Wednesday, July 04, 2018

What to Look for in your Child's Next Bike (and what to skip!)

Kids' bikes come with a lot of features in the name of safety: coaster brakes, chain guards, reflectors, and training wheels - to name a few. What do you really need to look for though if you want your child to have a safe, high quality, easy-to-ride bike? And what should you honestly skip without a second look?

What to Look for in your Child's Next Bike (and what to skip!)

Two BIG Things You're Looking For in a Children's Bike

1. A Lightweight Bike that Fits Your Child

Jacob Rheuban, owner of Prevelo Bikes, believes "the single biggest safety feature that a bike can have is that it's light enough and low enough for the rider to easily control, and stop."

Jacob doesn't think a lot of parents focus on these two aspects of safety when choosing their child's bike. (And I'm inclined to believe him every time I see a child show up at school on a heavy framed, full suspension mountain bike that has to weigh well over 30 pounds.)

Jacob believes that "low weight, and appropriate height and fit, improve safety." He also says that "similarly, agility has safety implications - a bike that is maneuverable is safer."

My son is riding a 24" Prevelo Zulu Four bike, weighing in at a very light 25.7 pounds. He handles the bike well, is learning how to lift his tires for jumps (something he couldn't do as well on his last bike which was a bit heavier,) and maneuvers it safely around berms and banked corners without flinching.

A safe bike needs to be lightweight and maneuverable

Why our Prevelo Zulu Four is so light:

This bike is built light but tough
  • It has an aluminum frame (many of the bikes you'd find at department stores have a steel frame which is to be avoided at all cost!)

  • It skips the extra "bells and whistles" that all add a tiny bit of extra weight - adding up in the long run. No chain guard, no kickstand, no cute little padding on the handlebars (can you imagine what this would look like ripping down mountain bike trails, lol!)

  • It has a clean, simple, frame with a strong (but very thin) top tube - the crossbar that connects the front of the frame to the back. Look at my son's bike in the photos, and you will see that the frame is indeed very minimalistic. It is strong without extra bulk and weight.

  • It's not a heavy duty downhill bike. (Which my son doesn't need.) Yes, he enjoys downhill mountain biking but he isn't getting massive air on jumps and he weighs less than 60 pounds. How heavy and beefy does a bike need to be when a kid is that light? We're not talking about a 200 pound adult here. And while I know this is all "highly debatable," it's my personal opinion that "most" kids will do just fine on a lighter cross-country style bike. Unless you purely bike at a resort with lift accessed downhill trails, the kids have to climb hills in order to ride down them, and they'll appreciate a lighter bike for the climbing.

  • It has high quality lightweight components. This bike was designed for kids unlike some bikes that are manufactured by companies that just scale down an adult model to "fit" a child.

The Zulu Four is a high quality bike with a strong but lightweight frame 

Deciding if you've found the right fit and size:

  • Your child can easily touch the ground on his tippy toes (or with full flat feet for mountain biking if you lower the seat.) - And the easiest way to test this is to have your child ride up a steep hill and then try hopping off half way up the hill. This is an important skill I've certainly had to master when mountain biking with kids! You can also test the fit simply by seeing how easily your child can start riding and propel him/herself into motion (especially if on a hill.)

    Note that younger novice riders will always want to be touching the ground with full feet.

  • Your child easily clears the top bar or tube when standing over his bike. There should be an inch or two of clearance This helps prevent injuries when a child falls while biking. I love the design of the Zulu Four with its slanting top tube. My son easily clears it and is able to get on/off the bike easily with the low bar.

  • Look for a comfortable handlebar height. Low Rise flat handlebars are best for mountain biking and aggressive riding. On the flip side though, if they are too low, your child will feel some strain on his neck (and likely won't be very comfortable on long pathway rides.) I feel like the Zulu Four is the perfect compromise. In the photo above you'll see my son's very relaxed upright stance - perfect for cruising the bike paths. Switch to mountain biking though and he's easily able to lean forward for more aggressive turns and terrain.

Comfortable stance for mountain biking

2. Hand Brakes! Always Hand Brakes!

I didn't need anybody to give me quotes for this one because I've seen the dangers with coaster brakes first hand. Kids get to a steep hill, they become scared, they hit a bump that startles them, and their feet fly off the pedals. With hand brakes, it's not ideal to have you feet off the pedals, but you can still brake. With coaster brakes however, how can you brake if your feet are in the air and you can't pedal backwards?

I've seen kids fly out of control down hills, unable to stop, screaming and terrified. (Always with coaster brakes.)

Read more on the subject of hand brakes Vs. coaster brakes on the Prevelo blog: Kids' Bike Brakes: 9 Reasons a Kids' Bike Should have Hand Brakes. 

You can't go mountain biking if you don't have hand brakes 

Four Things Your Child's Bike Does NOT Need 

1. Say No to Training Wheels 

My son learned to ride a balance bike without pedals and easily transitioned to a 16" pedal bike without ever needing training wheels. This is the route I encourage all parents to follow.

I asked Jacob Rheuban with Prevelo Bikes to weigh in on this one as well and below are his concerns with kids learning to ride on training wheels.

