How to buy your kid's first bike

Is your child ready for that first bicycle? Read on for expert tips that will show you what to look for

Brakes

Single-speed bikes have a coaster or pedal brake. Opt for a model that also adds a front or rear handbrake sized for a child’s hand. This gives kids the comfort of the coaster brake with the experience of proper handbraking. A linear pull brake (a.k.a. V-brake, for it’s vise-like grip) is easier for kids to pull and stronger than a caliper or side-pull brake (which looks like a horseshoe).

Frame

Aluminum is lighter than steel. “And if you’re going to be handing bikes down, it’s less likely to rust,” says Andrew Maemura, service manager at Cycle Solutions in Toronto.

Look, Mom, no pedals!

Training wheels may become extinct if the newest toddler trend catches on. Run bikes, or push bikes, introduce little kids to an essential bike skill — balance — by eliminating pedals, gears or brakes. Toddler Sam Cockburn took to the bike immediately when his dad, Heath, store manager for Toronto bike shop La Bicicletta, sat him on a wood-frame Likeabike (metal bikes are also available).

“He figured out that if he lifted his feet he could coast, and he put his feet down to stop and learned how to lean into corners.” Cockburn plans to remove the pedals from a “real” bike when Sam is 3½, so he can start to tackle handbraking. Eventually, he’ll re-install the pedals. Says Cockburn: “The push bike is great because it allows you to skip training wheels.”
Other options

Suspension

Looks cool, but it’s unnecessary; shocks are best for nine- to 12-year-olds who’ll be bumping along mountain-bike trails.

Shifters

Twist-style gearshifting is more popular on kids’ bikes, though trigger shifting is preferable so the child doesn’t have to adjust her hand position.

Gears

Not strictly necessary for most five- or six-year-olds, but gears make hills bearable for little legs.

Safety first

Mandatory in some provinces, helmets help save lives and prevent serious injuries. CPSC-certified skateboard-style helmets are safe for cycling; sweaty kids may appreciate more vents. Adjustable head straps are more secure than padding for a proper fit, and bright colours increase visibility and safety.

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