes with gears. Or not. Either way, make sure your LO enjoys the bike's looks.

As for safety: make sure that the bike is visible, that there are light reflecting elements on it, that there are lights both front and back and that your kid knows how to turn them on and off. Definitely buy a helmet and make the child wear it.

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+1 For helmets. Also, this means the parents will need to get helmets too and wear them. –  Dave Clarke Jun 11 at 12:17
    
-1: For the gender stereotypes. –  Dave Clarke Jun 11 at 12:21
    
@DaveClarke Fortunately kids are too young to care about gender stereotypes and choose whatever they want. Mostly as I stated it. If not, well good for them, what's it to me? –  Dariusz Jun 11 at 12:39

Choosing the wrong bike can put a kid off cycling for a long time. It's heartbreaking to see a kid pushing a bike up a slight slope because it doesn't fit, the gears don't work properly, and it weighs a ton because they (or their parents) chose a cheap imitation of a downhill mountain bike because it looks cool and has loads of "features".

Make sure it is the right size and sell it on or keep it for a younger sibling when they outgrow it. If it is the wrong size then it is harder to control and they are more likely to crash. Make sure they can reach the ground when the saddle is set properly for them, and they can still steer and control the bike.

Weight makes a big difference to the fun and manoeuvrability of a child's bike. A kilo saved from the bike of a six-year-old weighing 30kg is like 2.5kg saved from an adult's.

Suitably sized cranks will make a big difference to a kids ability to pedal well. If the cranks are too long then the bike will need to be higher off the ground to prevent pedal strikes, which also affects handling.

Depending on the size of your 6 year old they will either require 16" or 20" wheels. With 20" wheels you can have gears - a 3 speed hub is easy to use and hard to break, but more expensive than derailleurs. No harm in getting singlespeed for a nice light and easy to maintain bike.

If you let the kid choose the bike, invariably they will choose one with suspension. This tends to add weight and cost money, without providing much (or any) additional comfort or benefit due to poor construction.

Lastly, check that the reach of the brake levers are adjustable for smaller hands, and the brakes still function when adjusted so that they are closer to the handlebars. A back-pedal coaster brake is a good solution if your child is a bit small to operate a rear v brake (which are harder to pull).

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