Jacob says that  "training wheels cause a cascade of problems."

  1. They don't teach balance, which is the most difficult skill to learn, so they are a poor training device.

  2. They can cause scary crashes.

  3. They teach behavior that needs to be unlearned (like leaning to the inside of turns and putting feet on the pedals of a stationary bike).

  4. Once a child is exposed to training wheels, they are often difficult to wean from training wheels.

  5. They cause parents to buy ill fitting bikes for their children.  I see many children trying to learn to ride on bikes that are too tall and heavy.  Had the parent seen the child struggle with the size and weight (without training wheels) in the store, they probably would not have bought the bike in the first place.  Stated differently, when shopping for bikes, if the floor model has training wheels (which it almost always does) it's not apparent to parents how ungainly the bike will be when the training wheels are removed.

Training wheels don't teach balance. Pedaling is easy to learn by comparison

2. Bikes do not Need a Fancy Theme or Paint Job

Don't choose a bike by the color or Disney theme. Don't buy a bike because of the Lightning Mcqueen paint job. Make a deal with the kids and let them choose a fun helmet instead.

Themed bikes come with all the "bells and whistles" for "safety" but each extra element weighs the child down, thereby making the bike less safe in the end. Kids don't really need a chain guard as much as they need a lightweight bike they can control. These cute little bikes also come with training wheels - that your child will see, and will believe they "need" - because the bike came with them after all! (And you might be led to believe the same thing if the bike includes them, right?)

A good bike will not have Disney characters painted on it

3. The "Average Child" does not need Full Suspension 

I already talked about this a bit under the "why our Prevelo Zulu Four is so light" section, but it's my personal opinion that most kids do not need a huge beefy downhill bike with full suspension.

Kids barely weigh enough to justify having front shocks on their bikes let alone full suspension. Don't believe me? When was the last time your child complained about bumps, roots, or a rough ride? Mine never has. Me on the other hand, I complain if a trail has a single root and I prefer smooth machine built trails.

Full suspension bikes add extra weight that most kids just don't need. Unless your child spends all his time downhill riding (and is getting massive air on jumps) skip the full suspension and go with a lightweight cross-country bike. (And they definitely don't need a full suspension bike for pathway riding and commuting to school - no matter how cool it looks!!)

The Zulu Four performs well on both cross country and downhill terrain

4. Kids' Bikes only Need ONE Single Front Chainring

One of the biggest things (aside from weight) that we were looking for in our son's 24" bike was something that only had one single front chainring. We didn't want our son to have to fuss around with multiple chainrings, constantly switching rings for pathway riding Vs. mountain biking.

I remember when I got my first mountain bike, and how confusing it was for me to remember which of my three rings made it easier Vs. harder to ride my bike up hills. Now I just have two rings and it's pretty simple. I use one on pathways and one when mountain biking - and I never change mid-ride. For my son though, it want it to be really simple! He has 10 gears on his Prevelo bike, and they are all one one single front chainring.

The topic of one Vs. two or three chainrings is heavily debated in the mountain biking community but when we're talking about kids' bikes it comes down to having a bike that is lighter, simpler, and easier to ride. There are no transitions required between rings and there are less components to break. 

Again, this is based on the "average" rider. If you spend a lot of time climbing big hills as a family and have kids that are highly accomplished mountain bikers, you might want a second ring for performance and greater range from high to low gears. 

The Prevelo Zulu Four climbs well with one single front chainring 

More Information on Prevelo Bikes

Want to read more about the high quality components of the Prevelo bike that my son is riding? Check out the features and specs of the Zulu Four here. 

As of the moment, the Zulu Four is out of stock but there should be more available soon so keep an eye out on the Prevelo website. 

Prevelo bikes can be ordered directly from Prevelo in the US (with free shipping to Canada) or from All Out Kids Gear, a local Canadian company that also offers free shipping on all orders over $39.00 (before taxes.)

The Zulu Four performs well in skate parks too!

And for those looking for an affordable but high quality bike, check out the Prevelo Alpha Series. 

The Alpha Four is in stock right now (all the Alpha Bikes are) and retails for half the price of the Zulu Four. Main differences between the bikes include 8 gears (instead of 10 for the Zulu,) and v-brakes instead of disc brakes. 

The Alpha bikes are fabulous bikes for the more recreational rider who wants to enjoy pathway rides and easy single track riding rather than downhill riding and jump lines in the bike park.

The Alpha Bikes can be ordered online from either the Prevelo website or from All Out Kids Gear. 

A good bike gets the kids out on the trails with you for happy family rides 

Disclaimer: I am a Prevelo Brand Ambassador and we received our bike directly from the Prevelo company in exchange for promoting the brand. As always, all opinions are my own and I was not paid for a positive review.

It should also be noted that I came up with my own list of features to look for in a kids' bike (based on personal experience.) Other than direct quotes, opinions and thoughts are my own and might not reflect those of the company. 

1 comment:

  1. What great advice! It's so important to keep it simple, especially with gears, suspension and braking and keeping it nice and light so kids can handle their bike easily. Here in the UK we don't have very many coaster brakes thankfully. Karen