If Jimmy is saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ all of a sudden, is eating his greens and is no longer burping in his sister’s ear at mealtimes, you know he’s after something. If that something is a bike – and every kid needs one, it’s an essential part of childhood – you’ll get more for your money if you buy a decent, strong bike.
When you’re ready to buy a real bike, rather than a plastic trike or ‘carpet bike’ (useful for indoors only), buy from a bike shop not a catalogue or a toy shop. The advice will be miles better. A catalogue bike will probably arrive in a box and you’ll have to assemble it. On the night before a birthday or on Christmas Eve this isn’t a pleasant task, especially when you strip the pedal threads…
Young kids don’t need gears although many manufacturers fit them. Try to get a bike that will be as simple to operate as possible otherwise you risk alienating the child. Introduce children to geared bikes from about the age of six or seven.
The bike should be small enough so the child’s feet touch the ground when sat on the saddle. This is to give kids confidence and is opposite to the advice given for adult cycles. Unlike adult bikes, kid’s bikes come in wheel sizes, not frame sizes.
Never buy a bike for a child to ‘grow into’. Kids crash often and you don’t want them banging their sensitive bits into cross bars on bikes that are too big for them. Make sure the bike has plenty of crotch clearance.
Ask the bike shop whether the bike you’re looking at has bushes at the headset, bottom bracket and hubs. If it does it may wear out quickly and be hard to repair.
Watch out for cheap and nasty brakes and brake levers. Plastic levers, for instance, are fitted for cheapness and often fail.
Don’t scrimp, buy the best quality bike you can afford. A heavy, clunky, fall-apart bike is unsafe and will not be used as much as a strong, lightweight bike. Just like your preferences, really.